Aimee Song Unfiltered on Design, Depression, and Life Beyond Instagram
“I’m taking these photos and posting #aboutlastnight or something vain just to showcase that my life is perfect and people are commenting #goals when in fact, I’m so depressed.”
Aimee Song, an influencer since before there were influencers, is enjoying a rare pleasure: She’s in her own home. “I feel most comfortable when I’m here,” she says from the Los Angeles house she shares with her two maltipoos, Charcoal and Malti. She’s taking a respite from the 300 or so days a year she spends travelling, usually as somebody else’s guest. Only eleven hours ago, Song was in California wine country, wrapping up a four-day trip influencer retreat hosted by e-commerce company Revolve (price of entry: two #revolvearoundtheworld posts per day). In only a few days, she will be posting from Paris.
At 32, Song has been firmly living on the internet for over a decade, which makes her something of a Meryl Streep-level legend among the hordes of Insta-genues. It’s not just the number of years she’s committed to serving as living inspiration for her now millions of fans. There is a particular straightforwardness to her content, which flies in the face of the prevailing trend of staged “authenticity.” Song isn’t out to prove how normal she is, or how tortured she is. She isn’t staging dramas with a recurring cast of complicated characters like some member of the Kardashian fold. What Song does is roam the world in consistently captivating style (you’ll find gowns from Dior and Valentino, as well as tons of cowboy boots and cut-out dresses), with the occasional caption about hanging out with her sister or going to therapy, and that is enough. No arch-nemeses, no shocking confessions, no antics at the after-party (she doesn’t drink alcohol). Her 5.4 million fans tune in for her travelling pants… and crop tops and biker jackets and belted trenches.
And now those fans can dress up exactly like Song. Her sensibility, a mix of polished and daring (she is all for a bare midriff), is the basis of her new clothing line, which launched on Revolve this May. The new designs that are introduced to the 30-plus piece capsule collection every month typically sell out within hours. “Depending on what time zone people live in, they can get upset if they wake up and they didn’t even have a chance,” Song says. The two-tone “Weila” fruit print shirt was the quickest to vanish — gone in five minutes. Other items, including an array of chunky sweaters and animal print statement tops, span the corporate-to club-friendly spectrum.
Song works with a team of designers, and the most popular looks on her own feed have a way of appearing — in affordable form (most items are under $250 USD) — in her collection. “I love blazers and denim and sweaters,” she says. “I like to look put together. Even if I only have five minutes, I don’t want to look like it took five minutes.” Song’s tip for looking like you invested at least ten minutes in front of the mirror? “Throw on jewelry,” she says. “People underestimate the strength of jewelry. Even a pair of gold hoop earrings will elevate a look.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Song split her time between her parents’ homes. “I loved fashion in a way I don’t think most people understand,” she says. Her mother subscribed to glossy magazines but neither of her parents had cable, so she’d go to friends’ houses after school or babysit for plugged-in families where she could sit on the couch watching MTV and FashionTV and stoke her fantasies. “I remember seeing Pat McGrath applying make-up and watching models walk down the runway in crazy hats and I was like, ‘This is art,’” she recalls.
Song went to college in San Francisco and studied interior architecture. It was as an undergraduate that she began a design blog called Song of Style. At first she focused on interiors, though the purview quickly expanded to other things that Song loves, like lifestyle, travel, and, above all, fashion. Song still maintains the website but the real action is on her personal Instagram account (the “media impact value” of her most recent New York and Paris Fashion Week posts alone were reported to be $1.9 million USD), as well as her other Instagram account, @songofstyle, devoted to her new fashion venture.
“I post in real time for the most part,” she says. “I’m bad at planning my posts. I used to edit my photos—I used to be a VSCO girl, editing colours – and then I stopped. I got tired of it.” Her disaffection with extensive window-dressing coincided with a personal breakthrough. Two years ago, during Paris couture week, shuffling from one front row seat to the next in designer dresses, she collapsed on the inside. Living out her teenage fantasies, surrounded by celebrities and A-listers, Song was feeling too terrible to ignore. “I was thinking: why am I so unhappy? I’m taking these photos and posting #aboutlastnight or something vain just to showcase that my life is perfect and people are commenting #goals when in fact, I’m so depressed.”
