Eva Chen on Instagram: “Being yourself will always be rewarded”
If you haven't heard of Eva Chen before, you're clearly not one of her 776k Instagram followers. Those who do, lap up her interviews conducted with supermodels, actresses and fashion designers in the mini conference room at Facebook HQ and double tap on her signature 'gram: a backseat car shot of her shoes, bag and fruit of the day. With a decade-plus experience in the fashion industry and a spot on this year's BoF 500 list, Eva is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable faces spearheading the digital fashion movement. Below, she chats to Buro 24/7 Russia's Yulia Tsezar and Ksenia Obukhovskaya about everything Insta.
Tell us a little bit about your career. How did you find your way in fashion and start working for Instagram?
I've been with Instagram for almost two years and I never really had a set path. I know a lot of people who had a very specific career path where they knew whom they wanted to be when they grow up or they set a goal, but my career was always a little bit more random and I always just follow my passion.
I started out as an intern at Harper's Bazaar then I worked at Elle for a few years, I worked in Teen Vogue for seven years and then I worked freelance and worked with a lot of different publications like Wall Street Journal magazine, Vogue China and then I got a job at Lucky magazine. It doesn't exist anymore, but when I left Lucky I really just wanted to take a break. I was on maternity leave because I'd just had a baby and I never expected to be working at Instagram, but it's been amazing. I loved Instagram from the minute it came out and immediately felt the potential of the platform.
I think fashion and Instagram have a lot in common because Instagram is so visual and the fashion industry is about creating beautiful images, so I understood how to use Instagram pretty much immediately. When the team reached out to me, I was like 'Oh I don't know, I kinda want to stay home with my baby.' But everyone was like, 'This is the perfect job for you!' Even before my job at Instagram I used to work with designers, models and stylists, and the fashion industry helped me to understand how to use Instagram better. I even helped Pat McGrath join.
Did you really?
Yeah [laughs] you can ask her! And some models, like Karlie Kloss. It wasn't, like, formal, it would be backstage at a show and I would be like, "OMG there is this app it's called Instagram, you have to use it." So much of what I do now is helping to educate the fashion industry about Instagram so it makes a lot of sense.
How is your job in fashion magazines different to what you are doing now?
You know honestly, I don't think it's that different, people assume it's a big difference because it's going from print to digital. When I was working at a magazine as editor in chief I was working with photographers, stylists, models, editors and trying to make them doing the best work for a magazine.
For Instagram right now I'm working with a lot of the same people I used to work with, but now my job is to help them to do the best work for themselves on their own Instagram. In both jobs I've been very lucky to work with so many top creative people in the industry. The team at Instagram is brilliant - they always think of ways to improve the Instagram experience, like launching Instagram stories or [creating] tools to make Instagram a safer place.
What does the job of Instagram's Head of Fashion partnerships consist of?
I always liked to tell stories on Instagram, now there are stories, you can do photos you can do videos, you can do boomerang, how many times a day should I post, who should I be targeting, what is my audience, what should my voice be in Instagram, what kind if content should I be posting, if we have a party should we have an Instagram booth? All of these things are the things that people ask me 500 times a day, so my job is to work with people like models, designers, stylists and creative directors to help them understand how to use it better.
It's not the same for everyone, there is no one size fits all answer. It's something very individual, so what's right for Tom Ford is gonna be very different for Marc Jacobs and it will be very different for Karlie Kloss and different for Gigi Hadid. I also get feedback from all these people, there are people who are saying, "Well, I have a really hard time with people calling me too skinny" and you know we have these amazing tools and settings where you can actually protect yourself from bullies which a lot of people don't know about.
There is a model I was talking to who's very young, so naturally very thin, and she said people are always telling me, 'Why am I on a diet?' So when people are bullying her, she can use certain words in her comment moderation so she feels like her Instagram is a safe place.
And [we listen to] feedback. You know Instagram photos used to be a square and so many fashion editors said, 'We wish we could post landscape or portrait because the spread of a magazine is rectangle' and that was feedback we took very seriously and sent to the product team.
It's your choice, if you don't want to post a selfie, then don’t
In your opinion how does Instagram shape modern fashion?
It has made the fashion industry a lot more inclusive. Even 10 years ago, unless you lived in Paris, London, Milan or New York, fashion was impossible, people would never have access to designers - it felt very far away.
I remember growing up I didn't know what a stylist did, I didn't know what like a creative director did and Instagram kind of became a fashion education. You can be a 20 year old living in the suburbs of Paris or you can be a 15 year old living in Poland... you can be anywhere and feel like part of fashion experience and fashion community - that's something that Instagram has done really well.
Would you say that the opinion of fashion critics is not as relevant as it used to be and now it's been kind of replaced with Instagram influencers?
