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Exploring the obsession with fashion’s Insta-famous models

Kendall Jenner’s special ‘Vogue’ issue is a milestone of today’s fashion landscape

It’s undeniable that Kendall Jenner is one of the most famous women in fashion. Over a career spanning just two years (her first major show was Marc Jacobs back in 2014) she has walked runways for Chanel, DiorGivenchy and Versace to name a few, as well as starring on countless magazine covers – including Dazed’s, dressed head-to-toe in Junya Watanabe. She’s also one of the most talked about models in the industry today, alongside fellow social media influencer Gigi Hadid – one of AW16’s major moments was their now-iconic Balmain hair swap. Yesterday Vogue announced a special issue dedicated entirely to Jenner; the sole content would be a full-length interview with the star, accompanied by an editorial shot by Mario Testino. Although Jenner and her fellow ‘it-girls’ have been gaining traction within the industry for some time, the announcement of this cover seemed to cement a new era in fashion, one which reflects modern culture and its methods of consumption.

The first, most obvious observation is that social media now determines our buying habits – or at least major brands think they do. The byline of Jenner’s Vogue cover makes direct reference to her mammoth 64m Instagram followers, describing it as the ‘Kendall Effect’. Naturally, these followers hang on to Jenner’s every word, making a sponsored post particularly lucrative. CR Fashion Book revealed in December last year that models like Jenner and fellow star Gigi Hadid could command between $125,000 and $300,000 per Instagram post by endorsing brands looking to reach their astronomical audience. Fashion houses and beauty brands are also left competing to affiliate themselves with social media influencers. The Vogue supplement is a key example – the sole advertiser in the special is Estée Lauder, of which Jenner is the face.

So, what is it that makes the likes of Hadid and Jenner so powerful that the industry has no choice but to tap into their marketing potential? Firstly, they’re a world away from the unattainable glamazons of the 80s and 90s. Naomi CampbellLinda Evangelista and their counterparts were fashion royalty in an age before social media, making big-name interviews a rarity. Hadid and Jenner, on the other hand, are more than happy to keep their followers up-to-date with the minutiae of their daily lives. Whereas Jenner spent her adolescence on screen with the Kardashian clan, Hadid has taken to Instagram to slam critics that have body- and slut-shamed her and, in the process, became relatable and, ultimately, likeable.

Instagram also provides these starlets with the tools to dilute their lives into commercial morsels which an audience can easily engage with. A telling article by Fashionista underscored the growing ubiquity of Instagram in comparison to the blogs that dominated fashion just years earlier; modern society doesn’t want lengthy content, but small tidbits communicated visually. This is undoubtedly due to the saturation of information in modern media, but it goes a way towards explaining the influential power of Jenner and Hadid. These trends are not just rooted in modelling either – street style favourite Justin O’Shea of MyTheresa was recently appointed as creative director at Italian luxury house Brioni. Naturally, almost all reports written about the ‘unconventional’ choice referenced his 79,000 Instagram followers, arguing his fanbase as proof of the app’s power.

“As a generation, we crave accessibility and ultimately want to be able to access and relate to the faces we see on screen – these names are the antithesis of an outdated notion that models are out of reach”

Of course, not everybody cares about followers. In an insightful extract from a 1Granary interview, Adrian Joffe claimed to never look at social media presence when selecting designers for Dover Street Market, further arguing that the speed of Instagram leads to confusion and distraction. Similarly, Diesel’s creative director Nicola Formichetti explained his views on follower counts at a SXSW talk last year, expressing an active dislike for too many followers. Although Formichetti has been known to harness social media and cast models online in the past, he remains adamant that quality over quantity is the way forward, stating a desire to communicate with and get to know his Instafans.

However, despite reluctance from some, Instagram’s influence is shaping the landscape of modern fashion. The ubiquity of Jenner and Hadid seems unlikely to wane, with other stars like Pyper America and Lucky Blue Smith similarly translating their follower count into unprecedented success. As a generation, we crave accessibility and ultimately want to be able to access and relate to the faces we see on screen – these names are the antithesis of an outdated notion that models are out of reach. Instead, we want to be able to interact and step into the lives of our favourite role models, and fashion houses are recognising this by using campaigns and sponsored posts to tap into their influence. Jenner’s Vogue cover is more than just a supplement – it’s a promotional tool in its own right and a cultural milestone which cements 2016 as ‘the year of the it-girl’.