Social Media Superstars Are Invading Cannes Parties and Premieres

Getty Images
Amanda Steele

"Influencers" are being flown into town during the fest to walk the red carpet and snap selfies — all in the name of branding and, of course, money (lots of it).

On May 19, minutes before the world premiere of Netflix’s Okja at the Palais, a car arrived to the red carpet carrying a 17-year-old girl. She stepped out with the confidence of a much more mature star, looking every bit a world famous celebrity thanks to a Redemption ensemble styled by power stylist Jeff Kim and glam by renowned makeup artist Sabrina Bedrani.

The photographers knew her name as she stopped and posed, just minutes before Rihanna arrived and stole the spotlight. Fortunately for Amanda Steele, she had already enjoyed her big moment. So did her 2.7 million Instagram followers.

Steele, who is a social media star, or “influencer,” got started in that game as a tween and is part of a new wave of social media mavens who are making their mark at the Cannes Film Festival, both on the red carpet and on the accompanying social circuit. And they’re enjoying the ride. “Cheers to my first festival and to many more,” Steele posted later that night. “Thank you Dior makeup for treating me like a princess!”

Cannes has been kind to the “celebrity” set for years — socialites like Paris Hilton and Lady Victoria Hervey have walked the Palais steps for years — but the influencer brigade is a new phenomenon, and Steele’s appearance on the red carpet is a clear indication that the festival and the luxury brands that set up shop here have embraced the power and attention that these players bring to the Croisette.

“Be it at the festival, an event or just being part of the overall experience, influencers can help build buzz for a film, establish trends for a brand and share an insider’s look at the latest in culture,” said Dave Giglio, director of talent partnership for social media agency Digital Media Management, based in Los Angeles.

These women — and they are all women — are flying in from around the world: to snap selfies on the Croisette, on the red carpet and at VIP parties, tagging the brands that flew them in and paid them for the privilege. “None of the old rules apply,” said one L.A.-based agent who handles high-level influencers. “Some of the clients I represent are making more than $500,000 a year.” She says name brands are looking for a following of at least 750,000 on Instagram, but a brand looking for its first exposure will do deals with “micro-influencers” starting at the 10,000 level.

When The Hollywood Reporter set out on a Street Style feature, an annual story featuring the best of Cannes fashion, a number of Instagram influencers were spotted up and down the Croisette. One of those was Nima Benati, an Italy-based fashion photographer who had flown in to attend the Magnum x Moschino launch party with Cara Delevingne and Jeremy Scott. She says she came for work, even if her Instagram account tells a different story. (She posed on the beach, had her makeup done by Dior and party-hopped in glamorous fashion.)

“Almost everyone in my business is attending the festival, which means it is a great way of gathering all together and getting to meet in real life,” she said. “For example, I had an impromptu meeting with Dior yesterday, which would have never happened so easily if we wouldn’t have been literally in the same hotel.”

And though Benati doesn’t say so, that Dior meeting might not have happened if not for her powerful social media imprint. Benati has 405,000 followers on Instagram and has told them how much she hates the “influencer” label.

“My job is not being an Instagram influencer,” she says. “I’m a fashion photographer lucky enough to have a big following on social media.”

This story first appeared in the May 22 Cannes daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.