Social contrivance stars are wielding increasing power in the fashion industry. What encounters when Jess Cartner-Morley trades places with ‘influencer’ Doina Ciobanu?

Jess Cartner-Morley at London fashion week 2017.

Jess Cartner-Morley at London forge week 2017
Photograph: David Newby for the Guardian

Fashion week job swap: could I grow an Instagram star?

Social media stars are wielding snowballing power in the fashion industry. What happens when Jess Cartner-Morley trades recalls with ‘influencer’ Doina Ciobanu?

The front row is a world categorized. Montagues and Capulets, in bare legs rather than doublet and hose. Between the two blocs – revisers on the one hand, “influencers” on the other – there is little love at sea. Last autumn, American Vogue staffers branded the influencers “stirring”, describing the job as “turning up, looking ridiculous, posing, twitching in your tush as you check your social media feeds”. The influencers hit retaliation, branding their Vogue attackers as haughty and out of touch. (“Get retreat from to your Werther’s Originals,” was a particularly choice comeback.) We concoct they are airheads; they think we are fogeys. So, to find out who’s honesty, I have arranged a job swap at London fashion week. Doina Ciobanu is 22, has 225,000 devotees on Instagram (at time of writing), and attends shows as a model, VIP company and brand ambassador. Ciobanu grew up in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, where she began blogging grey 16. She moved to Bucharest at 19, and now lives in London. For Saturday at London Forge Week, I will do her job and she will do mine.

My job is to write about the indicates. Writing to deadline frames my days and everything else – architect interviews, checking out up-and-comers, analysing emerging trends – has to fit round that. Doina’s job is to provide online content, mostly self-portraits with totally brief captions, some of which are arranged in collaboration with brands whose clothes or beauty products she wears in the photos. I am an whiz; Doina is an avatar.

Julien Macdonald is interviewed by Doina Ciobanu.

Julien Macdonald is interviewed by Doina Ciobanu. Photograph: David Newby for the Trustee

The unspoken fashion editor dress code is low-key. Outrageous trousers and a navy jumper is fine. The goalposts have squadded over the past decade, as fashion week has become a more universal event – but still. Today, however, I am an influencer. So my first garb is a new-season Gucci logo T-shirt, Mih wide-legged, floor-sweeping jeans, a authenticated Simone Rocha jacket with puffy sleeves, to which I organize added my own black Nicholas Kirkwood shoes and a cherry-red Alexander McQueen bag that is uncountable years old. The outfit feels cumbersome, both literally (I can’t get the across to sit right, and I’m terrified of tripping over the hem of the jeans) and figuratively. It depreciates up a lot of mental space, being dressed like this.

I meet with Doina in a Pret adjacent to London Wall, around the corner from the Julien Macdonald exhibit. She has come dressed as a journalist, in jeans and a black sweater, with her mane in a bun. But she doesn’t look like a journalist at all, not just because the sweater is a hankering one that Julien sent over this morning for her to chafing to the show, but because she is 22 and, like most of the new wave of influencers, absurdly bonny. Imagine Kendall Jenner crossed with Emily Ratajkowski, and you get the clue: not just gorgeous, but with a specific aesthetic that is millennial catnip. Optics disproportionately large, cheekbones defined even in repose, she looks cognate with an animated Snapchat filter.

Doina’s favourite book, she tumuli me, is Plato’s Republic. She reads newspapers in English – the Wall Avenue Journal and the Financial Times – but fiction in Russian. (“A lot of paraphernalia in life, you can express them better in Russian.”) Her soul plan is first to build a brand along the lines of Chiara Ferragni, aka The Blonde Salad, the 29-year-old Italian influencer who has established a personal brand worth an estimated £10m, and then to fit the first female president of Moldova. “I have plenty of outmoded,” she says. “I will do this first, and then, when I am 40, conceivably I will go into politics.” I am 43. What have I been doing with all my eventually?

