The app of influence

With its easy-to-use social tools and filters, Instagram is hugely popular among fashion bloggers. Some of those making best use of the app are now attracting the attention of the brands they feature, their photographic style prompting invitations to shows and opportunities to collaborate

Meet fashion’s latest muses: a global community of visual diarists who are fast becoming the new industry influencers thanks to Instagram. Since launching in 2010, the app has amassed 200 million active users, with over 20 billion images shared so far, including an average of 60 million photos and 1.6 billion photo likes per day.

Instagram’s rapid growth is symptomatic of a wider shift in photography towards more ‘authentic’ images, with smartphone photography playing a key role in this trend, as real lives are increasingly shared in real-time through social media. With its ability to snap pictures, apply filters and share results with followers, Instagram is the perfect tool for fashion and style bloggers who can quickly gain a large number of followers.

Officially, there’s a particular group that Instagram consider to be ‘new fashion influencers’ in the app, namely those who have a high following and engagement, who are followed by and engage with high profile fashion industry figures, and have a fast growing account due to type and quality of the content. Many of these ‘high profile’ influencers on Instagram are fashion bloggers, some of whom have built on a following from their own blogs, while others started with Instagram and moved to blogging. Either way, along with driving traffic to their blogs, most utilise it to engage with a growing and diverse community of fashion voices made up of both fans and peers.

So what sets these Instagrammers apart? “Beautiful photographs, a compelling voice and the right amount of mystery,” says Kristen Joy Watts, who leads on art and fashion for the Instagram Community Team in New York. “Some Instagrammers create a world that you feel like you could be a part of, and others create one you want to escape into.”

Susie Lau aka Susie Bubble (@susiebubble, 151K Instagram followers) – a fashion blogger since 2006, who worked at Dazed Digital 2008-10 before leaving to blog full-time – blogs about industry events and street style with engaging, down-to-earth commentary. This translates into the hyper-visual, behind-the-scenes vibe of Instagram particularly well. She recently took part in a paid partnership to take over the Swarovski account to launch its new Instagram presence, and says she often sees her own Instagram images on designers’ mood boards. She even announced earlier this year that she’s writing a book about the app.

Joshua Kissi (@streetettiquette, 125K followers), aka one half of men’s lifestyle blog Street Etiquette, which “showcases style using a cultural, historical and urban perspective”, carries their very particular aesthetic of well-composed shots of street style and New York life through into their Instagram account. These guys also exemplify how these types of engaging, beautiful Instagram images are part of a growing number of new male fashion voices in the app.

Most top accounts tend to consist of a carefully curated selection of outfit images, mixing considered composition and off-the-cuff selfies, alongside lifestyle shots of food, events, their home and friends, to create a feed that is relatable, personal and a little humorous, whilst also being inspiring, alluring, and with a touch of glamour.

Fashion blogger and Instagrammer Leandra Medine aka Man Repeller (@manrepeller) epitomises how this enticing recipe can establish such a dominant presence on Instagram – with a massive 692,537 Instagram followers – through creating a utopian gallery that feels attainable.

Man Repeller refers to “she who outfits herself in a sartorially offensive mode that may result in repelling members of the opposite sex”, and her personal style blog aims to be a “humorous website for serious fashion”, which effortlessly translates into Instagram’s solely visual feed.

In a post earlier this year, entitled Why I Don’t Wear Makeup, Medine issued a response to the “ugly as fuck” comment she received in a mistakenly forwarded email chain from the male founder of a website attempting to collaborate with her. In the witty and honest post, she describes how her Instagram comments often question her lack of make-up or beauty regime, and goes on to state how this is “inconsistent with the Man Repeller ethos seeing as we don’t typically sell bodies – we sell ideas. That and clothes.”

This type of approach to fashion welcomes a broad audience irrespective of who they are or what they look like, by not being afraid of posting photos of bold outfits with no make-up, where she may not look conventionally beautiful.

“She’s probably the most famous blogger ever”, says Danielle Vanier (@daniellevanier, 12K followers), who began using Instagram prior to making her name as a plus-size fashion blogger, as part of a growing community of traditionally marginalised ‘fatshion’ writers.

“I just started posting outfit pictures. I remember my first one back in 2012, it was a selfie in front of the mirror, they all were back then before I started having my photos taken. I was wearing a studded bralet crop top, because I thought if I start doing this I want my first picture to be memorable,” she says. “After doing that for a while I started using Tumblr and then a site with my own domain name.”

After studying for a degree in textiles at Chelsea, Vanier worked as a print designer for H&M, Monsoon, and Evans, and currently freelances in print design and personal styling for brands. However, her career in the fashion world has gathered momentum predominantly through social media and blogging.

