CINCINNATI -- Instagram has created a cottage industry where product placement in a photo can net a popular poster thousands of dollars. Local beauty Blaise Bender has more than 5,600 Instagram followers, and Vogue.com even called her an “it girl.” The only hitch is she’s not real.
Blaise is the brainchild of storyteller Micah Paldino of Fallon Thatcher, an Over-the-Rhine-based public relations agency. Blaise began as a passion project highlighting fashion in Cincinnati and grew into an entire character with a complicated back story, entering new territory for fashion marketing.
“No one had really taken a fictional character, thrust her into a real life physical scenario and personality and created a whole world around it,” he said.
Going through Blaise’s Instagram account, you see her arrive at the Greyhound station Downtown, fresh off the bus from Wheeling, West Virginia.
Without knowing a soul, she walks through the streets of OTR and gets a meal at Salazar (a Fallon Thatcher client). There she encounters a posse of curious locals who give her incredible gifts: a Comme des Garcons sweater, a vintage Chanel choker, a Maison Martin Margiela ring and a Sphinx cat, major upgrades from her basic denim and tee. She meets a mysterious man in a gold Audi who becomes her boyfriend. And the story goes on.
Tweaking Reality In An Effort To Innovate
Paldino had grown tired of the trend machine of the fashion industry: Each season of new collections (and pre-seasons and post-seasons) introduced innovative clothing and accessories, but the promotional engine hadn’t changed since Victorian times.
“Looking at W or Vogue, it struck me how stuck in time the ads are: A 6-foot-tall otherworldly woman with a logo on top of it. That’s every ad ever,” Paldino said. “That’s a construct everyone follows because that’s what everyone does. I’m not interested in doing what everyone else does.”
So the Blaise project is an effort to innovate.
“We’re awash with people talking to them and popup ads," Paldino said. "But Blaise is so special because it makes her and these products human."
Paldino recruited many of his friends to work on the Blaise Bender project -- stylist friends who work for Amazon and local couture collectors who lend him the incredible clothes. The image of Blaise herself actually is local model Kate Hempleman, who Paldino met on a project five years ago.
“She has an incredibly American look. She also kind of has that wide German face with those cheekbones,” Paldino said. Over the course of several photo shoots, “She understands Blaise now. She really is Blaise.”
Growing Cincinnati’s Fashion Reputation
Paldino, who worked in fashion PR in New York before returning to Cincinnati a few years ago, was struck by how much space for creation there was in the city, with fashion moving away from the malls and into the OTR streets.
“The end goal of Blaise is to grow her story to put Cincinnati in a national spotlight as a place to be considered for fashion,” he says. Columbus, home to Limited Brands, is emerging as a national center for fashion, according to Fashion Times, but Paldino sees no reason why the state's capitol city should get all the attention.
Fallon Thatcher has had interest from global and national brands to infuse into the Blaise storyline as a sponsor. So is she meant to seem fake or meant to seem real?
“It’s absolutely meant to be mistaken for real. I don’t know the difference between Blaise Bender and Kim Kardashian, honestly,” Paldino said.
Only if you click the link in Blaise's bio do you discover that she is a construct, an art project with a life of its own. And what is real anyway? Social media is a highly edited portrayal of anyone’s life, where every day is a highlight and anything less than perfect can be improved with the right filter.
Blaise’s second chapter begins with the yoga pose photos currently on her Instagram, and Paldino has booked the third set of photo shoots.
So what’s in store for this fake fashionista? “She’s living this beautiful life, but it hasn’t really manifested in the way she thought it would.”
Will she eventually have a meltdown and quit Instagram like model Essena O'Neill did last year? You’ll have to follow her to find out.