Are social media influencers ‘walking advertisements’ who signify the slow death of style?
Fashion journalist Katharine Zarrella cuts a striking figure; her daily wardrobe consists exclusively of Comme des Garçons and vintage Alaia.
And unlike influencers, who are paid to wear certain brands, Zarrella only wears pieces that she owns.
“I think influencers are walking advertisements. They signify the slow death of style,” says Zarrella, referring to a controversial 2016 comment from American Vogue’s Sally Singer.
“I appreciate it from a marketing perspective, but from a fashion perspective and an integrity perspective I … do not enjoy influencers.”
Zarrella believes the influencers are not to blame – they’re just taking advantage of a moneymaking opportunity. It’s simply the state of the marketplace and our culture.
Influencers work to create an emotional connection with their followers, and that is what the brands are after, but Zarrella finds that they lack distinction. “One particular thing sells for one brand and then another big brand will piggyback on that, so all these kids start looking the same. There’s not a lot of creativity involved.”
People follow influencers because they put forth the image of having glamorous lives, albeit paid for by brands, travelling, attending fashion shows and parties with celebrities.
“The people following them want that life. They want to buy into that fantasy, which at the end of the day is why they’re going to buy the pair of sunglasses the influencer is wearing.”
Style is about expressing oneself through clothing or particular aesthetics, and she believes there is nothing inspiring about someone who is just getting paid to wear a brand’s product.
In a recent interview, journalist Richard Buckley, who is married to fashion designer film and director Tom Ford, told Zarrella that “fashion is a costume, style is an identity”.
“An influencer paid to wear something is not the same thing as style,” she says. “And when you think back, you look at the Blitz club in London or something and Leigh Bowery and his crew, they were making things out of trash bags and they looked so cool, and it was so true to their personality, and a real form of expression. Where are the kids doing that today?”
Zarrella acknowledges that there are a few exceptions; influencers with real style do exist, like Susie Bubble, who started her blog, Style Bubble, back in 2006.
“Susie, in particular, has always had a point of view,” Zarrella says. “Not only did she dress in this very personal, vibrant way through which she also supported a lot of young London designers, but she was able, in her writing, to really express an opinion. And that’s what her followers, I think, loved, and that’s why she is a respected voice in the industry.”
Zarrella believes influencers will evolve; eventually people will get tired of it and consumers will want to be marketed to in a different way.
“But right now, brands are still putting money into this and it’s working for them because it’s less expensive than buying a page in a print magazine and it has a broader reach. I don’t think it’s going anywhere in the immediate future, but do I think it’s going to be around forever? I do not.”
Fashion journalist Katherine Zarrella laments the lack of creativity and individuality among influencers, whose task it is to sell because they are paid to wear certain brands