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London Scout and I are in her bathtub—with all our clothes on, to be clear. She’s a successful fashion blogger, in-demand model, and Instagram star, and right now she’s holding my hand for balance and blowing bubbles through a 99-cent bubble wand. I should also mention: she’s three years old.
Scout the City is touted as fashion's first "kids’ influencer" blog, its heroine a pint-sized social media giant in the age of online celebrity. London—or "Scout," her public persona—is a "three-year-old tastemaker," says her site, "currently obsessed with ballet, Cinderella shoes, and playing dress-up." She’s a totally typical toddler, except that when she wears Cinderella shoes, it’s down the runway at Kids Fashion Week, and when she plays dress-up, it’s for sponsored photo shoots with brands like Stella McCartney. (The ballet is just regular kid ballet.)
I admit that, in the bathtub, I’m skeptical. Is it possible to be a well-adjusted, "normal" child growing up amidst flashing cameras, getting paid to wear overpriced toddler clothes? When you’re an internet celebrity-in-the-making, whose mom is wholly responsible for your image, is there room to carve out an individual identity? Is this kid merely a walking, talking doll?
I meet London and her mom Sai de Silva for the first time in New York's Union Square, where they plan to take photos for Scout the City. A couple of other shoots pepper the park, but London is easy to pick out, despite her small stature: she’s the only model riding a scooter in a gold leather jacket and floor-length tulle tutu. Even barring London’s stylized look, she and de Silva are unmissable. They both sport luxurious, bouffant curls; side-by-side, daughter is a near clone of mom, but in miniature. Heads can’t help but turn in their direction as they walk hand-in-hand down a strip of sidewalk. London barely notices the ogling passersby, or the camera.
"She’s got a lollipop," explains de Silva, "so she’s pretty happy."
"It’s a ring pop, Mommy!" says London, affronted at the inaccuracy. And she’s right. It's a ring pop.
London’s short career began when she started modeling as a baby. Then came the Instagram, @scoutfashion, which de Silva started in March 2012 to keep in touch with family and friends in LA and Chicago, and her husband’s family in Montreal, where London was born. Soon though, double-tap happy strangers began following the style-centric account.
"I remember saying if it gets to 10,000 followers, then maybe there’s some sort of space for it, then I’ll start a blog," says de Silva. She launched the blog 11 months ago, and today London’s Instagram boasts more than 79,000 followers. De Silva reports that Scout the City receives between 80,000 and 100,000 page views a month.
De Silva takes the majority of the photos for the blog, but today she’s brought on photographer Lydia Hudgens. It’s Hudgens’s third job for the mommy-daughter pair. I ask her what it’s like to work with London. Her one-word response: "Easy." The photo shoot takes all of ten minutes.
Shoots are always quick, says de Silva. They have to be. "Last time she had a full-on meltdown," she says of London. Tantrums are hardly uncommon when it comes to talent, as scholars of celebrity and/or readers of TMZ know, but London at least has a fairly legitimate reason. As de Silva explains, "We gotta get the shoot in before lunch and nap."
But when I ask her what a typical work day looks like for London, she shrugs. "I only shoot her when she’s in the mood." The sentiment is echoed by the mother of London’s Instafriend, Little Miss Alba, a two-and-a-half-year-old fashion blogger in the UK. (Yes, she’s the London of London.)
"If she doesn’t want to do it, then we don’t do it," says Stacey Murray of daughter Alba. "We both get those ‘no’ days where you just know you’re not going to get any kind of picture. But then there are other days when there’s an outfit that she really loves, and she just won’t want to take it off and will flounce around in it for ages."
In that way, these kids really do dictate their own editorial: If they’re not feeling a photo shoot, their moms must work around it. Scout the City is now de Silva’s full-time job, but it’s far from London’s 24/7 existence. She attends preschool from nine to five, three days a week, which means Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are de Silva’s time to write posts, edit photos, fine-tune the site, coordinate brand sponsorships, schedule London’s modeling gigs (as well as their growing number of mother-daughter jobs, and the ones de Silva's been scoring for herself as she forays into solo modeling), engage with and moderate social media followers, shoot her own "mommy style" images, and visit showrooms.
"At the end of the day," says de Silva, as she bundles London up, preparing to leave the park, "she's three, and I can’t concentrate—"
"Mommy, stop talking!"
De Silva raises an eyebrow. "See what I mean?"
The mother of one interned for Alberta Ferretti before going on to open her own online accessories store, Required Flare. It did well, but once London was born, she began feeling overwhelmed by the demands of owning her own business. A couple of months after starting London’s blog on the side last May, de Silva closed her one-woman/many-intern operation and devoted herself wholly to Scout the City.
