Well con­nected

Eva Chen, In­sta­gram’s di­rec­tor of fash­ion part­ner­ships, is trans­form­ing the way busi­nesses foster their so­cial me­dia pro­files, and, as Zara Wong finds out, it all comes down to au­then­tic­ity.

VOGUE Australia - - Codes -

We know her from #evachen­pose – the up­dates from In­sta­gram’s minia­ture con­fer­ence room on her In­sta­gram ac­count – and from the videos of her chil­dren play­ing with the app’s fil­ters. Eva Chen’s rep­u­ta­tion and in­flu­ence ex­ceeds the realms of tra­di­tional me­dia. As di­rec­tor of fash­ion part­ner­ships at In­sta­gram, Chen has been in­stru­men­tal in guid­ing the best of fash­ion’s in­sid­ers to pro­duce their most au­then­tic im­agery and videos for the so­cial me­dia plat­form, a con­tin­u­a­tion from her ear­lier ca­reer work­ing at fash­ion and beauty mag­a­zines. Chen vis­its Aus­tralia this June to speak at Vogue Codes.

Zara Wong: “You started your ca­reer work­ing at mag­a­zines such as Elle and Teen Vogue, and then you were ed­i­tor-in-chief at Lucky. Did you ever think you would be work­ing at a tech­nol­ogy com­pany like In­sta­gram?”

Eva Chen: “No! I never would have pre­dicted it. With my ca­reer, I have al­ways just fol­lowed what I’m in­ter­ested in and what I want to learn more about at the time. When I had Ren [her first-born daugh­ter] I de­cided to leave Lucky and take some time off, and then this op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self. Even be­fore I worked for In­sta­gram I felt like I was do­ing a sim­i­lar role to my job now; peo­ple like Pat McGrath or mod­els like Kar­lie Kloss would ask for ad­vice on what they should post on In­sta­gram. I al­ways was the kind of ed­i­tor that peo­ple ask for ad­vice about so­cial me­dia, so now it’s my job to help peo­ple tell their sto­ries bet­ter on In­sta­gram, whether it’s mod­els, de­sign­ers, stylists or glam squads.

“What’s amaz­ing is that any time I’m in an air­port, and I look around and see what peo­ple are do­ing, so of­ten it’s scrolling through In­sta­gram or post­ing their sto­ries. It makes me re­ally happy and I want to say: ‘Hey, that’s where I work!’ I’m con­stantly learn­ing, whether from some­one who works on a prod­uct team, or Marne Levine, the COO of In­sta­gram. She is an amaz­ing role model whose brain is wired in such an amaz­ing way. She bal­ances all the de­tails along with her pas­sion.”

ZW: “And even be­fore that, you were us­ing Pin­ter­est and Tum­blr, rec­om­mend­ing what to buy on sale and re­ply­ing when peo­ple asked you for ca­reer or beauty ad­vice.“

EC: “Yeah! That’s like O.G. The other plat­forms for me were al­ways about the abil­ity to con­nect to a big­ger au­di­ence and to in­ter­act with peo­ple. When I was at Teen Vogue it was talk­ing to teens to help them in any way I could, whether it’s skin­care or fights with friends. And now I re­ally get it all through In­sta­gram. I try to an­swer as many ques­tions as I can over In­sta­gram and in­ter­act with my fol­low­ers. It’s been re­ally help­ful as a new-ish mum. There are some fol­low­ers who I’ve never met, but if I ever meet them in per­son, I would lit­er­ally give them the big­gest, bone-crush­ing hug, be­cause I feel like I have a re­la­tion­ship with these peo­ple.”

ZW: “You’re so open on your In­sta­gram – when you meet your fol­low­ers in per­son, do you sense they feel like they have the lib­erty to get re­ally per­sonal quickly?”

