The Fashion Establishment Is Mad About Instagram Models

Another day, another old-school fashion person throwing shade at the "Instagirls," the Vogue-coined name for the contemporary crop of models who either first found fame on Instagram, or who are pros at connecting with their fans there. Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner, that'd be you.  This time, it was Steven Meisel, the photographer closely associated with the rise of '90s supermodels, and with Vogue Italia (for whom his work is frequently brilliant and sometimes horrifyingly sexist). Meisel expressed his regret to The Wall Street Journal  that the modeling business "has changed so much. It’s more [about] how many Likes you get on Instagram, which I do not do. I’m not into it." A few days ago, Naomi Campbell better expressed many peoples' resentment of the Instagirls on The Meredith Viera Show: "We ['90s supermodels] had to earn our stripes and take our stepping stones to get to where we've gotten, and to accomplish what we have achieved... Then it just comes like that for them — but I sometimes believe easy come, easy go."
Neither is a vicious attack, certainly, but it's hard to miss the put-down: The new crop of girls doesn't work as hard. They haven't paid their dues. It's just about social media Likes. The thing is, the new crop of models' experiences might not be as different as Campbell and Meisel think. Yes, increasingly models are being scouted on Instagram and signed — there's even an entire agency devoted to doing so. But, how is that any less of a random, lucky break than the way Campbell was discovered? (Shopping in London at age 15.) Kate Moss was spotted by a scout at JFK while returning from a family holiday, and many supers have similar stories. I'd go so far as to argue that the girls who built their fame on social media faced more of an uphill battle than the supers discovered by kismet. Because, as everyone who's agonized over their follower counts knows, building IG fame ain't easy — unless you come from a famous family (ahem, looking at you, Kendall). There are thousands of pretty girls and wannabe models posting selfies every day. Standing out in the crowd, truly connecting with an audience, and building a following are more difficult than today's stars make it look. As for the effort any professional model puts in after being discovered, it's unclear how the '90s supers might have worked harder than the new crop. The Instagirls can sit back and collect Likes all day, but they still need to get out, hit castings, and win contracts if they want to really make it.
So, yes, social media makes fame look easy, but being a successful model today requires roughly the same mix of pure, genetic dumb luck; industry connections; and perseverance it always has. The x-factor here is that now, models have the ability to self-promote, rather than waiting for gatekeepers like an agency, or fashion-photog Svengalis like Meisel (who made many a model's career in his day), to open doors for them. I get why that'd be deemed a threat by old-school fashion folks, but I'm still not convinced it's a bad thing.
Time for people like Meisel, Campbell, and anyone else who laments the Instagirls' rise to realize the game has changed. It's up to them to change with it, or get left behind.

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