While it may seem as if big-name bloggers are constantly traveling the globe, even those who #neverstop have to come home sometimes — and when they do, their spaces are increasingly a valuable opportunity for creating content. A new apartment, for instance, may be kitted out with a photogenic couch to lounge on, provided gratis by a brand in exchange for a blog post and a handful of Instagram photos. Or a furnishings company may install a set of shelves to house a blogger's handbag collection with the understanding that they will make regular appearances on her Snapchat story.
Earlier this spring, actor, writer and Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson made headlines for one of the most extreme examples of the trend: A partnership she inked with real-estate development company Two Trees Management that involved her touting the amenities at her new Brooklyn high-rise, 300 Ashland. While the terms seem fairly standard — Gevinson documents her move, enviable view and everyday creative life in the building in exchange for undisclosed compensation (although not free rent, the company has noted) — a celebrity broadcasting their home address to 550,000+ Instagram followers and appending a #300AshlandPartner disclosure to snaps of their bedroom window is a distinctly 2017 phenomenon.
The desire to peek into strangers' homes, however, is an impulse as old as time — or at least as old as shelter magazines. Online, these voyeuristic tendencies have bred sites like The Selby and The Coveteur, offering peeks into the private (if highly polished) spaces of the creative elite. Social media, meanwhile, has birthed a new generation of celebrities who have provided access into their bedrooms, bathrooms and closets from the very start.
Bloggers in the fashion sphere who got their start posting #OOTDs are now branching out more and more into lifestyle content, with room revamps, home tours and decor posts supplementing the usual outfit photos and shopping roundups. In December, Julie Sariñana of Sincerely Jules posted a reveal of her newly revamped office in Downtown Los Angeles, crediting home decor company Lulu & Georgia for supplying many of the pieces, including a Moroccan rug ($1,644) and set of pink velvet armchairs ($610 each).
"We've been working with influencers even since pre-launch, and it's really been successful for us," says Lulu & Georgia founder Sara Sugarman. "Over time, I think our strategy has changed a bit. We really see ourselves as a lifestyle brand — we're selling a lifestyle, not just a couch or a rug, so we look for influencers that also fall within that lifestyle." Metrics like followers and engagement are, of course, important — Sariñana has 4.5 million followers on Instagram alone — but Sugarman says her team looks first for beautiful imagery and the right fit for the brand. Those who have made the cut so far include Chriselle Lim of The Chriselle Factor, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, and Christine Andrew of Hello Fashion — all well-established names whose feminine aesthetics mesh well with the Lulu & Georgia aesthetic.
Sugarman says her company's approach is to give bloggers a budget and let them have free rein over how they style the pieces, but other brands have more hands-on methods, collaborating with influencers from start to finish on their interiors projects.
Online decor retailer Z Gallerie, for instance, has worked with bloggers including Lim, We Wore What's Danielle Bernstein, and Devon Rachel on projects ranging from a single room to a full-home makeover. Bernstein was one of its first collaborators, and Gordon Andahl, the company's public and influencer relations manager, recalls introducing a surprise element and taking her out to lunch while the team redid her space (after weeks of emailing mock-ups and layouts back and forth, mind you). The West Village apartment became a backdrop for Bernstein's recurring #HomeWoreWhat features and also fit seamlessly into a "Small Spaces" campaign Z Gallerie was launching at the time.
When choosing which influencers to work with, Andahl says the team almost always picks people who have demonstrated some interest in the brand, whether on their blogs or on social media. "If they're already fans of ours, it's a win-win for everybody — we're creating a space for them that they love and they're sharing it with their followers. That's pretty much the trade right there.” Bloggers who already like the product are also less likely to demand a fee on top of the free merchandise — something Z Gallerie has never paid, though Andahl says he's heard of the practice occurring elsewhere in the industry.
Instead, he says, the company will give an influencer a budget of $10,000 to $20,000 (for a home makeover; the figures are often much lower for smaller projects) and work with them to pinpoint an aesthetic and choose pieces that reflect that and fit within their space.
One of the company's most successful collaborations to date was a "luxe for less" home makeover with Carrie Bradshaw Lied, which had a budget of just $5,000. "That was successful as far as engagement was concerned — we got a lot of feedback," says Andahl. "We were really trying to surprise and delight with making over an entire room at a lower price point, and I think it really resonated with people that you could do so much for so little."
Readers are also drawn to projects that are pegged to major events in the lives of the influencers they follow, says Donna Garlough, style director for home decor brand Joss & Main. "One thing that has been a good discovery for us is how great it can be when we partner with people who are hitting certain milestones in their life," she says. "Maybe they're getting married and cohabitating for the first time; maybe they're having a baby or renovating the kitchen, and we have an opportunity there." Her team monitors the blogs and social accounts of potential collaborators and reaches out if the timing is right and the brand is a fit. Like Sugarman, she says the selection process involves as many intangible factors as it does hard metrics. The team asks themselves: "Are they people that we read? Are they people that we look to? Are they inspiring to us? Does looking at their blog make me want to decorate?" says Garlough. "If the answer is yes, then that's definitely something that we weigh pretty heavily."
