LIVING OUT LOUD
THE RICH KIDS OF INSTAGRAM
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