"Now I’m pursuing something different, something I really, really enjoy doing because I work with my child," says de Silva. "Even though she drives me crazy and sometimes I can’t wait until Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I’m still very fortunate that I get to see her all the time. A lot of people work all day, every day, and the next thing they know, their kid is grown up and they’ve missed everything."
Murray, who likewise runs Little Miss Alba full-time, is similarly grateful for the opportunity. "This allows me to stay at home with my daughter, and work with her as well," she says. "It’s really nice."
Neither Scout the City nor Little Miss Alba are a hobby—they are both fully monetized operations. Sometimes brands simply send clothes for the girls to showcase on social media, but London is now primarily pursuing paid sponsorship relationships, where designers and brands pay retainers to be featured across the mini fashionista’s platforms. Next month, London and de Silva will be visiting Cancun, courtesy of Marriott, to post about fashionable family vacation activities, from mommy-daughter spa day to a kids’ sushi-making class. London also works with affiliate sites like RewardStyle and ShopStyle; whenever someone clicks on links in London’s "Shop the Post" or "Get the Look" stories, Scout the City receives a commission.
Little Miss Alba is not yet at London-levels of traffic or business opportunities. Says Murray, "I wouldn’t say we’re monetizing in a way where we could live off the blog or anything like that, but that’s starting to come." Alba has begun to attract "exclusive brands" like Little Rodini, and she recently signed with a modeling agency in the UK. Murray and de Silva formed a friendship when de Silva reached out to Murray last year. The two moms often do "blogger swaps," where they style London and Alba in the same clothes, but tailor the looks to each girl’s personality.
London’s earnings as a model are entirely her own. Profits from the blog, however, are split 50-50 between her and her mom.
While Alba’s modeling opportunities emerged thanks to her blog, London started out as a model. That part of her career is a separate wing of the Scout the City brand, and as such, London’s earnings as a model are entirely her own. Profits from the blog, however, are split 50-50 between her and her mom. I joke to de Silva that this makes sense, since with school three full days a week, London’s really only working part-time.
"Yes, it’s her part-time job and my full-time job, so she’s like my employee," laughs de Silva. "I was like, listen, 'I know a lot of this is about you, pretty much all of it, but Mommy has to run it. We have to split it here. We’re a team.'" Then, de Silva grows serious. "But everything she makes from modeling is definitely 100 percent hers. Hopefully she’ll be a millionaire by the time she’s 18. That’ll be ideal."
"This 3-Year-Old Is Killing The Fashion Game," announced the BuzzFeed listicle that exploded London’s brand back in February, anointed her a "tiny fashion savior," and helped @scoutfashion gain 20,000 new followers in a week. Elite brands came calling, the Today Show aired a segment, and Barneys hired London as a "mini-tot style correspondent" to check out petiteParade, a.k.a. Kids Fashion Week.
"One time this woman followed me in Trader Joe’s," says de Silva. "I finally asked her, 'Is everything okay?’ She said, ‘Are you London Scout's mom?’ She followed me for like three aisles."
It’s insane to think just how quickly London’s popularity has skyrocketed, especially when you consider that there was no real precedent. In the research she did before launching the site, de Silva found mommy blogs aplenty, and a few fashion blogs that rounded up photos of fashionable children, but nothing revolving around one kid. Being the first of its kind is huge for Scout the City, and beyond that, de Silva tapped into an emerging market at the right time.
"There is a new type of shopper in town, and she is willing to spend more on her children’s wardrobe than her own," says Rebecca Poier, founder and creative director of Poster Child Magazine, "a children’s fashion magazine created for style-savvy kids and their fashion-conscious parents" that’s worked with London in the past. Adds Poier, "Parents are now shopping for well-designed, purposeful garments, and they are willing to pay for them."
To wit, brands way beyond Baby Gap serve fashion-forward children now, from Baby Gucci to Stella McCartney Kids, with more and more high-end designers continuing to jump on the trend. Karl Lagerfeld is reportedly launching a line of children's wear for spring 2016 with Groupe CWF, the team behind the children’s lines at Burberry, Chloé, DKNY, and Marc Jacobs, and de Silva says she’s heard buzz that Alexander Wang will soon follow suit.
"Fashion for kids is really taking off now because a lot of people are having kids later in life," says de Silva. "You have more of a disposable income to spend." De Silva’s husband, London’s dad, works in sales and marketing. On the other side of the pond, Murray’s husband is Glenn Murray, a professional footballer who plays for Crystal Palace. Before Alba was born, Murray worked in beauty PR, a career somewhat adjacent to de Silva’s stint with Required Flare.
All told, both sets of parents led lucrative professional lives before their kids’ blogs were launched. And if you have the money to turn your kid into a high-fashion kid and she's among the first to reach a mass audience across multiple platforms, then she might just be ready to be a kidfluencer.
If you have the money to turn your kid into a high-fashion kid, she might just be ready to be a kidfluencer.
