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Murad Osmann: The face behind #FollowMeTo

Murad Osmann: The face behind #FollowMeTo

The world has followed them from Barcelona to Shanghai. Cathy Wagstaff speaks with the Russian couple that inspired a social media phenomenon.

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Have you been wondering what our Volume 21 cover stars, Murad and Nataly Osmann, have been up to? Wonder no longer, as we share behind-the-scenes updates from their latest Instagram-famous adventures…

Murad and Nataly Osmann have 3.8 million followers on their Instagram, a book anthologising their photos (with a second on the way), a collaboration with Macy’s department store, a TV show about to air and a new jewellery line set to debut later this year.

Their wanderlust-worthy photos feature an impeccably attired Nataly leading a snap-happy Murad as they discover the exotic cities of the world. Together they have created a social media phenomenon that has seen the #FollowMeTo hashtag carried across the globe – with no signs of stopping.

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The success is humbling for the Russian couple, whose signature pose was born out of a moment of impatience; in the first #FollowMeTo image from October 2011, Nataly is all but dragging her shutterbug partner through the streets of Barcelona. Friends following their European travels on Instagram loved the photo, and the pair went on to replicate the pose throughout the city, and then the country. Within two years, their “passion project” was known around the world.

“We started it by accident,” Murad tells me from his van, currently travelling through the mountains of southern China. “We were just following our passion for travel. And then out of nowhere ‘The Daily Mail’ picked it up and it went viral.”

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In pursuit of the perfect shot

Although the Moscow-based couple were originally just snapping photos as they went on an iPhone, nowadays they plan their trips carefully with sophisticated equipment in tow. Their short jaunts take just three days (“a day scouting, a day shooting and a day leaving”), while their longer journeys are planned around annual leave. They limit their time to one day per location, asking local Instagrammers for suggestions for a different view on iconic landmarks.

One of their trickier shoots took them high above the Hollywood Hills in a helicopter – without doors. “It was a surprise for Nataly; she didn’t know we would be flying without them,” Murad recalls.

“Because it’s a residential area, we only had two minutes to fly around the Hollywood sign. I was leaning well outside the machine, connected only by a small strap and tape.” It took two flights to get the shot. It shows Nataly perched on the edge of her seat, her leg nonchalantly thrown over the side of the helicopter, her right hand gripping the door frame. Her outstretched hand clasps Murad’s as they fly towards the iconic beacon of Tinseltown, mixing beach hair and bare feet with a sequinned gown and sparkling gems.

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Other shoots have seen them posing with elephants at the Amer Fort in Jaipur, during one of their most memorable adventures in India. The painted pachyderms were constantly moving, unable to linger in the middle of the street, “so we were running in front of them, trying to capture the shot.”

Elsewhere in India, it was the onlookers they couldn’t control. If you get a chance to see beyond the usual square-cropped image on their behind-the-scenes Instagram account,

@followmetraveller, you can see whole crowds being held back by friends and travelling companions as Murad single-handedly wields his camera. In one early-morning shot from Delhi, there are hundreds of people milling around them, phones out to capture their encounter with the Insta-famous couple.

In Hong Kong, they once clambered over private residences in pursuit of the perfect shot from Victoria Peak. “But we were with the local tourism board, so we didn’t get in too much trouble. I think they did though!”

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Hundreds of suitcases of dresses

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Follow Me To series is the incredible outfits donned by Nataly in each photo. From bikinis in the Maldives to elaborate wedding dresses in India, her command over her personal style is striking. For difficult shoots, the pair will travel with a crew and find local stylists, but otherwise it’s left to Murad to carry “all those hundred suitcases”, as he jokes, of his wife’s clothes. (Nataly will tell you it’s his camera equipment.)

Right from the early days, Murad and Nataly began seeking out local designers for her on-camera wardrobe, sourcing them via local Instagrammers. They communicate with up-coming designers of both dresses and elaborate hairpieces wherever they can, incorporating the style of a country into each image.

When not outfitted locally, though, Nataly showcases the fashions of her homeland. Among the handful of Russian designers the couple favour, such as Alena Akhmadullina and Rasario, Ma Ya has become their favourite, and the Moscow-based fashionista is now a close friend. When not working on her collections, released every two years and sold around the world, she has even travelled with the couple.

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“She has a different style from a lot of typically Russian designers that we just love,” Murad says, having captured her gowns in shoots in Jordan and India.

Floating on Lake Pichola in Udaipur, the five-star hotel is a dream location for a photo shoot inspired by a love story. Its delicate white exterior, reflected back in the millpond waters, has made it one of the most famous hotels in the world. Inside, guests live as modern maharajahs in opulent rooms, interspersed with courtyards, gardens and lacework pavilions looking out to the hills and towns that line the lake.

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Follow Your Love: the next chapter

Udaipur was a key stop on Le Tour de Bochic, a unique collaboration with Bochic jewellery of New York that saw social media and jewellery converge in a series of exhibitions around the world. Previously, Nataly had been spotted wearing the elaborate creations inspired by exotic travel destinations and old Hollywood, but Le Tour de Bochic allowed fans to interact with both the brand and the story. We speak with David Joseph, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Bochic, about his designs and collaboration in our Autumn 2016 issue.

In 2016, both the Osmanns and Joseph will create an entirely new brand, Follow Your Love. “It’ll be based on our project, with wedding and engagement jewellery inspired by our stories and the countries we visit, starting with India,” he tells me.

For now, #FollowMeTo remains a hobby. Both Murad and Nataly work in full-time roles in Russia, Murad with his film production company, Hype Productions, and Nataly as a journalist and author. It’s the perfect mix for their forthcoming TV programme. “It’ll be based on our travels,” he says of the new show, airing soon in Russia. “Going to a country, doing a shoot, taking three Follow Me To shots, sharing how we capture them – and the problems we face along the way. And there are usually a lot of problems.”

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The couple has also worked with Macy’s, producing content in Morocco and Mexico for the department store’s INC brand. “We don’t want to commercialise the project because we want to keep its integrity,” Murad reasons. “We work with brands that can collaborate with us and that share the same philosophy … They allow us to create new content, bringing us to exotic countries and create something really outstanding.”

Ultimately, that is the aim of Follow Me To. Murad and Nataly are now branching into videos via Periscope and YouTube (you can see one of their first productions above). It’s just a new way to share their vision and tell their story.

“We try to explain a bit more than just showing the landmarks. We want to show the customs, the traditions, the people that we meet.”

Perhaps that’s why wherever Murad and Nataly go, the world follows.

This article appeared in Volume 21 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style Magazine 

Have you been wondering what our Volume 21 cover stars, Murad and Nataly Osmann, have been up to? Wonder no longer, as we share behind-the-scenes updates from their latest Instagram-famous adventures…

#FollowMeTo