Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Fashion Week Blues

An old pic from London Fashion Week
London Fashion Week may well be old news with all eyes on collections on Paris already but I still am getting the odd image post feeding through on my Google reader to remind me that I didn't get to go this time.  During this last London Fashion Week I was actually, for once, going to have the good fortune to be in London with some free time.  There was no clashing flamenco festival or pressing work commitment so I thought I'd apply to attend and visit the design exhibition as I have done in previous years and do some write ups on what to expect next winter from some designers.  Well my application got rejected so sadly you won't be getting any London Fashion Week news from me, either belatedly or possibly again in the future.

I was quite disappointed I couldn't go. There is still nothing like rejection of any kind to make you feel rubbish about yourself, about what you've done and like tossing in the towel every time it happens.   The application process asks for blogger stats and so it was clear that it was going to be a numbers game where the numbers were pretty highly stacked against me.  This isn't a big blog with lots of followers or gazillions of hits and I would need to find another twenty four hours in my day to take this blog to pro level or keep to the kind of scheduling that would merit any kind of commercial sponsorship.

The times I'd been to LFW in the past had always been on a buyer's pass assisting a friend who had a boutique to give her a second opinion on what she was buying, but she has since sold up, so bye bye buyer's pass.  I first attended way back in 1997 before anyone was even blogging let alone blogging about fashion!  It was fascinating to see how the whole process worked from the inside - it's essentially an extremely glamorous trade show for the benefit of the designers to showcase their work and before the rise of the fashion blogger it was a pretty closed shop in terms of who could attend.

Blogging seemed to open that world up, in a very positive way at first by making that world more accessible to the masses. But then the explosion of fashion blogging has become a bit overwhelming and now it seems the fashion industry is closing ranks to being an exclusive closed circle again.  I was told by someone who attended LFW that they seem to have clamped down on blogger attendance in comparison to previous years, so I guess if you are not high on the popularity stakes or don't fit a certain type of blogging mould then you're not going to make the grade to get into that circle.

While I totally get that you've got to put limits on numbers for crowd control and the priority is always going to go to whoever has the biggest audience for commercial reasons, the last couple of times I attended LFW I did wonder if the designers and their work were really the focus of bloggers anymore.  There seemed to be more bloggers outside Somerset House rather than inside, either lining up to take photos of each other or vying for the attention of the street style bloggers.  If you haven't borne witness to this phenomenon then have a read of this article in the NY Times "The Circus of Fashion" by fashion bigwig Susy Menkes to get an idea of what goes on and how the fashion blogger is now gaining a reputation as a kind of fashion Frankenstein.  Jeanine Jacobs chose to respond on IFB decrying the criticism as unoriginal.  I have mixed feelings about it myself.

After reading the Susy Menkes article and all the comments after it (worth a read in itself for the debate) I now actually feel kind of ashamed to be a blogger.  Having personally witnessed that particular circus up close myself I have to say that Menkes is right on many counts.  Even Jacobs' bristling riposte admits that Menkes is right.

For some time now there has been an increasingly competitive fashion blogger arms race to see how outlandish your outfit can be, how many designer labels and/or trends you can clobber together in said outfit and how many times you can get your picture taken strutting around between shows.  It has gone beyond people dressing to be original in order to push style boundaries and become more about chasing fame.  And the tactic works.  The scrum between photographers and bloggers to get photos of the street style stars with camera lens and mobile phones competing for the best view is a testament to that.

When I do the rounds post fashion week of some big name blogs, there are more photos of said blogger getting papped in their fashion week outfit than of anything they actually saw coming down the runway or at exhibitions and their posts on collections can often be thin on the ground in terms of thoughtful write ups.  So I have some sympathy for Menkes sniffily implying that bloggers lack the fashion nous to be able to provide any meaningful contribution to fashion critique.

