The name Chiara Ferragni might not be familiar to most over-35s but the 29-year-old’s alter ego, The Blonde Salad is – to borrow Ron Burgundy’s phrase – kind of a big deal. Ferragni, an ex-law student from a small town near Milan, started The Blonde Salad blog in 2009, documenting her camera-ready personal style, full of prints, blowdried hair and kooky cross-eyed faces. Seven years later, she has 7.3 million followers on Instagram, 1.2m likes on Facebook and more than 14m page views per month on her website. The latter now handily also functions as a shop selling everything from suitcases to stilettos designed by Ferragni. There’s also Chiara Ferragni Collection, a shoe brand with flats and boots covered with her signature eye logo.
Ferragni might prompt eyerolls from older generations who believe success should flow from a discernible talent. But, increasingly, it’s people such as Ferragni – who basically made her career on taking pictures of herself in fetching outfits – who are #winning. Ferragni has been on the Forbes 30 under 30 list twice, the subject of a Harvard Business School study and on 55 magazine covers. She is an alpha example of an influencer – the new term for social media players who go beyond blogging to all platforms, flogging both their own and anointing other brands with their approval. Talking to Ferragni herself is, then, an interesting exercise. Here is the woman who calls herself “public figure” in her Instagram bio but, at the same time, says: “I am exactly the same on and off social media. People are always surprised that I am nice and funny when they meet me in real life, they expect me to be a bitch.”
Ferragni’s followers certainly know a lot about her life, or the edited version of it anyway. She posts about six times a day on her personal account – almost all selfies of a life lived in party dresses or pyjamas accessorised with suitcases or beanies. Each one, on average, is liked approximately 80,000 times. What’s her tip for a good selfie? “It needs natural light right in front of a window with no shadow on your face. I use the Valencia filter on Instagram and the light effect, which is so ancient, I don’t think anyone else uses that any more.”
Ferragni is 29 – smack bang in the middle of the millennial generation span. She displays all the traits millennials are meant to have. She is, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense, completely self-centred, and completely at home online. This interview is arranged initially to talk about Ferragni’s shoe line but, when I try to ask a question specifically about the shoes, Ferragni turns the conversation back round to, well, Ferragni. “I started as a blogger but it’s not so much that any more, I do so much more,” she says. “I create an inspirational platform. We do so much on the e-commerce side, the projects, the management. But most of‑the revenue still comes from projects related to me.”
The daughter of a dentist and a writer, Ferragni says she knows exactly why she’s so popular. “People like my story as a self-made woman,” she says. “That’s very unusual in Italy – a lot of people of my generation don’t even have a job. I don’t really know how I did it.” Timing was definitely a factor. In 2009, she worked with her then-boyfriend, now CEO Riccardo Pozzoli, to turn a “personal space” into a business, first through banner ads and Ferragni modelling brands’ clothes in the images, with fees of about €1,000-2,000 for a post. Now, she doesn’t disclose what the fees are, but it’s safe to assume they’re significantlyhigher. And, like the whole discernible talent thing, Ferragni’s fans don’t appear to be concerned by these corporate hookups. “It has to feel natural and transparent,” she says. “For me, selection is everything, it has to be something that my followers will be happy to know about. I can’t lose my credibility – you can’t put a price on that.”
Bloggers’ and influencers’ credibility – or supposed lack thereof – hit the headlines earlier this year when Sally Singer, American Vogue’s creative director, wrote on the magazine’s site: “Note to bloggers who change head-to-toe paid-to-wear outfits every hour: please stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style.” Ferragni thinks this is an old argument. “I started when it was like that; when I was the only one not coming from fashion and I had so many haters – people who were twice or three times as old as me being so aggressive,” she says. “I don’t understand that because I think there is space for everyone. The audience decide now; you don’t have to pick and choose. Now we’re business people, not just crazy bloggers.”
This is the angle that Ferragni is keen to run with, with her life as her shop window. Ferragni provides a fantasy for people scrolling through an Instagram feed on the bus home from work – she goes to tropical holiday destinations and fancy hotel spas and changes up to five times a day in fashion week, so you don’t have to. But you might just buy her shoes for a sprinkle of that jetset life. “My biggest satisfaction is that people think about me and smile,” says Ferragni. “People love to dream through me.”
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