History of it girls, the first influencers ever

Once upon a time, the It Girls existed. Influencers ante litteram, whether they were models, actresses, socialites or all three together, they were the driving force of the trends and the gravitational field of the jet-set of their time. Their presence decreed the media coverage of an event, their stylistic choices the diffusion of a brand, the cross-sections of their everyday life intercepted in the pages of magazines orientated dreams and aspirations of entire generations. A fluid concept that varies according to the historical moment and that encompasses many others, transcending categorizations, “it” is everything and nothing. It is a quintessence of coolness, an innate magnetism capable of attracting anyone without being able to fully grasp the reason. It is unique style, attitude disinterested, joie de vivre, transgression, personality, charisma. Above all, it is that inherent ability to embody the spirit of one’s time. But, in a uniform magma of influencers who emulate each other in search of perfection, is there still someone who responds to this epithet?

a portrait of actress clara bow, hollywood, california, 1927 after appearing in the film, 'it,' she became known as 'the it girl,' and was the sex symbol of the roaring twenties photo by underwood archivesgetty images

Clara Bow.

Underwood ArchivesGetty Images

If it is true that Edie Sedgwick, Chloë Sevigny and Paris Hilton are probably among the first names to jump to mind when talking about It Girls., the term actually has much more ancient origins: in fact it began to circulate in the English aristocratic salons of the early twentieth century and was sublimated in the 1920s by the whimsical writer and screenwriter Elinor Glyn, who in the book ‘It’ and Other Stories he was the first to decide to give a definition to that abstract and difficult to grasp concept which was “it”, or “the quality, possessed by some people, which attracts everyone with its magnetic force”. Translated into Italian with I don’t know that certain, in 1927 It became a Paramount Studios film and the protagonist, Clara Bow, earned the title of the very first It Girl playing a perfect mix of naive spirit and femme fatale. Coming from a disreputable area of ​​Brooklyn and raised in a difficult family situation, Bow charmed audiences with her non-canonical beauty and tomboyishness that made her the quintessential flapper. Between the twenties and the beginning of the thirties she lived her golden moment and ended up inspiring even the character of Betty Boop, then the attention shifted to the rumors that came out about her sexual sphere that depicted her as a man eater and in 1933 he officially retired from the world of cinema. Despite his departure from the scene, it remained for a long time the only verse example of It Girl in the collective imagination, so much so that the press was reluctant to use this name for other rising stars of fashion or cinema.

In the forties something starts to change when the New Yorker defines an It Girl as journalist Dorothy Thompson, known as the “First Lady of American Journalism.” Although this is a play on words, where “it” refers to the Second World War, which Thompson was dealing with on the front lines, it is an important linguistic choice that opens the boundaries of “that certain I don’t know what” to a whole series of new interpretations, reinforcing the idea that an It Girl is not determined on the basis of an aesthetic factor that is as much mental and temperamental as possible. a label that is placed on tough women, without restraints, animated by an irrepressible vitality – which manifests itself through intellectual activity or social life. And precisely on this front, the same years mark the rise of a very young Gloria Vanderbilt, sole heir to the historic family and soul of the parties that matter in New York and Los Angeles, who is said to have inspired Truman Capote for the character of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. At seventeen he moved to Hollywood, immediately starting to pose for the most famous fashion photographers in the world including Richard Avedon, cashing in on a series of failed marriages and entertaining flirtations with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. “Every night I had a date with some movie stars. To get my attention they had to be famous and much older. It was totally inappropriate, as well as dangerous,” she later declared.

original caption underground movies go above ground ninth of twelve star edie sedgwick doesn't realize that she has a helper behind her as the cameras focus in for her big life raft scene in contrast to most movie sets, the cast and crew of ciao, manhattan , have fun as they film, maintaining informality throughout

Edie Sedgwick.

BettmannGetty Images

This reckless note is a fundamental aspect of the “it-factor”, which settles down in the sixties with the advent of Edie Sedgwick. As long as she was alive, Sedgwick was defined as a “youthquaker” – a shaker of young consciences -, never It Girl. Yet it is in a certain sense with her that the term begins to acquire its current connotation, enriching itself with a certain transgression as well as that social component that makes the It Girl the nerve center of the scene that counts. Edie Sedgwick was out of the box in every respect: with her underground charm, graphic makeup, looks carefully designed to look like “the first thing in the closet”, her raids with Andy Warhol and the rest of the Factory, her little acts of rebellion – like biting her nails or taking off her bra and dancing at the pole -, Sedgwick profoundly influenced the zeitgeist.

