There are some descriptions that are fine to apply to others but you should never use about yourself. You are not, for example, advised to go around telling people that you are beautiful or intelligent if you plan on keeping any friends. Even if you really are both, it’s just not allowed. (I know, I have found it tough too, but it’s the rules.)
Perhaps that’s why the word “influencer” is so crazily annoying. When someone describes themselves as an influencer – ie an influential person – you feel a tide of despair rising around your ankles.
A couple of weeks ago I was at an event where a posse of self-described influencers had been invited to attend. They were not hard to spot. They arrived en masse from another launch, swinging bags full of freebies. They found the photographer and posed poutily. During the speeches they went outside to smoke and gossip. They asked questions such as “Where are we?” and “Do you know what this is for?” And then, like a panicked flock, they were off, their chunky Balenciaga-trainer-shod feet vanishing into the mist. I’d love to know what influence they had on anything that day.
The next day I met a PR boss, someone I have known for decades, who told me she was looking after a great fashion brand whose owner wanted “some influencers” to come and see the collection. Money was to be paid to get them to attend. A lot of money. The PR was not so convinced. “These people have no loyalty to any brand, they don’t know anything about what they are looking at, and within hours of posting pictures of the collection will be promoting another rival brand.” But the merry-go-round carries on spinning even as it all begins to look a bit corrupt.
Sure, when selling make-up to teenagers, or perhaps runway collections to the middle classes in China, some of these people deliver. But that’s not because they are “influencers”. What these people are doing is low-grade PR – repping and photographing. They don’t need a new title. And, while we are here, it’s also odd how someone with just 40,000 followers on Instagram is heralded as an influencer, while the editor of a newspaper’s fashion pages, with vast numbers of readers, is not.
This week I have been in Lebanon and met up with a long-time Monocle friend called Kamal Mouzawak. We have followed his story for more than a decade as he has used food to do numerous things, from empowering women to saving his country’s culinary heritage. He does this via a farmers’ market, Souk el Tayeb, and a group of restaurants called Tawlet, where women bring in their farm produce and cook. There are stunning guesthouses too. Two days ago I drove (well, was driven; I am not sure any outsider could survive on Lebanese roads) to the Tawlet in the southern town of Saida. The restaurant is beautiful, the work his team do is impressive and in the kitchen are Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian women doing work they love. That’s influence – that’s changing lives and changing the agenda around the environment, tolerance and culture.
At Monocle we get to meet many extraordinary people determined to do things differently, from creating better cities to running fashion brands using fabrics made from plastic pulled from the sea. And the funny thing is that not one of them would stoop to call themselves an influencer.