Hope Corrigan on how Tumblr walked so the ‘gram could fly
Creating and consuming moodboards has always been a form of self-soothing for me. I get a quick hit of serotonin when I see a photo of a basket of lemons perched on a cobblestone wall in a bucolic locale on my Instagram feed. 2005-me would rip out pages from Travel + Leisure and Martha Stewart magazines, haphazardly Scotch-taping them all over bedroom walls and switching out photos for seasons. 2011-me would get on Tumblr to self-soothe for hours, reblogging photos of daisies woven into complicated braids. Though I still love creating a blank-wall magazine-sourced moodboard, I’ve now seamlessly transitioned in the 2021 moodboard medium: an endless Instagram scroll of photos of bunnies nibbling pieces of strawberry and bougainvillea blooming outside whitewashed homes in Menorca. Before you glance at your stacked inbox, would you like to gaze at a sunrise video of sheep grazing in the Cotswolds? Don’t mind if I do!
Moodboard Instagram doesn't really have ulterior motives and even when it does, say, link to a site peddling linen pants, it doesn’t annoy me. My feed brims with tablescapes in Provence, frozen-in-time images of Picasso's studio, and artful still lifes of ripe pears.
Digital moodboards first existed on a little slice of heaven called Tumblr. Then came Instagram: My Petite Frenchie is just thin Parisian women carrying flowers while crossing the street, Crème de Nuage is mostly pristine rectangular pools in Mediterranean villas, and The Valley of Nymphs showcases one of Instagram's favorite cottagecore offshoots: aesthetic picnics. The most Tumblr-esque of them all, however, is Late Nights in the City: many perfectly disassembled beds, nameless women in tiny dresses (teetering on thinspo!), and reposted quotes such as ‘stop looking for happiness in the same place you lost it.’
For some creators, running a mood board account is purely a hobby. Joana, an English and German literature student, runs Mignonette Takes Pictures. Her account is like gua sha for your brain, all pastel florals, sun-drenched bedrooms, and baby animals cuddling into a down comforter. Sometimes there are short, ASMR-style videos of someone slicing a citrus fruit or slowly cutting into a flaky pastry. She says she receives messages from her followers that say the account is good for their mental health.
Others, however, are designed to sell products or promote brands. Nella Beljan uses a mood board of primarily interior shots of Scandi-style apartments to promote her Berlin-based decor company, Zora Auguste. (Most of the photos aren’t hers and the sheer number of accounts she sources from is a testament to how many mood board accounts there are on Instagram.) My personal favorite, Slow Roads, uses grainy throwbacks — Calvin Klein House, Fire Island, 1972 — and subtle travelscapes — Baja Club Hotel, La Paz, Mexico— to promote a collection of “fine art, vintage and artisanal objects with a story to tell.” Sporty and Rich sells clothes, but first, it sells a state of mind, elevated by over 10,000 photos that vary from scribbled quotes, to black-and-white photos of young Harrison Ford, to sleek interiors. French clothing brand Rouje sandwiches its product shots with mood board images such as a golden hour in Tuscany or a colorful French farmers market, gently moving consumers to purchase the clothes that embody the ‘la dolce vita’ lifestyle Rouje expertly curates on its Instagram feed.
Chase Gilbert, who owns Trillionaire Digital, the social marketing firm who created the Rowing Blazers Moodboard account, tells Dirt that “a moodboard creates a visual culture around a brand that’s not about framing a product.” While Rowing Blazers does market its rugby shirts and blazers on a separate Instagram account, the moodboard does exactly what its name implies—it sets the mood. Creating a moodboard for a brand, Chase says, sometimes means working backwards, “creating a visual language and fantasy world for the existing product to live in.”
Will a photo of bathrobe-clad Jack Nicholson holding a cigar move me to click purchase on a $98 cropped terry cloth polo? Maybe not. But it will instantly communicate the brand’s aesthetic, leaving me to decide whether or not it fits within mine. It’s a passive form of building a loyal consumer base from a self-selecting group. (I am very obsessed with the Rowing Blazers x Babar L’ete 2021 collection.)
I follow so many moodboard accounts that sometimes the images I see blur together. And sometimes they’re reposted so often they lose all meaning. (I have seen the image of the Hungarian woman at a fruit stand with her baby in a clear shopping bag too many times to count. Also the baby goats lounging in a person’s lap.) But I still can’t stop — give me a moodboard account, hobby or marketing tool, and I will follow it, like and save photos obsessively, make them my Twitter header, DM them to my friends (“Cute!” “Let’s go here together! ❤️ ”), and very, very briefly transport myself to a candle-lit tablescape in Umbria. —Hope Corrigan