Luka Sabbat, the 18-Year-Old Fashion Influencer


Lil Yachty is fire. Astrud Gilberto and Hedi Slimane are sick. Playboi Carti is in this minute’s rotation, right there alongside Chet Baker, Bad Company, Kanye and the Germs. Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a dope game, though maybe not as dope as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege. Stéphane Ashpool’s pastel Pigalle cardigan is the latest score at retail — that, and a bomber from Alyx and a ring from Saint Laurent.

If, in the profoundly solipsistic age of social media, each of us is definable according to what we consume, then assemble the names and labels listed above and you have the makings of an algorithm whose endpoint is Luka Sabbat.

Who is Luka? The question, which also happens to be his Twitter handle (@whoisluka), is unlikely to go unanswered for long. Among his roughly 184,000 Instagram and 64,000 Twitter followers, the 18-year-old New Yorker has already established himself as the coolest teenager on the Internet.

That is what Complex magazine termed him last year soon after he appeared out of nowhere — or, anyway, from that singular cohort of New Yorkers who line up on any given Thursday outside Supreme — to become a social media phenomenon.

By occupation, Luka Sabbat is a model (and sometime stylist). He has been featured in campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger, American Eagle and Hood by Air, appeared in an Adidas NMD billboard that towered over Times Square and was cast by Kanye West for his Yeezy spectacle.

Discovered in SoHo by Kevin Amato, at the time doing casting for Hood by Air, he was signed soon thereafter by the owner of ReQuest Model Management, who intercepted him on the way to buy a new video game.

“I never thought about fashion that much,” Mr. Sabbat said. “I was way more into hip-hop or playing video games or sleeping than modeling.” The word “model” does not quite encompass the varied reasons Mr. Sabbat has evolved into something more compelling — an “influencer,’’ and among the more persuasive ones around.

“Here’s how it starts,” said Dave Marsey, the managing director for the digital agency DigitasLBi North America. “Someone randomly publishes on YouTube, Vine, Twitter or Instagram, just for friends, and it somehow strikes a chord and takes off. Before you know it, you have millions of followers.”

A signal example of this phenomenon is probably Cameron Dallas, a wholesome-looking 21-year-old with a floppy forelock and an off-kilter grin. Goofy selfies of Mr. Dallas taking a bubble bath and posted to Instagram brought this obscurity from Chino, Calif., to the attention of brands like Calvin Klein.

Flown to Milan for the Calvin Klein fall 2016 men’s wear show in January, Mr. Dallas generated a frenzy characterized by Joerg Koch, the editor of the Berlin-based fashion bible 032C, as “the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Justin Bieber rolled into one.”

Teenage and tweenage girls mobbed the street outside the show space, chanting Mr. Dallas’s name. Amid the unanticipated hubbub, front-row types were sent scrambling to the Internet to search for a name few of them could identify, yet one familiar to more than 11 million followers on Instagram.

It remains unclear what those numbers signify or whether Mr. Dallas’s appearance at the Calvin Klein show benefited the label or the Internet sensation himself. Still, questions like that have not slowed the corporate hunt for young influencers and the intimate link they represent between consumers and products by means of the smartphone, the only platform that seems to matter in 2016.

By the standards of some social media hotshots, Mr. Sabbat is a modest presence. Yet, unlike some demi-celebrities whose fame is as fleeting as a mayfly hatch, he has an advantage.

Not only is he a digital native, he is also native to fashion, having been raised surrounded by it in Paris and New York. Mr. Sabbat’s mother, Jessica Romer, a caterer now, was for many years a model booker and an assistant for the fashion show production powerhouse Bureau Betak; his father, Clark Sabbat, designs a line of women’s wear.

The Paris apartment of Mr. Sabbat’s mother sometimes served as a stopping-off point for fashion industry unknowns; Luka may be the only style influencer around whose babysitter was the Dutch model Lara Stone.

Though still in its infancy, his career as a stealth ambassador for brands across the consumer spectrum owes a lot to the broad appeal he projects as a hooked-up and yet wholesome cool kid, said John Jannuzzi, the United States deputy editor of Twitter Moments: “He represents a life a lot of people want, and that’s important to advertisers. I wish I was that kid.”

