“When I was 20, I had this fixed idea of wanting to achieve something important, and the sense that the window of time in which I could do it was narrowing,” Italian-born and Los Angeles-based fashion entrepreneur Chiara Ferragni tells Grazia Middle East. “I thought I was late. Every day that passed was another day I’d lost.” A little over a decade on and the 32-year-old behind The Blonde Salad has achieved more than most. Try: blogger, influencer, designer, entrepreneur, Harvard lecturer and CEO, for starters.
She’s been ranked first on Forbes’ list of Top Fashion Influencers; covered over 100 magazines, now including Grazia Middle East; is a regular feature on The Business of Fashion’s 500 most influential people in the fashion industry; and her eponymous clothing brand is worth an impressive Dhs124 million. All this for a girl from a small town on the outskirts of Milan.
“The real beginning was in 2009, with my blog, The Blonde Salad,” explains Chiara. She played a major role in what, at the time, was an enigma in fashion as a wave of otherwise unqualified people infiltrated the industry. Their power? An experimental sense of style (love it or hate it), unwavering voice, and the World Wide Web. “I had a lot of followers, but some people didn’t get it. Some viewed me as a girl who just tried on clothes, nothing more. I heard people wondering, ‘Who is she?’ Or saying, ‘She won’t last. Six months and she’ll be gone’.
Ten years after unleashing The Blonde Salad onto the world – and her personal Insta now boasting 17.2 million followers – Chiara has defied those naysayers. Alongside fellow first-generation bloggers such as Susie Bubble and Bryanboy, she opened up the industry to the masses by taking fans with her access to the front rows and backstage. Much more than just ‘trying on clothes’, Chiara has been a resounding voice in the democratisation of fashion.
But what’s defined her success where so many others have failed? When we meet, Chiara is wearing her signature platinum blonde locks loose, with a slight wave. Her skin is naturally bronzed and not overly made-up, her chestnut-brown brows are defined, and her lips pop with a pearly-pink shade. (The latter is most likely from her latest Lancôme collaboration, a favourite brand for Chiara and one for which she stars alongside Hollywood actors Penélope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o in a campaign.) “There is no single beauty standard. There is being happy with yourself,” she declares.
Chiara wore Dior for her wedding day (three dresses in fact, each custom designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri); Saint Laurent for her engagement; and she wears Versace on the red carpet. But day-to-day, Chiara performs for the masses. Her style could be described as preppy, feminine, and always girlnext- door. Where other influencers have followed high-profile but often fleeting trends such as boho, normcore or minimal, Chiara has remained true to herself and always looks just as poised in Miu Miu asshe does Mango.
“Alberta Ferretti is the one who understood me immediately. She asked me to walk the runway, she invited me to the red carpet in Cannes. I thought I would go unnoticed there, but there were photographers shouting ‘Chiara! Chiara!’” she recalls of her first foray into the world of fashion’s heavy-weights, back in 2011. “It took me quite a while to get invited to Prada. Once I was invited, though, I went straight to the front row,” Chiara smiles. At a time when the industry was, for the most part, under lock and key, how did it feel? “Disorienting. Everyone knew each other, and nobody knew me. I was afraid of not recognising celebrities, or of dressing inappropriately,” she confesses. But as Chiara trailblazed her way from one FROW to another, in 2010 her success culminated in the conception of her own brand, Chiara Ferragni Collection, which includes clothes, shoes and accessories.
But in spite of her many accomplishments, the superstar has remained true to her roots, and you’re more likely to see family before Fendi across her Instagram. In late 2016, she met Italian rapper, Federico Leonardo Lucia (who goes by the stage name Fedez), after he sang about her: “Chiara Ferragni’s dog has a Louis Vuitton bow tie, and a collar with more glitter than one of Elton John’s jackets.” The couple married in 2018 and go by the hashtag #Ferragnez. “We’re both playful and hyperactive. And we understand each other. We understand each other’s work, our weaknesses, how to protect each other,” she acknowledges of the relationship. Their son Leone, now one, is often photographed wearing a mash-up of Chiara’s eclectic style and Fedez’s hip-hop influence.
“We all start out so small. Childhood is so important; I am who I am today thanks to my happy childhood. That’s why I pay so much attention to my son’s everyday life,” she affirms. And beyond all else, what does she hope for Leone? “A wonderful childhood. These years will shape the adult he becomes.” So far, Leone has spent his summer on either a private jet or yacht hopping with mum and dad between Italy and Ibiza. It sounds more than wonderful to us…
September 2019 sees the release of Chiara Ferragni – Unposted, a documentary about the star’s life, directed by Elisa Amoruso and due for its first screening during Venice Film Festival. Chiara explains that filming was a special journey. “I was surprised by how certain situations in my past mirrored my present, at the similarities between my childhood and Leo’s. It’s also true that my son looks just like I did when I was little. Sometimes
even I get confused when I look at pictures!” she laughs. Chiara compares herself to her mother, who she says also loved to take pictures and produce album after album of photos, “In the end, my mum was doing what I do today!”
“[Filming] was an incredible experience, almost like a session with a psychoanalyst. I’m so used to talking about myself directly, that allowing someone else to do the storytelling wasn’t easy,” she concedes. But things haven’t always been positive. Over the years she has faced criticism from industry peers (“She’s a meteorite, she’ll be quickly forgotten,” is just one of the statements Chiara would often read about herself), and cyber bullying. “Early on there was a Facebook group called ‘La faccia avvilita’ [which roughly translates to ‘the dejected face’], which apparently referred to me. It was deleted several times and then started up again,” she remembers. “Wherever I was, whatever brand I was representing, they would find me. They would even go to the trouble of commenting on my pictures on the profiles of the brands I worked with. Every single picture of me ended up on the group’s page.” She continues, “I felt awful because they were words that wounded my selfconfidence. I would go home and think of the unkind things I’d heard, but later I understood that it was better to ignore them. I think of the girls who are 12, 13, if not younger. The consequences of negative comments can be devastating, not just for self-esteem. There was a time when you were only judged at school, or in your hometown. Now the whole world is judging.”
Labelling Chiara is a tricky task. Her rise to superstar status hasn’t been a traditional one, but then again, she carved out a profession that didn’t even exist before The Blonde Salad. There’s no denying her influence over fashion and today’s young consumers, but she’s taken her platform and turned it into an
enterprise that has far outgrown even the ‘influencer’ status she, alongside the likes of Style Rookie’s Tavi Gevinson and Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine, first created. “On the one hand, from a work perspective, I consider myself an adult, a professional. On the other hand, from a personal perspective, I feel like a precocious child,” she states. “Just think that when I was pregnant, I felt like a child-mother,b I swear, and not because the father was missing or anything. I was 30, but I was still the first among my friends to become a mother.”
Chiara was first in manyb things, and her newness and determination is invigorating. “If I had believed the haters, I would have stopped everything in 2010,” she muses, “And yeah, I would have disappeared, just like they said.”
Interview: Teresa Ciabatti Photos: Yu Tsai Hair and make-up: Manuele Mameli