There's just days between now and the beginning of Fashion Month, and while some of us are trying to figure out which thick winter coat will elicit the least side-eye from chic showgoers, you can bet that fashion's biggest street style stars are doing a different kind of preparation entirely. For these fashion influencers — high-profile editors, trend-making retail buyers and, more often than not, style bloggers — getting dressed for fashion week is a serious, time-intensive endeavor.
After all, street style stars aren't just sitting front row next to fashion-y Hollywood stars like Lupita Nyong'o, Kristen Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg, they're also reaping the benefits that A-listers usually enjoy, including borrowing hot ticket pieces from the design houses. For example, the ubiquitous Chiara Ferragni (also known as the Blonde Salad) and Brazilian blogger Helena Bordon got their hands on those ripped-from-the-runway, head-to-toe Moschino Barbie looks just hours after the spring 2015 collection was shown at Milan Fashion Week. Even smaller, lesser known bloggers and Instagram stars are in on the game.
So why do these bloggers and non-celebrity fashion types enjoy the privileges of borrowing coveted pieces — either samples from the showrooms or straight from the runway? "I think street style stars who have a big enough following have the power to launch a new item and create a trend," said Gabriele Hackworthy, fashion director of Net-a-Porter's Porter magazine, over the phone. "Street style opened up the idea of personal expression and how to interpret different styles, so it gives the consumer more options when they're looking to buy something new, buy into a brand or buy an item."
The actual lending process can work in a number of ways. "It really originates organically from relationships that you have with PRs," explained Kate Davidson Hudson (above right), the oft-photographed CEO and co-founder shoppable online magazine Editorialist. Through her established network, she enjoys her pick of one-of-a-kind designer samples and off-the-runway pieces. Brands either send lookbooks to chosen influencers for selection, or interested parties will reach out to designer reps prior to Fashion Week.
"There are a few showrooms that I work with or that I like to borrow from," explained a street style regular and industry professional, who happens to have a blog — but does not consider herself a blogger — and who prefers to remain anonymous for this story. "I go by and go, 'Do you have anything cool?' Because maybe it’s going to be cold and I don’t have 14 different coats. They send it [t0 me] and when Fashion Week is over, I send it right back." She also likes to "shop" the samples, usually sizes 2 and 4, much like she would peruse a vintage store full of stand out, one-off items. She then mixes her loans in with her existing (and already stellar) wardrobe.
Davidson Hudson, who attends the New York, London and Milan shows, is drawn to the more dramatic and editorial pieces that usually never make it into stores. "I think the pieces that go down the runway — that aren’t necessarily produced — are the pieces that I get really excited about," she explained. "They have a really strong point of view and are so directional that they just don’t trickle out or flesh out on the commercial level. I think a lot of people in our set, the fashion set, get really excited about [wearing those pieces]." Her favorite Fashion Month loans: a hand-embroidered runway bag from an unnamed French designer and a vintage Van Cleef & Arpels multi-colored cabochon necklace.
In other instances, the loan arrangement is, unsurprisingly, an actual business deal. "This is something we do a lot of, especially throughout Fashion Week," explains Daniel Saynt, executive vice president of digital at Nylon and creative director of Socialyte, a digital influencer casting agency that's worked with clients such as Botkier, Dolce Vita and Sigerson Morrison. "The brand can pay for the influencer to wear specific items in the hopes of being a part of street style coverage, whether it’s in a publication like Nylon, on The Sartorialist or [to be shot by] Tommy Ton."
New York boutique and clothing label Otte lends samples from its in-house label to bloggers for Fashion Week and, if it makes sense, will work out larger partnerships, usually involving a guaranteed number of Instagram photos with tags and mentions showing the lent pieces on the borrower's blog. Plus, "a lot of these guys usually ask for an actual cash fee," said Otte Vice President and COO Nancy Zhang, while also explaining that's tough for a small brand. "We typically try to avoid cash fee, so we do a lot of gifting and gift card arrangements as well." However, the actual numbers seem to be an unspoken practice when it comes to influencers discussing amongst themselves. "I'm sure there are [street style stars getting paid to wear lent clothes]," the anonymous street style star told me. "But I don’t think we talk about it like that to each other."