Rank amateurs at the fashion game we may be but surely we are not all fame whoring, peacock strutting, attention seeking and shockingly badly dressed with nothing to contribute?  Even though I would like to think I am excluded from Menkes snider broader brush descriptions such as the "cattle market of showoff people" I feel like some of that negative taint got slopped on me anyway.  To give another quote from her that hit the mark - this on the credentials of bloggers to judge fashion:
"...judging fashion has become all about me: Look at me wearing the dress! Look at these shoes I have found! Look at me loving this outfit in 15 different images!"
Touché!  I'm sure some of us will cringe in a bit of self-recognition at this, I certainly know I did and on reading this I suddenly felt pretty vapid for having a personal style blog at all.  But I can't help think that there is a bit of a mixed message being sent out here.

We've all seen the types of bloggers for whom most of these barbs from this doyenne of the fashion world were probably meant for, but ironically those same bloggers also seem to be the ones who get the stratospheric stats to be successful, who in fact end up being the darlings of the fashion industry with their crazy outfit pictures in all their gaudy glory splashed across magazine spreads, who receive countless invites to glamorous events, who get oodles of free stuff thrown at them and who get front row seats at fashion shows.

However snarky the mouthpieces of the fashion industry like Menkes might get about bloggers, fashion is showing itself to be a two faced beast here, because while it might criticise blogger behaviour, it is clearly in some part responsible for fuelling it by publicly courting bloggers with big followings purely in the interest of increasing sales.  For all the lofty claims that fashion is about blue sky ideas about how the body will be clothed, it is an industry padlocked to the uncomfortable reality of the business world, where ultimately the bottom line matters and the generation of profits is essential in order to survive.  The fashion PR machine knows it might reach thousands of potential consumers by getting a blogger to wear their merchandise (either through gifting or by paying them), or by having them tweeting or instagramming from the front row of a show.

There are some of us out there who have a genuine enthusiasm for what fashion designers have to offer and still want to voice our opinion even if we aren't being paid or sponsored or given free stuff.   But even then Menkes takes issue with bloggers voicing the view of the public at large on what fashion is producing, claiming we have forgotten the principal she abides by as a fashion journalist:
There is something ridiculous about the self-aggrandizement of some online arbiters who go against the mantra that I was taught in my earliest days as a fashion journalist: “It isn’t good because you like it; you like it because it’s good.”
I think the point she is trying to make here is that there is too much subjectivity in blogging and not enough objectivity.  Granted, many blogs, including this one, are essentially about our personal and subjective tastes.  But do you really learn skills to give you the ability to discern what is objectively good and not good by studying fashion without subjectivity colouring this?  I would have thought, as in any creative field, that at the end of the day the audience would be the best judge of a show, no matter how skillful the producer.  There is also more than enough fashion "journalism" in the mainstream fashion press which amounts to little more than hyping an overpriced here-today-gone-tomorrow trend or item in order to satisfy advertising contracts to make me question if Menkes can really claim the moral high ground on this one.

In the end we the public buy and wear the damn stuff we get shoved down our throats every season as supposedly being good - why wouldn't we have an opinion worth listening to?  Even if it just happens to be a subjective one?  I would have assumed that eventually it is this personal opinion of the fashion consumer that would eventually drive (gasp!) - actual sales! We may not have degrees in art history or fashion, but to quote one eloquent commenter, Respectfully (from Australia) on the Susy Menkes article:
"Why should we only ever receive an image of a show filtered through an editor? Why shouldn't we have the choice to make up our own minds by seeing the images ourselves? We're the ones paying the bills! We're buying the fashion magazines, clothes, bags and shoes."
Sadly if fashion is going to close ranks and only include bloggers who will toe the party line in exchange for sponsorships, paid travel and free gifts then we are effectively getting messages filtered through an editor rather than an independent view.  The breadth of opinion is bound to narrow towards something palatable to the fashion industry which is the aim - to reclaim some control.  Fashion blogging was initially so exciting because it offered a broader representation of women, offered inspiration that catered to a wider range of budgets and lifestyles, and had more relevance to the majority rather than pandering to the minority.  For some time now the only type of bloggers who I see being brandished in the fashion press as "influential" are very young, thin, beautiful and increasing extremely wealthy young women who seem to be able to spend the equivalent of my annual salary on one outfit or buy Manolo Blahniks in every colour without batting an eyelid. 

