Meet the Models and Designers of Instagram’s Exclusive 1 Million Club—And See What It Means for Their Brands

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On the heels of 28-year-old Balmain artistic director Olivier Rousteing hitting one million Instagram followers last week (anointing him “the fourth most influential person in France” according to a WWD story), we decided to take an in-depth look at what we’re calling, Instagram’s “One Million Club”. There’s an impressive cast of designers, models, and other fashion figures who have achieved the one million follower mark on Instagram and it’s about so much more than giving good selfie. But what does that mean for them and their brands? I asked some experts and they said some fascinating things about how Instagram is changing fashion from cloche to cap-toe pump.

“So much of what we do with designers and brands involves a social media discussion now. It’s such an easy and inexpensive way to connect with people,” Travis Paul Martin, the fashion director at public relations agency BPCM, told me via email. “If editors, bloggers, or the general public aren’t really aware of a brand’s social activity, they’re less likely to engage with them by tagging or posting about them.”

Whether a designer or model steers their own account or gets professional help (and how much) depends on the brand. “Outsourcing it can be difficult because you really need to find someone that is in tune with the brand,” Travis said.

“It’s an important part of the work we do for them, but it’s essential for content to remain authentic. Some designers are really great at it and some need help,” Linda Gaunt, Principal of Linda Gaunt Communications, explained. “Followers expect lush, one-of-a-kind content and that can come from different sources including work, home, travel, etcetera.”

I spent some time doing hard-croe reporting (aka bopping around from account to account. Yes, my job is fun), to try and identify who the big guns were. For our purposes, I focused on personal accounts, not brand accounts (such as Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Dolce & Gabbana).

The maestro behind Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous label, Karl Lagerfeld always has more than one plate in the air. His Insta account, with 1.1 million followers, counts behind-the-scene shots like this one, of Karl chatting with his bodyguard-cum-assistant-cum-model Sebastien Jondeau.

The official 1.2-million strong brand account is peppered with shots signed “x Stella” that pull back the curtain on the designer’s actual life, including food shots, selfies, and dogs happy to have her back at home. All together, it’s easy to get a sense of the personality behind the label.

Balmain’s artistic director is at one million followers for his personal account (@BalmainParis is the brand’s official handle), making him one of the few industry names who has achieved some serious social fame of his own.

Like Stella and Karl, the Victoria Beckham account includes professional photography but also sweet, real-life posts from the former Posh Spice. Clicking through reveals a lot about her personality, including some serious Disney love and adorable notes from her kids.

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Now let’s talk models. The current crop of supers innately understood that social media would be a key part of success (if Linda Evangelista was catwalking today, there’d be a good chance her classic quip about not waking up for less than $10,000 would have switched over to ‘gramming). It-girl Gigi Hadid is quickly become a big name and she completely understands the power of social media: “If you have a big fan base, companies want to work with you because that gives them a bigger fan base. When you work with big designers, you get a bigger fan base.”

“Leveraging a model or influencer with a large, engaging and qualified social media following can be extremely impactful,” Linda said. “Utilizing these types of tactics will continue to show high gains for brands as long as consumers absorb news through these platforms.” While researching this story, Instagram confirmed it hit its 300 millionth user so, worry not, it’s not a stretch to say that shoppers will continue to absorb content this way for a while.

Some of the models on our list were massively popular before Instagram was even invented and their high numbers are likely developed fan bases migrating over (think Gisele, Tyra Banks, and Victoria’s Secret bombshells like Alessandra Ambrosio). Others like Kate Upton likely have social media to thank for their meteoric rises. Kendall Jenner proves the most interesting, with an astonishing 20.6 million followers that dwarfs everyone else. Sure, a lot of those fans were following before her runway work, and initially no one was sure if it would hurt or help (at this point it seems fair to say it was definitely a good thing).

The beauties who currently have over one million followers?

Cara Delevingne, 9.9 million
Gisele Bundchen, 4.2 million
Karlie Kloss, 2.1 million
Jourdan Dunn, 1.1 million
Adriana Lima, 4.3 million
Naomi Campbell, 1.4 million
Candice Swanepoel, 5 million
Behati Prinsloo, 1.8 million
Kate Upton, 1.9 million
Miranda Kerr, 5.5 million
Gigi Hadid, 2.2 million
Alessandra Ambrosio, 3.7 million
Doutzen Kroes, 2.7 million
Tyra Banks, 2.6 million
Kendall Jenner, 20.6 million
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, 2.9 million
Barbara Palvin, 2.1 million
Lily Aldridge, 1.9 million

Everyone I talk to about social media always agrees that it will continue to become more and more important, but it’s not the deciding factor. As the spring 2015 collections wind down in Paris, Travis told me runway shows are still about what, not who, is coming down the runway. “I sat through a casting session for one of my clients this past season, and it’s still really about the look and how they fit in the clothes. A model’s social media numbers were never brought into the discussion.”

Here’s my takeaway: after looking at so many Instagram accounts in a row on a computer monitor, not my cell, trends and similarities are infinitely easier to spot. The successful models and designers both mix professionally shot, gorgeous pics with their own selfies and smiley at-home moments. They’re packaging themselves as a brand just like Stella or Victoria are repping their own label.



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