At the turn of the sixties and seventies, his legacy was collected by the model and actress Marisa Berenson, known as “the queen of the scene” in the New York nightlife, a real socialite who attended all the major events in her environment. Discovered by the legendary Diana Vreeland, she began her career as a teenager and quickly became one of the most sought after and paid models in the world, before moving to the cinema working with Stanley Kubrick and Clint Eastwood and earning nominations at Golden Globes and BAFTAs. Yves Saint Laurent himself called her “the girl of the seventies”. Around the same time, Bianca Jagger was giving lessons in style, clubbing and extravagance at Studio 54.

unspecified january 01 photo of grace jones posed photo by gilles petardredferns

Gilles PetardGetty Images

The Eighties saw instead Grace Jones as an undisputed icon, who began her career as a model attracting the attention of Yves Saint Laurent and Helmut Newton and then threw herself first on music, giving life to spectacular concerts inspired by the performing arts, and then on cinema. , starring opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Halle Berry.

In 1994 the New Yorker then marked the beginning of a new era by brandishing It Girl with actress Chloë Sevigny, who was nineteen at the time and had just been cast in the film. Kids by Larry Clark, destined to become a cult. Sevigny was not a classic beauty, she did not reflect the idea of ​​sex-symbol for the canons of the time, she sported a washed-out face and eccentric outfits that at times seemed to be put together without having looked in the mirror before going out, yet she had that something in addition, that calamitic presence, a stylistic code only and only his combined with a healthy dose of indifference capable of elevating it even on an intellectual level.

paris, france march 05 chloe sevigny attends the miu miu dinner and aftershow party at raspoutine club as part of the paris fashion week womenswear fallwinter 20192020 on march 05, 2019 in paris, france photo by victor boykogetty images

Chloe Sevigny.

Victor BoykoGetty Images

In the years 2000-2010 there are different sides, on the one hand Paris Hilton, Nichole Richie and Lindsay Lohan who promote glamorous glitz and wild parties, on the other the standard-bearers of indie: Sienna Miller in her boho looks and Alexa Chung with her mix of sophisticated style and underground bent who gets photographed in the Glastonbury mud alongside Alex Turner – and even ended up publishing a book called It. In the role of the perfettina, instead, Olivia Palermo. Up to the model Cara Delevingne, perhaps the last real It Girl in the strict sense of the term. Although already since 1997, with the rise of the first rankings that decreed the It Girls of the year, it marks the beginning of an abuse of the term, which gradually overlaps with an image of a public figure with an unidentified role that does nothing but be photographed at parties and fashion shows, until ten years ago there was still a connection between icon and surrounding reality and, in an increase of so-called such, it was still possible to identify the most representative It Girls of their time. The situation today is more complicated. Throughout the last decade, the definition of It Girl has been totally lost, ending up representing a purely aesthetic factor. The overflowing personality and the magic of imperfection return to step aside, giving way to perfect poses, homologated faces, candid shots studied at the table and packed fun – just think of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, the Hadid or Hailey Bieber sisters, often considered It Girl while sharing stylists and lifestyles.

Now that anyone can aspire to the title of It Girl, no one really seems to be. And not only because fashion blogs first and social media then determined the proliferation of influencers and aspiring influencers, making it practically impossible to identify the few figures capable of standing out above an overflowing standardization, but more so because they are responsible for an inversion of values. If the It Girls of the past forged their own time, in most cases today’s influencers let themselves be shaped by it. They are, in a sense, its victims. If the It Girls carried the banner of their individuality high, today the personal expression is increasingly dispersed in an anonymous blanket of trends that are all the same and the influencers they live lives regulated by algorithms, planed by the duty of sharing that leads to reciting even the most “genuine” shots, marked by the emergence of new trends to be embraced immediately, before they run out before being able to capitalize on them. Everything must be perfect, fun yes, but with criteria. There is a need to represent a model, without flaws, an image that is certainly very “salable” but humanly not very credible. They miss that joie de vivrethat anarchist involvement, that rebellious component that loosens inhibitions and makes people act outside the box.

To put it in the words of Clara Bow “We were unique. We did what we wanted. We stayed up late into the night and dressed however we liked. I drove along Sunset Boulevard in my Kissell convertible with several red Chow Chows to match the color of mine. hair. Nowadays people are much more attentive to lifestyle and safeguard their health. But we had much more fun. “

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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