I'm not interested in being papped by street style bloggers, nor do I realistically expect to ever work in the fashion industry or make a living out of blogging, but I would have thought there would have been more interest out there for a blog attempting more considered writing on the process we all must go through daily in dressing ourselves.  I'm more than happy to throw my two cents worth out there in the blogosphere on things I find beautiful or have bought with my own hard earned cash, I enjoy the blogger camaraderie and frankly, I could blog away quite happily without having to do any outfit shots.  But maybe that's where it's all gone wrong for my blog.  A lack of burning blogger ambition!  Rather than trying to write something interesting I should be donning some outrageous outfit, sticking a stuffed swan on my head and fervently strutting up and down outside Somerset House on the zaniest flatforms I can cope walking on in order to gather the attention of street style bloggers.

While dressing up is part of the fun of Fashion Week (where else do you get an opportunity to push the envelope and not feel out of place?), I've always thought more of it as an event where you get to see some beautiful, interesting design first hand and can talk to designers about their work.  Whenever I attended I would spend all my time inside the exhibition.  If I wanted to do a post for the blog I would always ask permission to take photos of designers' merchandise, I tried to ask what designers were trying to say through their designs and tried to write thoughtfully about the designs I was enthusiastic about.  Some of the designers actually told me in person later that they really appreciated the things I wrote about their creations.  I was hoping to do some more of that this time.  It was not to be and I wonder if it ever will be again.

24 comments:

  1. This is an excellent post - thank you. I've been disillusioned with the commerciality of blogging for some time, and this captures "why" so well.

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    1. Thanks, unfortunately I think commerciality is so much a part of it now that it's going to be hard to untangle - blogging is a lot of work and I can understand people want to be compensated for it. If bloggers want to make money out of their blogs and the fashion industry want to use them then fine, I understand that it can be mutually beneficial in a business sense. But then the industry turning around and criticising the consequences of everyone suddenly wanting a piece of the pie is a bit hypocritical.

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  2. What Suzy Menkes conveniently forgets to mention is that for every super-talented mega-editor with a sharp, analytical mind and an eye for talent there are thousands of dumb, vapid people who only got in the industry thanks to their money and connections and can barely string a sentence. Take a look at some fashion magazines: you get one, maybe two good articles or editorials and the rest of the stuff is so retarded that makes you cringe ('workwear' consisting of leather miniskirts, how to tie a scarf like a Sloaney).

    What bugs these people is that there are a bunch of kids out there that have managed to create brilliant blogs where they create sharp, street style outfits without a lot of money or fashion-machine editorial support, and people are discovering them and flocking to their blogs. And while there has been a definite monetization, a lot of these bloggers still do it for the love of it. And that hurts the privileged fashion insiders who are worried that their clients might wonder if they are overpaid (they are).

    Happened with many other industries: IT used to be white bearded men wearing glasses until 15 year old scriptkidz started stealing the show or India started producing good software for a fraction of the cost. The internet has opened the world in the sense that talent is everywhere and self-expressing that talent is practically free. Too bad for those fashion luvelies, eh?

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    1. You go V! I agree that the fashion press has only itself to blame in alienating people and driving them online for alternative resources of inspiration - and there are many good ones, but I guess what irritates me most is seeing bloggers that are reinforcing the elitist view of fashion being something for a closed circle of very rich, privileged fashion insiders being promoted so much (and mainly by the fashion industry!). There is nothing inherently wrong with being rich and privileged and having a blog to show it all off per se but I can't relate, I can see a photoshoot of expensive designer gear piled on a thin beautiful model in any print magazine any time too. I go to blogs for something a bit more grounded in reality. I'd like to see more diversity but that has never been fashion's strong point.

