David Hellqvist | Choosing the Right Influencer

David Hellqvist is a menswear writer and features editor at Port Magazine, and contributes as a writer and stylist to magazines such as Hypebeast, Highsnobiety, Crepe City, The New Order and Kennedy Magazine. He is also the founder of DOCUMENT Studios, a creative content agency. A busy man indeed.

A few weeks ago, as I opened my daily Business of Fashion newsletter, I scrolled down and read the headlines as per usual. It was the normal ‘new creative director here and there’ and ‘this and that high street brand are losing X amount of money’. But what struck me was a hidden line at the bottom, the bit where BoF summaries the fashion-related pieces from the press that day. It said: “Stuart Vevers on Selena Gomez as His New Campaign Girl… For the uninitiated, Gomez is the most followed person on Instagram with 124 million followers." The story was taken from The Daily Telegraph.

Stuart Vevers is the creative director of Coach. He’s an accomplished designer, credited with making Mulberry a go-to brand for handbags. Coach has been turned around or, at least, is in the process of turning. These huge American brands take time to resuscitate and rehabilitate. But the point is, he’s been around the block; he knows what he’s doing. He’s aware that, as a creative director, you are responsible for more than just product design… it’s about the overall image, and that includes advertising and, therefore, casting.

Now, let me introduce Raf Simons. By now he needs no real introduction of course. Not since making Jil Sander interesting again, and – of course – not since taking over at the esteemed Dior… Then leaving his job there so sudden probably made him even more famous. He then went to one of the biggest brands ever, Calvin Klein. Raf took over from Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli last year, and in February his first campaign for Calvin Klein Underwear emerged.

So, back to Vever and his campaign girl, Selena Gomez. I’d struggle to pick her out of a line up, but that’s just me. The girl is “the most followed person on Instagram”. She’s got 124 million followers. In comparison, who did Raf Simons choose for his multi-million ad? The cast of Moonlight. At the time he cast them they had not won an Oscar, the film was perhaps critically acclaimed but not well-known amongst the general public. I bet the film’s Instagram account had no more than 124 followers rather than 124 million.

That says something about Raf’s definition of an ‘Influencer’.

What irked me to start with was the wording of that BoF newsletter. Now, I know it was summarised to fit in with other brief news stories, and it came from a newspaper story, in itself an abbreviated version of real events. But. This is the wording again: “Stuart Vevers on Selena Gomez as His New Campaign Girl… For the uninitiated, Gomez is the most followed person on Instagram with 124 million followers." This text sums up a creative brand’s ad campaign in a number. Actually, when you read it again, it’s like the author of this comprised quote almost defends the choice of Gomez as the face of Coach by mentioning her enormous Instagram following.

What did Raf do? He enlisted four black men, virtually unknown, to front his underwear campaign. The cast’s combined social media following probably only put a dent in Gomez’ 124 million. I know which one had the most impact on me.. Again, CK is by far the more commercial and mainstream brand out of the two, and still Raf went for a (relatively) obscure casting… In terms of ‘celebrities’ at least.

That line about Vevers and Gomez made me like Coach less (and I was coming around to them, I promise) because I find that reasoning (although quoted in a newsletter from a newspaper story, granted) symptomatic of what’s wrong with the concept of Influencers today. Again, I’m not really sure what that word means, but if you, by that, are referring someone who I respect and who, therefore, will influence me, then all of a sudden I know that Coach was lost before Vevers joined.

I have no interest in looking at actors wearing clothes and bags unless they really inspire me. They do that with professional talent and personal character. There you go, it’s those four words it comes down to: professional talent and personal character. Coach seems to think that three words are enough (124 million followers) but I’m with Raf on this; there are no shortcuts to brilliance and influence isn’t artificial, it’s real and if you try and buy your reach, you’ll only end up with fake consumers.

Find out more about David by visiting his website, here