How the Rise of the "Influencer" Totally Changed Fashion

Kendall Jenner Gigi Hadid
Photo: Sam Deitch/

Today, Wilhelmina and Rizzoli celebrate the launch of Defining Beauty byInStyle's Eric Wilson, a new tome documenting how the most exciting developments in modeling have shaped the fashion industry. Here, in an excerpt from the book, Wilson discusses the rise of the social media "influencer."

Kylie Jenner was correct when she said that 2016 was “the year of realizing stuff,” for by that time the power of so-called influencers had finally become crystal clear, even to those who once turned up their noses to the movement.

For marketers and media, measuring the impact of their messages is suddenly quantifiable in ways never before imaginable outside of a dystopian novel, especially in the once insular, now widely democratized world of fashion. As a result, it is fairly common practice today for successful models to be ranked and hired based on their measurements—not those on their comp cards, but those on their social media accounts. This is, after all, how Kylie and Kendall Jenner, each with one hundred million plus followers combined across Instagram and Twitter, went about conquering the industry.

Designers used to dismiss these modern-day luminaries in favor of bland models with no more personality or distinguishing characteristic than a coat hanger. Now, they are in high demand as ambassadors and collaborators, and Kendall Jenner has skyrocketed into the Top 50 Models ranking at, as well as being chosen by its readers as a model of the year for 2016. What’s more, models of all stripes are being encouraged to show their true colors and speak up in the face of mistreatment.

While this may seem like a new phenomenon, models have, in fact, been influencers long before the term was coined. What we are really talking about here are those individuals who have the ability to drive campaigns with not only their appearances, but also by using their strong voices in support of diversity and feminism.

Iggy Azalea, with her unapologetic attitude, can claim that title today, as would rising models like Barbie Ferreira, an outspoken advocate for body confidence who proudly shares images of her imperfections on Instagram.

And what model has ever wielded more influence than Iman, who built a cosmetics empire from her iconic career? She remains one of the fiercest champions of diversity, taking up the call of legendary model agent Bethann Hardison to publicly shame designers whose runway shows demonstrate a blatant disregard for models of color.

In a 2013 article in the New York Times, Iman suggested a boycott if certain designers did not begin hiring black models. And while there is still much room for improvement, by the Fall 2017 collections, the numbers of nonwhite models had increased dramatically, when more than a quarter of the models cast were women of color, according to a survey by the Fashion Spot.

Now that’s influence.

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