That's where Socialyte, a talent management group for bloggers that creative director Daniel Saynt calls "an influencer casting agency," comes in. The group—now under the same umbrella as Nylon—connects rising bloggers with brands and advises said influencers on their own brand-building.
While elite children’s agency Generation Model Management represents London’s print, runway, and commercial work, Socialyte handles her social media presence. Saynt says his team—who "literally just scan Instagram all day to try and identify fresh and new talent"—courted London hard: "We have a lot of influencers who have kids, and we end up doing campaigns where it’s the influencers and their kids, but we've never had someone who’s a cute Instagram kid star. We saw her, and we were just like, ‘This girl is amazing. We have to do something with her.’"
Chief among the services Socialyte provides London are fielding, negotiating, and pursuing deals with brands and designers, including "working with a kids' toy line that’s with Mattel that’s a very known toy, a world-famous toy, to launch a new series of toys." (Try to crack that probably hot pink, plastic nut.)
On that note, as we leave Union Square, London declares she wants "toys." De Silva agrees to "a toy." We stop in Party City and de Silva steers London to the 99-cent aisle, where she tries to convince her that a tiny notepad or a balloon—but not both—is a "cool" toy. London scours for options.
"Look at that! Look at that! Look at that! My Little Pony! Elmooooo! Anna! Strawberry Shortcake! FROZEN CUPS!!!!!!!!!"
She finally selects a bubble-blowing kit, and after banging on a row of drums in the checkout aisle while singing "Let it Go" followed by a quick trip on the F train (during which London tells me, "You can come over to my house to play!") we find ourselves in Brooklyn, where a woman pushing a shopping cart makes the mistake of calling London "so cute."
"I am not ‘so cute,’" says London.
"You need to tell her that she’s smart," de Silva chimes in.
London is indeed smart. She’s a chatterbox and a spitfire and possesses that special city kid quality where she’s skeptical of strangers, but warm once they’ve proven their worth. Back in the bathtub, we're suddenly besties. Approximately 30 minutes of my interview tape consists exclusively of London giggling. At one point she says, "I’m smelling the bubbles," before crouching down in the tub to smell my feet. She looks at me like she’s got a wicked secret. "I’m washing your toes! Heehee!"
It's clear that London's happy, confident, and independent. I ask de Silva if she thinks being in front of the camera has boosted London’s self-esteem. According to her, London’s always been like this: outspoken, social, opinionated. She’s proud of her accomplishments, adds de Silva, but fashion is hardly what London thinks about in her off time. That, or she’s an ace at dodging dumb reporter questions, in which case she’s even smarter than I already think she is.
I ask her some softballs, between bubbles:
What are your favorite kinds of clothes?
My unicorn shirt! (gasps) Sparkly!
Sparkly! Oh, so like, glitter or sequins?
Uh...Sk-glitter. But sometimes I fall on my scooter.
Oh no. Was that an ouch-o moment?
Yeah. (blows bubble) Heehee! I got bubbles on your pants!
Later, I try again:
So, what was your favorite thing about Kids Fashion Week?
The people coming up and going back inside.
The people going out and coming back inside...
And they have a truck!
A truck? What’s in the truck?
(gasps) They gave us blue cotton candy!
Oh my gosh!
And it was on the back. And also there’s a button that it can move.
A button that it can move? That the truck can move?
When you say the people going out and coming in, was that on the runway? When they were in their fashion clothes?
(blows bubble) Heehee heehee!
For photo shoots, de Silva picks out two outfits and lets London choose the winner, plus accessories. "She's obsessed with blue," says de Silva. "She's over me putting her in black, but it's fine because spring is around the corner." When they shoot mommy-daughter posts, De Silva picks her outfit first, and London’s after. "We work with so many brands, we get gifted a lot. We’re doing a campaign for Stella [McCartney Kids], and she has to do this whole social thing where she’s taking selfies, which she does naturally, while she’s planning her clothes."
Mom may be driving London’s career, which de Silva makes no apologies for, but London puts the brakes on when she feels like it. De Silva tells me that at Kids Fashion Week, London shut down a photographer who got a little too close with a swift, "No photos!" and hand-in-camera-lens combo.
Still, this world appears to be fun for London. When I ask her what Kids Fashion Week was like, she tells me, "It’s my favorite." And of her preference between posing for photos and walking the runway, I can barely get the question out. "Walking the runway! When all of the runway girls went back inside, I walked on the runway when they went back inside!"
Though fans of London’s blog and followers of her Instagram abound, not everyone on the internet is so nice, and some commenters—like those on the BuzzFeed story—assume there’s no way London could possibly be enjoying the ride. "Oh, ‘Let a kid be a kid,’" de Silva recalls. "‘She’s just a child, why are you doing this to her?’—as if I’m harming my child. Clearly she looks like she’s having a good time." De Silva has met plenty of working children on London’s jobs who likely aren’t cut out for modeling, not because they aren’t beautiful, but because they look "absolutely miserable."
