Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid have been modelling for just a few years, but their profiles have skyrocketed during that time. They have both appeared on Vogue covers, starred in prestigious campaigns and have opened and closed the biggest shows. Their power lies in their ability to garner huge traction online, with their combined Instagram following of 72.1 million. To put that number into perspective, that's 8 million more than the population of the United Kingdom.
They have been hailed as a new generation of supermodel with unprecedented power to connect with their fans and become brands in their own right. But this week that status has been challenged, with questions raised about whether the size of a social media following should really be influencing model casting and whether a viral campaign actually translates into profits. On Wednesday evening British Vogue tweeted 'Who said that Kendall and Gigi are not “true supermodels”? and thousands of people replied 'everyone.'
British Vogue's tweet linked to Rebecca Romijn's comments in an interview with Entertainment Tonight where she argues that models' careers are being unjustifiably accelerated because of their Instagram following. "No one has proven yet that numbers of followers translates to revenue," Romijn said of the trend for social media dictating casting decisions. "So it is frustrating. I know a lot of people – legitimate fashion people – can’t stand it." She then added: "[I] hate it that these, you know, social media stars are now the supermodels in fashion. They are not true supermodels."
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The model and former star of Ugly Betty then questioned Anna Wintour's support of the Gigi, Kendeall et al, adding: "I have always looked to Vogue magazine to lead the way, not be a follower. I rely on Vogue to set the standard, not follow what everybody else is doing. So I have been disappointed that fashion magazines have been supporting this trend of social media stars to set our style standards. But it will change; fashion always does." Romijn then clarified on Twitter that she wasn't specifically talking about Kendall and Gigi, as she tweeted: "Hey @kendalljenner @gigihadid don't believe the #clickbait. Never talked smack about you. Both amazing & beautiful."
These comments follow on from Calvin Klein - who sold his company in 2012 - revealing that he is not "familiar" with Jenner, even though she fronted one of his namesake labels' campaigns. "So many people wanted to be on a billboard or in an ad or in a commercial, and for sure Justin Bieber wanted to do it. I thought that was really good," the designer said during a talk with Fern Mallis in New York. "When I say I like Justin Bieber in the Calvin Klein Underwear campaign, it's because I like him - not because he's got millions of followers. Now, models are paid for how many followers they have. They're booked not because they represent the essence of the designer - which is what I tried to do - they're booked because of how many followers they have online. I don't think that, long-term, is going to work."
He added: "I don't think that's a great formula for success for the product you're trying to sell. However, if you take really exquisite photographs of the right people in the right clothes in the right location, and you put it online, that's fine. Just putting any old clothes on Kim Kardashian, long-term, isn't going to do a thing."
Calvin Klein is one of the brands that has a social-led campaign strategy, as just this week they revealed that social media star Cameron Dallas, who found fame on Vine, has taken over from Justin Bieber as the face of their Calvin Klein Jeans Limited Edition's spring collection. But the American label certainly isn't alone in placing huge importance on Instagram numbers. Burberry hired Brooklyn Beckham to photograph a fragrance campaign and Olivier Rousteing at Balmain has cast Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner in campaigns.
Having millions of Instagram followers is extremely profitable, as a former casting director Frank Spadafora, told CR Fashion Book that models can be paid a six figure sum for one Instagram post. He revealed: "The three most highly ranked supers on social — Kendall Jenner, Cara Delevingne, and Gigi Hadid, in descending order — "are currently valued between $125,000 and $300,000 for a single post across their portfolio.'"
Earlier this week, Grace Coddington joined the debate and said that it took her a while to accept Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid as models worthy of being in the pages of Vogue. "[Gigi and Kendall] are a different kind of celebrity — they represent this moment in time very much. [...] It sort of annoyed me at first, but I do think both Gigi and Kendall are really good models, and that they could’ve [gotten where they are] without all that Instagram," Grace Coddington told Refinery29.
But Coddington believes that they could be just as successful without their army of Instagram followers. "It's just now that everybody is judged by how many followers they have and things like that — which is a shame," she added. "It's almost like, if you ram it down your throat, I find it unattractive. But, as I said, they have the personality and the beauty that would probably have made them as important as they are anyway, without the added importance of Instagram."