Do Not Beware the Influencer
Internet personalities do not threaten high fashion, but rather represent a small aspect of modern marketing.
The Met Gala is the most coveted invite in fashion. Hosted by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, with the carpet on the iconic steps and a no-photos policy inside the exhibit, the Met Gala exudes an exclusive air, and has maintained it for all of Wintour’s tenure. However, when Dixie D’Amelio and Addison Rae took the carpet last May, some critics claimed that air was dissipating. The influencer presence at the 2022 Met Gala, and now at F1 races and fashion weeks, peaks a budding conversation about influencer culture and modern trend cycles muddying the pure waters of ‘real’ fashion. Whether it be the bastardization of runway shows, or the guest list at the Met Gala, it seems like everyone has a problem with the shift that’s occurred in the past twenty years.
The shift is that of the digital age catching up to celebrity culture. As the microtrend cycle shortens from twenty years to ten, the revolving door of influential people picks up pace, too. With that rise of the influencer’s presence in fashion (and high fashion), critics have started to mislabel the concept of expanded access to fashion as diminished quality. There is a hesitancy to accept the lowering gates of entry in fear of the ‘riff raff’ getting it, but there is another large theme at play.
“Fashion in general has gotten away from that sort of stodgy, seasonal [norm],” said Melissa Magsaysay, a fashion journalist who has worked for the LA Times. “Exclusivity has definitely been taken out.”
Influencers have become a more modern term for what used to be just “it-girls.” There have always been it-girls and there have always been influential people whom designers dress and gain exposure with. But now, with the rise of social media and the age of the internet, influencer is an entire profession. No longer are it-girls just nepotism babies who have befriended designers and served as muses. Now, anyone can become an influencer. And with that, anyone can sit in the front row at fashion week. It is a new age for fashion, but the same tricks are at play. While modern developments diversify and expand access, there can be a counterpoint based on a fear of diluted quality.
Some may perceive this as a loss of gilded fashion culture. While it is true that influencers that seep into celebrity status change the way fashion marketing is done, this is not because those people are changing fashion. Rather, fashion has changed itself.
Booth Moore, executive editor of Women’s Wear Daily explains that influencers are merely a marketing example of how fashion has broadened to become more about lifestyle than it used to be when it was just about clothing.
“Fashion has changed itself to become much more of a multimedia endeavor and also much more of a lifestyle,” Moore said. “Creative directors are expected to have their fingers on the pulse of music and arts and be able to have a cool group of friends and have a huge social media following and create a lifestyle or almost a club that people want to be a part of.”
Moore highlights this important shift that 21st Century arts are experiencing. The internet has caused all of the arts to merge and combine. The rise of social media coupled with the cultural pattern of identity politics has produced a system that rewards a diversified resume for winning the game of attention. In other words, anyone in the arts must check all different kinds of boxes to be considered an asset. Specialists are rare, and perhaps even less valued.
It is not enough anymore to simply be a model, or an actress or a designer. Now, the pressure is on how much one can capitalize off of their influence in many different fields. Fashion creative directors are musicians (see Pharell Williams) and directors (see Tom Ford). Every influencer we know is starting a makeup line or a fragrance, and some are even trying acting.
The opposition to this changing playing field is often championed by the “slippery slope” argument – that if influencers like Emma Chamberlain can host the Met Gala carpet, what’s stopping anyone with the ability to go viral from being artistic and cultural leaders? The most important thing to parse in that statement is the concept of “anyone.” The expansion of the industry has led to incredible access. It is good news that “anyone” can make it now. You don’t have to be the son of a seamstress in Italy to become the next McQueen. Now, anyone can go make it, because anyone can go viral. The internet algorithms operate on an attention economy. An idea is as good as it is popular.
While virality is not rare, it is also not all that it takes. Magsaysay said, “There [are] definitely still the tenets of what's expected to be a designer, like your point of view, some commercial viability, consistency, craftsmanship.” It’s important to remember that more accessibility does not inherently lower the bar, it lowers the gateway to entry. High fashion hopefuls still have to bring something worthy to the table to achieve real career success.
What is more common than unique talent is unchecked 15-minutes-of-famers, who capitalize off of their virality. But the fears that those characters will dilute what is special at the pinnacle of the fashion industry has not proved true. Most influencers stay (and thrive) in the marketing sector. Their businesses are successful, but not world-building. We must stop blaming (and giving credit) to influencers for a dynamic industry that is bound to change with the times.
Influencers are not a slippery slope, but rather tools that happen to be especially marketed towards young consumers on the platforms we use most. They are one aspect of a larger movement of leveraging celebrity culture to expand brand awareness. Brands have always had ambassadors and event presences, now they are simply evolving as the internet does.