Renegade fashion enthusiasts gain access to the inner sanctum of the traditional fashion world. Sarah Clark reports.
You love fashion. You spend hours a day crouched over your laptop trawling the internet for the latest fashion news. Every morning you style yourself in a fashionably eccentric outfit and beg your friends to feature in fashion shoots. You photograph them on location in your backyard and stay up until 2am live-streaming the latest runway shows from gala global fashion events.
Then one day, fashion designer Marc Jacobs calls and invites you to his show; you’re asked to design a handbag for the luxury mega-brand Coach. You’re shooting the latest ad campaign for British fashion powerhouse Burberry; and you’re being featured on the pages of US Vogue.
This is the reality afforded a handful of citizen fashion journalists, or bloggers, who are taking the fashion world by storm and quickly making their way to the front line of fashion – and the front row.
Fashion journalist and blogger Patty Huntington, who has over 20 years experience in the fashion world, believes there is more than one category of blogger, and cites Scott Schuman, of The Sartorialist, and Garance Dore as two credible talents with years of industry experience are simply using the blogging medium to publish their work.
“Scott is not an amateur. He has spent 15 years in the industry and studied apparel merchandising at university,” she says, “and Garance Dore is a professional illustrator, that’s why she started blogging.”
In the other camp are the bedroom bloggers, two of the best known being Phillipino Bryan Boy and Southern Californian Rumi Neely, of Fashion Toast.
“Not everyone is a Bryan Boy or a Rumi Neely and I’m not saying it’s impossible to be that successful but they’re kind of exceptions,” Patty Huntington says.
“In Byron Boy’s case, he’s spent four or five years building up a huge following. Mark Jacobs named a handbag after him and invited him to his first New York fashion week.”
So if the industry agrees there are some bloggers, like Scott Schuman and Garance Dore, who have earned their stripes, what do they think about the bedroom bloggers?
Fashion designer and journalist Clare Press, formerly features director of Vogue Australia, believes that even if their journey has been unconventional, it doesn’t diminish their talent.
“You’ve got to remember that even if you are lacking conventional experience, the cream is still going to rise to the top. You’ve still got to be talented and amazing to get that front row access,” she says.
One of the big issues members of traditional media have with bloggers is that it seems anyone can get to the top without putting in years of hard work.
“The blogging phenomenon has lead to the opening up of the industry and certainly that has ruffled a few feathers in the fashion establishment. It’s undeniable that these people are now front row at the shows. The traditional ways of getting to the top are blurring and changing,” Clare Press says.
She also cites the speed at which bloggers are able to deliver information; they are able to scoop slower forms of publishing, such as monthly print titles.
“It’s a changing forum; the media is shifting and because of technology, there are new opportunities for people who understand how to harness it and get their voice out there,” she says.
“You used to have to wait for six months to see what was happening on the catwalk – now it’s instantaneous. It rattles people in the establishment. Certainly fusty 50-year-old editors want to dismiss it because they don’t understand it,” she says.
Fashion journalist Damien Woolnough, editor of vogue.com.au and gq.com.au, both of which have no integrated blog element, wrote a somewhat scathing article titled ‘Invasion of the digital dress dictators’ for The Australian newspaper last year which focused on activity outside the shows, rather than in them.
Mr Woolnough calls bloggers “the growing horde of Nikon-toting bottom feeders on the fashion food chain”.
“Now it’s impossible to walk into a show without having an unnaturally tall gentleman gouge his high heels into your Gucci boots as he pouts for the photographers with a glittery lip inspired by the Givenchy presentation,” he says.
He is referring to the way some bloggers dress like “fashion people” in an effort to draw attention to themselves and legitimise their credentials.
Mr Woolnough’s final sentence in his article reads, “In a simple black cashmere jumper, Moncler jacket, comfortable shoes and practical scarf, the likes of US Vogue stylist Grace Coddington or The New York Times’ fashion editor Cathy Horyn head to their seats and go about the real business of fashion journalism. For some people the show is still on the runway.”
He’s not the only one who feels this way. Eric Wilson, fashion reporter for the New York Times, tweeted a photo of Bryan Boy at New York Fashion Week last September wearing head to toe Givenchy leopard print with the caption, “This is what it takes to get front row at New York fashion week.”
Patty Huntington defended Byron Boy via Twitter following the attack, but even she acknowledges, “Everyone would love to have Bryan Boy’s profile, but how did he get it? Because he’s flamboyant.”
Kim Payne, a stylist for 26 years, says, “I don’t have any resentment for bloggers. I had to do the hard yards when I started, but it’s a different generation and it’s a different way of thinking. If they can be front row at the shows, I take my hat off to them. They wouldn’t get front row seats without someone thinking what they are doing is smart.”
She cites Scott Schuman as “The king of the blogs”. One of the original bloggers, he has been blogging since 2005 and was selected as one of Time magazine’s top 100 design influencers in 2007.
Based on the success of his street style blog, Scott Schuman has shot ad campaigns for DKNY jeans, SABA, Gap and Burberry – jobs once reserved for the world’s top photographers.
So why would a brand like Burberry chose a self-taught street style snapper to shoot an international campaign?
“I think what happens with photography for campaigns is everything suddenly becomes very similar, a lot of brands do exactly same thing at the same time,” Kim Payne says. “Schuman happened to be doing something that was quite street and quite different using real people. He changed the persona of those brands just enough to make it more viable to everybody.”
Clare Press agrees. “It’s a really interesting example of the corporate world recognising the power of what was previously thought of as underground media.”
The recent Coach Collectables campaign is another example of this. Launched in May last year, the leading American maker of luxury handbags invited four New York-based bloggers to design handbags, that were sold for up to $498 (USD), and built an integrated marketing campaign around the project.
According to Patty Huntington, “It’s a new form of public relations that involves personal interaction.”
While some of the biggest global brands have been flirting with the wide-reaching nature, immediacy and consumer connection of the online world, there are signs of a shift back to exclusivity.
Tom Ford, a trail-blazer in the fashion industry, invited only 100 people to his comeback show at New York Fashion Week in September. Aiming for exclusivity and intimacy rather than live-streaming immediacy, images of the collection will not be released until the clothes go on sale later this year.