Oh and by the way, the street style star isn't the only one who's getting paid. "Sometimes we hire street style photographers to specifically shoot certain influencers," explained Saynt of Socialyte. "We had a group of 10 influencers wearing specific products and we had two street style photographers who were hired to shoot those influencers and sometimes that content becomes part of what we’re shooting for a publication."
In any case, the loan arrangement preferably involves synergy between the designer and the influencer's sartorial sensibility: The brand wants to convey its core aesthetic to consumers, while the influencer wants to keep control over her signature style, both for herself and her audience. "[For Fashion Week,] I only work with brands that I would wear anyway, and that I work with the rest of the year," style blogger Peony Lim (above) explained over email. "So it is really natural." Designer Jill Stuart says she only lends out runway and collection pieces to bloggers and influencers who "have a style, mood and aesthetic sensibility that complements the brand."
There's also the question of whether or not all this loaning (plus gifting and wheeling and dealing) takes away from the spontaneity and validity of what street style was in the first place. "There’s this authenticity," said Logan Horne, co-founder of the Model Me app and celebrity stylist who's worked with "It" girls like Mia Moretti and model Erin Heatherton. "It's very transparent to me at least when something isn’t genuine."
As for tell-tale signs of borrowed clothing? When someone is wearing a head-to-toe, off-the-runway ensemble (especially when it's immediately following a show or the release of a look book) or a one-of-a-kind piece that never made it into production. An influencer wearing a look that doesn't quite reconcile with her usual style is also a red flag that brings the word of the day — "organic" — back into play.
In terms of which street style star borrows what, there's a system to that, too. Davidson Hudson says that the influential editors go for more directional, runway pieces (like a "hand-painted peacock feather bag" sample), while high profile buyers will wear the more commercial styles that may convert into sales from their customers. For bloggers, it's across the board, but there always is that girl wearing a Nickelodeon cartoon character dress complete with matching bucket-bag and heels.
Street style stars enjoy the privilege of borrowing expensive, highly coveted and sometimes one-of-a-kind designer pieces to wear during one of the most photographed times of the year, and, in certain instances, generate additional income. In return, brands get exposure and the support of Instagram stars and bloggers with hundreds of thousands of followers — but there are differing methods of quantifying the success of a loan arrangement. Brands that hire Saynt and Socialyte to run an official Fashion Week campaign receive an organized report with the exact number of impressions, social "likes" and "shares," plus a complete listing of news outlets where any street style photos were placed. "It’s a more effective media spend for [brands] than other forms of traditional media because some of these images go very, very wide," Saynt explained. "We’ve seen images in magazines like Vogue and definitely in Lucky."
With the advent of apps that make Instagram shoppable, including the popular LiketoKnow.It, brands have yet another way to measure the results. But that doesn't mean that a loan to an Instagram star with a strong following translates into immediate sales for brands."What we’ve seen through affiliate marketing is that during February and September months sales through retailers just completely drop," said Kaetlin Andrews, public relations manager for RewardStyle, which owns LiketoKnow:It. "I think that’s just because Fashion Week is unattainable. Most of our bloggers are linking to things right now that people can actually purchase. So during Fashion Week, people aren’t necessarily purchasing because clothes aren't readily available." But on the flip side, brands lending out samples works in their favor, as the loaned pieces (that sometimes turn into gifts) don't come out of their stock or take any sales out of the bottom line.
In any case, designers will still jump at the opportunity to dress the street style set. "The influencers'/bloggers' reach into the market can be vast, so I see it as being as beneficial as advertising," explained Stuart. "It’s putting my clothes into the overall consciousness." The girls borrowing the clothes know it, too. "We’re called 'influencers,' so if I’m wearing a skirt by a certain designer, it means I'm behind it and it means I like it," the anonymous street style star said. "People look and they’re like, 'Oh, who are you wearing?' I'm basically putting my name behind a designer or brand and that’s always beneficial for them." Plus, the rest of us get to enjoy moments like this: