Photo: David M Benett / Getty Images for Pretty Little Thing
Molly-Mae Hague is just like every other 22-year-old. She loves buying novelty pyjamas from Primark, her room is always a tip, she’s constantly on a diet, hates the gym, wears foundation too dark for her skin, loves pumpkin spice Starbucks Frappuccino’s and watches Harry Potter when she’s hungover.
Only, most 22-year-olds aren’t being announced as the creative director of multimillion-pound fast fashion behemoths like Pretty Little Thing – that website that always manages to persuade you to buy teeny-tiny sunglasses and cut-out dresses that your boobs fall out of.
“Basically, I have creative input/lead within multiple areas of the brand,” Hague wrote while answering questions about her new position on a recent Instagram story. “E.g. marketing, buying, influencers. It’s a 24/7 role… sharing ideas, coming up with incredible new concepts, having input on shoots, events, you name it.”
It seems like a rather confusing move for the Love Island runner-up, but Hague is not the only influencer pivoting towards a more applied job description. Kendall Jenner is now the creative director of luxury fashion retailer FWRD, Bella Hadid is COO of a drinks brand, Emily Ratajkowski is the creative director of Loops Beauty.
On the surface, the only thing these women have in common is good cheekbones and a penchant for posing in carparks. Why are they being appointed to these roles? And how much actual work will they be doing?
“Working as an influencer essentially involves marketing yourself,” explains Hannah Holland, managing director at influencer agency HLD Management. “You are a personal brand. Working as a creative director, you’re just utilising those skills and the aesthetic you’ve built across your own platforms and putting them towards a brand. It’s a job that will come organically to them. In that sense, it feels quite natural. The two roles overlap.”
Commanding the attention of millions of followers, influencers know what sells, and they know how to get attention. It’s this that puts them in a good position to judge what a brand’s image should be.
“They have a loyal follower base, which can become almost like a focus group for the brand,” says Ben Jeffries, CEO of influencer marketing platform Influencer. “They can ask for feedback on trends – what would they like to see from this collection coming up? And that, as a creative director, can help them understand what’s going to work best. That’s where an influencer becomes really, really strong value for money.”
While he acknowledges that influencers understand the market more than many people working in the industry right now, Sam Richardson, creative director at 20ten, argues that these creative director appointments function as more of a PR stunt.
“It’s just a different way of publicising the brand,” he explains, using the example of a recent Instagram post Hague uploaded. “She’s wearing a PLT outfit and she’s had to caption the post ‘ad’ – and obviously those are the rules on Instagram: if you’re promoting products, you have to explicitly say you’re doing it. Part of me thinks that if she was legitimately hired by the company, working for them as their creative director, she wouldn’t necessarily have to caption it as an ad.”
Richardson adds: “I think saying that you’re the creative director of a brand is essentially just an evolution of saying that you’re a brand advocate, or you’re a brand evangelist, or something like that.”
For years, we’ve seen celebrities become the face of everything from dish soap to insoles. The only difference is, with influencers, we trust them more. “They’re made famous by people rather than industries,” says Jeffries. “We feel close to them. We might have followed them from the early days, when they had about 50,000 followers. We’ve seen them grow, their journey, we have 360-degree access to their lives, we watch them on multiple social platforms, behind the scenes content on another platform. There’s a personal relationship between the influencer and the follower that makes us more likely to buy into them.”
Regardless of how much work is or isn’t actually involved in these roles, the most important thing is that they appear authentic. You might remember, back in 2010, when Lady Gaga became the creative director of Polaroid, or when Ashton Kutcher became the creative director for Skype-like start-up Ooma in 2007. These relationships did nothing to drive meaningful impact and were soon disposed of, partly because they seemed so obviously about money. As Kanye West pointed out in a now viral video: “I like some of the Gaga songs, what the fuck does she know about cameras?”
Holland points out that Molly-Mae knows the importance of this better than anyone: in a recent vlog, she revealed that she’d turned down a £2 million deal with a high-street retailer purely because she doesn’t wear their clothes. “To put it a different way,” says Holland. “If a beauty vlogger gets approached by a skateboarding brand, they shouldn’t just take it because they want to grow. It has to be organic; your audience will notice right away if it’s not.”
What does this mean for the future of influencing? “I think we’re going to see a lot more co-founders and creative directors,” Jeffries predicts.