EC: “I in­vite it, so I don’t mind. Even be­fore In­sta­gram ex­isted, I was that per­son where if you stopped me on the street and asked for di­rec­tions I would be like: ‘Oh, there’s this pizza place on the cor­ner’, and, ‘Oh, there’s a re­ally good bub­ble tea place two blocks away as well – let me write that down for you.’ I like shar­ing what I like – ex­pe­ri­ences, emo­tions – and now In­sta­gram has al­lowed me to reach a wider au­di­ence. I will never for­get when I was talk­ing about my son [Tao], who didn’t learn to sleep through the night un­til about 11 months, which is quite late, and there was just an out­pour­ing of words and ad­vice

from my fol­low­ers and it re­duced me to tears. They were so sym­pa­thetic and ea­ger to help. I was so grate­ful to have them shar­ing their wis­dom.” ZW: “The in­ter­net and In­sta­gram have played a big part in mak­ing fash­ion so much more open and demo­cratic now. What ef­fect do you think this open­ness has on the fash­ion in­dus­try in par­tic­u­lar?“

EC: “In­sta­gram has taken down the vel­vet rope of fash­ion and made it a re­ally in­clu­sive and friendly ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one. You could live in Mel­bourne or Mon­tana and feel like you’re a fash­ion in­sider from the com­fort of your own home. Now peo­ple want to see the de­tails and the be­hind-the-scenes, so you have some­one like hairstylist Jen Atkin, who works with many celebri­ties, and you can see what she does. There’s an en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor in the be­hind-the-scenes. An over­all trend on In­sta­gram has been a re­turn to au­then­tic­ity. We’re see­ing that peo­ple want real mo­ments on In­sta­gram that are raw, and not too edited or staged or that look like they were shot with a pro­fes­sional cam­era or with a huge crew with pro­fes­sional make-up artists. Peo­ple don’t just want to see the fin­ished im­age, they want to see how we got to that fin­ished im­age.

“I think about the fact that it took me a while to fig­ure out what I wanted to do job-wise. I grew up as a first­gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can to im­mi­grant par­ents who gave me so much in terms of ed­u­ca­tion. But I didn’t know mag­a­zine jobs ex­isted, or what mar­ket­ing en­tailed. All I re­ally knew was that peo­ple could be doc­tors, bankers, lawyers and engi­neers. If I had the op­por­tu­nity to fol­low a young stylist styling some­one for her first Met Gala or a model like Slick Woods or Ad­woa Aboah and fol­low their ups and downs, it would have given me a quicker path to my cur­rent ca­reer. I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have strug­gled quite as much as I did when I was younger, but I guess it all worked out, be­cause it all links to where I am now.”

ZW: “We’ve seen you go from Elle and Teen Vogue and Lucky to In­sta­gram, and on pa­per it looks great, but there are al­ways the bits in be­tween where you’re not sure, or, you know, some­thing has not gone as planned …“

EC: “Def­i­nitely. It’s bet­ter to try things and re­alise that you don’t want it. You might think that you’re a fail­ure, but it’s ac­tu­ally a suc­cess be­cause you learnt some­thing about your­self. I find it re­ally ad­mirable when peo­ple share on In­sta­gram when they’re hav­ing a hard time. I fol­low the curve model Paloma Elsesser [@Palomija] who talked so pas­sion­ately what it was like to work with Glossier where she posed nude – and taste­fully nude – and what it meant for her and body ac­cep­tance, which is a grow­ing move­ment on In­sta­gram. I know T Y right now in Eng­land there’s a T move­ment where peo­ple are us­ing the hash­tag #ac­neis­nor­mal, and I love that! I am very in­spired by that: when peo­ple are open and coura­geous in that way.” ZW: “How did your time work­ing in mag­a­zines pre­pare + you for your job now?“

EC: “At mag­a­zines I worked with pho­tog­ra­phers, mod­els,

stylists, mar­ket ed­i­tors, writ­ers, and I would try to get them to do the best work they could on be­half of the mag­a­zine. I think my job now is quite sim­i­lar, but it’s on be­half of their In­sta­gram, so their In­sta­gram is their own mag­a­zine. What I took from it was the abil­ity to talk to a lot of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple and to see the big pic­ture.” ZW: “In­sta­gram is a tech com­pany first and fore­most. When did you re­alise that you had an in­ter­est in it and that it would be a big part of your ca­reer?“