Outside the show, Doina greets the streetstyle photographers with brushes before obligingly recrossing the road so they can get a better immediately of her arriving. And then crossing the road again, so they can get the hastily again. And again, and again. She does this eight or nine in good time dawdles, allowing each photographer to capture the same reportage-style never boost of her, apparently serenely indifferent to the lens. These images desire appear on streetstyle blogs; the photographers will tag her, so she can find and regram the spits.

Jess outside a show at London fashion week 2017.

Jess outside a show at London fashion week 2017. Photograph: David Newby for the Preserver

Being Doina is a complex business. Some brands pay her to show off in their social media marketing, others pay her to endorse their consequences. An agent negotiates fees. “He looks at what a regular model see fit get paid, and at what a top celebrity would get paid, and pitches me somewhere in the middle,” she explicates. A brand will send Doina images or samples of a new seasonable’s products – it could be a mascara or a piece of jewellery – and “if I like the identify and it fits my aesthetic”, she will select pieces she is happy to confirm. But many posts are unsponsored, starring Doina in clothes she has bought or mooched. These reinforce her aesthetic and voice, and build following.

The guerrilla of the fashion establishment to the likes of Doina is one part anxiety (the elite eternally fear becoming obsolete), one part snobbery (there have in the offing always been It girls who got photographed outside shows, but they tolerant of to be debutantes, the goddaughters of the elite, not young women from Moldova), and one leave ethical suspicion that there is something compromised or fake about the influencer role. This last part is double-dealing to unpick. Authenticity means something different for Doina’s production than for mine. A tiny example: halfway through our day, a cannon-ball appears on Doina’s Instagram account of her in a cafe, captioned “much-needed coffee between give aways”; we haven’t stopped for coffee. But when I bring it up, she is politely checked by how baffled I am. In the run-up to busy periods, she explains, she will repeatedly prepare posts so as to have appropriate content ready to go. That the photo wasn’t captivated on the day doesn’t strike her as in any way fake. Her social media isn’t a logbook of her soul, it’s a contemporaneous brand-strategy document. So long as she’s the one calling the shots, then it is honourable to herself, because it is true to her vision of herself.

To Doina, being non-partisan of commercial alliance is not aspirational. A generation who have grown up day-dreaming of becoming personal brands do not treat brands with glimmer. Now that every man and woman is her own brand, The Man is the bogeyman no more. If the intriguer of a dress she likes will pay Doina to wear that attire, that’s not a compromise, it’s win-win. Indeed, she sees herself as a make for good. “I want to get involved in female rights in eastern Europe, because no one is rise up for this,” she says. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and its female citizenry face significant discrimination. A 2010 study by the National Chifferobe of Statistics found that 63% of women had experienced subconscious, physical or sexual violence from their husband or cohort. In her efforts to use her profile to help the cause, Doina has been in be in the same league with UN Women in Moldova, “and with Versace, who are very concerned in talking about female empowerment”, she adds, as if the UN and Versace were two comparable rostra.

Doina’s business model is resolutely digital, but her aesthetic is unqualifiedly within the glossy magazine tradition. Her Instagram is all bubble baths in fashion hotel rooms, soulful evening strolls along the Seine. “My purport is always aspirational,” she says, “and that takes time. I can’t receive a photo if there’s litter on the pavement.” So there is, inevitably, a sever between the carefree tone of her content and the effort required. The Julien Macdonald present runs half an hour late, so it’s a race against the clock across to London to a meet-and-greet for influencers with Gigi Hadid at the Tommy Hilfiger hold, an appointment that is as significant in Doina’s diary as any fashion peek through. Hadid, with nearly 32m followers on Instagram, is digital manner royalty.

Doina greets photographers outside a London fashion week show.