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  3. Hi my dear-a very insightful post and I'm sorry to see you didn't get the chance to attend LFW. I registered online and did not get a reply, so went to Somerset House on Day 1 to see if I could get my blogger pass. I was fortunate that my stats were around 20k for the month (I heard them minimum stats requirement was 8k) so I got a pass and I only attended the Bloody Gray presentation on Day 3 after emailing the PR company the day before the start of LFW. That was my foray into LFW and it was certainly an eye opener at the number of bloggers outside Somerset House being papped or papping. I only occasionally do outfit posts now and don't blog as often as I should/could- I get gifted every now and then too, but blogging is not my be all and end all-there are definitely more hardened and seasoned stylish bloggers who take it far more seriously-good luck to them but I'm happy with where I am xxxx

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    1. Good for you getting in there! I like your attitude to it all. Blogging is not my be all and end all either and I end up trying to fit in doing things for this blog after a whole lot of other things I have to do so I should just learn to be happy with where I am too.

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  4. I really enjoyed reading this post and your perspective. Fashion will always be double edged, two faced and fickle. It's ever changing so it has to generate interest for consumerism/materialism, sell newspapers and magazines and yes, get as many hits on their blog as possible! As you say where once blogging was another good marketing/advertising channel, it's now become out of control. So inevitably something has to be done about it by those powers that be in Fashion. It's a bit like with Wimbledon, tennis fans had to queue for days sometimes just for a chance to buy tickets whereas some were lavished with the best seats as part of 'corporate entertainment' - people who may not even care for the game. The hardest part is trying to be fair but is it even possible? I'm sorry you feel tarred by the same brush but that's often the case isn't it where it's only takes a few to spoil things for the rest. It will blow over soon enough and Ms Menkes can smooth her feathers once more :-) Like I said fashion is fickle :-)

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    1. I enjoyed your comparison to Wimbeldon - it's true, being fair whatever system you choose to try to be fair is never going to seem fair to those who didn't get tickets!

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  5. This was a very good and insightful post and you said a lot of the things I've been feeling for awhile now. I understand why Fashion Weeks want to close ranks when it comes to bloggers but it should be based on quality instead of strictly numbers. As for the individual perspective that bloggere were known for, it is indeed getting lost in the sea of new bloggers who don't know any better and too few brand partnerships available.

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    1. Well I think there are just so many blogs out there that fashion week committees have the pick of the best and the pick of the highest stats. The former will usually have quality and the stats but the latter doesn't necessarily always equate to quality IMHO.

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  6. Great post V. This is why bloggers should be taken seriously - most are eloquent and thoughtful - however they choose to dress! I think there is a place for nearly every fashion blog. We don't all aspire to be the next Susie Bubble but just because we're not "professionals" doesn't make what we do any less valid.

    xx

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    1. Thank you Emily, I enjoy seeing flamboyant dressers and people with unique style who geniunely enjoy dressing themselves like that at fashion weeks whether they have blogs or not or whether they were attending fashion week or not, but it's just the dressing up and hanging around just to get photographed at fashion week that seems a bit OTT to me.
      I think we have valid points to make - the fashion industry is so used to dictating what we should all think and not expecting even a squeak back in reply - meaning that all this "uneducated" opinion suddenly being foisted back upon them via blogs is not all going to be welcomed with open arms.

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  7. Fascinating perspectives on the process of Fashion Week and the dynamics involving a particular type of blogger - fabulous job of articulating and reflecting on the factors at play.

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    1. Thank you Amber! I do though wonder if my time would be better spent chilling with a glass of wine and forgetting about it all!

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  8. What an interesting, thought provoking post. I agree with so much of what you've written. It's a real shame you couldn't get in to Fashion Week, but like you I do have some sympathy with Susie Menkes's position. Blogging outfit photos of oneself inevitably reveals a more subjective, even narcisstic, focus than a write up about a particular fashion trend or collection ever could.

    But then, it all depends on the aim of one's blog. Personally, I don't see my blog as a 'fashion' blog - I see it more as a means of creative expression, a presentation of my own subjective world, like the creation of a painting or a poem. It doesn't matter if people are reading it or not, or how many stats one gets, because its not a popularity contest and I'm not hoping it will take me somewhere new in my life. But that's because I have no desire to be included in the fashion world - I guess Menkes words will especially upset those bloggers whose ambition is to move into fashion themselves.

    I can well understand her frustration that so many bloggers now seem to 'use' fashion week for their own self promotion, rather than to watch, learn, document and be inspired by the beautiful design work of the designers themselves. It sounds a bit like hanging around outside the National Gallery hoping to be regarded as a work of art, dressed as a Botticelli heroine, without bothering to go inside and experience the transformative effect of standing infront of Botticelli's incredible painting Venus & Mars....

    But more fool the LFW for not letting you in, as you were keen to explore, enquire and treat the event with the respect it deserves. Silly them to demand that only the most popular (and often most vacuous) bloggers be allowed in to the inner sanctum - but then isn't that so symbolic of the downside of the fashion world: its focus is only skin deep.

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    1. I really loved this comment and as a big fan of your blog I think you do achieve that expression of creativity so beautifully - I come away with every visit with a feeling of having been to Narnia through your wardrobe! You're right too that it's silly to get caught up in the popularity contest aspect of it - I try to avoid it but my rejected application really made me aware of how small this blog is - I should just accept and embrace that even if it means no London Fashion invites for the forseeable future. I find the whole popularity contest thing a waste of time and don't want to get dragged into it.
      Loved your similie of the National Gallery!

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  9. I had been reading the Menkes chronicles, and to me, its all about the trickle down effect. Bloggers are just part of the trickle down effect. Most of us dont get to wear whats on the runway, and try and imitate. If it wasnt for this "trickle down" effect, where would fashion be? I agree that many bloggers are self-obsessed. Fashion is subjective and it's self-indulgence just is part of it. All of this to me, is just part of the dynamics of the fashion world. My visual for this whole thing? Kim Basinger in Pret a Porter, at the end when she just gives up after the models come down the runway naked. lol. I think that says its all!

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    1. "If it wasn't for this "trickle down" effect, where would fashion be?"
      Indeed - ultimately fashion loves to bite the many hands that support and feed it.
      I'm going to have to look that movie up!

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  10. I think it's awesome that you got to attend fashion week in the past, but I know that doesn't make up for the fact that you don't think you will again. But I think you will! If you want something enough, you'll make it happen. As for the blogging world becoming an overcrowded competition... yeah, I've definitely thought about giving the whole thing up. In fact, I just posted about that very subject. But you have an awesome, unique blog, and no matter what happens you have plenty of friends and fans supporting you!

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    1. Thank you! That's the thing - I'm not sure if I want it badly enough to do the necessary work to get there - I have more important work offline to be doing most days! Sorry to hear you are thinking of quitting :(

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  11. Yeah Fashion Weeks are a bit different now, I used to have to go for work, which is very different than when I went as a blogger. Sad that everything is a numbers ranking game. But, nowadays everyone seems to have a blog and there is much competition. But, just blog for you regardless, that's what I do! :) I'm sure you will attend again in the future. xx/Madison

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    1. Thank you - I started blogging for me and intend to continue in the same vein - I think if it became a chore I'd stop entirely.

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  12. I have never been invited to any Fashion Weeks, but I'm not a big-time blogger either. There is a small handful of designers on my radar anyway. For me, the rest is noise. Or rather, recently, a circus, as Susy Menkes put it.
    I'm sorry to hear you weren't able to go! I guess once you've been you want to return. Well, there is always next time, right? :)

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    1. This is what I admire most about your style - your clarity around which designs and designers work for you and sticking to your guns. I need to learn to cut out more noise!

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