Chiara Ferragni: from mirror selfies to top influencer

The Italian fashion entrepreneur created an empire from scratch using the social network Instagram

Chiara Ferragni is the undisputed queen of Instagram.
Chiara Ferragni is the undisputed queen of Instagram.Costhanzo

Milimeter-perfect poses on picture-postcard beaches; hashtags or labels that describe each and every one of their movements; and a life edited and transmitted live on social media: such is the day-to-day routine of celebrities of the millennial generation. But if there is an international celebrity that stands out above the rest on Instagram it is, without a doubt, Chiara Ferragni.

“People like my story because I am a self-made woman,” she proudly says. And it could not be more true. This former law student, born 30 years ago in Cremora, a village near Milan, has been named the world’s top fashion influencer of 2017 by Forbes magazine. But how does a complete unknown come to be the connection between luxury fashion brands and the masses? By taking advantage of the right moment and the perfect platform.

In 2009, shortly after moving to Milan for college, Ferragni and her partner at the time, Ricardo Pozzoli, created her blog The Blonde Salad. Camera in hand, Ferragni documented more than just her clothes. She showed her day-to-day life with images taken inside her small studio and her strolls along the streets of Milan. Without knowing it, Ferragni and Pozzoli had hit on the business model behind the so-called influencers.

While she played model and took mirror selfies, not far from her apartment Dolce&Gabanna were sitting the fashion bloggers of the moment in the front row of their Milan fashion show for the first time. Bloggers like Tommy Ton sat alongside powerful titans of the industry such as Anna Wintour – editor of American Vogue. The digital revolution had found its space in the universe of fashion.

Bloggers and Instagrammers replaced models and fashion magazines as style setters almost overnight

Almost overnight, bloggers and Instagrammers replaced models and fashion magazines as the style setters, and there was Ferragni, ready to take her piece of the pie.

In 2011, two years after starting her blog The Blonde Salad, she was reaching 110,000 visitors per month. It was then that Ferragni and Pozzoli discovered the difference between having a blog that creates trends and generates money, and simply promoting vanity online. You had to have a good sales strategy and business plan.

The blog’s breakthrough offered them the perfect opportunity to diversify the business. On the one hand, The Blonde Salad sold advertising space to big brands, while Chiara sold herself on Instagram with her personal brand: the girl that everyone wanted to be.

Her followers know everything about her life, or at least the edited version that she publishes. With an average of six new photos a day on Instagram, which get between 70,000 and 80,000 likes, Ferragni is visible to millions. She knows this and exploits it. Her fans have followed her since her breakup with Ricardo Pozzoli – with whom she still has a working relationship – to her relationship with Italian rapper Fedez, broadcast live on their respective social networks.

Although each of her posts comprises a fresh and natural image, but this is a business. All photos are taken in such a way as to focus your attention on that precious bag, or on that shirt with a price tag with more zeros than the average worker’s wage. Ferragni has conquered the advertising market for luxury brands, something that until now was reserved for fashion magazines.

So what makes her the queen of the world of fashion communication? It is the strategy that she’s followed from the outset. It is not just about getting a brand to pay a large sum to appear on her social network, but also about creating a relationship with that brand so she can eventually become its ambassador or have a capsule collection created for her. Undoubtedly, that is a much more beneficial type of contract.

Ferragni has managed to turn herself into a brand. Her followers trust her and follow, as best as they can, her style recommendations. The pants she wears and the hotel she stays in are synonymous with success – so much so, that this year Forbes crowned her the most influential blogger and Instagrammer in the world of fashion. Yet it is not the first time that she’s been featured on the list from this prestigious magazine. In 2015 and 2016, she was selected as one of the most influential 30 people under 30 on social media.

On her way to achieving the status of influencer, her blog also evolved, becoming a lifestyle website from which to follow Ferragni’s world travels, buy clothes that she designed for other brands, or purchase shoes from the Chiara Ferragni Collection – her footwear line. The company reinvented itself, grew and began to generate millions in profit. Her business was so successful that in 2015 the Harvard Business School included her as a case study for an MBA.

Ferragni and Pozzoli are no longer just two teenagers taking photos and uploading them to a blog, but successful entrepreneurs who earn $9.5 million a year.

English version by Debora Almeida.

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