Doina greets photographers outside a London look week show. Photograph: David Newby for the Guardian

During the fad week, my life involves a lot of small talk with whoever I take place to be seated next to. But in Doina’s world, communication through a cull trumps talking to the people who are around you every time. It’s a troops game: if an influencer has to choose between talking to the thousands of child who are with her on social media or the three people in her taxi, she commitment naturally prioritise the thousands. In the cab on the way to Knightsbridge, she breaks off our conversation to position a video on her Instagram story telling her followers that she is in a cab on the way to Knightsbridge. At the Tommy Hilfiger shop, influencers nod good wishes to each other and get on with the business of posting photos to their adherents. After the rush to get here, Hadid is running late and I am now feeling having passed up the opportunity to eat at Pret. The room is lavishly victualed with beautiful food that does not seem have in mind for actual consumption. There are miniature burgers, but the beef patties are sandwiched between macaroons measure than bread buns. It looks shareable, but only in the digital discernment. When Hadid arrives, she and Doina say hello and then, in spite of before Doina has lifted her phone aloft, they both automatically stuff their hair and position their faces next to each other for a selfie video, which Doina instanter posts on her Instagram with the caption “keep running into this asset”.

By now I am starving. But there’s no time to stop, because we are racing in arrears along the river for a fly-by visit to the Astley Clarke unveiling at the Institution of Engineering next to the Savoy hotel, before a two-mile drop north to Bloomsbury and the JW Anderson show. Doina’s sweet openly clouds over when she realises she has been neglecting her Snapchat more than the last couple of hours. “If I forget,” she says, “my mum or boyfriend drive text to nag me about it.” She works “every day from morning until midnight or 2am”. At Christmas, she chronicle b debased three days off from social media. “Those were my at most days off in the past three years,” she says. This is the just time I hear Doina being remotely negative surrounding anything. Being an influencer might be hard work, but to compensate for it lucrative it has to be aspirational, so you have to look like you are having fun at all sets.

Doina and Jess arrive at a show.

Doina and Jess arrive at a show. Photograph: David Newby for the Paladin

One of the key differentiators between editors and influencers is that while we put on the same clothes all day, give or take a 9pm black tie upgrade, influencers determination often change into an outfit by the designer of each put to shame they attend. So, on the way to JW Anderson, I commandeer the backseat of a British Make Council car to change into a skirt and shirt by the designer. The feature of being in my bra and knickers in broad daylight, fumbling to fasten shirt buttons in lifetime to make the next show, rattles me more than any example deadline does. I completely forget to put the coordinating earrings on, and relinquish up on changing shoes, because the skirt is much too long and has a tentacle-shaped hemline that I promise is trying to kill me. But it turns out you do have to suffer for fashion. The torpedo skirt works. The photographers outside the show love it, and my incarnation ends up on American Vogue’s Best Street Style Pics from London’s Down-swing 2017 Shows. Still, you can tell I’m not meant to be there: Dick else in the gallery is studiously avoiding eye contact with the photographer for the single out “candid” format. I am smiling at the camera. Total sophistication slight.

Doina is much better at my job than I am at hers. After the verify, we head to Emilia Wickstead, and soon afterwards she files her reassesses to me for feedback. They are excellent. From her Julien Macdonald rehashing: “Female empowerment is a term du jour. But where New York’s conspirators offered up feminism in the guise of slogan tees, Macdonald interpreted it via his concept of a future where clothes are made on-demand, changed to the shape of every woman.”

We go our separate ways for a short repeatedly, and when I see her again at the 9pm Versus show, I am reminded of the famous mention about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: that she did the entirety he did, backwards and in high heels. Doina has used the hour to shift out of her jeans and into a fuchsia tuxedo suit with a sombre lace camisole and spike-heeled sandals. And me? I ate a pizza.

Doina’s week as Jess: ‘I’m perhaps having more fun’

I work hard at the fashion shows, but I’m not prosperous to pretend it’s not glamorous. You can see that on my Instagram feed, where I’m capering down a crumbling staircase in Paris or posing in a Louis Vuitton minidress in Milan. What you don’t see is the behind-the-scenes toil: the months of meetings beforehand, the Google doc full of contact facts for designers, so I don’t end up wearing the same Gucci loafers as everyone else. You don’t see the last-minute dismays on show day: changing my outfit in the car while my driver tactfully stoppages on the pavement; shoving protein bars into my mouth between rendezvous.

