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In today’s modelling world, lithe limbs and sharp cheekbones are not enough. A stellar career requires not only a good face, but also followers — preferably hundreds of thousands across various social media channels. This is the age of the Instagram-model.
The campaign for Calvin Klein, the company that built Kate Moss’s career, turning an unknown teenager from Croydon into a global icon back in 1992, is currently fronted by Kendall Jenner, who has 27m Instagram followers and is better known for being part of the Kardashian reality TV dynasty than for signing with Elite model agency. Cara Delevingne, one of Britain’s most booked faces, has 13m; and not one of the newly signed Victoria’s Secret “Angels” (one of the most lucrative contracts in modelling) has fewer than 60,000. Last September, American Vogue paid tribute to the social media might of these models by dubbing Delevingne, Karlie Kloss (2.4m followers) and Joan Smalls (982,000 followers) the “Instagirls” on its cover.
Instagram has turned models into active “brand ambassadors”, employed not only to front the campaigns, but to announce, share and promote them on their personal channels. Model agencies are setting up whole divisions to handle the growing demand.
Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm Model Management, which looks after some of the industry’s top Instagram talent, says: “We have monetised it. If Cara [Delevingne] does a big campaign, you quote for her to model and then you quote separately for the fact that she has 13m followers.” Simon Chambers, Doukas’s brother, who runs the agency with her, agrees, explaining that the emphasis on personal social media reach has grown rapidly over the past 18 months. “This is a media space that belongs to that person — it’s an asset and if a brand wants access to that, then they have to treat it like buying media. The cost grows as the girl’s following grows.”
Storm’s online model portfolios now feature not only the typical height, bust, hip and shoe measurements, but also a live count of each girl’s social media stats. “The looks are obviously still first and foremost, but if you have two girls who are both perfect for something, without a shadow of a doubt the one with the [bigger] social following would win the job,” says Doukas.
In an increasingly competitive fashion landscape, direct reach to the consumer is vital. Instagram’s audience is young, image-aware and digitally engaged — it’s a community that can’t necessarily be seduced by typical print advertising. Women like Delevingne and Jenner are adored and trusted by their audience and their seal of approval for a product is valuable. Delevingne’s fans have dubbed themselves the “Delevingners” and are particularly loyal. To them, a post about her new Tag Heuer campaign or a selfie of her in Chanel (another brand she fronts) seems intimate, somehow trustworthy. “It has to be authentic. It has to be their voice,” Chambers says.
Not long ago, model agents complained that actresses and singers were stealing all the major covers and campaigns. With this focus on fans and followers, are models being pressured to be more like celebrities? For casting director Jess Hallett, who selects campaign stars and catwalk line-ups for Alexander McQueen and Balmain, among others, this is all part of the growing visibility of the fashion industry and the blurring of the line between it and entertainment. “Everyone was upset that American Vogue was putting celebrities rather than models on their cover — now models are getting covers and we’re moaning that it’s because of their Instagram followers,” she laughs.
Instagram isn’t just a tool to measure a girl’s success but the perfect forum to scout for talent, according to Hallett. She still pounds the pavement, but her iPhone has made finding new faces quicker and more convenient. “You can delve into worlds that you would never get into. You can put up a post saying, ‘I’m looking for boys 16-25 for a shoot’, and it’s spread so fast. Or you go in and find people who are the right age and scroll through, or even go on to a model’s Instagram and have a look at all their mates,” she says. “You could spend two days in Camden and find three people. On Instagram you can spend two hours and find loads of great people.”
Wannabe models used to hang out at festivals or on key shopping streets where scouts regularly roam, but today they can seek stardom from the comfort of home. Marc by Marc Jacobs cast two campaigns purely on Instagram using the hashtag #CastMeMarc — a business-savvy way to get young hopefuls to engage with the brand and sign up to its channels — and this month, model agency IMG, which already has a dedicated Instagram account, @weloveyourgenes, for online scouting, joined with American glossy W for an Instagram-based modelling competition. In just three weeks, there have been hundreds of entries and tens of thousands of uses of its #Wmagmodelsearch hashtag.
