Under the Skin


Have you, dear reader, heard about Instagram Face? Not an app, but the phenomenon of increasing numbers of people visiting doctors, cosmetic clinics and outright quacks to obtain in real life the sort of face they see on Instagram.  I write “face” singular, because it appears that social media influencer beauty is converging on a particular single set of features: high brow and cheekbones, skin smoothed to a preternatural glossiness, jaw and cheeks contoured and lips plumped and sculpted into an miniature if angular version of a Salvador Dali sofa. But what looks unnaturally cute in two-dimensional images with a filter looks disturbingly unnatural in real life enhanced with filler, as I learned seeing one of these creations turn left on a flight I was on, no doubt selfie-ready.  Ready for a selfie and a quippy caption, the better to display a lifestyle itself best left unexamined, the life of the apparently professionally leisured and luxuriated.

In other words, seeing the superficial made three-dimensional in the form of this real-life apparition looked creepy to me.  Social media allows someone to curate their apparent lifestyle and their own face, but in person they can seem almost literally alien. I don’t have time for them, even as I write to admit my appreciation for one of classic #menswear’s most established social media figures, Sotheby’s real estate executive Alexander Kraft.

I usually write about alternative style icons, people who deserve to be better known or differently viewed for their personal dress sense or that of a particular role they played.  Kraft’s role is played is on Instagram, and the player (hate the game) has well over two hundred thousand followers.  He is an ambassador for perhaps the most established menswear brand of our age, Ralph Lauren, and for the best-known French tailor, Cifonelli.  He posts frequently against backdrops of a fleet of luxury cars, the hip café/bar of one his sponsors, or in his palatial apartment, almost always in transit with a vintage Hermès travel bag (that influencer grail) packed at his feet. No doubt those, the Parnassian unassailability of his mostly white and light wardrobe, are the reasons why he has such a huge following.  But why I follow him are his acknowledgments of vulnerability, which make him accessible. His humanity peeks out from around that Parnassian perfection, the Instagram frozenness of neutral tones and unassailable, impenetrable smoothness.

Kraft admits vulnerability, and I find it relatable.  Not just the usual influencer humblebrags (such as airline downgrades or lost restaurant reservations), but the intrusions of the greater world.  Most of us use Instagram for some form of escapism, often to be found in accounts that attempt to display a sealed pocket universe lined with the finest fluff. Kraft’s account shows the brave face that fronts for captions of distress at the general strikes in France that prevent the trains from running, currently due to the French president’s attempts to weaken the country’s social safety net. Or at the administrative state, refusing to permit the bijou inn he has refurbish in Provence until it is brought up to a code imposed on far larger establishments.  His distress and frustration, shared with us, suggest a yearning for fellowship, for shared experience, perhaps even for a sense of solidarity like that (he has reminded us) which has brought the country to a halt, a pain shared in order to protect the greater good.

Like his Instagram peers, he shares his coffee and aperitif moments with us too, but those as well are tempered with explanations of the excruciating hours he has had to work and, at the cocktail hour, of his intention simply to stay in and watch The Crown.  An intention actually to use the beautiful apartment that serves as his backdrop surely must violate some influencer code that all must be only surface and display.

The Parnassian poets of the mid-nineteenth century were coldly obsessed with form and style, a wintery wasteland of whiteness.  Mr. Kraft has instead shown that white can be a fertile ground.  For in addition to respecting his glimpses of personality, he has actually given me a different perspective on style.  Wearing off-white rollnecks and ivory-colored trousers, paired with sportcoats or hip-length leather jackets in creams, tans and browns, he’s shown me another viable combination of clothes and colors that I wouldn’t otherwise have dared, and a 17-year-old pair of ivory cashmere-wool trousers that hadn’t left my closet in over a decade is finally seeing some use, along with an ancient tan checked cashmere Sulka sportcoat I’d almost decided to consign. It can be smart, breezy and dashing, the kindest words I can have for this influencer who needs no further recognition from me, but who will get it anyway.

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