That week, Song sat on the floor of her room at the Hotel Plaza Athenee and got real with her followers about the imperfect truth behind her seemingly perfect public image. “I actually fake it a lot of the time,” she confessed through tears in a video she posted on her Youtube channel. “People ask me how I stay so confident. I don’t feel confident and I don’t feel happy at all. Sometimes I feel so sad and broken inside.” Song started seeing a therapist, and she continues to take a break from her cheerful posts now and then with a caption reflecting on her need for solitude. She says she’s been learning a lot from therapy and listening to Oprah’s podcast. “It’s important that people don’t just think that I’m always so happy. Nobody’s always happy. Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes.”
Song was initially resistant to seeking therapy, a reluctance she attributes to growing up in a Korean-American family where emotional wellness was not a favourite topic of conversation. “I thought depression only affected people with serious mental health issues. I didn’t realize what I had was depression, since I was functioning.” In therapy, she learned about a depression spectrum, that her ability to bathe and get out of bed did not disqualify her from suffering. “It was important to share what was going on and get rid of the stigma,” she says. “Nobody talks about the fact they do therapy. My only regret is that I didn’t start it sooner.” In addition to talk therapy, Song finds curating her Instagram feed to be a highly helpful emotional tool. She only follows a select number of accounts, mostly friends. She also recommends the consistently cheering @tanksgoodnews account, which is dedicated to heartwarming stories about local heroes and acts of kindness.
She has been working on finding her own joy. Running a business is one source of satisfaction. So is reading; while she wouldn’t call herself a bookworm, she gets excited talking about her latest fiction finds. “I finished [Sally Rooney’s] Normal People in one sitting, I loved that book,” she says. Now she’s reading another novel, the sorrowful saga Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. “It seems dark,” she says. “But I’m going to stick with it.”
And then there is her beloved boyfriend Jacopo Moschin, a Milan-born photographer whom she met five years ago while on a sponsored trip for influencers in Morocco. He lives in New York, and travels as much as Song, so they tend to meet up in foreign settings where one of them is working. The couple has gone no longer than three and a half weeks without seeing each other. Song has also met most of her close friends, including cult hair stylist Jen Aitken and stylist Shiona Turini, on the influencer circuit. “Shiona and I went on a personal trip to Bermuda with Solange and my sister Dani [@songdani, 748K followers]. Shiona is from Bermuda and she got the tourism board to fly us up…so I guess technically that is an influencer trip,” she says.
Song’s days at home are less than restful. Exercise first thing in the morning is a must, since she’s often too jetlagged to work out when she’s travelling. She’ll jog around the neighborhood or go to a hot Pilates class. “There’s a new fitness studio called Bunda that’s butt-focused. It’s like Barry’s Bootcamp except there’s Stairmasters instead of treadmills. I like doing that.” By 9 a.m. she’s in her West Hollywood office, catching up with her staff (two full time, one part time). Then meetings with her agent and manager, perhaps followed by meetings with the Revolve buyers or the Song of Style team. “The design meetings can be six hours,” she shares. She also makes time to connect with internet legends she’s met on the scene, like Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram. “She literally just texted this morning, asking what jeans my boyfriend wears because her husband has skinny legs too.” (They’re from Acne.) And, packing for the next trip is never an easy undertaking.
Despite some ambivalence about social media’s power to stoke emotions — good and bad — Song still embraces her platform and her place in the public eye. “I love creating. Whether it’s a cool makeup look or a photo shoot, I’ve always loved creating and sharing ever since I was little,” says Song. “When I was a kid, I was the person who would share news, like a trend forecaster. I would post about whatever I was obsessed with on Myspace,” she recalls with a laugh. “Hopefully I’ll keep having more things to share.”