Um, no. I still read a lot of the critics like Cathy Horyn and Nicole Phelps and I think it's incredibly valid. I wouldn't call it criticism, it's a commentary... I think of myself as a fashion enthusiast, I love fashion, I love shopping, I love style; but if you were ask me the history of Cristobal Balenciaga and how he started his line and why his hats were a crazy bubble shape, I don't know. But then you can ask someone like Suzy Menkes from Vogue international or Nicole Phelps and they will be able to tell you the history, so I think a fashion critic is just as relevant.
Would you say that Instagram is currently trying to become a fashion shopping platform?
I don't think that's the primary goal. I mean the primary goal when Kevin [Systrom] started it was to help to build relationships so people all around the world can connect and I think shopping is something people can connect over.
I follow Man Repeller on Instagram, I always love to see what she's wearing, I'm like where is that from, it looks amazing on her, I can't pull it off but I get my inspiration from it. Sometimes I buy things because I saw them on Instagram. I don't think Instagram is trying to become a shopping platform but I do think that people are very much inspired to shop from Instagram.
Could you share some tips on how to create a successful Instagram marketing for a fashion brand?
I think that it's a connection of authenticity and realness is really important, so a lot of the time people will over curate their Instagram profile. I think fashion people look at their Instagram like a mirror so they can say, 'Wow, it's so great! Wow, it's so beautiful, I'm doing things in a row of three and it's like I take a picture at the beach and I cut it up into little squares.' Really I think the most important thing in Instagram is to create really strong storytelling, to focus on individual posts instead of how your profile looks. Have a sense of personality and connection. The brands and people that do it the best, it just feels like you know them as a person and relate to them.
What advice do you have on how to set up your own brand in Instagram?
I feel like if I were ever to launch a brand (which is very unlikely), I would probably launch it on Instagram. I would probably try to do what Glossier did. I feel like they've done a really good job, especially the customer service you get at Glossier through Instagram. Literally you could do a post and say like, 'What colour highlighter should I be using and they'll write back to you. Glossier has done a good job in creating a brand, it's like a lifestyle out of their products it's not just like products, products, products. They actually made it to the point where their account got shut down because they were replying to so many customer comments that we thought it was spam!
What's your advice on how to become an Instagram influencer?
I think it's about just being yourself, a lot of people think it's all about the photos, its photos of course but I also think it's about developing your personality and being comfortable in your own skin. Sharing your personality and being yourself will always be rewarded on Instagram.
I think in terms of posting, the more you post, the better because it just gives your followers something to look forward to. Take pictures in natural light, too. But I think it's having a personality, responding to your followers and taking them on an adventure and making them feel like they are a part of this creative [world] that you live in. Especially when people live in cities like London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, Seoul.
You know some designers go, 'Oh you know Paris so boring' but most of your followers would kill to live in Paris. You have to remember that most of your followers dream to see the Eiffel Tower sparkling, so what is everyday for you whether it's like a Tube stop at Covent Garden or a sunset in New York City, whatever is your everyday, find the way to celebrate it and share it and make it personal. Because it's probably someone's dream.
It's interesting you say that because a lot of people probably think that to be successful in Instagram you have to be fake, but it's actually the opposite.
Exactly. There are stories as well and they allow people to be real, and show who you actually are. When people have strong Instagram stories I love them so much more, it just feels more like you know them better.
I can see you love Instagram but do you maybe feel overexposed from time to time?
Um, not really, I don't show what I don't want to show. I think everyone should do what they feel comfortable with, I would never tell someone, 'Oh you should post more pictures of yourself in a bathing suit.' I worked out today for the first time in like four years and I Instagram storied it because it's really funny and I felt comfortable with that, but I can see why other people would not. One of the top things I hear all the time is designers saying, "Oh, I don't want to post selfies" and I'm like. "Who's forcing you to post selfies? Is someone holding a gun to your head and saying post a selfie?" It's your choice, if you don't want to post a selfie, then don't.
There is a hairstylist Sam McKnight, he does the Chanel and Fendi shows and works with Karl. His Instagram is brilliant because he loves to garden, so he's constantly posting flowers and like two posts later it will be Cara Delevingne getting her hair done and three posts later it's Karl Lagerfeld. His account is [full of] random flowers and I love it because you feel like you've got a sense of who he is and what his passions really are.
The most important thing about Instagram is finding your own level of exposure, your own level of comfort. No one is forcing you do anything. Let it be an outlet to your creativity, so if your day job is an accountant but your secret passion is watercolour you can set up an account that shows your secret passion and then it becomes an inspiration to people and communities. I think that is a sense of doing what makes you happy.
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