As part of “Influence Now”, a series exploring the role of the “influencer” on contemporary culture, we interviewed five people whose work has shaped and influenced their fields in various ways. “Influence Now” will appear in SLEEK 57; subscribe to Sleek here.
New York fashion stylist and vintage collector Gabriel Held claims he was instagramming before the platform even existed. “I’ve always been a collector of images,” Held divulges. “When I was in fifth grade, I carried an empty backgammon case filled with magazine clippings from Vogue. During lunchtime I’d lay them on a table and make my primitive Instagram.” After hearing this, it isn’t surprising that when Held actually joined the website as @gabriel_held_vintage three years ago, his account became an immediate hit with fashion fanatics worldwide.
In the digital world, Held is regarded as the must-follow for lovers of that decadently trashy, over the top era known as the early Aughts. His feed is a time capsule featuring plenty of MTV VMAs red carpet glam and video stills from the golden days of R&B. With this in-depth knowledge of showbiz, it’s no coincidence Held pursued a career working with the rich and famous. “I’ve always been weirdly able to retain a lot of information from pop, be it TV and movie dialogue or song lyrics. I’ve always been interested in celebrity culture, which is not irrelevant to the fact that I work with celebrities now.”
Today, Held’s clientele includes Sophia Richie (who he groomed last year for Galore in his first big gig), Lena Dunham (the two New Yorkers have actually been friends for 20 years) and Lil’ Kim (he’s a hardcore devotee). Moreover, his obsession with archiving millennium-era fashion isn’t just a fad. In addition to working as a stylist, he also possesses one of the most coveted fashion archives in the industry. Whether it’s that ubiquitous Frankie B. jumpsuit sported by Jennifer Lopez on the cover of her album “J.Lo”, or any item from Dior’s Rasta collection, the great and the good look to Held for those quintessential pieces. The most recent item to join his collection? “Louis Vuitton’s Stephen Sprouse pochette – but I still have the knock-off that I bought in Chinatown while in high school!”
Amid his increasing fame, Held isn’t perturbed about known as an influencer. “I don’t want to sound delusional, but even when I wasn’t influencing anyone I considered myself [one]. I’ve been doing what I do for most of my life, and I’m just glad people are receptive to it now.” A prime example of his tendency to do whatever he wants can be seen in his weekly karaoke videos, which add a fun dose of personality to his feed. Donning a blonde wig and an ample bosom, Held films the videos after his weekly therapy sessions as a way to “get rid of whatever else is in there.” They also allow him to release the hang-ups his dad handed down to him as a kid. “My father comes from the music industry in Europe, and he was never encouraging – in fact, he was the opposite. So part of this has been getting over the inhibitions I inherited from his discouragement.” As for whether or not fans can expect to watch Held perform in public, don’t hold your breath. “I have stage fright so you’ll never see me perform anywhere but my bathroom. I get offers to sing live, but I’m not there yet.”
Just because Held has become a cultural icon in his own right doesn’t mean he’s stopped obsessing over stardom. “My bucket list of people that I want to style isn’t like other people’s. I’d love to work with Kelis or Eve.” His Instagram persona has even landed him jobs with figures he admires. “A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my desire to work with Erika Jayne from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. One of my followers sent it to her and she’s expressed interest, so we’ll see how that plays out.” Proof if it was needed that social media has the power to make dreams come true.