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May 24, 2019

Along With Bollywood Actors, India Quietly Sent A New Breed Of Celebrity To Cannes

Text by Sonali Kokra

The age of the internet influencer is evident no more than at the Cannes red carpet

The most talked-about film festival in the world — the Cannes Film Festival’s popularity rivals the Oscars, with stars, studios, international designers, luxury brands, jostling with one another to make headlines with head-turning looks, innovative activations, and, of course, throwing glitzy, star-studded, no-expenses-spared parties. Meticulously planned and flawlessly mediated appearances at Cannes can put people and products on the global radar.

As much as Cannes is about the art of filmmaking, it’s also about business. Promoting a movie can cost anywhere between $500,000 to $1 million in expenses. The bigger the stars being flown in, the more it costs to lodge, clothe, and keep them safe. Millions of dollars are spent on parties on massive yachts that cost a few hundred million dollars. Microsoft’s co-founder, the late Paul Allen, was famous for throwing extraordinarily lavish themed parties aboard his luxury yachts Octopus (414-feet) and Tatoosh (303 feet). Studios might be shelling out big bucks to give their films the nebulous “festival push”, but much of the revelry is bankrolled by luxury brands. And so tie-ins and integrations are inevitable. The 24-carat gold and crystal Palme d’Or trophy has been made by Chopard for the last 21 years and costs a cool $27,000 — a fee that the brand happily comps off.

It’s a well-documented fact that India’s cinematic contribution to the festival is sporadic — with only a handful of films winning awards or securing screenings, and embarrassingly small representation in the jury over the years. But what we couldn’t achieve by way of filmmaking, we’ve made up for in the glamour stakes. For many years now, several Bollywood actresses have been making appearances at the Cannes red carpet, as part of their endorsement deals with large brands. Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan has been a regular since 2003 as a global brand ambassador for L’Oreal cosmetics. She has been joined in the makeup giant’s roster of stars in recent years by Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, both of whom have been received by fashion watchers with open arms. This year, A-listers Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut made their Cannes debut for Chopard and Grey Goose respectively.

But in the last three years, the glittering water of the Croisette has been witness to several great waves of change. A small but growing number of a completely different kind of celebrity has been making their way up the hallowed steps of the Palais. Mainstream media doesn’t always recognise them, and the paparazzi lining the red carpet often use their appearance to sneak away for smoke and pee breaks, but for brands looking to sink their teeth into younger demographics, they are precious.

They’re the digital influencers, who through daily selfies, tips and looks rule the hearts of many on Instagram. And this year our very own Indian bloggers found invites to the prestigious and exclusive event. Fashion blogger Masoom Minawala walked the Cannes red carpet for L’Oreal and attended an after-party for Chopard. Kusha Kapila, famous for her fashion, beauty, and comedy videos, too was present, thanks to an unconventional mix of endorsement deals — Grey Goose, AirBnB, and Chopard. Both women have about 500k followers on Instagram, and were mostly ignored by Indian and international media. But being ignored might not be the worst thing, given the not-so-warm reception by the media back home for many whose looks don’t cut it for the self-appointed fashion police.

A big part of social media stars’ appeal for brands lies in their accessibility. Journalists, by virtue of being held accountable for what they put out, have to be circumspect about both compliments and criticisms that aren’t rooted in research. The social media economy suffers little to no fear of consequence, running as it does, on the fuel of opinions and feels. Naturally, brands find these opinion-shapers an attractive alternative to effort-intensive media. Paid per post, most influencers are willing to sing praises of the products the brand is keen to push. Sometimes, appearances are simply about helping the brand gain visibility among younger users.

