LIV­ING OUT LOUD

THE RICH KIDS OF IN­STA­GRAM

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - FRONT PAGE -

I'm in an up­mar­ket cafe-bar on King's Road in west Lon­don with Jack, a 17-year- ex­ams. Dur­ing the week, Jack at­tends one of Bri­tain's most ex­pen­sive board­ing schools, but at week­ends he re­turns to the ex­clu­sive cen­tral Lon­don en­clave of Knights­bridge where he lives with his mother, a for­mer model, and his fa­ther, who works in pri­vate eq­uity. Last summer his dad came back from a busi­ness trip to the Far East and pre­sented his son with an ex­trav­a­gant gift. It was a gold-plated cal­cu­la­tor, em­bel­lished with jew­els and elab­o­rate pagoda-style mo­tifs. “I re­mem­ber think­ing, that's re­ally cool,” says Jack. He wanted to show off the cal­cu­la­tor, so he took a pic­ture of it on his smart­phone in order to up­load it to the photo-shar­ing app, In­sta­gram. He quickly tapped out the cap­tion “My dad got me a gold-plated, di­a­mond-en­crusted cal­cu­la­tor from Burma”, added two hash­tags – #noteven­jok­ing and #bling – and then posted it on­line.

Within a few days, the photo was spot­ted and then re­posted on an anony­mously cu­rated blog called Rich Kids of In­sta­gram. In the two years since its in­cep­tion, Rich Kids of In­sta­gram, RKOI for short, has be­come the in­ter­net's lead­ing repos­i­tory of im­ages culled from the so­cial me­dia have more money than you and this is what they do,” runs RKOI's strapline. And each month the site at­tracts 850,000 vis­i­tors, voyeurs drawn in by pho­tos of grin­ning teens on the decks of vast

of the in­te­ri­ors of pri­vate jets as the sons and

Some of the pic­tures that make it onto the blog are kitsch and know­ing – a pet bull­dog made to pose on the bon­net of a Fer­rari, a bot­tle of Moët be­ing poured over a bowl of break­fast ce­real – while oth­ers seem al­most goad­ing in their di­rect­ness: a sin­gle fore­arm weighed down by lux­ury watches, moun­tains of shop­ping bags em­bla­zoned with de­signer names, white sandy beaches, vil­las, pools, and girls in biki­nis. One RKOI I speak to de­scribes the sub­ject mat­ter that will guar­an­tee con­tent in the pic­ture, the more it will trend on­line.”

And in 2014, rich kids all over the world want noth­ing more than to see them­selves trend on­line. Con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion is go­ing vi­ral, and RKOI is just the tip of the ice­berg. For ev­ery photo cel­e­brat­ing ado­les­cent wealth and priv­i­lege that makes it onto the blog, there are thou­sands that don't but are still broad­cast to the world via other means. So, for ex­am­ple, there are a slew of Face­book com­mu­ni­ties ded­i­cated to shar­ing pho­tos of pri­vate-school pupils jok­ing about be­ing rich: one girl is pic­tured us­ing an Ap­ple lap­top to keep her­self dry in the rain; a £50 note is shown be­ing used as toi­let pa­per; a show­room of sports cars is sim­ply ac­com­pa­nied by the cap­tion “Shop­ping with Daddy”. On another photo-shar­ing app, Snapchat,

you can fol­low ac­counts such as RichKidS­naps for

Speak­ing to Jack, you get the sense he was pleased when his cal­cu­la­tor was fea­tured on RKOI. “I did get quite a lot more In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, which is a good feel­ing,” he says. Jack is a fan of the blog, checks it reg­u­larly, and be­lieves much of its ap­peal stems from the fact that the pic­tures are so can­did and seem­ingly off-the-cuff. “It's be­cause you're see­ing those peo­ple's per­sonal, pri­vate lives. And I think a lot of it just blows peo­ple away. Es­pe­cially if you've never seen what those lives are like be­fore.”

