will the real anna wintour please stand up?
Fashion luminaries like Suzy Menkes, Tim Blanks, and yes, Ms. Wintour, are inspiring impersonator and homage social media accounts from Kuala Lumpur to Kansas City. i-D asks: sweet trend or creepy identity theft?
Daniel A. is a 21 year-old writer from San Diego who's been on Tumblr since 2011. His feed is mostly runway images and tear sheets of fashion stories from magazines. Every once in a while he will cross-pollinate with his Instagram account @danielall_ n - usually a dressing room selfie or a shot of him goofing around with friends - not exactly newsworthy in the Tumblr-sphere. I noticed his account because of its URL: timblanks.tumblr.com. Anyone searching for the real Tim Blanks of style.com would not be fooled for long. The images and voice, though clear and original, are nothing like the venerable fashion critic's. Through a warren of reblogs and twisted Tumblr corridors I found some other familiar fashion names: casting queen bee ashleybrokaw.tumblr.com, suzy-menkes.tumblr.com, and cathyhoryn.tumblr.com. All very clearly not them nor purporting to be. However, the trend begs the question, who do these Tumblrs think they are?
"I thought it would be funny. At the time everyone was doing designer and model names or wordplay on the two, but Tim Blanks rocks so I was like, 'I'll be him for jokes.' And it just looks nice so it stuck, dude's got a good name," wrote Daniel in an email. I would imagine Tim, Cathy, and co would be tickled by this phenomenon. Tumblrs like Daniel's are not even fan sites or tributes, but more like inside jokes playing on the names of fashion insiders.
Jokes aside, there are those who take their fashion namesake Tumblr and Instagram handles quite seriously. Take the Instagram account @juergentellerpage, 'An ode to Juergen Teller.' It is a straightforward tribute profile with a 36k following, highlighting the work of the renowned photographer (who does not use the platform publicly himself). This acts as a service for fans, to showcase archival work, similar to the aggregate knowledge that happens on Wikipedia. With its endless fan pages for photographers and models, Instagram is becoming something of a fashion wiki. Don't want to spend 500 bucks on Go-Sees, Teller's 1999 monograph of young models? Just scroll through and you will find many of the images in a few seconds. Why would Teller himself spend valuable time creating an archival account, when a fan is doing such a good job?
Fan pages on social media are a reflection of the contemporary zeitgeist, not to mention a great way to gauge celebrity influence. Case in point, a Kendall Jenner decoy Instagram account that in itself has 10k followers (@kendalljennvr) or one for Cara Delevingne (@caradelevingne) with 11k. Many of these teenybopper fan pages verge on full impersonation. Think of it as fanfic for the Insta crowd. And if you're wondering why cat lover and US Vogue Creative Director uses 'therealgracecoddington' as her Insta handle, it is because of the handful of profiles that already use her name in various permutations. And is it not a status symbol to be 'forced' to ID your own profile as "the real"? It is the Instagram and Twitter version of knighthood with Sir or Lady.
Of course, Grace's boss Anna Wintour has spawned myriad social media fan pages, while Anna has no official page of her own. One assumes she is not behind the hilarious GIFs of "Anna Fucking Winter" at judgementalanna.tumblr. Some of these pages flat-out impersonate her and others just track her every move, outfit, expression and front row interaction. George Orwell meets Ron Gallela, but no real surprise for someone viewed as the personal embodiment of the global fashion industry.
Whether they're intended as ironic jokes or heartfelt homages, the psychology behind fashion's copycat social media accounts is deeply nuanced. Is it better for young people to create their own identities than impersonate others? Or is it a healthy practice that links fans to their heroes and enables their dreams? Ultimately, it might all be in the numbers, because the realpolitik of social media is how many followers you can draw — whether you're the @thereal or not.
Text Christopher Bernard
Illustration Naomi Otsu