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Architecture and Design

Instagram influencers call this New York penthouse home … well, just for a photo shoot, anyway

A glamorous 2,400-square-foot penthouse in Manhattan’s SoHo neighbourhood is not being lived in, but is being rented out to social media influencers who need a place to take photos

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 4:13am

In a photo posted on her Instagram page last month, Natalia Levsina relaxes in a nest of plush white bedding, a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in another.

At first glance, you might assume the New York-based social media influencer with 127,000 followers is holed up in an upscale hotel or luxuriating in her multimillion dollar flat on a lazy morning. The truth is a bit more complicated.

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Levsina hasn’t spent a night in the comfy bed and doesn’t live in the 2,400-square-foot penthouse in Manhattan’s SoHo neighbourhood. Nobody does. Levsina – like dozens of other social media influencers who have begun flocking to this particular abode – was there to create content for marketing products (in her case, bras, as her Instagram post notes).

Welcome to the newest trend among social media influencers, one that is blurring the lines between fact and fiction, authenticity and advertising as Instagram becomes the go-to platform for enhancing someone’s image, regardless of reality.

Rented by Village Marketing in August, the all-female agency connects social media influencers to brands like online retailer Warby Parker and fitness studios Soul Cycle and Equinox. The penthouse was designed to give social media stars an “optimal canvas” for content creation, according to the agency’s 36-year-old founder, Vickie Segar.

There’s a lot of millennial pink, furs and velvets, with gold accents, which is very on trend.
Vickie Segar

The US$15,000 a month rent isn’t hard to recoup considering that a single shoot in the space can cost a brand anywhere from US$3,000 to US$10,000, Segar says. The home includes a kitchen, two bedrooms and a roof deck with views of lower Manhattan. The space is on the top floor of a building to maximise photographic light and is already booked though December.

Like the photos that emerge from inside its walls, everything inside the penthouse was meticulously planned, down to the glistening gold silverware and inspirational messages aimed at women on the wall.

“There’s a lot of millennial pink, furs and velvets, with gold accents, which is very on trend,” Segar says, noting that it took her team nearly a year to locate and design the 100-year-old space. “We wanted a very harmonious vibe to start as you walk through the space – a lot of tans, whites, marbles and different accents.

“There are a few pops, like a loud wallpaper in the bedroom,” she adds. “We wanted influencers to have options.”

The lives of social media influencers look enviable from the outside. They jet-set to exotic destinations, feast on tantalising spreads and – when they’re not doing planks in the gym or drinking rosé at a rooftop gathering – always seem to be unwinding among perfectly ruffled sheets.

Despite looking breezy and blemish-free, social media influencers have begun to carefully curate their images, especially as brands increasingly rely on them to reach potential customers.

Already estimated to be worth at least US$2 billion, the market could reach US$10 billion by 2020, according to some estimates.

Agencies such as Village Marketing don’t represent influencers like a talent agency, but are instead hired by brands to help them sort through and maintain relationships with tens of thousands of influencers, finding the ideal content creators for their image.

The goal, Segar says, is finding an influencer who can pair with a brand “organically”, creating imagery that others might describe as an advertorial.

With demand for influencers increasing, Segar says she came up with the idea for a “content studio” after hearing about the struggle New York influencers face trying to create original content.

“We work with a lot of micro-influencers [people with 100,00 to 250,000 Instagram followers] that are always looking for a place to shoot,” Segar says, noting that some influencers shoot in home decor stores or get up at 5am to take photos when city streets are empty.

“We thought, why don’t we create a place that gives them the opportunity to create content in a private setting. Their job is to create content and we are another opportunity for that,” she adds.

Segar says her agency is already planning to find another home to turn into a “content studio,” possibly in Los Angeles. She remains adamant that the current location isn’t designed to mislead Instagram followers who may be left with the impression that the influencers inhabit the spaces in which they appear online.

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Though the home has already appeared in multiple influencer’s Instagram posts – its eye-catching wallpaper is a dead giveawa — Segar says she isn’t worried that the imagery will lose its novelty.

Several thousand feet of home, she says, translates into thousands of shots – and months of photo shoots.

“We will need to change it up to make sure it does continue to stay interesting at some point,” she says. “There’s so much you can do, we haven’t really even tapped into that yet.”