Under The Influence
When it comes to style, do we follow our instincts or are we just drinking the Kool-Aid from fashion’s latest muse? Divya Bala charts the influencers changing the world’s shopping patterns.
For most of us, it starts in school and those first attempts at trying to work out whom we would like to be. There’s the undeniable draw of that girl: with artfully tousled hair and perfect skin, she stood out from among an assembly of fidgety teens for looking completely comfortable in her skin. If she flat-ironed her hair, you knew that next week everyone else would too. If she bought cigarette-cut jeans, you might find yourself in a fitting room that Saturday considering a pair, perhaps to capture some of that effortlessness for yourself. That same girl spent her Saturdays watching Love Story and studying the cover of the Ramones’s Rocket To Russia to get her inspiration. The power of influence over our style has always been strong, it’s just that these days there’s a business behind it.
According to studies conducted late last year, 70 percent of shoppers say they look to independent bloggers, friends, and family for inspiration. Eighty-four percent of marketers said they would launch at least one influencer-led campaign in 2017, and nearly 40 percent of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a tweet from an influencer. This wave of influencers may not be household names, but they hold sway over their dedicated followers, who obsess over every look they wear—think Chiara Ferragni (10 million Instagram followers), Aimee Song (4.6 million), Kristina Bazan (2.4 million), or Danielle Bernstein (1.7 million). An influencer with 1.5 million followers can charge about USD90,000 per Instagram post.
For retailers, that figure could be a shrewd investment. “I think these women are integral to fashion—they bring trends to life, they personalise pieces, they offer a fresh perspective on the status quo, providing ideas, styling things in new and unexpected ways so it doesn’t feel so cookie-cutter,” says Coco Chan, head of womenswear at Stylebop.com. “Two days after Rihanna’s [Fenty x Puma] line arrived, we sold out on the satin bow-lace sneakers [which RiRi wore several times]. This followed the same pattern as the furry slides, not to mention the creepers, which we can never keep in stock, even after multiple orders.”
Sara Donaldson of Harper and Harley and co-founder of e-commerce store The Undone understands this phenomenon intimately. Having made the move from blogger to boutique owner, she created a business model with partner Georgia Martin inspired by her observations as an influencer. “Part of the reason we created The Undone was because of the direct effect of a blog or Instagram post on the Harper and Harley platforms in generating immediate, short- and long-term sales of a product,” Donaldson explains. In many ways, nothing has really changed. Fashion—both brand and buyer—has always loved a muse célèbre. Consider Hermès’s Birkin bag, inspired by Jane Birkin. Or dancewear brand Repetto, which engineered a new style of footwear at the request of Brigitte Bardot for her film And God Created Woman. The resulting Cendrillon ballet flat style is still a staple today. The difference now is celebrities who have a solid fashion following are harnessing their ability to shift stock at the rate of knots for business opportunities of their own. To wit, last year, Beyoncé’s Ivy Park collection crashed the Topshop website on its mid-April release, and was the top-selling brand online at department store Nordstrom that week. British model and presenter Alexa Chung— not content with inspiring a generation of waify types into A-line micro minis, rain macs, and Mary Janes—launched one of two 2016 collaborations with sleepy British high-street giant Marks & Spencer. Inspired by the brand’s vintage archive, the collection bolstered sales for the year, enticing a new, younger shopper into its stores. Following the success of this and other ventures into fashion design—AG denim, Madewell, the Chung-inspired Mulberry bag released in 2009, which contributed significantly to a 79 percent increase in the brand’s sales the following year—Chung launched her own line, Alexachung, last May. Polyvore’s PolyData report revealed last year’s top female fashion icon to be Kylie Jenner, who drove sales for bomber jackets, crop tops, thigh-high boots, and nude lip colours, ahead even of the omnipresent Gigi Hadid and her Tommy Hilfiger collection. The same report showed Rihanna to be the second-most-searched-for female style icon, for reasons akin to Chan’s at Stylebop. And through all of Kanye’s controversy last year, his Yeezy Boost 350 V2 outsold the Nike Air Force 1—widely proclaimed the best-selling athletic shoe in history—the week it dropped in late September. For Giselle Farhat, founder and buyer at MyChameleon.com.au, the idea of a modern fashion influencer has evolved with the accessibility of social media from simply public figures to women everywhere. “With consistent and honest style, there are strong women with purpose and a voice demanding a following,” she says, which, when you think about it, provides the perfect opportunity to forge ahead with your own style. We can cherry-pick from Rihanna’s avant-garde inclinations, Alexa’s impeccable taste in denim, Gigi’s colossal collection of eyewear, and your favourite influencer’s uncanny ability to put together the most unlikely combinations with finesse. A little nudge in the right direction never hurts.
Gigi Hadid wearing a jacket from her own collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger