Thursday, September 2, 2010

and miles to go before I sleep

The debate continues to rage around us. I say 'us' because you, you and I, we're part of it. This here blog- and the list of blogs to your right- and most of the content of Fashademic is all bound up in it. The fight over the place and purpose of style blogs- inside or outside the fashion industry, wherever they belong, and maybe that's the crux of it. Where do style blogs belong? What is their purpose, what value do they add to a public discussion of fashion?

The Australian Financial Review has thrown its opinion into the ring, canvassing a broad spectrum of people including Vogue Australia editrix Kirstie Clements, designers Nicola Finetti and Alex Perry, bloggers Scott Schuman (no points for naming his blog, sartorialistes) and Helen Lee of Sassybella, and Graeme Lewsey, in charge of marketing and communication with IMG Fashion, to present a well-rounded discussion of the topic. So what do all their words amount to? The general consensus seems to be that style blogs are fun and that there is a place for their enthusiasm about fashion. Clements even acknowledges their influence over the consumer choices of readers by stating that, 'sure, if Tavi puts a photo of her Miu Miu clogs on her blog, then yes, it probably has just as much impact as if we'd photographed and put them in Vogue' before arguing that 'bloggers haven't quite broken into the serious business side of fashion yet... it's easy to look at a dress on a catwalk and say 'ooh how pretty.' That's simply an opinion. That's not real power.'

I find this argument interesting and think that it warrants discussion. I wonder what the 'serious business side of fashion' is, how that might be defined? Many bloggers have made commercial connections with designers and brands, as I've charted on this blog, not least the collaboration between Coach and four bloggers, Tavi interviewing Rei Kawakubo for Pop, Scott Schuman shooting a Burberry campaign, Garance Dore doing a series of fashion illustrations promoting Westfield Bondi Junction, Jane Aldridge designing a shoe collection for Urban Outfitters, Rumi Neely designing a capsule collection for RVCA... shall I go on? Or am I boring you? The brands and labels I have just mentioned are not insignificant- many are prestigious (Coach, Burberry, CdG), many have a large consumer base in the market to which style blogs and fashion both appeal- young men and women (mostly women, I would argue) with a disposable income and a vested interest in looking trendy/fashionable/stylish. So this collaboration for mutual money-making and image building- is this not a serious side of fashion? What is the power that Clements speaks of here? Because it seems that the brands at least do recognise a kind of power in the hands of style bloggers- namely, their unique branded identities and their wide readership.

On the other hand, it is true that the majority of style blogs do not offer criticism in the traditional sense. A few bloggers offer opinions on what constitutes style- The Sartorialist instantly springs to mind- and a few critically discuss collections- in fact, many of the style bloggers who have been around for some time now do this (White Lightning, Style Rookie, Style Bubble, Geometric Sleep among others.) Many personal style bloggers, however, don't talk critically about fashion- as Clements says (albeit, in a rather condescending way), they opine on what they like. My question, then, is why do style blogs have to offer criticism?

What if what style blogs have to offer in the forum of public discussion about fashion is not criticism, is not thorough knowledge about the history and trajectory of fashion and designers and their influence? Such critiques are fascinating for someone interested in fashion, and it is truly a pleasure to read a well-written, thoughtful piece such as what Cathy Horyn or Suzy Menkes write. But who says style blogs have to have such a function? They are what they are- self-focused, self-reflecting (or identity constructing) visual accounts of the intersection of fashion and personal style being enacted on the person of the blogger. They are a departure from what we have seen before- and I believe that this is why they seem to pose such a threat to the way information about the fashion industry is currently communicated. 

So again we have a criticism of what style blogs are not rather than a discussion of what they are- and what they have to offer the fashion industry. The 'them vs. us' argument between style blogs and fashion magazines seems redundant to me because they are so vastly different. I don't think style blogs are trying to usurp fashion magazines, and fashion magazines can also never offer what style blogs do. Style bloggers have the freedom to express whatever they wish because their blogs are (for the most part) not mediated by editorial input nor advertising concerns; they often write in a way that expresses their youth, their passion for clothing and style, the way that fashion is integral to their daily lived experience; and their visual content literally revolves around their self. 
Fashion magazines, on the other hand, are assembled by a team of people trying to offer a considered perspective on where fashion is going as an industry; how the reader should dress to be stylish and 'now' as well as a reflection on the people and movements behind what is shown on the catwalk. Moreover, their content is hugely predicated on who is buying advertising in their pages. Fashion magazines come out monthly, if not seasonally; style blogs can be updated in minutes. Oh, the differences go on and on (much like this blogpost! Kudos if you're still reading) and I think that there is room in the world for both to operate complementarily. And the sooner we can get away from the 'are style blogs going to overtake the influence of fashion magazines??????????' hysteria, we might get to more nuanced and interesting reflections on why they strike such a chord with their readers, what niche they fill that fashion magazines don't, or something along those lines. . .

