Some social media stars are full of hot air.
Los Angeles-based Melody Pianga, known to her 61,000 Instagram followers as Feathered Fox Design LA, has been creating large-scale, state-of-the-art balloon installations for lavish parties in Los Angeles, such as birthday parties and baby showers, since early 2000s. 2020. She typically quotes clients between $1,000 and $3,000 per job. But the 40-year-old said she is fed up with “inconsiderate influencers” trying to get her to work for free.
“These people are flaunting their fabulous lives with their fancy handbags and huge houses, and they want my work for free when they clearly can afford it,” Pianga said. “I run this business myself and I’m at a point in my career where I deserve more than a mention on Instagram.”
During the pandemic, Pianga has received a ton of requests for “collaborations,” which is how influencers refer to themselves and get goods and services in exchange for a tag. In the past six months, Pianga said he’s received 30 to 40 collaboration requests from influencers and celebrities, and they tend to they disappear when she says no, but offers to take the job for her usual fee.
In June, Tohi, a 33-year-old Persian singer with 12 million followers on Instagram, asked “Do you collaborate?” in an Instagram exchange seen by The Post. Pianga responded, “I don’t do collaborations for social commerce at this point in my business. All my clients are paying, regular clients.”
He got crickets in response. Tohi did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.
A month before that, Maryse Mizanin’s assistant, WWE wrestler and co-star of the reality show “Miz & Mrs. in the USA,” slipped into Pianga’s Instagram DMs with a request for a big facility.
“What [she] they wanted, balloons cascading from the roof of their house, would have cost $4,000 to $5,000,” Pianga said. But before Pianga sent him the quote, Mizanin’s assistant asked if he worked at a discount or for free for the labels.
“I said ‘No, but I’d love to take on this project!’ And she just never responded. She completely cheated on me,” Pianga said.
Neither Mizanin nor his assistant responded to the Post’s request for comment.
“I don’t know if it’s complete narcissism or if it’s a little bit unaware of what I do or how hard I work, but it’s really frustrating,” said Pianga, a mother of three, adding that she spends about $3,000 a month in balloons and helium. “Every penny I earn [goes] go back to my business.
Asked by The Post for the names of other influencers hoping for free balloon art, Pianga said, “It annoys me so much to get these free job applications that I delete them as soon as I get them. I don’t even remember who has submitted requests at the moment because there are so many.”
But he does remember one beauty influencer in particular who has more than 40 million followers on TikTok.
In the fall of 2020, Pianga’s friend and fellow balloon artist, Nicci Dewez, asked him if he wanted to participate in a screen installation project, free of charge, so complex it required multiple people. She went for a dinner organized for the TikTok influencer by the Partyology, the event planning service, which had contacted Dewez, the founder of Orange County-based Sunny Bunny Balloons.
In an email seen by The Post, the planner told Dewez: “This is a great opportunity for both our company and yours. Between the brand exposure, media attention and press we hope to get, this is a unique opportunity.”
But Pianga refused to engage with Dewez, citing his principle against offering time-consuming and expensive creations for free. And she’s so glad she did after Dewez didn’t get the mention or tag on social media she expected, meaning no one who saw the dinner posts knew who did the balloon design.
“None of us participating balloon artists received a post or a shout out from [the influencer]Which I think we all expected. An Instagram story, something! I will definitely never say yes again,” Dewez added.
Partyology was not available for comment.
Still, Dewez said, “I wanted the opportunity. It was a beautiful party and I made some amazing friends from the industry.”
However, Pianga does not remove all requests for free installations. “I will gladly donate my work to local churches and public schools because, to me, those are the people and institutions that deserve free art,” added Pianga.
“Every time the Make-A-Wish Foundation calls and requests an exhibit, I’m happy to make one for them. They also always offer to pay me, but I never accept. If I donate my time and product to people, it’s to those in need.”