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Fashion has always been subject to perception and interpretation, much like beauty. Culturally, it has influenced society in how one must look to be accepted. Designers innovate to stay relevant and a step ahead; models define a certain sense of aspiration. Both do this to lure clients into following an aesthetic they believe in. This portrayal of fantasy that seems unattainable for the “masses” translates into fashion being perceived as for the elite.

Then came social media, where you and I could fashion ourselves in a certain way and create an individual niche. Fashion moved from exotic locations to the living room; statuesque models weren’t the only definition of beauty, and the ordinary became extraordinary. It created an influence, a voice of the masses, and a vertical in the fashion fraternity came to life – the fashion influencers.

London-based fashion model and influencer Rahi Chadda appears on the cover of Elle India this month

Is this influence new?

“‘Fashion influencers’ is a recent term for what we already knew as ‘doyen,’ ‘maven,’ ‘expert’, or ‘socialite.’ A self-proclaimed category, which seemed interesting at first with many influencers making an impact globally, now seems mundane because its purpose is solely monetary,” says designer Gavin Miguel. According to a globally-acclaimed influencer, Rahi Chadda, “The definition of an influencer is subjective to each person. People use social media as an outlet to express their creativity and opinions on fashion. You’re creating your own interpretation and visions. If that fits well with your followers and you enjoy the creating process, that’s what matters.”

“Influencers connect with the general public. This connection and their ability to entertain make it work.”—Lakshmi Rana, Model

However, many self-styled ‘influencers’ use the word loosely, says designer Suneet Varma. “I think people who are in a position to influence can be called influencers. They could be Bollywood stars, sportspersons, successful young entrepreneurs, and, of course, people who consume luxury. But the term ‘fashion influencer’ is used very freely and is not relevant in most cases,” he says.

The new game in marketing

“Two years ago, I didn’t believe in the concept of fashion influencers. But I came across a few when my PR team asked me to invite them for my show and it made a world of difference. They do generate sales,” says designer Siddartha Tytler.

Clients connect with influencers because their audience base is versatile. As model Lakshmi Rana says, “It is a good way to market. Influencers connect with the general public. This connection and their ability to entertain make it work.”

Juhi Godambe, a fashion influencer with a following of 403k on Instagram, stresses the importance of knowing what the viewers want

Juhi Godambe, a fashion influencer with a following of 403k on Instagram, stresses the importance of knowing what the viewers want

Juhi Godambe is one of the most popular fashion influencers in the country. “It’s all about the concept, uniqueness of the content, and how well the quality of the content is executed,” she says. “Most importantly, it’s about knowing what the viewers want.”

“Influencers do model clothes as well in that sense, but today even models are becoming influencers” —Siddartha Tytler, Fashion designer

Brands pick influencers precisely because of their ability to connect. “If a celebrity tells you to buy a certain product, you might take it with a pinch of salt. But when someone you have been following for a while recommends a product and tells you about it in detail, chances are you will buy it,” explains designer Mandira Wirk.

Rahi adds, “Brands are also using social media as a major form of marketing, so to have influencers with a niche audience promote their products is a genius strategy.”

Are you being followed?

But there are such things as fake followers – bots. “People are doing ridiculous things to increase followers,” says designer Rohit Bal. “People within our fraternity are notorious for buying followers. It honestly serves no purpose and it’s quite despicable.”

Men’s lifestyle blogger Tejeshwar Sandhoo — @blueberryblackout — models a Siddhartha Tytler creation

Men’s lifestyle blogger Tejeshwar Sandhoo — @blueberryblackout — models a Siddhartha Tytler creation

There is also such a thing as inorganic content, says Gavin. “Social media has become a tech fairyland,” he adds. “Most of the content is not organic and natural. It all looks staged.

“The term ‘fashion influencer’ is used very freely and is not relevant in most cases” —Suneet Varma, Fashion designer

Brands are aware of this and analyze each influencer account to see who has genuine followers and who doesn’t, says model Sonalika Sahay. But is the audience aware?

Content is the hero

The primary goal of a fashion influencer is to create content that keeps the audience engaged. But this does not mean that pictures and videos alone can create an effective influencer. “You need the dedication to create quality content that appeals to the masses,” says model Candice Pinto. “It requires passion.”

Entrepreneur Malini Agarwal in a Mandira Wirk creation

Entrepreneur Malini Agarwal in a Mandira Wirk creation

It also requires a certain kind of a follower, someone who is open to influence. “Whenever we have tried to use an influencer, it has not worked,” says Suneet. “Either my clients don’t identify with the influencer or they don’t want to wear anything that’s been seen in the public domain.”

“You need dedication to create quality content that appeals to the masses” —Candice Pinto, Model

An absence in “formal training, education or knowledge” has led to people “jumping on the bandwagon,” says Rohit Bal. Barring a few who create effective content, the rest is “a whole lot of hogwash,” he says. “This trend of more influencers arriving every day needs to stop. It’s harassing, excessive. They might have a creative outburst, but they need to channelize it into something worthy. Originality takes hard work. One must be a leader and not a part of the herd.”

Juhi disagrees with Rohit. “Fashion is an expression of one’s personality. It’s not about the kind of knowledge you have in the industry. It’s about being true to what you like and how you want the world to see you,” she says.

Blurring the Model-Influencer Line

“Models are natural influencers,” says Gavin. So, will influencers replace models?

Actor Roshni Chopra in a Mandira Wirk creation

Actor Roshni Chopra in a Mandira Wirk creation

“Most models haven’t had the time to market themselves. There is enough work in the industry to keep good models busy. But with the pandemic, even models are at home and have the time to focus on creating content,” says Sonalika. “Having said that, a model could be low on her social media game, but that won’t take away from how strong her modeling game is.”

“When someone you’ve been following recommends a product, chances are you will buy it” —Mandira Wirk, Fashion designer

Juhi adds, “A few years ago, models were required to look a certain way. Though fashion today has fewer rules, there’s a huge difference between a public figure and a professional model. Modelling requires different skills.”

There is now a very fine line between models and influencers, says Siddartha. “When designers make a collection, the first people they think of are models. Influencers may take the same clothes and put their spin on it. Influencers do model clothes as well in that sense, but today even models are becoming influencers,” he explains.

Is it a phase?

“I think it’s a brilliant, interactive form of social media. To be able to endorse and influence masses is a huge deal,” says Pinto. Mandira agrees: “At the end of the day, it is helping brands to market and sell their products better.”

General physician Dr Gita Prakash in a Mandira Wirk creation

General physician Dr Gita Prakash in a Mandira Wirk creation

Having made it her full-time profession, Juhi says, “Many known influencers are some of the highest-earning individuals in the fashion industry, so it is a modern profession. I have a team of six people and some freelance photographers constantly working with me.”

“This trend of more influencers arriving every day needs to stop. It’s harassing, excessive… One must be a leader and not a part of the herd” —Rohit Bal, Fashion designer

Rohit Bal, however, hasn’t found a connection with the concept of influencers. “I believe in only one thing: what I do,” he says. “If you stay true to who you are, you will have an influence on people. You don’t become a fad or a trend; you become an icon of style.”

Siddartha has been “disappointed” with influencers of late. In this time of the pandemic, they have failed to deliver, he says. “Apart from just a handful, there has literally been no content,” he complains. “Influencers can’t only depend on brands. If you’re stuck at home, find your creativity. If life gives you lemons, you need to learn how to make lemonade.”

In the end, it is about freedom of expression. “Everyone has some kind of a creative side to them. It’s amazing how social media has given them the opportunity to share their creative expression,” says Rahi.

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