I like Jack. He is friendly, in­sight­ful and en­thu­si­as­tic. Much of his own In­sta­gram ac­count a he­li­copter while on hol­i­day in Mau­ri­tius, tagged with the cap­tion: “It is the only way to travel”. Another shows him ap­par­ently try­ing to de­cide which of sev­eral pairs of vel­vet slip­pers he should wear. Else­where, he has posted pho­to­graphs of gi­ant cham­pagne bot­tles, a chunky gold Ver­sace ring, and a new pair of Louis Vuit­ton loafers. In one photo, he is wear­ing a three-piece suit in the

Jack has launched his own fashion line, Vain Cloth­ing, which he pro­motes via his In­sta­gram ac­count (#stay­vain, etc). In terms of the la­bels on RKOI, he cites “the big three men's lux­ury brands”, namely Louis Vuit­ton, Gucci and Dolce & Gab­bana. Young men tend to dom­i­nate the RKOI scene, he says, mainly be­cause they are more prone to show­ing off but also, I sus­pect, be­cause so much of the em­pha­sis on things such

as watches and cars and rare wine vin­tages ap­peals to the geekier as­pects of the male psy­che. Ap­par­ently, one of the most pop­u­lar things to pose with on­line is a bot­tle of Ar­mand de Brignac cham­pagne. “That's an in­stant sign of peo­ple be­ing re­ally rich,” says Jack. “I think that, by the bot­tle, it's the most ex­pen­sive cham­pagne on the mar­ket [it starts at around $400], above Cristal, above Dom Pérignon, above ev­ery­thing else.”

A few days later, I meet another Rich Kid of In­sta­gram in a Lon­don cafe. Ali ar­rives wear­ing a suit and car­ry­ing sev­eral bags of shop­ping. He is also 17, his fa­ther is a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man and in Fe­bru­ary he posted a pic­ture of him­self sit­ting in a Fer­rari with Gucci shop­ping bags ar­ranged on the pave­ment. He tagged the tableau “Done shop­ping” and the photo was quickly re­posted on RKOI. His In­sta­gram ac­count is ded­i­cated to pho­to­graphs of ex­pen­sive sports cars, in­clud­ing his un­cle's Fer­rari. Many of Ali's older friends boast sim­i­larly ex­pen­sive wheels – Porsches, Bu­gat­tis, Bent­leys – and on Satur­day nights, he ac­com­pa­nies these men as they ride around west Lon­don in an ex­trav­a­gant con­voy. “Ev­ery sin­gle week­end I come to Knights­bridge and go cruis­ing around with my mates in su­per cars,” he says. “We know it's go­ing to get at­ten­tion, but it's fun. When the weather's good, it's crazy.”

Of­ten, dur­ing these rides, Ali will pro­vide a con­tin­u­ous stream of pho­tos to the peo­ple who fol­low him on Snapchat. “I'll just be snapchat­ting the whole way and peo­ple will keep ask­ing me for more and more and more pho­tos.” Most of his fol­low­ers are strangers. “I hardly know any of them, apart from maybe a cou­ple of friends from school.”

It's ob­vi­ous Ali gets a buzz and, I think, some form of val­i­da­tion from all the in­ter­est his pho­tos gen­er­ate, even though, tech­ni­cally, most of them don't re­ally say any­thing about him. The cars are not his but that doesn't re­ally mat­ter, be­cause it all helps boost his so­cial me­dia stand­ing. Like Jack, Ali was happy to have been fea­tured on RKOI. “That got me a lot of fol­low­ers and a lot of at­ten­tion,” he re­counts hap­pily, ex­plain­ing that be­fore RKOI he had 300 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram; have more and I want to get even more pop­u­lar.”

Af­ter meet­ing Ali, I speak to Mar­cus, who calls him­self “a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist ad­viser” and has been heav­ily fea­tured on RKOI, which makes sense given his In­sta­gram ac­count is par­tic­u­larly heavy on trop­i­cal beaches, sports cars and yachts. Ex­plain­ing the dy­nam­ics of the RKOI scene, he says most are the “Old Money Rich Kids”. “They will usu­ally have in­se­cu­ri­ties and com­plexes,” he says, adding

of sud­denly be­com­ing pop­u­lar on­line par­tic­u­larly

a touch more class and el­e­gance, due to the fact that old money is tied to old eti­quette.” The sec­ond group are “New Money Rich Kids”, gen­er­ally not liked by the Old Money Rich Kids. “They are less shy, more ego­tis­ti­cal,” says Mar­cus. “They want to show off their ac­com­plish­ments and pur­chases.” Read­ing be­tween the lines, this group prob­a­bly in­cludes a lot of Mid­dle Eastern and Rus­sian money.

