How Chiara Ferragni Leveraged Her ‘Blonde’ Ambition Into E-Stardom

Chiara Ferragni Collection Shoes Fall 2016
Chiara Ferragni presenting her fall '16 shoe collection during MFW.
Courtesy of brand.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Footwear News will host its 2016 Achievement Awards in New York, honoring the best and brightest in the industry, including Style Influencer of the Year winner Chiara Ferragni. Read on to learn more about her accomplishments.

The 29-year-old founder of online magazine The Blonde Salad and her namesake shoe collection is one of the most visible and successful influencers of the iPhone generation. Even so, after launching the blog in 2009, Chiara Ferragni still finds her ascension surreal.

Chiara Ferragni Collection Spring '17 Shoes Chiara Ferragni Collection spring ’17 collection. REX Shutterstock.

Her career path could’ve been very different. Ferragni was studying law at Milan’s Bocconi University while balancing briefs and blog posts. “When I started my website seven years ago, I could never have imagined 10 percent of the results I have gotten so far,” the Italian-born entrepreneur told Footwear News. “It’s nice that I created a new job that didn’t exist in the past — [it’s amazing] that I influence people in different ways.”

Ferragni’s unique storytelling — pitching products to her readership with an editorial and lifestyle spin — became a lucrative venture through paid referral links. The practice developed ahead of what has now become a standard for social media influencers with clout: paid endorsements.

Her impact on the fashion community continues to rise. Three years ago, she launched the Chiara Ferragni Collection, and in the blink of an eye — much like the logo of her eponymous shoe range — it has grown rapidly, launching pop-ups at Le Bon Marché in Paris and Selfridges in London. This year, the label is expected to reach around $11 million in sales.

Chiara Ferragni Shoe Line Chiara Ferragni surrounded by styles from her fall ’15 collection. Leslie Kirchhoff.

“The shoe brand is doing well, and I want to get it bigger,” said Ferragni. “We opened a pop-up at The Grove in Los Angeles this month (Nov. 19). We will probably open the first store in Milan in 2017, and then three or four in the next few years. It’s baby steps.”

Outside of her own business, Ferragni is a favorite collaborator for top fashion houses including Christian Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

“The first [collaboration] after I opened the website was Benetton,” she recalled. “They were doing a project to find a new face for the fall ’10 campaign. They wanted me to select my favorite people on the web and give them advice on how to be noticed.”

Chiara Ferragni: Blonde Salad Blogger, Shoe Designer Ferragni chatting with FN’s Mosha Lundstrom Halbert. Anna-Lisa Yabsley

Much to her surprise, Benetton brought Ferragni’s handpicked crew to New York for the campaign shoot. “It was amazing — that was the best first-job experience I had,” she said. “I always knew the power of what I was doing, but it was always about being selective.”

According to Ferragni, her audience is acutely aware of what’s authentic to her personal style. “If I work with a brand that doesn’t reflect me, my readers would know,” she explained. Her latest partner is Levi’s, which she describes as her favorite for denim. The two teamed up for a capsule line that released last month. “Chiara reflects a cool style that has become a daily source of style inspiration for many,” Levi’s chief product officer Karyn Hillman told FN. “She is incredibly passionate about denim, and we were excited to partner with her to reimagine our most iconic product.”

chiara ferragni paris fashion week Chiara Ferragni REX Shutterstock

Style happens organically for Ferragni, who shared that it takes her around three minutes to get dressed: “I have to be very fast and it has to come very natural. It’s simple and casual, an eclectic style — I call it effortlessly cool.”

Now, with so many social media influencers curating the popularity of fashion, Ferragni sees it as the democratization of the industry. “We’re getting out of the snobbish way that it used to be in the 1990s. It’s about people finding inspiration and doing something different,” she said. “There’s space for everybody, and it’s the audience that decides what they’re interested in.”