how instagram is democratizing the modeling industry

Marc Jacobs says he’s “appalled” by social media, but it's impossible to deny the effect it has had on casting the catwalk.

by Jean Kemshal-Bell
11 March 2015, 1:25pm

Photo via @caradelevingne

Apparently, Marc Jacobs does not get the whole social media thing. In fact, he told Vogue fashion critic Suzy Menkes in a recent interview, he is "appalled" by it. It's a familiar sentiment—something our parents are likely to say—but sorry Marc, I am not buying it from you. This is the man who was first to cast Kendall Jenner in her fashion week debut with his Fall 2014 show. The following season, he launched Gigi Hadid's (of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fame) runway career. A year on, the pair are permanent fixtures on the runway.

The girls are gorgeous—that's a fact—but what separates them from the other equally genetically-blessed models is their mind-boggling social media reach. It's hard to believe this detail somehow escaped Jacobs and his team. The reality is the entire fashion industry understands, or at least should understand by now, the value of a model with a strong online presence. Cast a digitally-connected model such as Jenner and reach 30 million people, feature an ad in an issue of US Vogue and reach around 1.2 million. Traditionally, brands introduced us to models—today teenagers discover luxury labels through models' Instagram accounts.

Crowned the "Instagirls", this new generation of models are Internet-savvy and use the platforms to create their own brand. Like the supers of the 90s, they are identifiable by their first names: Kendall, Gigi, Karlie and Cara. Katie Grand, Jacobs' long-time collaborator and editor of LOVE, is perhaps the biggest supporter of these internet stars. She pushed for Jenner's and Hadid's runway gigs and has featured just about all of the Kardashian clan in LOVE. Carine Roitfeld, too, has been an earlier support of Hadid, and is responsible for Gigi's sister Bella (who already has over half a million Instagram followers) getting her first big break last month when she walked for Tom Ford.

When Estée Lauder chose 19-year-old Jenner as the face of the cosmetics brand in November (something normally reserved for actresses or model veterans) they were frank about her appointment: she was chosen because of her online audience. "(Jenner) is the ultimate 'Instagirl', and we are excited to leverage her image, voice, energy and extraordinary social media power to introduce Estée Lauder to millions of young women around the world," Estée Lauder global brand president Jane Hertzmark Hudis said in a statement. Naturally, Jenner broke the news on Instagram. Two months later, Hadid—who has over two million Instagram followers—landed a lucrative beauty contract with Maybelline. Not only are luxury brands gaining access to a huge audience - they are being handed an army of future consumers. It's a clever investment.

Instagram and the like are allowing models to create their own fully-fledged brand. We are given behind-the-scenes access to their lives. We see them hanging out with friends, attending parties, and going on dates. We get a sense of their values and beliefs via the quotes that they publish. We feel like we know them. Hadid recently told The Cut: "People like to follow people they can relate to and want to be friends with, but who can show them a different world they don't necessarily know. I'm conscious of being myself and sharing what's in my life, whether it's heartbreak or a new cover." 

No other model has capitalized on social media as successfully as Cara Delevingne. Using Instagram to document her life and express her sassy personality (her zany selfies are set to be iconic), the 22-year-old quickly catapulted to supermodel status—a position models have not enjoyed since the nineties. With over 14 million followers spanning the social media networks, the Delevingne brand is so powerful that when a label gets her to walk the runway or appear in campaigns, they are choosing to align themselves with what she represents . It's impossible for her to be just a "blank canvas".

What is interesting is that many of these models do not necessarily have the right specs for the runway. Delevingne is considered short at 5ft 9in and the Hadid sisters are curvy compared to their modeling counterparts. Their personalities are helping them snag campaigns, editorial and now runway, and in doing so they are redefining what makes a successful model. 

The power that social media has afforded the once-disposable model is the real game-changer. Models now have the ability to use this medium to determine their career longevity, and with Instagram introducing "carousel ads" which allow you to shop direct from a post, their power is only set to increase. 


Text Jean Kemshal-Bell
Image via @caradelevingne

Cara Delevingne
Kendall Jenner
Social Media
marc jacobs
Gigi Hadid
suzy menkes