Instamodels' fall from grace
Fans are waking up to how social media influencers hawk products under the guise of glamour after the Fyre Festival fiasco
With Vogue editor Anna Wintour at the helm, the Met Gala - an orgiastic couture display celebrating the opening of the museum's annual fashion exhibition each May - is famed for its buttoned-up protocol.
But if you're an Instafamous model, rules are seemingly for breaking: flouting the event's selfie ban, Kendall Jenner did what she does best: post to Instagram to her heart's content. There was the annual 'bathroom selfie', featuring her sisters Kylie and Kim, new squeeze A$AP Rocky and a handful of hangers on. If there's a single frame more packed with vapid, pouting action, the world has yet to see it.
All told, Kendall and Kim looked to be in rather good form at the Met Gala, considering recent events. The latter is said to have shed 100,000 Instagram followers after those unairbrushed bikini snaps went viral last week. Many fans concluded that "real" Kim has been Photoshopping her photos for years and that she was a "fake". And ironically, tampering with pics on the photo-sharing website - the Ground Zero of selfie culture - appears to be a big no-no (or at least, getting caught is).
Kim's sister Kendall hasn't fared well either. Only weeks before, she was "devastated" by the vicious backlash to her tone-deaf Pepsi advert. You may recall the clip, in which Kendall proffers a cool beverage to a police officer during a particularly photogenic riot. The reason for the backlash? No one, save for some Pepsi executive, thought that Kendall - a member of one of the most pampered and privileged media dynasty families - should be able to cure the world's social anxieties with a can of pop.
It got worse for Kendall. Last weekend, she came under fire for promoting the epic failure that was the Fyre Festival. Several Instafamous beauties, among them Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, had lent their considerable star power to the Bahamas-based luxury event, helping to push the package price up to around €10,000 (give or take a cocktail or two). Billed as a "cultural moment created from an alchemic blend of music, art, and food", the delicious images on the homepage turned out to be little more than fantasy. On arrival revelers reported finding half-built tents, rat droppings, dogs wandering around the site and mountains of rubbish.
It made for slightly entertaining viewing on social media, but the Fyre fiasco is a significant moment in the tango between influencers, advertisers and the public. The festival had recruited over 400 influencers (billed 'Fyre Starters'), many of which had huge followings on social media. They were offered free flights, festival tickets and accommodation to post about how excited they were to attend the festival (it has been rumoured, though unconfirmed, that the top tier of influencers has been paid undisclosed sums to promote the event). Within hours of the start of the festival, according to a Vanity Fair report, some 'Fyre Starters' began to distance themselves from the event, deleting their promotional posts.
Are the Instafamous models, once as untouchable as they were glamorous, starting to fall flat?
Worrying about one's reputation on social media seems like a fool's errand, but reputation is everything. It's what huge brands - among them Estee Lauder and Calvin Klein - pay them for (anything up to €283,000 for a single post, according to some estimates). It has been the industry behemoth few have seen coming. Influencer marketing platform MuseFind data for 2016 shows that 92pc of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement.
Yet in a cultural and political climate where fake news is having a moment, it's hard not to think of the smoke and mirrors of the Instafamous influencers as an insidious form of post-truth: one where products and services are hawked to fans under the guise of glamour and an aspirational, heavily filtered lifestyle.
Where once models were introduced to the world via the couture houses of New York, Paris and Milan, the Instafamous model has worked it the other way around. Fashion labels and magazines, doubtless seduced by the prospect of column inches and kudos, have started to hire the models whose debutante season has been replaced by a couple of leggy selfies.
"From the pages of glossy magazines to MTV Cribs, people lap up what (some) can only dream of having and it can appear that, the more access they have into the lives of the elite, the more they want," asserts Dave Byrne, creative director of youth marketing agency Thinkhouse. "In 2017, it just so happens that this platform is Instagram. It offers instant access to the lives of celebrities, sports stars, models and social influencers but more interestingly - with some creative management, it allows people to become, or represent themselves as these 'aspirational' Instagram celebrities."
Despite their shrewd mastery of both the runway and social media, not everyone has been impressed. Grace Coddington, the former creative director of US Vogue, made note of the Instagram models at a recent Vogue festival in London.
"I used to be able to tell (who was going to be a famous model)," she said. "I find it more difficult to predict now - now this whole thing is based on how many (followers) you have on Instagram, and not on the person, and that's a world I don't know."
"It's much better when the girls are hungrier, and by hungrier I don't mean anorexic, I mean eager.
"I've worked with Kendall. I didn't fall in love with her," she added.
Of the appeal of the Instagram model, social media strategist Darragh Doyle says: "The appeal is simple. Pretty people sell things, and have done for centuries. But now it's a case of 'I've seen her in Vogue, and now I can see her on my screen'." With the cracks showing in Kendall's megabucks empire, Doyle adds: "This will not be the death of Instagram, but it will be another huge nail in the coffin of influencers."
There have been calls for not just transparency with sponsored posts, but also for more honest, unedited pictures on Instagram. Whether Instafans are ready for this, it's hard to say: last year, Stina Sanders, a London-based model, claims that she lost thousands of followers by replacing selfies and modelling shots with more honest pictures of herself and her daily life.
"Authenticity is something that is hard to come by on Instagram as fitness influencers, celebrities and models are regularly called out for over-doctoring of pictures," notes Byrne. "This is not a new phenomenon and has been done for decades across magazines and TV... As the pool of Instagram celebrities grows, Instaviewers want to see authenticity from the people they follow," he adds. "Filters and good lighting can be forgiven but what we are often seeing now is a backlash to overtly branded and polished content in favour of edgier, grittier and more 'real' content."
Doyle is hopeful: "(We're definitely moving) toward real life on Instagram. Look at the Humans of Dublin, where people like hearing the real life stories of everyday people, and the Faces Of England account, which shows how multicultural Britain is becoming. We're getting to be more demanding of realism - but at the same time, on Instagram we're always going to go, 'you look fabulous, darling'."
Instagram in numbers
* 16,033,757 - the number of new followers that Gigi Hadid (above) picked up in 2016 alone
* 700 million - the number of monthly active users on Instagram, up from 600 million in December 16
* 283,000 - amount in Euro that Kendall Jenner, Cara Delevigne or Gigi Hadid can command for a single (sponsored) post
* 20 - percentage of Internet users that use Instagram n 49 - percentage of Instagram users that are female n 79.8 million - number of followers that Kendall Jenner has on Instagram n 99.1 million - number of followers that Kim Kardashian has on Instagram