Deconstructing Chiara Ferragni: When Fashion Influencers Become Commodities

As Fashion Influencers Evolve, Have Brands Created Parasites That Can Hurt The Host?

by Philippe Pourhashemi

The stratospheric rise to stardom enjoyed by a selected group of fashion influencers over the past decade has perplexed many fashion insiders, including myself. Coinciding with the launch of Instagram in October 2010, the figure of the influencer soon became ubiquitous and unavoidable, invading our telephone and computer screens with endless selfies, sponsored travel, designer freebies, paid content, and what often felt like a deeply narcissistic -and rather desperate- urge to catch the attention of a growing group of followers. After all, this seemed like a logical extension of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter -and several dating apps- where individuals increasingly market themselves, but there is one fashion figure who caught my attention early on with the way she showcased her private life and branded these moments in her posts: Italian entrepreneur, designer, blogger, and influencer Chiara Ferragni.

Today, Ferragni’s Instagram account boasts an impressive 21.7 million followers, but it’s interesting to see that the majority of her posts feature her son, husband and herself, as well as other members of her family. Fashion no longer seems to be the main focus of the former law student who launched her own blog, The Blonde Salad, in 2009. On the 1st of October, Chiara announced her second pregnancy online with what seemed like a carefully constructed post of her 2-year-old son Leone holding up a sonogram picture. She tagged her Italian rapper husband Federico Lucia, also known as Fedez.

This Truman Showesque post -which wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a telenovela or the latest episode of a trashy reality TV show- got more than 3 million likes, making it a Ferragni classic. Leone wore a pale blue Ralph Lauren shirt, in what seemed like another gloriously branded moment.

In 2017, Chiara cemented her fruitful relationship to the corporate world by embracing Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest Dior collection, and proudly wearing the “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt on several occasions. Chiuri seemed so entranced with Ferragni that she even designed two Haute Couture dresses for her 2018 wedding at Dimora delle Balze, allegedly earning the French house an enviable media impact value of $5.2 million.

I would argue that, on Ferragni, the slogan t-shirt takes a new and rather interesting turn. Priced at $710 -and sold out within a few weeks- the Dior t-shirt is not only the cynical expression of corporate greed, but also the illustration of eroding values within contemporary capitalism. There isn’t any design or special treatment on this piece that justifies such a hefty price tag, and many feminists would probably argue that Chiara posing as a fashion victim in an overpriced t-shirt produced by a luxury brand is not an empowering statement for women either, but the argumentation goes further than that.

Many praise and worship Ferragni for her business savvy, selfie expertise and countless designer goods, but Chiara is, in fact, the embodiment of consumer alienation, as well as cultural commodification. When a sonogram of your second baby ends up online and key private events -such as your wedding- are fully sponsored by corporations, you are no longer a feminist, but have enslaved yourself to the logics of capitalism instead.

In 1970, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard published “The Consumer Society”, a brilliant essay where he analyzed the profound impact of consumption over our social relationships. This was young Baudrillard -and he would eventually hone and refine his theories over the years- but the visionary impact of his words has not faltered.

Baudrillard argued that the figure of the “consumer” will eventually replace the “person” within contemporary capitalism. He understands the person in the humanist sense, opposing it to a purely mercantile approach. 50 years later, the fashion influencer has become an embodiment of this idea. Influencers are no longer people, but products among other products.

Think of them as fancy display units or alluring store windows. Fashion influencers have marketed themselves so far that they have finally reached the point of no return.

In May 2019, I was invited to give a lecture on the rise of the fashion influencer at Geneva’s HEAD School of Art & Design, which was followed by what was meant to be a short Q&A session. The audience included several fashion students and they were mostly female. Many seemed captivated by my analysis of Chiara, whom I used as a key case study within the lecture. I remember the discussion lasting for an hour and getting quite heated when I noticed there was a clear divide between Chiara’s fans and her detractors. Several women in the room couldn’t really make up their mind on whether or not Chiara Ferragni was a complete success story or the embodiment of capitalistic alienation. 

I have worked in the fashion industry for more than 20 years now and am passionate about my field. I would hate to think that our industry is turning into a cynical circus, but I must admit that Chiara Ferragni’s power over her audience frightens me. I believe that her success has very little to do with fashion in the end.

Influencers have used the growing confusion inherent in our world to carve their own niche and grow their presence, but it is not clothes and accessories that they care about. It’s ego and power.

The numbers on Chiara’s Instagram account ultimately stand for the complete voyeurism of our world and the kind of social media envy that clearly defines her following.

It seems that the more branded we become as individuals, the less we actually exist as humans. Sadly, the person -with its character, mystery, finesse and contradictions- has been wiped out of our consumerist world to become the influencer, a carefully constructed brand supporting nothing but other brands.

Now that you have read -and reflected upon- what is printed on Chiara Ferragni’s t-shirt, it becomes obvious that she isn’t a feminist at all: Ferragni has sold her soul, intimacy, family, marriage -and integrity- to the corporate world, making her a potent example of consumer submission and utter despair.