So far, the system has yielded a multi-room apartment makeover with Something Navy's Arielle Charnas, outdoor space projects with Rach Parcell and Emily Jackson, the blogger sisters behind Pink Peonies and Ivory Lane, respectively, and a new nursery and master bedroom for Barefoot Blonde's Amber Fillerup Clark. The success of each partnership, says Garlough, is measured via metrics like email newsletter opens, social media comments and impressions, and the sales generated by bloggers' Joss & Main curated shops that they link to at the bottom of each post. The sisters' project was also covered by Architectural Digest, an additional media win for the company.
More than a pair of shoes or a dress a blogger may wear in a handful of posts and then donate, sell, or relegate to the back of their closet, home decor is likely to appear again and again in their content, as a backdrop to their YouTube videos, Instagrams, Snaps and Stories. Charnas' Joss & Main pieces, for instance, have been featured frequently across her channels (even if they aren't always explicitly credited) as she plays with her daughter on the sofa or films haul videos on the rug in her home office — at least until last week, when she announced that she and her family have moved out of the rental and into their first owned apartment.
That the rooms given the most attention are relevant to the bloggers' content is no accident; Garlough says her team considers which spaces will resonate most with their readers when negotiating a partnership. "It depends on what they have for their layout, what their needs are for furniture and decor, and then what would be natural for them as well," she says. "Obviously we love working on people's living rooms, bedrooms — spaces where there is a lot of decor. So if somebody came along and said, 'Could you also do my woodshed?' I don't think that would be our first instinct."
Now that they each have a few years of experience working on these kinds of projects, these home decor companies can use past data to inform where they should direct their dollars going forward. For 2017, Andahl says Z Gallerie is focusing on doing fewer, but better collaborations, meaning bigger budgets and more comprehensive media plans around the launches, including video components and partnerships with publications like People and Cosmopolitan (for the latter, the team recently made over the office of editor Michelle Promaulayko).
Lulu & Georgia, meanwhile, is doubling down on licensed products designed in collaboration with bloggers after a rug and matching pillow they produced with Glitter Guide did "tremendously well" for the company, says Sugarman; next up, it's launching a "fabulous wallpaper" with Cara Loren and licensed goods with bloggers Sarah Sherman Samuels and Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam. A similar strategy has also been successful for Emily Schuman of Cupcakes & Cashmere, who added lighting and bedding to her stable of licensed product lines last year, partnering with Evolution Lighting and Keeco and launching exclusively with Bed Bath & Beyond and Nordstrom. The home goods lines have since been picked up by retailers like Dillard's, Bloomingdale's and Macy's.
Of course, convincing a reader-turned-shopper to buy a polka-dot chambray sheet set for $139.99 is one thing; convincing them to buy — or even rent — a luxury New York apartment is another. But as Gevinson's deal with 300 Ashland demonstrates, brokers and management companies are willing to go to creative lengths to get ahead in a competitive real estate market. According to The New York Times, 55 influencers were recently invited to a 56th-floor, $20.75-million home in Madison Square Park Tower by Douglas Elliman broker and "Million Dollar Listing New York" star Fredrik Eklund. Right on cue, attendees took advantage of the enviable city views and luxe furnishings, and the event generated more than 100 Instagram posts, as well as an additional 1,000 followers for the building.
"They were happy to have access to an apartment with a gorgeous view, plus I reached a non-real-estate audience," Eklund told the Times. And with young, wealthy buyers checking out property on social media, it can't hurt to have some extra content from visitors who know their way around a filter. In fact, it's not a far cry from the now-common practice of hotels inviting influencers to stay for free in exchange for Instagram posts — with the exception, perhaps, of the eight-digit price tag.
Gevinson's deal, likewise, is unlikely to be the last of its kind. A spokesperson at BerlinRosen, which handles public relations for Two Trees Management, initially told Fashionista that the company has "several exciting partnerships" in the pipeline with influencers, although upon request for an interview with the company, the spokesperson stopped returning phone calls. It should be noted here that the press around Gevinson's #300AshlandPartner posts has not been entirely positive — Jezebel called out the "cryptic hashtag" as a potential violation of the FTC's endorsement guidelines, while The Cut compared the deal to Audrina Patridge's ClearBlue-sponsored pregnancy announcement, saying it "broke new ground in the ever-expanding world of celebrity spon-con."
But with every new inch of ground broken lies more opportunity ahead, and it seems like now, with our closets already conquered, the home is the latest frontier for influencers to infiltrate. After all, why not help us find a new couch or bedspread on which to scroll mindlessly through their Instagram feeds?
Homepage photo: Chriselle Lim attends The 2017 Baby2Baby Gala presented by Paul Mitchell on November 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Baby2Baby)