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Personal branding: the secret of success

I’m Luke, follow me

To get ahead in fashion these days, you need to be a brand. Luke Leitch searches for his niche

To get ahead in fashion these days, you need to be a brand. Luke Leitch searches for his niche

Luke Leitch | December/January 2017

I have just returned from three hectic but enjoyable weeks in London, Milan and Paris, covering the Spring/Summer 2017 women’s ready-to-wear collections, with three important discoveries.

First, next spring will sport more ruffed dresses, big earrings and loose shoulders than a command performance of “Carmen”.

Second, I have incontrovertibly proved that a diet of salami, soft cheese, crisps, wine and black coffee will not diminish your paunch, revive your weary spirit or make your skin glow like burnished copper.

And finally, I will never amount to more than a hill of jeans in this business without a personal brand. Because these days, if you’re just somebody, you’re a nobody.

Let me explain. Until, say, 2010 or so, fashion shows were entirely populated by editors, retail buyers and others with specialised, subsidiary roles in fashion – photographers, stylists, on-contract celebrities, PRs, etc – in an ecosystem that was both defined by and dedicated to the fashion houses (aka brands) whose products we were there to assess. The clothes and the businesses behind them were the undisputed stars of the shows. Designers and supermodels apart, we the people were just bit-part players.

Now, not so much. The fashion shows are a teeming jungle of brands – at times competing with each other, at others interbreeding. The fashion houses remain important: they are the trees and the canopy of this brand-jungle. Yet between the shows flit a pandemonium of competing individuals, like toucans flashing a gaudy, particoloured bill to attract attention – sometimes as much as the fashion houses themselves.

The big beasts make millions simply by apparently being themselves. The amazing Chiara Ferragni started a blog in 2009 which has since flourished into a business empire that includes a range of shoes and accessories with a turnover of $15m and an online shop, while her blog, the Blonde Salad, makes $2m a year in advertising. Brands like Ferragni have total job security, because they are their jobs; but it’s not easy. Ferragni has a team of dozens of editors, stylists and photographers to service her and her sister-brand – who is, quite literally, her sister. It takes a lot of people to be yourself.

Today the most potent currency of fame is your Instagram footprint. Mine is so minuscule (1,000 followers) that when I was backstage at Trussardi (100,000 followers) in Milan, I photographed Ferragni (6.8m followers) as she rested her chin on her hand (tattooed with “#beautiful”). Surely I’d get at least a couple of hundred likes; if I caught her wistfully posed like Rodin’s “Thinker”, might I even get an enraptured regram? Could this be the start of my career as a brand? But the light was low, my hand clumsy, and I was left with a picture that might have been entitled “Unknown Woman Waiting for the Night Bus”.

Some people I know with pretty significant personal brands suggest there is a tension between the personal and the brand. An American woman I met reckons “it’s so stupid and meaningless”. She can afford to: she’s got 600,000 followers, roughly the number of people who followed Moses out of Egypt. Justin O’Shea, briefly this year the creative director of Brioni and no Instagram slouch himself (100,000 followers) is outraged by the attention the trade pays to these numbers: “You know the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard? What I find so awful? It’s that model agencies now choose girls based on their social media footprint…If you can think of any way to twist someone’s mind, it is this. They are giving them courses on fucking hashtagging.”

Did this make me reconsider my dream? Did it hell. I’ve seen what having a brand does for you and one thing’s for certain – you get a higher quality of salami. And, thanks to the fashion shows, I have found my niche. After a few weeks on the road, I’d grown a beard more through neglect than design, run out of clean clothes and long discarded my grooming regime. One colleague commented that I looked “quite like the Unabomber”. J.J. Martin (50,000 followers, plus her own e-store LAdoubleJ.com) expanded at Elie Saab: “You look amazing, babe. Like a creepy Nineties surfer. Someone who’d pull up alongside you in a u-haul and bundle you into the back of it.” Hey, a niche is a niche.

Oh, guys: #chill. Get with the programme. What’s possibly to lose by stashing the portraits of our old selves in the attic of anachronistic physical space, and hanging our #new #beautiful #selfies, the face of our digital #personalbrand, in pride of place? Hey, I’m @luke_leitch – follow me? My line of salami-scented beard oil is going to be Off. The. Hook.

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