Wednesday 17 July 2019

Katie Byrne: 'The women we call influencers aren't really that influential'

Modern Life

Artist Conie Vallese
Artist Conie Vallese
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Models-of-the-moment, Bella and Gigi Hadid, were nowhere to be seen when Irish fashion designer Simone Rocha showed her FW19 collection at London Fashion Week on Saturday.

Eschewing the tedious trend for twenty-something Insta-models, Rocha assembled a dream team of formidable women to showcase her latest designs instead.

Artist Conie Vallese, filmmaker Clara Cullen and singer Evangeline Ling shared the runway with statuesque 80s-era model Jeny Howorth and 90s It-girls Kirsten Owen and Jade Parfitt.

Noughties style icon Chloé Sevigny made a surprise appearance, as did model-turned-director Lily Cole, who came out of retirement after a five-year absence from the catwalk.

Rocha cast a few jobbing models too but, notably, she didn't go for the most in-demand faces. In fact, as if to prove a point, she cast Kesewa Aboah, the younger sister of 2017 Model of the Year, Adwoa Aboah.

British Vogue hailed the "cast of fabulously real women", which is a lovely idea but, let's be honest, patently untrue. Sure, Rocha cast artists, actors and singers for her show, but there's nothing 'real' about women that elicit double-takes when they walk down the street.

Elle magazine, on the other hand, hit the nail on the head when they praised Rocha's choice of "anti-Instagram influencers", noting that Kesewa Aboah has a grand total of zero Instagram posts.

You could argue that some of these women aren't exactly social media greenhorns - Sevigny has 723,000 followers on Insta while Cole has 87,000 - but that would be to miss the point. In an industry that increasingly casts models based on their social media numbers, it's unusual when a fashion designer brings together a group of influential women rather than a group of influencers.

Is that the message that Rocha was sending? While her counterparts scrambled to get the models-of-the-moment for their shows, the Irish designer went looking for yesterday's icons: the women who influenced us before influence was measured by likes and followers.

Or maybe she was trying to make a larger point. Maybe the women she assembled continue to influence us without the need for hashtags, hyperlinks and hyperbolic sales language.

In a world where the model-of-the-moment is a Kardashian, it's all too easy for us to equate fashion influence with social media figures. Gigi Hadid (46m Insta) and her sister Bella (23m Insta) are considered to be the most influential women in fashion, but it's worth noting that these two don't start trends, they market them.

Instead of rocking to the beat of their own drums - which is what truly influential women do - fashion influencers allow their identities to be shaped by whatever brand is offering the biggest pay cheque.

They talk about only working with brands that align with their interests, but you have to question a person's fashion credentials when they spend more time pushi0ng products with brand endorsements than they do seeking inspiration.

The truth is that most of the women who describe themselves as 'fashion influencers' are just very talented digital marketeers.

The actual influencers - the thought-leaders, taste-makers and trendsetters who inspire the self-styled influencers - are a much rarer breed. There's one in every classroom and here's the part that brands seem to have forgotten: these cool kids aren't necessarily the most popular people.

Too busy being themselves, they have little interest in gaining followers or status. Too consumed with what's on the horizon, they have no truck with current fads and trends.

Simone Rocha seemed to understand this when she brought together a group of eternally cool women rather than model-influencers for her show.

Okay, she may not get the kind of social media reach that fashion designers try to contrive with Insta-models and blue-tick FROW, but she seems content in the knowledge that influencers catch the ripple while only a few throw the stone.

Irish Independent

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