EC: “I hon­estly wouldn’t have guessed that it would be. I’ve been do­ing in­for­ma­tional in­ter­views once a week for maybe over 10 years now. My ad­vice to peo­ple is to look for your pas­sion. If you love movies, you could find a way to make work­ing in en­ter­tain­ment a re­al­ity for you. You don’t need to be the movie star, but you could be in pro­duc­tion or the art depart­ment. It’s just a mat­ter of do­ing the re­search and find­ing a way to get there, and be­ing a lit­tle bit en­tre­pre­neur­ial and think­ing out­side the box. So for me it’s been a re­ally happy sur­prise and that’s how my ca­reer, oddly, has kind of op­er­ated. It’s al­ways been a pas­sion first.” ZW: “From your po­si­tion, what do you see the fu­ture of fash­ion look­ing like?“EC: “There’s still the pro­gres­sion to­wards body in­clu­siv­ity and body pos­i­tiv­ity. Right now it’s: ‘Yay, it’s so great, we’ve ar­rived’, but we’re still ways off from it be­ing the norm. Fash­ion shows should re­flect dif­fer­ent cul­tures and dif­fer­ent looks and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. I’m glad that we’re at the point where it’s ex­pected that you have a di­verse point of view, and I think a lot of that is go­ing to come off when ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship or a com­pany’s board of directors have di­ver­sity rep­re­sented by women with dif­fer­ent back­grounds, LGBT, body pos­i­tiv­ity, ev­ery­thing. There is an ex­pec­ta­tion on lead­er­ship now to hire for that at that C-suite level.” ZW: “What are you most fre­quently asked about In­sta­gram?“

EC: “There are no real rules be­sides be your­self. It’s re­ally hard to be very pre­scrip­tive. But a few rules I pre­scribe to on my In­sta­gram is, num­ber one: be open, be au­then­tic, don’t try to be X, Y, Z blog­gers, be­cause they have how­ever num­ber of fol­low­ers. You should post what moves you and what you’re in­ter­ested in, and not what will res­onate with peo­ple. You will find your com­mu­nity on In­sta­gram no mat­ter, be­cause there are 300 mil­lion peo­ple on In­sta­gram. Num­ber two is if you have a hobby or a pas­sion, tap into that com­mu­nity and grow your voice there. Don’t ob­sess over your grid, don’t delete ev­ery­thing on your ac­count so that you’re cool and aloof.” ZW: “What do you wish more peo­ple knew at the be­gin­ning stages of their ca­reer?“EC: “I hon­estly went through my ca­reer tak­ing each day at a time. I would have con­tin­ued do­ing that, ask­ing lots of ques­tions – don’t feel bad to stop and take a break and re-eval­u­ate what’s right for you. Peo­ple don’t have the ex­pec­ta­tion that they’re the same per­son at all points in their life. There’s no rea­son why your job at 22 should be the same job when you’re 30. So I think tak­ing time to kind of ask your­self: ‘Am I happy most of the time? Do I like what I’m do­ing? What is the pur­pose of what I’m do­ing?’

“The best in­vest­ment I think that any woman can make is to take care of her­self, be­cause it’s hard to bal­ance. The most im­por­tant thing is know­ing when to say you need a night off, pour a glass of wine, and read, like, your dorky sci­encefic­tion book. It might sound clichéd, but tak­ing care of your­self so you can take care of other peo­ple – whether it’s at work, school, or with fam­ily or loved one – if you can give back to peo­ple you can give a lit­tle back to your­self. Be nice to your­self, and be for­giv­ing to your­self.”

To find out more about Eva Chen’s ap­pear­ance at Vogue Codes, go to codes.vogue.com.au.

“In­sta­gram has taken down the vel­vet rope of fash­ion and made it a re­ally in­clu­sive and friendly ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one … peo­ple want to see the be­hindthe-scenes”

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