“I was watching other women posting their outfit posts on Instagram and I thought, ‘well I can do that’. I had followed plus-size bloggers for years, who I then found on Instagram,” she says. “I initially looked at two major hash tags, #effyourbeautystandards, and #hounourmycurves, which I followed and used to find other people to follow. #effyourbeautystandards is kind of a fingers up to the rules that people put on you when you’re bigger. It’s a body positive hashtag started by a plus-size blogger, but it’s for everybody.”

There’s a strong sense of community amongst plus-size fashion bloggers and their followers, but as the hashtags show, it is less about grouping according to body type and more about creating an inclusive environment which fosters relationships and encourages exchange of ideas in a fast and accessible way. “You get more exposure, you get it quicker, and there’s more of a community feel, which is what has kept it rolling,” Vanier says.

And Watts agrees: “Today there’s more of a dialogue between influencers and their audiences. And there are fewer barriers to building up an audience than there used to be,” she says. “Anyone with enough talent and mettle can participate in the fashion world in an increasing number of ways. And what was once an exclusive, behind-the-scenes world is being demystified.”

Instagram has also become an asset to brands as a research tool, a showcase for their products, and a means to more closely connect with a very visually engaged community of potential customers. Not only is the app providing them with an often very personal glimpse into the lives of customers, but Instagrammers are creating the aspirational, authentic and inspired content that brands now want.

“Lots of designers and editors tell me that Instagram inspires them and their work,” Watts says. “A lot of collaborations begin on Instagram. Creatives have long been discovering each other on the internet but I think Instagram has made those connections easier and more fun.”

Through tagging companies in images which link back to more extended blog reviews, bloggers like Vanier uses the app along with other social media platforms to help maintain a good rapport with brands, many of whom invite her to collection launches and other events, and gift items to her for review.

“Brands put me on their social networks or write about me on their websites, which sends traffic to my blog, so it’s a two-way street,” she says. “Their relationship with bloggers is a lot stronger nowadays, and they use us more for advertising new ranges and collections, because people like to see the clothes on all different sizes.”

Photographers, models and other creatives are also catching the attention of brands through their Instagram use, resulting in collaborations and offers for other professional opportunities.

“Several Paris couture houses invited creative photographers on Instagram to attend and photograph their shows,” says Watts. “Maison Martin Margiela picked a dark, edgy Instagrammer (@neriad) and Dior picked someone with a lighter, prettier aesthetic (@parisinfourmonths). This kind of access for up-and-coming creatives is unprecedented in fashion.”

But aside from professional collaborations, who is gaining or losing out financially? Instagram certainly drives traffic to blogs, which can be monetised in terms of ads, affiliate links and paid-for critical product reviews, but is it enough? “Brands are cottoning on to the world of blogging and how influential we are,” Vanier says. “It’s difficult because a lot of the time they just offer you exposure as payment. But I think they are realising that they can’t expect us to do all the work for them to reap all the benefit. It’s all very well being gifted all these things, but you have to weigh up whether they really are free.”

Instagram suggests it may be too early to tell how the financial side to these relationships will pan out, but they place value in its hyper-engaged and devoted user base and the opportunity it brings to connect creative people globally. And it is evident that the authenticity, diversity and credibility of these individuals’ powerful voices is certainly starting to shake up the industry’s traditional hierarchy of influence for the better.

The Instagram blog showcases the work of young imagemakers on the site and collates images around topical themes. Check it out at blog.instagram.com

More from CR

Portraits with strangers

Remember the dreaded school portrait? In a new project, currently taking place in Sydney, The Glue Society’s James Dive is asking strangers to come together and relive these formal portraits in the name of art…

Our kind of Folk

With its ‘understated-with-a-twist’ approach to clothing for both men and women and its obsession with the kind of quirky detail that takes a keen eye to spot, Folk has found a place in many Creative Review readers’ wardrobes. Patrick Burgoyne talks to the brand’s founder and creative director Cathal McAteer and to its regular collaborators, design consultancy IYA Studio, about the secret of Folk’s appeal, its future direction and why it was finally time to drop Arial from its identity

Record sleeves of the month

Our latest round-up of beautiful, unusual and intriguing album art includes some apocalyptic designs for The Bug, surreal artwork for Sbtrkt and some lovely imagery for Perfume Genius and Jamie T.

Eoin Duffy’s existential animations

Animator and former designer Eoin Duffy’s short films use simple graphics to address some complicated issues. We spoke to Duffy about his Oscar-nominated The Missing Scarf and the moving On Departure…

Artworker

NAO (National Audit Office)

Junior Designer

National Theatre