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How "Wall Scouting" Became a Thing in the Fashion World

When your Instagram page becomes a sector of your business, the extra engagement earned from an artistic background can make a big difference.
Ria Michelle in front of a Jen Stark mural. Photo: Shooter Shane

Ria Michelle in front of a Jen Stark mural. Photo: Shooter Shane

It's a running joke in the Fashionista office that "wall scouting" has become one of the biggest time sucks for fashion bloggers and editors who want that little something extra to make their Instagram posts stand out. While it's a no-brainer that a hand-painted mural that's dozens of feet tall is a more eye-catching backdrop than an apartment wall, we can't help but wonder what lengths folks will go to in order to get a shot. Does it warrant a trip to Art Basel or SXSW, where these social media-bait artworks are in large supply? Do they spend hours every weekend wandering their cities or scouring Instagram geotags to find the perfect backdrop for an outfit post? 

It turns out that we weren't the only people with this trend on the brain: Over drinks in New Orleans last week, a social media-savvy friend of mine told me that her most-liked Instagram photo ever was taken at the Biscuit Paint Wall in Houston, a rainbow-hued mural with a hashtag prominently printed on the awning covering the building's door, prompting visitors to share photos of it on their networks. Ria Michelle, a Miami-based fashion blogger, echoed this sentiment over the phone last week, when she said that an image she posted in front of a Jen Stark mural at the Miami airport — one that she and her photographer came across by chance —has earned some of the highest engagement on her Instagram thus far. 

Eva Chen, who recently started the Instagram @photogenicwalls, honed in on this phenomenon during her time at Lucky, when she and her team staged street style-inspired shoots for nearly every issue of the magazine. The account began as a personal catalog of locations that inspired her when she walked around New York every day. Since so many of her followers reached out to her asking where they should shoot or visit when they came to the city, she decided to open it to the public as a directory of sorts, with addresses of the walls in the captions. "I spend a lot of time walking around New York, and on every block you stumble across graffiti or metallic paint — they're gorgeous backdrops for shoots," Chen explained. "The street art helps to capture the spirit of the city and makes a photo so much richer as opposed to shooting in a studio."

Chen also agreed that her posts with artsy backgrounds earn much higher engagement, thanks to the texture they can add to a photo. "There’s a time and a place for these clean, pristine backgrounds, but when you’re running an Instagram account based in New York, you want to capture the flavor of the city," she said. In addition to eventually adding walls in other cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco to her roster (she came across one of her favorite murals thus far in Austin), she hopes that people will tag the account in their posts in order to help the digital wall art directory grow.

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While Chen said she's never made a dedicated trip to shoot at a specific wall, other Instagram enthusiasts admit to making the occasional trek. Scott Lipps, the president of One Management and an avid photographer, said that he's made efforts in the past to shoot at spots that have resonated with him — whether he discovered them on or offline.

Lipps mentioned that murals by artist Bradley Theodore in New York, which feature fashion figures like Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, Terry Richardson and Anna Piaggi rendered as skeletons, are very popular among his followers, and as someone who runs a social media-driven modeling agency, he knows that grabbing his audience's attention with a single photo can take extra creative consideration — hence his willingness to "wall scout."  "It is a business at the end of the day. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't put time and effort into it," he explained. "I need to find the right locations that people will respond to — I don't spend hours, but when I'm walking around the city or traveling I'm always looking."

Instagram has proven to be one of bloggers' and influencers' biggest sources of income, and top-tier names can earn thousands of dollars for one sponsored post if their reach and engagement are high enough. So, if shooting a photo in front of a mural or an otherwise interesting wall can increase likes by the hundreds (or, in some cases, thousands), it's certainly worth the extra effort. Plus, the trend can benefit the artists featured as well, many of whom are Instagram-savvy and put their personal handles on the walls they paint, helping new fans to discover their work.

James Goldcrown, a former fashion photographer and artist whose "Love Wall" in New York is one of the most popular murals on Instagram, has seen a huge uptick in commissions (and in his social media following) since getting tagged in popular bloggers' posts. The first heart-filled wall he painted was on Kenmare Street, and he says he's tagged in around 100 Instagram posts of it per day — many by fashion bloggers — and has gained 4,000 followers since it went up in February. "I didn't really have a plan as to how I was going to expose it, but over the past few months I've really begun to understand the power of Instagram," he explained. "It's quite an honor to have it going viral." 

Thanks to the social media exposure, he's approached by private clients, nightclubs and restaurants who want to work with him, and is now working on his third "Love Wall." While Goldcrown says this kind of art is now a much bigger "scene" in the city than it was a few years ago, it's only a positive thing for his industry. "Kind of like fashion, it's the way of artists having a voice," he said. "It's been amazing for us and has changed the perspective of what we do."

As Instagram's influence only grows in the fashion world, we anticipate the synergy between bloggers, influencers and artists to strengthen along with it. A new wave of marketing surrounding this Insta-bait also seems likely to emerge. In fact, Jen Stark (who Ria Michelle mentioned previously) painted a rainbow mural on the side of Montauk's popular Surf Lodge at the beginning of the season, which we're betting was a clever move to attract new visitors through social media this summer  — even if they just come for the photo op.