Royalty and nobility have always evoked a sense of awe and mystique for the general public, their private lives often fodder for tabloids. While most blue bloods would run from the media, Lady Kinvara Balfour relishes in it—riding the digital wave and carving a name for herself, armed with just her Macbook and iPhone.
Daughter of Roderick Francis Arthur Balfour, fifth Earl of Balfour and Lady Tessa Mary Isabel Fitzalan-Howard, the eldest daughter of the late 17th Duke of Norfolk, Kinvara has quite the prodigious background, but she insists that is all it is—a background.
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Kinvara neither lives in a castle nor globetrots on diplomatic missions. Instead, she lives in a flat at Earl’s Court in West London, and devotes her time to directing, writing, producing, and speaking at conferences around the world, all while maintaining an online presence.
Her latest project is The Visionaries, a series of short documentary films that feature intimate conversations with game changers and thought leaders of the world, including luminaries like shoe designer Manolo Blahnik; artist and entrepreneur Charles March, the Duke of Richmond; social media king Josh Ostrovsky (The Fat Jewish), and more. The documentary was launched on her Youtube channel last week, and will air twice a month.
“For a few years now, I have produced and hosted Fashion in Conversation at the Apple Store with Kinvara Balfour for Apple. The series has, thankfully, proved hugely popular and was one of the best opportunities I have ever been given. I was inspired by this Q&A format and decided to make films about these visionaries, but in their own setting,” she says.
“It is somewhere between a conference speech, a TED talk and a classic documentary, to be consumed on mobile or laptop. A little like my Apple talks, it serves as a series of modern biographies for the digital age.”
The Visionaries, which Kinvara says is produced for the insta-generation, is shot entirely with an iPhone, which she believes is the future of filmmaking, citing the critically acclaimed feature film Tangerine (2015) by Sean Baker.
“I just got an iPhone X and the quality of the visuals is kind of mind-blowing. I believe the smartphone will definitely rival the traditional camera in all forms of storytelling as time goes on.”
But how did she decide who to feature in the film?
“Choosing who I want to film is very simple. I simply respect what each does and want any excuse to get to know more about why and how they do it,” she explains.
“I really celebrate the fact that anyone can be visionary—and that challenging the status quo has everything to do with one’s state of mind. Josh Ostrovsky is a social media star but also a fantastically successful entrepreneur. I can say the same about Manolo Blahnik—even though one is dressed in a t-shirt and shorts printed with photographs of Kim Kardashian crying, while the other is in a sharply tailored lilac tweed suit, a bow tie and brogues.”
Kinvara is also executive producer of McQueen, a documentary about the late enfant terrible and fashion genius Alexander McQueen, directed by Ian Bonhote that is set for a 2018 release in theatres.
“Lee McQueen was a leader and embraced technology before any of his peers. It is nice to be a part of honouring that. If Lee had been alive today, he is the man I would most ultimately want to film for The Visionaries.”
Filmmaking aside, the multi-hyphenate is also the go-to advisor for start-ups—and her keen sense for the latest trends definitely helps.
“Most of the jobs I’ve had have been based on doing this—deeming what’s hot and what’s not. When I launched DailyCandy.com in London in 2004, my job was to identify one cool, new thing a day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cool for decades; it can be cool for a week, as long as it is new and interesting. I am talking about everything from the cupcake trend, which hit London during my editorship, to something like goat yoga, which just hit Los Angeles,” she says.
“Goat yoga may be a fad (and a completely ridiculous one at that!), but it’s new and interesting to have on one’s radar, because it is out there in the zeitgeist. The same goes for automated cars, synthetic food, hamburgers grown in a science lab, supersonic aviation and augmented reality department stores. And that’s just for starters.”
Kinvara, who is senior advisor to moving photo app Swng—acquired by Microsoft in November, and backed by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone—and on the membership committee of Surf Air, the “Uber pool of private planes” believes that a business has to be authentic and meaningful to capture the attention of the generation today.
“Whatever a brand chooses in order to engage with loyal and potential customers, I always advise they be a) consistent in their brand message, in the images and text they put out there; and b) persistent in driving the message home rather than sporadically.”
The challenges of a start-up are many—long hours, an unpredictable market, and a never-ending list of tasks. Add that to the influx of other creative businesses also hoping to get ahead and stand out in Silicon Valley. Kinvara likens navigating the challenges to sailing.
“You need a strong boat and a keen sense of the destination you are headed for, with the flexibility to adapt and possibly stop off at alternative destinations along the way. And you need to say calm whilst you do so—even when those around you are not.”
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