Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid.

This season, Tommy Hilfiger didn’t just hire Gigi Hadid to walk in his runway show: He asked her to codesign a see-now-buy-now capsule collection that was unveiled at a carnival-style event in New York, followed by a global tour that took the model to Shanghai, Tokyo and Dubai.

The results of the experiment were proof, as if any were needed, that the generation of models Vogue magazine christened the Insta Girls now has the power to push a collection into commercial overdrive.

This story first appeared in the November 9, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The Tommy x Gigi collection and Gigi’s ambassadorship has had a fantastic effect on our women’s business,” Hilfiger said, noting that within the first two days of the Sept. 10 presentation, there was a 900 percent increase in traffic to the brand’s web site. “Seventy percent of visitors to the site were new, which shows progress in our mission to attract new women consumers. Her ambassadorship has continued to create a ‘halo effect’ across all regions — we’ve seen double-digit sales growth across the women’s category.”

And it wasn’t just Gigi Hadid that had the Midas touch this season. Her younger sister Bella was also in high demand, and no fewer than seven brands — including Marc Jacobs, Versace and Fendi — booked both sisters to walk in their show.

Ivan Bart, president of IMG Models, said winning the siblings was not a strategy on the part of the agency, which also represents their brother, Anwar.

“We never piggyback or partner models with each other. We see each person’s career individually,” he said. “During fashion week, when there’s a finite number of designers and a finite number of opportunities, there might be crossover, but I can emphatically say it was never a conscious decision.”

Get used to seeing plenty more of the Hadid sisters in the coming months: Karl Lagerfeld recently shot them for Fendi’s spring ad campaign, and they will both appear in the Victoria’s Secret show, due to be held in Paris on Nov. 30.

“That’s an amazing opportunity to be on American television, but this year, it’s international and from what I understand, they’re going to be showing it for the first time in China,” said Bart. “I saw the list yesterday and there you go: It’s the social media modern model who is on that runway.”

Alongside Kendall Jenner, who will also appear in the lingerie giant’s show, Gigi and Bella Hadid have been nominated in the International Model category of the revamped Fashion Awards, hosted by the British Fashion Council and Swarovski, to be handed out in London on Dec. 5.

The siblings are no strangers to celebrity. The daughters of real estate developer Mohamed Hadid and former model Yolanda Hadid first appeared on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and are now dating pop stars, with Gigi linked to Zayn Malik and Bella to Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd.

Gigi Hadid started modeling for Baby Guess at age two and resumed working with the brand in 2012. Her high-fashion break came in 2014, when Carine Roitfeld put her on the cover of CR Fashion Book.

At 21, the former volleyball player and equestrian has 24.8 million followers on Instagram, making her a formidable asset for brands like Hilfiger, Reebok and Stuart Weitzman, for whom she designed a limited-edition namesake boot this season.

Having signed to IMG in 2014, 20-year-old Bella Hadid gave up her dream of a professional riding career due to her battle with Lyme disease. With 7.2 million followers on Instagram, she is quickly gaining traction, joining Dior as a makeup ambassador and headlining campaigns for Calvin Klein, Givenchy and J.W. Anderson.

The rise in popularity of models with a strong social media following coincides with a surge in influencer marketing, as Millennials shun brand messages in favor of peer recommendations. And 2017 is shaping up as a defining year for the practice.

In a survey of more than 200 marketers conducted in August and September, San Francisco-based social media marketing firm Chute found that 66 percent have introduced an influencer marketing strategy and among those who haven’t, 40 percent plan to incorporate an influencer program next year.

In addition, 87 percent of marketers said they planned to increase their budgets for influencer marketing next year.

Chute, which works with brands and publishers including Benefit Cosmetics, Adidas and Condé Nast, in September launched Chute Influence, a combination of software and services designed to help brands identify, engage and work with social influencers.

“Brands want to reach new audiences and it’s hard for them. There are so many social channels and platforms to be on — to have relevant and authentic expertise in all of those different conversations that matter to their consumer or potential consumer is really challenging,” said Jody Farrar, vice president of marketing at Chute.

These brands are keen to tap not just into influencers like Hadid and Jenner, but also micro-influencers with audiences in the tens of thousands.

“They have built these audiences from the ground up and are just far more credible than the brands coming in and trying to build that relationship on their own with those niche audiences,” Farrar said.

She sees Insta Girls as sitting somewhere between traditional celebrities and a rising breed of social media stars.

“They’ve also grown up on social as well, so they’ve built up their audience and I think it gives them in particular an opportunity to be more playful and to humanize themselves as celebrities. But they have quite a bit more prestige than some of the other influencers that are working their way up,” she noted.

According to data collected by Chute between Sept. 8 and Oct. 6 — the start and finish of the spring cycle — there were 5,708 Tommy Hilfiger photos related to fashion week on Instagram, and Gigi Hadid was mentioned in 47 percent of posts.

“People are more connected to the person than to the brand, so that is an opportunity for the brand to find the right influencers…and collaborate with them over time, because they’re resonating with a larger audience and have a lot of credibility that the brand directly may not have,” Farrar said.

Hilfiger said the collaboration with Gigi Hadid would continue into spring, with consumers deciding on and voting for their favorite styles.

“Social media creates a fantastic platform to share our brand’s inclusive spirit and democratic philosophy, while also bringing new energy, speed and creativity to the fashion industry,” Hilfiger said. “Gigi has been credited with reshaping the world of modeling in the 21st century. She has an incredible reach through her social media channels and connects with her audience in an authentic way, offering them a unique glimpse into her lifestyle.”

He said the #TommyXGigi hashtag helped the brand create a streamlined campaign across its social media channels, generating 3.7 billion impressions across Instagram and Twitter since the collaboration was revealed at the end of 2015. With that kind of result in mind, Bart recommends that all IMG Models maintain an active social media presence.

“Brands are looking for people to have a voice, a following, a presence, a point of view,” he said. “It should be authentic and…not feel forced at all. And I recommend it, because I really feel that’s how people are getting their information now.”

He reckons the sky’s the limit for the Hadid sisters going forward.

“It’s interesting that everybody assumes that as models move through their career, that maybe the first thing would be acting,” he said, “and that might be, because there are people who’ve asked for both of them to do something, maybe, in film. But I’ve been doing this for 30 years and careers evolve.”

“It’s very clear that both of them are entrepreneurial and also could really lead a brand,” Bart added, citing the example of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s transition from child television stars to designers. “It’s still a work-in-progress for the Hadids. I think that they’re both finding out more about themselves and as they grow into beautiful women, all these opportunities are open to them. I’m not quite sure which way they’re going to go.”


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