London’s young enough, de Silva argues, that her work could hardly be classified as work. She is still heavily reliant on a stuffed bunny named Baby Zigu, after all.
"For her, she’s not posing," she continues. "Like today we were just walking and looking at stuff, so for her it was like the camera wasn’t even there. She was very oblivious to it. She doesn’t get it. She knows that we play dress-up, she knows that she has a blog called Scout the City, she knows that everybody calls her a fashion blogger. Sometimes she calls herself a fashion blogger, which is funny. But that whole aspect, I think, goes over her head because she’s so young. But she does know she’s a model." De Silva laughs. "She’s very well-aware."
De Silva mentions that there are a pair of four-year-olds in Canada named Michelle and Max whose blog, Just Us MM, also grew out of their modeling careers. Michelle’s mom, Ewa Koviol, is a photographer; Max’s mom, Anna Gocal, works in marketing. Both are Polish immigrants. They started their blog two years ago, long before Scout the City and Little Miss Alba appeared on the scene. Koviol and Gocal also collaborate with brands for paid content, and Michelle’s Instagram numbers blow London’s out of the water with 130,000 followers. Still, Just Us MM’s site is not nearly as sophisticated as London’s or Alba’s, and the photos take on a particularly pageant-like quality.
"I own Photoshop, but I never use it," says Koviol. "I have one program to edit pictures, but most of them aren't edited." Gocal later clarifies via email that taking photos at home is like doing the job of four people: "the photographer, stylist, light operator, and photo editor."
Just Us MM, Michelle’s Instagram, and Max’s Instagram "have all been heavily retouched," says Jason D. Moore, a graphic and web designer at Cornell University, who is also an Adobe Certified Expert. "Certainly some more than others, but all show signs of some heavy manipulation." Moore adds that techniques have been applied to smooth the skin. "The whole idea with editing portraits is to make the edits look natural and not distracting. When you see the end result, you should see a seamless, uniform image. In many of these shots, you can tell that the face has had significantly more work done on it than the rest of the body/clothes/scene. It's very noticeable. The faces almost look doll-like."
To be fair, de Silva and Murray edit their photos too. Says Moore of the trio of blogs, "I'm certain each photo has had some color correction, sharpening, and other more global adjustments to establish the look and feel of the overall scene, while also touching up any trouble spots that might have had to be dealt with, like shadows, unwanted elements in the scene, blemishes. These are all normal, standard, and widely accepted methods for editing portraits." He adds, "But there is a line between post-processing and manipulation. It's a distinction between natural-looking and unnatural-looking."
If there’s something to be gleaned from London's quick success, it’s that celebrating children for who they are, and using as few filters as possible, resonates with an audience. A large part of the three-year-old's increasing popularity stems from celebrating her uniqueness. Hers is a face we’ve not yet seen in the kids’ market; de Silva is of Brazilian and Puerto Rican descent, while London's father is Scottish.
"Where’s the curly-haired princess?" asks de Silva. "So many other kids are biracial now, and I think that’s huge for us to embrace."
"So many other kids are biracial now, and I think that’s huge for us to embrace."
Brands are embracing it, too. There’s a ribbon-tied box from Dove sitting on the kitchen island in their apartment, with a note addressed to London that reads, "We wanted you to know how much we love your curls! Enjoy the product and matching bracelets for you to share with Mommy!"
Says Saynt, London’s rep at Socialyte, "Brands are starting to realize more and more that when campaigns incorporate models of different colors or different races, those campaigns are actually much more successful than the ones that just go after one look, one style, one type of girl. It’s exciting to have someone like Scout because she represents something that is fresh in the space. The fact that she has curly hair, and that she is multicultural, is really, really impactful for brands who are looking to reach mothers out there, and kids as well."
Companies are banking on huge growth in the "celeb-u-tot" category, as Poster Child Magazine's Poier puts it, and Saynt promises that we’ll see more and more "Instakids" emerge. De Silva and Murray aren’t worried about competition, though. Instead, they're both looking to the future—ideally, they’d love for their daughters to take over their sites when they’re older.
"If our blog is one step towards building this brand and turning it into something big for her, then so be it," says de Silva. "It’s a positive thing, and we’ll do it until she doesn’t like it anymore. To be honest, I don’t think she’s not gonna like it anymore. She’s starting to get more into it, and I’m going to be so happy when she can finally write and do her own thing."
Maybe London will be "the first kid photographer," muses de Silva. "Or I don’t know, maybe pair up with American Girl and come out with a curly-haired doll with a tutu and a leather jacket, her staple look. Things like that."
For right now, though, London is a three-year-old who needs Baby Zigu, so De Silva finds the bunny and puts London down for her nap.
Editor: Julia Rubin