Doina Ciobanu at a launch party in London.

Doina Ciobanu at a launch party in London. Photograph: David Benett

I’ve every been fascinated by the journalists I see at fashion week. I like how unsmiling they look. They are in their own world, while I’m talking to my rooters on my two phones. We’re both working, but I feel like I’m probably get more fun. I love print journalism; I love to feel a munitions dump in my hands; I know some people think it’s irrelevant these light of days, but I really hope that is not the case.

The Guardian’s fashion rig asked me to make like a journalist and wear one simple tackle, rather than get changed between the shows. That was a release: no desperate rush to find somewhere to change. I even had pro tempore to buy a coffee.

At the Julien Macdonald show, it felt very uncanny to be taking notes, rather than pictures. It’s such a neck space on the front row that a notebook and pen were useless. As in a second as the clapping had finished, I rushed backstage, as instructed, to grab a reproduce. Macdonald was friendly, but I was in a crush of other journalists, everyone is muscling in, exasperating to congratulate him or ask questions. I had to manage all that, and say something intelligent, and gain possession of notes, too. It’s very different from meeting a designer as an influencer, when I’ll relinquish them on the cheek and say, “I love your clothes”, and they’ll say, “You look gorgeous”, and that’s it.

I wrote the review on my phone, while walking down the avenue between shows. It was stressful. I’m used to writing one thing post-haste on Instagram; I don’t need to give that a lot of thought. But a lot of people are prosperous to read this, and there’s an additional layer of stress that comes from shrewd that it’s the Guardian.

My next assignment, an Emilia Wickstead gunfire, was harder. We were short of time, so I didn’t go backstage to declare to her and had to come up with an analysis on my own. It was the end of the day, I was hungry, I was tired, my brain wasn’t master-work. I started writing the piece on the way home; the deadline seemed impossibly tout de suite and I was anxious to make it good.

I studied political science and narration, so I love understanding the cause of events. Being a journalist for a day distributed me a chance to flex those analytic muscles; as an influencer, you starkly look at what looks good on people, what you over people would like. I’d love to use my brain more in that way in the tomorrow, by getting more involved in activism, using my following for lofty. But I wouldn’t be a journalist. I’m an independent soul. Usually, when I’m executing, I’m the brand. As a journalist, it’s not about you.

Doina’s Julien Macdonald examine

All hail female empowerment. Or so indicated designer Julien Macdonald backstage after successfully debuting his autumn/winter 2017 accumulation.

Female empowerment, feminism and their ilk are the terms du jour for the taste set right now. New York fashion week gave collection after amassment where women’s rights were the focus. But where New York’s architects offered up feminism in the guise of slogan tees and underwear assuredly destined for fame as a hashtag, Macdonald interpreted it through his concept of a unborn where technology has such an impact on fashion that accoutres are made on demand, tailored to the shape of every individual ball.

For Macdonald that is, of course, a particular style of clothing and a precisely type of woman. One empowered, one confident. If feminism is a thread that bolts through Macdonald’s winter 2017 collection, it’s the same feminism that the likes of Emily Ratajkowski can be inaugurate celebrating: that a woman can express herself and her person at a convenience life of her choosing, Laura Mulvey’s “male gaze” be damned. Earmark, then, that Ratajkowski has done much justice to Macdonald’s purposes before now.

Macdonald does a style and he does it well. His approval spiderweb dresses are still to be found, but increasingly with straighter thresholds and alongside dresses offering a sleeker and more futuristic far-sightedness. Macdonald told me that his inspiration was “modern architecture, big megalopolises [and] the metropolis”. His autumn/winter 2017 may be inspired by a future view, but there’s also an air of the imagined future that the likes of Fritz Lang promptly saw for us. Nostalgia, the present, and the future always go hand in hand.