Storm has spotted a gap in the market for a more specific “fashion-modelling” app, one that blends the convenience of Instagram — tagging, quality imagery, popularity among the style community — with elements that can be even more profitable for brands. “Feels”, which launched this month, encourages users to take shots of their outfits everyday and tag the labels they’re wearing, with the incentive of being spotted by a Storm agent or a fashion label. Brands and retailers can access the data to monitor trends and see how their products are being worn, or download users’ photos for editorial and commercial use.
Photographer Nick Knight is intrigued by the sense of community on apps. Back in 2012, he shot the fashion industry’s first editorial on Instagram, aptly starring Delevingne, for his fashion platform Showstudio.com. He uses Instagram to recruit interesting, unexpected models. “I find a lot of people on Instagram,” he says. “On the street, you were just going off their face, but online you get a sense of their tastes and the other things they do. You find people you wouldn’t meet or get offered as models because they are out of conventional model sizes.”
Stylist Anna Trevelyan agrees. An advocate for better representation in the fashion industry, she “street-casts” for shoots and catwalk shows and relies on Instagram. “You can see networks of kids and subcultures and aesthetics — so finding one amazing person often leads to quickly finding others. I use it to find new talents, and new waves of idea and thoughts. It’s fascinating to see young people’s views suddenly mapped out globally on such a visual platform. I love the way people use it as a tool to express their thoughts, ideas and style.”
To the model agents, these interests and wider passions are now vital for long-term career success. Models have to appear intelligent, engaged and cultured to shine in this age of behind-the-scenes, intimate access. “There is no doubt it’s beginning to affect who gets to the top of the tree,” says Chambers. “To be a great communicator — on backstage video or social media — is essential to being a model now. Those who get the furthest can always do it.”
34-24million-34: Models that measure up
Cara Delevingne @caradelevingne
Favourite subjects: Red-carpet girl gangs, life-affirming statements, her tongue
The 22-year-old British model and daughter of Pandora and Charles Delevingne was signed by Storm management in 2009. She has since fronted campaigns for scores of brands, including Burberry, DKNY, YSL beauty and Chanel, and was awarded British model of the year in 2012 and 2014. She has recently refocused her career towards acting.
Gisele Bündchen @giseleofficial
Favourite subjects: American football, family, animals, her abs
The 34-year-old Brazilian signed her first modelling contract at the age of 14, and has been the highest-paid model in the world since 2004 (she is reportedly worth $386m).
Earlier this year, Bündchen announced her retirement from the catwalk after 18 years of shows. She nevertheless continues to have incredibly lucrative contracts with Chanel, Procter & Gamble and Under Armour, and is one half of a super-couple with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Kendall Jenner @kendalljenner
Favourite subject: Herself
The reality TV show star of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kendall Jenner made her catwalk debut in 2014. In November she was signed as the face of Estée Lauder and has since agreed a contract to be the face of Calvin Klein Jeans.
Now 19, she is developing a range of clothes for Topshop together with her sister Kylie. Currently starring on the cover of American GQ, a “love, sex and madness special”, she is tipped to be the next face of Fendi.
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Miranda Kerr @mirandakerr
Favourite subjects: Big skies, beach yoga and bikini shots
The be-dimpled Australian, 32, was signed in 2004. Previously married to Orlando Bloom, she has worked with Maybelline, Victoria’s Secret and on campaigns for H&M and Wonderbra.
Jourdan Dunn @officialjdunn
Favourite subjects: Backstage access, Barrecore and boyhood
Spotted in Primark in 2006, aged 15, Dunn came to public attention as a Burberry model. She made her debut for Victoria’s Secret in 2012 and hosts a food show, Well Dunn, on Jay Z’s Life+Times YouTube channel.
Karlie Kloss @karliekloss
Favourite subjects: Fun, fitness, food
The Chicago-born 22-year-old was training to be a dancer when she was spotted in a charity show in 2007. A Victoria’s Secret model since 2011, she starred on the March cover of US Vogue with “best friend” Taylor Swift.
Main photograph: WireImage