Chances are you’ll know at least one friend (virtual or otherwise) who took a social media hiatus during the holiday season or resolved to spend less time scrolling in 2021. Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and Gigi Hadid are just a few of the Instagram heavyweights who have scheduled high-profile timeouts from the Facebook-owned leviathan in recent years, with others (including Adele and Hunter Schafer) revered for posting sparingly.
It’s not just the frequency of our Instagram posts and the dopamine lure of ‘likes’ that have sparked renewed conversation (enter Netflix’s The Social Dilemma). The new-gen social justice movement and ongoing economic hardship caused by the pandemic has forced us all to reappraise the value of the sentiments that we share on our social media platforms. As Naomi Shimada, co-author of Mixed Feelings: Exploring the Emotional Impact of our Digital Habits (Quadrille, 2019), noted in September last year, it was “almost like some kind of exorcism happened.”
The spiritual ill facing eviction? Clout-culture.
“Among the social impacts of the coronavirus is its swift dismantling of the cult of celebrity,” The New York Times critic-at-large Amanda Hess wrote in March 2020. “The famous are ambassadors of the meritocracy; they represent the American pursuit of wealth through talent, charm and hard work. But the dream of class mobility dissipates when society locks down, the economy stalls, the death count mounts and everyone’s future is frozen inside their own crowded apartment or palatial mansion.”
Fast forward to January 2021, where—even amid a continuing backlash against influencer culture and sweeping awareness of the mental health implications of prolonged social media usage—for many of us, our weekly screen-time recaps continue to be sobering reminders of our collective reliance on virtual worlds.
But, not everybody chose to enter the fray.
In fashion circles, the very notion that some of the industry’s best-known talents should desire to be social media persona non grata is enough to fuel the mythologised glamour of online fanship. While fan accounts @MaryKateAndAshleyO, @MKAstyle and @MyStyleMKAOlsen publish paparazzi glimpses of the Olsen twins, the founders of The Row made an early call to shield themselves from the social media storm.
“We don’t dive into that whole world [of social media] and we don’t have Facebook, we’ve never been connected to our fans in that way,” Ashley Olsen said in 2017. “We’ve stayed quite sheltered in that sense.”
The privacy-first philosophy of British designer Phoebe Philo—doyenne of post-Internet cool—went further. “The chicest thing,” the designer said during a 2013 American Vogue interview, “is when you don’t exist on Google. God, I would love to be that person!” On Instagram, it’s @PhoebePhiloDiary and the now-private @OldCeline that pay homage to her public-facing achievements.
News, then, that Philo protege Bottega Veneta creative director Daniel Lee (formerly ready-to-wear design director at Céline) has pulled the plug on the company’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts in the first week of 2021, should perhaps come as no surprise. The ultra-private designer whose creations clock up millions of ‘likes’ in the hands (and on the feet) of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Hailey Bieber and Kylie Jenner, does not have an Instagram account, preferring instead to indulge his love of classical and contemporary dance in any spare time he might have. Other hints to his love of a pre-internet age? The fern-green vinyl record that accompanied the three glossy books, which formed his SS21 ‘show in a bag’.
“I really enjoyed growing up in a pre-Instagram era—we just had fun,” Lee revealed in the October 2019 issue of British Vogue. “It will be interesting to see what will happen next. I do think there will be a return to privacy. I hope so.”