The third group are what Mar­cus calls “Mo­ti­va­tional Rich Kids”, ones who present them­selves as role mod­els to their fol­low­ers, who keep things rel­a­tively classy and ex­er­cise some self-cen­sor­ship (I'm guess­ing Mar­cus counts him­self among these). Those in the fourth cat­e­gory are the to­tal op­po­site, the “Rich Daddy Kids”, the ones who revel in the fact that their par­ents pay for ev­ery­thing and who seem to en­joy rub­bing every­one's noses in the fact.

IF YOU'RE EX­AM­IN­ING THE RKOI EF­FECT FOR in too much arm­chair psy­chi­a­try. For a long time, I won­dered if many of these peo­ple were pre­sent­ing you'd grown up dur­ing a global re­ces­sion, in a world where so much of the pop­u­lar rhetoric con­demns su­per-high earn­ers, I could un­der­stand it if you felt It might fos­ter a siege men­tal­ity. And un­der those cir­cum­stances, per­haps goad­ing the world with pho­to­graphs of you us­ing a lap­top as an um­brella might feel a lit­tle cathar­tic. This is al­luded to by the anony­mous founder of RKOI when talk­ing about the cre­ation of the blog: “At the time in­equal­ity, Wall Street and the elec­tion were at the fore­front of the news. What we were do­ing at RKOI struck a nerve.” Very lit­tle is known about the person be­hind it. One ru­mour is he (or she) is a rich kid him/her­self. The need for anonymity is due at least in part to the fact that not ev­ery­body is de­lighted to see them­selves, or their chil­dren, fea­tured on the site.

The founder ex­plains how, shortly af­ter the blog was cre­ated, “things went nu­clear” when a pic­ture of Zachary Dell – the son of Michael Dell, the bil­lion­aire be­hind Dell com­put­ers – was posted by his sis­ter, Alexa. “Dell spends about $3 mil­lion a year on pri­vate se­cu­rity, and his kids were un­der­min­ing it by broad­cast­ing too much in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia.” The founder is also about to pub­lish a book, Rich Kids of In­sta­gram: a Novel. in­spired by the young­sters whose pho­tos pop­u­late the web­site. But ac­cord­ing to the founder, none of these kids has any­thing to feel ashamed about. “To all the RKOI kids, who are un­apolo­get­i­cally them­selves – in a world where so few will live it loud, you guys have guts, and for that you de­serve ad­mi­ra­tion.”

The prob­lem with this the­sis of RKOIs as rebels, says Mar­cus, is that a lot them prob­a­bly never even no­ticed that the rest of so­ci­ety was judg­ing them.

“To be frank, most rich kids lack the emo­tional in­tel­li­gence to ac­tu­ally gauge their life­styles in the con­text of the wider world,” he ar­gues. Jack makes a sim­i­lar point. It doesn't take “guts” to be a RKOI when most don't feel they're do­ing any­thing wrong and live in a world free of con­se­quences. “The su­per-su­per-su­per-wealthy kids aren't go­ing to have friends who'll say, `Mate, don't do that, it's ob­scene',” he says. “They're never go­ing to have to worry about the im­pli­ca­tions of what they post.”

Re­ally, the main rea­son rich kids share pho­tos of them­selves is that it gets a re­sponse. Some In­sta­gram users are start­ing to use this to their ad­van­tage. I meet Lily Fortes­cue in Not­ting Hill Gate. Fortes­cue is 24, at­tended Downe House board­ing school in Berk­shire, and lives in Ful­ham with her twin sis­ter, Rosie, who stars in the TV re­al­ity drama, Made in Chelsea. Out­wardly, many of the pho­to­graphs posted on her In­sta­gram ac­count seem like ar­che­typal RKOI ma­te­rial: watches by Rolex and Re­possi; hand­bags by Givenchy and Kar­dashian and Kanye West, taken at the wed­ding of Kar­dashian's stylist. They were all guests.

These pic­tures have, un­sur­pris­ingly, helped her at­tract a lot of fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram – more than 14,000. But they also serve as a per­sonal mar­ket­ing tool. Fortes­cue re­cently launched her own line of un­der­wear, Cheek Frills, and In­sta­gram is where she does a lot of busi­ness. She says she has been able to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with fashion in­dus­try peo­ple such as Averyl Oates of the Ga­leries Lafayette de­part­ment store in Paris, and Amer­i­can heiress and de­signer Nicky Hil­ton. “You don't get that kind of ac­cess in three months of try­ing to speak to their PAs,” says Fortes­cue. And it can't hurt that she is able to present her­self to these peo­ple as some­one who al­ready leads a suc­cess­ful as­pi­ra­tional life. “The world is a shal­low place,” she says. “Peo­ple are go­ing to do a bit of re­search on you be­fore they meet you. And In­sta­gram is the place they do it.”