To Patrick Finnegan, a 20-year-old consultant who specializes in linking luxury brands with Generation Z, the relative modesty of Mr. Sabbat’s online metrics is far outweighed by the fervid attention his followers pay to his every move. “He might not have 30 million on social, or whatever,” Mr. Finnegan said. “But the influence he carries is enormous because, if you look at every post, there are thousands of ‘likes.’”

What’s more, Mr. Finnegan said: “He’s young, he’s biracial, he’s straight but hangs out with gay and trans people, and he’s friends with designers and rappers. A young generation that looks up to his lifestyle wants to know everything about him, from what he buys to what he wears to what he eats.”

On a chilly, damp afternoon, Mr. Sabbat is ordering but not eating. Slouched in a chair in the lobby of the Mercer hotel, he seems cozy and at ease. “This is, like, one of my favorite places,” he said. “I’m here at least four times a week.”

Although it is just 1 o’clock, he has already had several business meetings and, with each, the sort of nourishment — a plate of madeleines, a slab of chocolate cake — you might favor if you were a lanky 18-year-old.

A sushi roll and bowl of fried calamari sit untouched on a side table. When a server offers to take a drinks order, the young man — who smokes a pack a day (“I’m totally against it,’’ his father said); often ends his evenings at the Up & Down club on West 14th Street; refers to the owner of Cipriani as his “homie”; and counts Kanye West, Jaden Smith and Ian Connor among his friends — replies, “I’ll have some ice water, please.”

“Steez” is a term thrown around a lot lately to describe those who manage to look ineffably stylish seemingly without much effort. And clearly what the brands that employ Mr. Sabbat find compelling about him, as do his followers, is not merely his good looks — think of a young Jimi Hendrix with dimples and an mop of unruly locks — but the precociousness of his steez.

Like Mike the Ruler and other geeky teenage fashion fanatics with growing reputations and devoted social media followings, Mr. Sabbat can name-check esoteric designers like Hussein Chalayan, insider Japanese labels like Visvim or obscure street-style labels like Been Trill as handily as his less-knowing contemporaries cite Hollister or H&M.

The fleece-collared jeans jacket in stonewashed denim he’s wearing today, for instance, may look like something from a John Denver album cover. Yet it comes from the cult label Fear of God. His well-worn footwear is a pair of $900 Chelsea boots from Saint Laurent. Rick Owens $1,200 high-top Geobaskets were what he bought with his first modeling paycheck.

And when he attended the prom at the Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, the suit he wore was provided to him personally by Tom Ford.

“Luka is refined and sophisticated,” said Mr. Amato, the casting agent. “He has an expensive look.”

Better still, from the perspective of the corporate types he has links to, he has a knack for making costly luxury goods look essential somehow to the maintenance of cool. Among the silver rings that barnacle his left hand is a $600 design from the “Rock” collection created by the Florentine jeweler Monini Gioielli that features a cluster of tiny skulls, each of whose eye sockets glisten with black diamond chips.

“My style is, I don’t know, Fear of God, Off White, Rick Owens, Martin Margiela, Haider Ackermann, Supreme, a combination of vintage,” Mr. Sabbat said. “I’ve been really into Saint Laurent for a minute, and when I posted a picture of myself in the Chelsea boots, people started D.M.’ing me right away, and I got mad kids to wear the boots.”

Back when he began experimenting with social media, Mr. Sabbat said: “I was blind to it, my influence. But for some reason, people were really into me. I don’t know why.”

Now nearly every image of Mr. Sabbat, his most telegraphic online musing, generates a level of follower engagement that is catnip to the corporate world.

“That’s why brands and designers really want to work with people like Luka,” said Mr. Marsey of DigitasLBi. “They can weave their products into this ongoing social media narrative, but in an organic way. You want to know him. You want to be around him. He’s the cool kid at the party we all want to be.”

 

[ By: Guy Trebay] [ NY Times ] [ Read More ]

Comment