*Much gratitude to Helen Lee at Sassybella for scanning the article! Excuse me while I crawl into a foetal position now to regain my strength.

7 comments:

  1. I agree, but with any 'new' medium this is bound to happen.

    The novel, radio, television, the world wide web, have each brought about a myriad of arguments on various subjects and it almost always boils down to the essential them vs us argument.
    Supporters/producers of the old bemoan a new voice for fear of it outstripping it's predecessors. Which inevitably doesn't occur.

    There is room for all the current mediums and then some, the global population will always have need for various ways to communicate.

    What style bloggers offer is for the 'general public' to have a voice in a field which for so long has had a certain niche element, sure there will be certain players who want to protect their clique from the outside world, and to a put a point this will always be the case.
    But we aren't able to access the haute couture ateliers and front rows en mass, (sure virtual streaming of shows is a step in the right direction but slightly different from recieving a personal invitation to the actual event), so why not allow the thirteen year old Tavi* her opinion? (* I use Tavi as an example only)
    Are we not a global community that for the most part takes freedom of speech as a given right, especially about something as dare I say frivolous as fashion. The serious business of fashion is let's be honest money. At the top end of the fashion field in the realms of haute couture there is a rich history of art work, but worldwide there is billions of dollars spent on a business that allows us as individuals to attempt to express ourselves daily, surely the voice of style bloggers every where reflects this aspect of fashion's global nature? A chance to express one's self through the way we present ourselves to be read by the outside world

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  2. I follow a number of style bloggers (Tavi, Garance Dore, Gala Darling, Madamoiselle Robot, to name a few) and what I appreciate about them most is the personal character they bring to their work... as well as, in many cases (sometimes I read them because I just like their personalities), their unique and inspiring aesthetics.

    As for their influence... well, I once imported a swimsuit from the US purely because I blogger I like had worn it.

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  3. Thanks guys for your thoughtful comments!

    Rachel- I completely agree! Doesn't that even make the comparison between magazines and blogs all the more interesting? because the personal voice is what is compelling, but the criticism levelled at blogs would have us believe that any fashion commentary must come from someone with a sanctioned 'authority' (who distributes this authority, I wonder, and how can I get some?!) and with a proper restraint and a nod of the head to one's predecessors. I completely agree that it's the joy, the enthusiasm, the quirky styling, the personal bent which breathes life into this new mode of expression. (I loved your swimsuit story! ha, I once trawled a tights website for about 45 minutes looking for some tights that Tavi had worn. I had to do some detective work to even find the site because she deliberately omitted its name to prevent style stalkers such as myself from buying them up! Was all to no avail though... I'll never make a P.I.)

    CZ- Word.

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  4. I've wondered about this for a while... I think it boils down to the fact that "us" bloggers don't really have an "industry standard" for any of the work/write-ups/reviews that we do. Maybe this is what Clements is referring to...? While there are more and more bloggers who are setting the bar for professional fashion bloggers (like the examples you mentioned), there are still a lot of smaller blogs who will write reviews on products without receiving fair compensation (beyond a small freebie). Just throwing that out there. I mean, what should the standard be for a product review? Just a sample product, or should there be something more? I think this is something bloggers are going to have to deal with in the immediate future.

    And the argument over whether style blogs will overtake fashion magazines is really kind of ridiculous. There are always going to be those who prefer the stream-lined, pre-edited shiny fashion magazines over trawling around on the Internet looking for bloggers they like. There are people who use celebrities as their style inspiration, and people who pull from other sources. A little bit of something for everyone, eh? I mean, I like leather-bound books, my friend likes the Kindle... the world still goes round like it should.

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  5. i think bloggers will have an advantage because they are free and a lot easier to access. but just by a tiny bit. also, they are definetly more personal and close to home..

    however on the same tangent, some people might not want to read about... things that they can get easily? or they like the professional asthetics of a magazine that blogs dont usually have. (although there are tons of scans of magazines now on blogs)

    but youre right, they cant really be compared and for sure the magazine is going to be staying around.

    PS. this is the first time ive been on your blog and the first thing i noticed was that beautiful logo/header image of yours. IT IS BRILLIANTT!!! is it your design??

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  6. Thanks! I love it too :) It was designed by my friend Lindy- she's an amazing graphic designer and she imagined it up for me. Check more of her work out lindynapier.blogspot.com if you like. . .

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  7. This was such an interesting read! I don't think style bloggers & fashion magazines are supposed to really compete with each other, because they offer totally different things. I feel like I can actually trust products that bloggers suggest, regardless if they were given it for free, because I know they wouldn't take the chance of losing their relationship with their readers. Also, fashion magazines present totally unattainable fashion that I could never actually wear outside of a Friday night most of the time. Style bloggers are real people doing real things, and I can find so much more inspiration from them.

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