You’d think it was peak summer the way Nicole Warne reclines gracefully on the sand, quietly inviting the sunshine to push through the clouds. It’s actually early spring, but relaxing on the sand comes naturally to the Australian beauty, and if she feels a chill in the air her cheery nature doesn’t give it away. “These pieces completely transport you,” she says, her eyes widening as she gestures toward the rack of CHANEL clothes and accessories. “And today I get to make the fantasy wearable—that’s the magic of CHANEL.”
Magic indeed. Last year, CHANEL transformed the Grand Palais into a dreamy beach setting complete with sand, sky, and sea—and, of course, an epic Spring/Summer ’19 collection designed by the late Karl Lagerfeld. Today, we’ve brought the collection to a bona fide beach in the North Fork of Long Island. Each piece on set is part of the CHANEL at Barneys New York Ephemeral Boutique at the Barneys Madison Avenue flagship—a temporary pop-up that offers shoppers a special edit of CHANEL’s ready-to-wear, handbags, and costume jewelry for the first time ever.
“What an amazing shoot! It feels really serendipitous how it all came together,” says Warne over tea in the peaceful lobby of the Sound View Greenport, where we’ve just wrapped. For Warne, serendipity has little to do with success. Her meteoric rise in the digital world is proof of her entrepreneurial nature. Before the term influencer had even been coined, her social-media-based brand helped reshape the fashion landscape, positioning influencers as power players rather than hobbyists. Warne now has more than 1.8 million Instagram followers and has graced more than a dozen international magazine covers. She was the first digital personality to sign with IMG and to make the cover of a Condé Nast publication (Lucky in 2015 along with Chiara Ferragni and Zanita Whittington). So how exactly did a girl from a farm in western Australia end up becoming one of the first-ever global digital influencers?
“I grew up in a very creative household. My parents were always working for themselves and starting little businesses—they really had an optimistic outlook on business and life,” Warne explains. She took that optimism to Sydney, where she interned at fashion magazines. Fiercely independent and an ambitious realist, she realized she couldn’t support herself on a magazine salary and decided to launch a vintage clothing shop. In 2009, eight weeks after launching her online store, Gary Pepper Vintage, Warne was making enough to support herself entirely and quit her other retail job to focus on it full time. “Once I dedicated all my time and effort to my e-commerce, it absolutely exploded, and I didn’t catch my breath for nearly three years.”
While she describes the process as organic, she’s also quick to note that there was a business plan from the start. It took six months of meticulous planning before she launched her online store on the same day as her thoughtfully branded Facebook, Twitter, and blog (Instagram was still a year from launching). She couldn’t afford a model or photographer, so she shot, styled, and posed in all the looks herself. “The secret to social media is people just want to connect with real people who are relatable. I had no idea at the time that I was doing exactly that through my digital presence.” This meant she had the secret sauce just in time for Instagram to launch in 2010. “It was the perfect timing, I truly believe that. Now it’s such a saturated market I’m not sure I would have cut through, but back then it was unheard of. It was all brand new.”
As Instagram began to take social media to the next level, Warne unintentionally went from owning a company to becoming a personal brand, and in 2013 she shifted away from Gary Pepper Vintage. “It was a crazy time because perceptions were shifting and brands were validating bloggers. People were realizing we were savvy and hardworking, and that it didn’t just happen overnight.”
As her following has grown, so has her responsibility. “I’ve always been very conscious of my audience and provided a positive community and space.” Since she was only 20 when she started, her audience has had the chance to grow and evolve along with her, and they’ve become truly invested in the woman Warne has become. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and there’s no guidebook. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a lot more private—I really believe that there should be some parts of yourself that you should protect.” Instead, she shares the content her audience has come to love and expect from her: fashion, travel, lifestyle, and—lately—interior inspo.
Interiors have grown into a special interest of Warne’s, who’s been nesting since moving to New York with her photographer husband, Luke Shadbolt, in August. Despite years of jet setting to international fashion weeks and press trips, it’s actually the first time she’s lived outside of Australia. “We were too content. I do believe such a thing exists, and we needed to challenge ourselves and push ourselves creatively to grow. For us, New York was always going to be the city to do that.”
Part of her move across the world meant editing down her wardrobe, a process that led Warne to value quality over quantity. “I love simple, easy-to-wear pieces that are tailored really well. As I’ve gotten older, I value the importance of having the perfect fit and construction,” she says. “Obviously, that means CHANEL!” She has a special love for the French fashion house and couldn’t believe it when she first saw CHANEL appear in her inbox a few years ago. “Now we’ve partnered together several times, and I am still in awe. I like to stay really present in moments like this because they are so special.”
Staying present is important to Warne, as life tends to move pretty fast for her. She expects a lot of change over the next year as she builds out her team and brand in New York. “I can already feel that the tides are changing,” she says, looking out as the late-afternoon light dances across the water. “I put my full trust in the universe right now because I’m meant to be here right where I am.”
The CHANEL at Barneys New York Ephemeral Boutique is on the sixth floor of Barneys New York Madison Avenue until April 21 , 2019.