For all that, Fortes­cue claims she can't bear or cap­tion pic­tures with #chanel or #shop­ping. She says she makes sure to in­clude tongue-in-cheek stuff, self-dep­re­cat­ing im­ages of her hun­gover or eat­ing McDon­ald's. “I'm re­ally for­tu­nate to have a great life and work hard and have a lovely boyfriend and go on lovely hol­i­days,” she says. “And yes, I have some beau­ti­ful hand­bags. But I'm not go­ing to start typ­ing `#Cé­line' or `#lux­ury'. It's boast­ing. There's an as­pect of In­sta­gram I hate. It's to the next, `Here's me on one boat. Here's me on another.' It isn't as­pi­ra­tional,” she adds, be­fore low­er­ing her voice. “It makes you think, who are you in order to get all that?”

son of a busi­ness­man from Moscow and a school friend of Jack's. Sasha is qui­eter, shyer than Jack, and when he ar­rives at the Chelsea cafe where we have ar­ranged to meet, he's car­ry­ing a Louis Vuit­ton hold-all and a large box con­tain­ing CD mix­ing decks. “I DJ a bit,” he says. “I love go­ing out. I've done some 18th birth­day par­ties, but might try to do some clubs and bars in Lon­don soon.”

Sasha likes to party (he pro­nounces it “pardy”). Even though he is tech­ni­cally un­der age, he spends a lot of time at ex­clu­sive clubs and doc­u­ments it all on In­sta­gram. “I pre­fer to be at the VIP ta­ble, ob­vi­ously, and my good friends close to me. Go­ing VIP just gives you more calm­ness and space. I mean, if you can af­ford it, why not?”

He has not yet been fea­tured on RKOI, but he did re­cently sub­mit a cou­ple of pho­tos to one of the “Pri­vate School Snapchat” Face­book pages, both of which were sub­se­quently posted there. “It's re­ally pop­u­lar,” Sasha says. “Peo­ple just want to get on it so they can show their friends, so they can say, `That one's mine'.” What were his pho­tos I just wanted to see what would hap­pen if I sent it in, and they put it up, so I thought I'd do it again. The sec­ond one was of my dad's hu­mi­dor. I just like to see them get a re­sponse.”

Sasha says his mother oc­ca­sion­ally chas­tises him for dis­play­ing too much wealth on­line. In­deed, sev­eral of the peo­ple I meet are wary of re­veal­ing too much about them­selves. Only last month, one RKOI made the mis­take of re­veal­ing his ad­dress on In­sta­gram and, in fairly short order, four of his

Sasha thinks that, be­fore too long, he'll most likely drop this image any­way. “I'll prob­a­bly grow out of In­sta­gram once I leave school and be­come a bit more sen­si­ble. Once I start work­ing and I'm not just nick­ing off the par­ents. Right now, every­one does it. But when I'm by my­self? What's the point?”

Jack also talks about a grow­ing sense of per­spec­tive when it comes to un­der­stand­ing wealth and the wider world. He says that in his Year 12 eco­nom­ics classes, he's been learn­ing a lot about the re­ces­sion. “It hit a lot of peo­ple re­ally hard, and I'm only start­ing to grasp that. The whole thing hap­pened when I was a kid, but I have a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion now.” But as faced by the other 99 per cent of peo­ple is lit­er­ally aca­demic. And as the economies of the world slowly gain pace, ex­pect to go on­line and be faced with even more yachts, more jets, more sports cars. The Rich Kids of In­sta­gram are not go­ing away.

“I don't see an end to this,” says Jack. “Ev­ery­thing is just go­ing to get big­ger and big­ger and big­ger. There's al­ways go­ing to be peo­ple who are rich in our cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety,” he adds re­signedly. “And peo­ple who are rich are al­ways go­ing to want to show it.”

(Si­mon & Schus­ter, rrp $ 23).

Young and rich …( left) Fledg­ling un­der­wear en­trepreneur Lily Fortes­cue, 24, at home and ( above, from left) Ali, 17, and Jack, also 17, in Lon­don's ex­clu­sive

Knights­bridge.

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