And so, brands are happily flying them to exotic locales and exclusive events like the Cannes Film Festival, giving them access to VIP parties and a taste of the celebrity life. The bigger brands typically go for influencers with at least a couple of million followers, while mid-range brands court those with a few hundred thousand followers. In 2017, Dior got 17-year-old fashion and beauty influencer Amanda Steele. She has 2.4 million followers on Instagram and 2.7 million subscribers on Youtube. The same year, Maja Malnar, a 20-something fashion and travel blogger with a little under 600k followers on Instagram walked the red carpet for Mastercard. This year too she’s at the Cannes, courtesy Red Valentino. Last year, global beauty and fashion influencer, Camila Coelho, with an Insta following of almost 8 million, turned heads at the opening ceremony of the Cannes in a $1 million custom Ralph & Russo Haute Couture dress and a necklace studded with 79 carats worth of diamonds.

 

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Carpet moment! So happy to announce that I am one of the New Faces of @boucheron this year, feel so honored to be part of such an iconic family! On the premiere of #AHiddenlife I chose gorgeous high jewelry pieces from the newest collection, Paris Vu Du 26! #CannesFilmFestival ——————- Muito feliz em anunciar que agora sou uma das embaixadoras da @boucheron , grife Francesa que é responsável pela criação das mais sofisticadas joias, sempre encantando com verdadeiras preciosidades! Que honra!!! Fui na première de A Hidden Lies usando peças da alto joalheria da marca! (Deus tem sido cada dia mais incrível na minha vida, me sinto abençoada todos os dias🙏🏻❤️)!

A post shared by CAMILA COELHO (@camilacoelho) on

Major brands rarely publicise these appearances by micro influencers on their own social media, reserving that honour for their global ambassadors with tens of millions of followers. But this slight snub by the brands doesn’t dampen the spirits of these internet influencers, most of whom are just thrilled to be getting paid to party and pose with stars they would never otherwise be able to access. And being invited one year is no guarantee for future visitation rights. Brands are forever on the lookout for the next breakout social media star.

A couple of years ago, veteran actress Shabana Azmi, reminisced about her experience of the film festival in 1976, when “film was important, not the clothes.” It’s an understandable sentiment from an actor, given how in the past couple of decades, news from Cannes is so dominated by fashion and who wore what that it often eclipses the glory of winners and contenders.

But in truth, fashion has always been central to the proceedings at Cannes. Brigitte Bardot’s legendary style was well-documented in coverage about the Cannes in the 50s. As were Sophie Loren’s white princess gown and Grace Kelly’s sequinned trousers in 1955, Elizabeth Taylor’s impossibly gorgeous tiara in 1957, Natalie Wood’s striking turban in 1962, Ingrid Bergman’s powerful pantsuit in 1970, Princess Diana’s wispy Catherine Walker gown in 1987, Madonna’s Jean Paul Gaultier conical bra outfit in 1991, Lupita Nyong’o’s minty green Gucci number in 2015.

It’s only the balance of power that has tilted. Where once upon a time, fashion used to be the exclusive province of writers, editors, designers and stylists who had built their reputations over decades, armed with degrees and experience, in the last 10 years, they’ve found themselves sitting side by side with teens and even tweens at the very fashion shows they had spent years trying to earn a spot at. 2009 was the watershed year. A gaggle of fashion bloggers and commentators were seen in the coveted front-row seats of fashion shows by Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana and several others. Today, self-appointed fashion watchdogs like Diet Prada in the US and Diet Sabya in India are big enough, and heard enough to bring reputed designers to their knees.

No major fashion event — not even the MET Gala — can afford to exclude them anymore. In a 2016 interview, Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux said in an interview that even though pop culture “breeds stars in rapid succession,” they’re not often going to be seen at Cannes. His disdain for these stars is palpable when he says, “Nowadays you are a star at the click of a finger. If you present the weather, you are a star … if you do reality TV, you’re a star.” And yet, scarcely three years later, at Cannes itself, a mid-level influencer like Kusha Kapila moderated a panel discussion about representation in cinema at the inauguration of the India Pavilion at the festival with Kangana Ranaut and CBFC Chief Prasoon Joshi. After all, digital media is the inescapable future and there’s no denying, or ignoring, these social media hotshots anymore.

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