Every day, thanks to Instagram, around half a million people learn a little bit more about Charlotte Groeneveld. Her new square-toed sandals, pre-ordered ages ago from Bottega Veneta, finally arrived. The tips of her nails were freshly dusted with glitter. She got a lymphatic-drainage massage. Groeneveld, known to the digital masses as @thefashionguitar, is an influencer by trade with a following that roughly equals the population of Sacramento. It is nearly 21 times the size of Oegstgeest, her hometown in the Netherlands.
Groeneveld, 35, who earned a master’s degree in corporate communications and slogged through a few finance jobs in Singapore, Beijing, and London before turning to blogging full-time at 27, has become a central figure in the fashion industry. She commands the attention and respect once afforded exclusively to magazine editors. Life is good, and perks are bountiful: gratis clothes and accessories, all-expenses-paid invitations to far-flung fashion events, and thousands of fans who are constantly liking, and occasionally loving, her endless stream of self-created content.
On a recent morning at the Madison Avenue outpost of Sant Ambroeus, Groeneveld was perched on a banquette, drinking coffee and nibbling on a croissant. She wore a long-sleeved Balenciaga T-shirt, an oversize jacket from the Lower East Side boutique the Frankie Shop, black leggings, and Louis Vuitton boots that she’d received as a gift from the brand. Luminous and congenial, and unequivocally the most beautiful and stylish woman in the room, she didn’t look especially different IRL than she does on the Internet. Not everyone needs the filters.
Groeneveld commands the attention and respect once afforded exclusively to magazine editors. Life is good, and perks are bountiful.
She launched the Fashion Guitar while enrolled in a trainee program at ASOS, the online retailer, in London, in 2010. The blog began with straightforward posts about her outfits and daily life. Her first paying job came from a maternity brand, when she was pregnant with her second child. She was paid a five-figure fee to style 10 images, which were then used in the brand’s lookbook. “Such cheap labor,” she says. “But I loved it, and I didn’t care. Money was never the angle. I think that’s what made it work.”
Her friends back home in the Netherlands were skeptical of her career path. “They clearly didn’t get it,” she said. “People think fashion is so shallow and there’s nothing really in it where you use your brain. We just use different parts of our brain, I guess. Of course I could work in a bank. Would I be happy? No. Would I earn good money? Yeah. But now I do, too.”
Groeneveld relies on a steady stream of commissions to earn a living. Clients such as Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Reebok, and Khaite hire her to create editorials that feature their products. An influencer-marketing agency called Socialyte handles most of the commercial-business negotiations. Prospective clients get a rate card, with pricing for a variety of services: an image in her Instagram feed, a swipe-up-to-buy post in her Instagram Stories, custom video, and so on. The most coveted deal for her is the paid brand ambassadorship, which can come with an annual contract that provides the client with a buffet of content offerings.
“I could work in a bank. Would I be happy? No. Would I earn good money? Yeah. But now I do, too.”
Groeneveld is currently her family’s primary breadwinner. Her husband, Thomas, just earned his M.B.A. from Columbia University, and is, she tells me, “now starting his own company.” Their two young children, familiar faces and miniature muses to her followers—they have walked in runway shows in Paris for Bonpoint—attend private schools on the Upper East Side.
For now, she works out of her apartment on the Upper West Side. Managing the deliveries and returns of samples is among the most challenging parts of the job. Although many brands send her freebies in hopes of a plug, Groeneveld politely sends many of them back.
Groeneveld’s success is contingent upon a relentless posting schedule. Even a recent ski day in the Catskills generated 16 Instagram stories and a slideshow in the feed. “If I don’t post, it makes me so anxious, so it’s better to just do it, get it over with,” she admitted.
While brands are now looking at a more nuanced data set than simply the number of followers, the metrics that measure engagement matter most. If Groeneveld were to take a few days off, those numbers would plummet. In 2020 America, possessing a robust social-media following is an undisputed, if generic, marker of influencer success. In many industries it’s kind of hard to make money or get much done without one.
There’s a lot of fashion-influencer fatigue out there, but Groeneveld has a high-fashion sensibility, and a uniquely off-kilter way of putting outfits together and using them to create a narrative that, in a different era, could have made her one of the magazine world’s greatest stylists. “Nicole Kidman did a shoot for Vogue Australia, and she was channeling me,” she said, implying that the Oscar-winning actress was inspired by Groeneveld’s personal style. “I was like, You are my spirit animal.”
Groeneveld’s aesthetic merges directional fashion with real-life wearability. With each ensemble she is creating, and refining, a character. And her success is contingent upon keeping her followers, and clients, curious about what happens next.
Her following is smaller than, say, @weworewhat (Danielle Bernstein, with 2.3 million) and @aimeesong (5.5 million), but she and her content have hewed exclusively to the luxury universe, so she possesses the kind of fashion credibility few influencers can rival.
Take Chanel, one of the first luxury brands to bring Groeneveld into the fold. She has worked with the brand extensively, including a trip to Paris in December to see the Métiers d’Art runway show. The entire experience was curated with content-gathering as a top priority. First, there was the fitting in New York. Then the flight, the hotel room at the Ritz, the Chanel products in the bathroom, the trip to the Chanel-owned Maison Michel atelier, and, finally, the show itself, which Groeneveld covered in great detail, to her followers’ delight. “Even though I make my money with this job, these are the things that really make me excited,” she says. “I would go to these ateliers every week.”
To be a professional influencer you have to believe that strangers care about your life, and your lunch. “I love the attention, of course,” says Groeneveld. “But I want people to really love me for what I do.”
And even though she deals exclusively in an image-driven world, Groeneveld is not worried about aging out of the business. “Some of the women I follow are in their 60s, and they’re influencers—some of my favorites,” she said. “If you keep competitive and on top of your game, and deliver the best of the best, and believe in it, there’s always room. There will always be people who listen. And look.”
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for AIR MAIL