(Blogger's Note: A version of this Op-Ed was published on Business of Fashion's website)
Photo, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week
Last month, The Cut’s Allison P Davis put into words what many have been thinking for an internet eternity: Will keeping Fashion Bloggers on the other side of the velvet rope restore NYFW to its former, exclusive glory? The title of the article, which describes a utopian NYFW that’s just for real Fashion Insiders, explicitly suggests that removing Bloggers from the equation will be the solution to cleaning up Fashion Week.
This isn’t the first time that journalists and fashion insiders have cried
Wolf the “End of Fashion Week as We
Know it!”. Similar claims have been
2009, incidentally the year I started my blog, and a 2011 article by Ruth Le Ferla in The New
York Times cheekily quoted Oklahoma! to
punctuate her point that many designers believe fashion has “gone about as fer as it
could go.” Hard
for me to believe, since 2011 was when I first started receiving invites to
NYFW shows at the Lincoln Center.
It is, however, the first time a systematic clean-up involving corporate powers-that-be has been proposed.
In the article, Davis quotes IMG’s desires to “eliminate those attendees with only a ‘tenuous connection to the fashion industry’, because Lincoln Center ‘has been swarmed with fashion bloggers, street-style photographers and fashion fans … in addition to the hundreds of journalists and scores of celebrities.’ ”
“Blogger”: The word itself has become one of fashion’s dirtiest words, a catch-all axiom for superfluous clingers-on and fashion riffraff. But, why is the blame for the bi-annual chaos that has become Fashion Week - overstuffed shows, fashion peacocks, and Schuman-esque streetstyle spinoffs - falling unfairly on the knock-off McQueen shoulder pads of well-meaning Bloggers? Why are the designers and their PR teams (who often aggressively enlist us Bloggers to post about their clients) getting off so easy?
Designers, who claim to have lost the ability and opportunity to connect directly with buyers in the fray, have also starting raising the battle cry to limit the scope of the shows and trim some fat in the tents. It’s often the same designers, however, who are fueling the fire by paying celebrities to sit front row at their runway shows. Meanwhile, outside of the tents, they expend big bucks and manpower connecting with a young, web-savvy audience and effectively giving their brands a democratic voice. Oscar de la Renta, an early and vocal advocate of cutting back on excessive fashion shows, has one of the most celebrated - and followed - social media gurus on his payroll. OscarPRGirl’s sole public responsibility, it seems, is to garnish as many likes and retweets as possible while cultivating a loyal following of young, iPhone-bearing Instagram and Twitter users.
Some of the same designers that, while asserting that they are on board with a renewed effort to keep out the fashion riff-raff, fish for new young fashion fans via collaborations with high street outposts like H&M, Payless, and JC Penney. They claim to want to stay “exclusive”, while churning out towels and handbags for Target.
Not to mention, designers are the ones who invite Bloggers to the shows, to begin with! So why the continued effort by designers to connect with a massive, young audience via cheap, fast fashion collaborations and an engaging presence on the internet, a tool that in and of itself promotes lightning-fast transmission of essentially disposable information? They are ultimately unwilling to claim ownership or responsibility for the resulting circus when their marketing plan works so well that fans feel a strong connection with the brand, and a craving for the instant gratification and excitement that the fashion show circus provides.
Designers, and their newfound advocate IMG Fashion, site the reason for scaling back is that the veritable zoo caused by us “Bloggers” has become too costly. In true “You can’t sit with us in the cafeteria” style, IMG aims to “eliminate those attendees with only a ‘tenuous connection to the fashion industry’” and give back NYFW to “true fashion insiders”.
But why are Bloggers immediately seen as the most disposable part of the industry, and the first to be booted from the tents? In reality, we’re a crucial piece of the fashion industry. We’re some of the hardest working - and most underpaid in an industry where unpaid internships are considered a major career milestone - writers, photographers and critics, and have just as much (or more) power to generate interest and drive sales as editors.
Photo via Company Magazine
“Fashion Week is supposed to be about the buyers, the sales!” cry the designers and their investors, and of course, the buyers themselves, now relegated to second row seats behind Tavi’s hat or Bryan Boy’s ego.
Buyers - You want to know what will sell, before shelling out the dough on an order? Check Instagram.
Sure, Bloggers and fashion clingers-on elbowing their way into shows and eating all the free granola bars and lukewarm Frappuccinos in the lobby can be irritating. But, Bloggers are essentially mouthpieces, complete with a media platform and followers, for a large swatch of the buying public, furiously tweeting images of their favorite looks IRT as they are traipsing down the runway and claiming this skirt or that sweater is an absolute must-have. It seems the number one frustration of buyers is the lack of a crystal ball to see what will sell and minimize loss. Well here’s your crystal ball - Bloggers and Social Media.
If buyers would harness the power of the Bloggers and their social media in an intelligent way to identify their target clientele and then assess which runway looks they posted, liked, or re-grammed, wouldn’t that take the guess work out of buying?
But, Davis predicts, the “influential print editors” using Instagram will wipe out the need for Bloggers. The way I see it, Bloggers are Fashion Outsiders, but that’s what makes us a trustworthy voice; your stylish best friend who tells it like it is. Our Outsider status is what gives us a birds-eye view of the industry at large. We’re not caught up in the delicate politics, diplomacy, and more than occasional cattiness. As free agents, we’re influenced by and weave our voices from a variety of magazines, icons, websites, and other Bloggers, where editors can tend to be motivated by influential friends in the industry or loyalty to advertisers. Unlike models on the pages of magazines, we don’t appear on our blogs photoshopped or wearing outfits worth thousands of dollars. Bloggers are real men and women, with real bodies, and real budgets.
Here’s another reality check: Most of the time, I’ve gotten much farther with my blogger credentials than with my press credentials. I’ve gotten in the door, or have gotten better seats or better gift bags, invites to fashion shows, parties, appearances, and ballets than my magazine colleagues. I’ve also had access to product pulls and shoots in hotels, restaurant openings and dinners that I never did as a writer for several print and web outlets.
[I’m not naïve. I credit this good fortune to the fact that, thanks to more lax ethics for bloggers as non-journalists in the traditional sense, there is somewhat of an unspoken expectation of an unconditionally rave review, complete with product links.
While the temptation to just go all Fan Girl are overwhelming (it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of connecting directly with a brand), and although we aren’t governed by as many rules regarding biases, freebies, and integrity as traditional journalists, bloggers self-police themselves and most of us really strive to just be truthful. Lots of my colleagues and I have and do turn down offers if we feel it doesn’t reflect the spirits of our blogs or speak to our readership. Then again, some don’t. That’s another article, n’est pas?]
Model Maria Davis at what is unrecognizably a fashion show in the 1940's. Photo via Memory Store.
An underlying theme of all the articles relating to the long, slow, and well-documented demise of Fashion Week is this utopian idea of returning The Fashion Show to its former intimate, hour-long and narrated glory.
But at the end of the day, fashion has changed, times have changed, and the way people shop, socialize and dress has changed. Not to mention, models have changed, the role of designer has changed. Heck, the internet didn't even exist back when the House of Dior sent models down a runway slowly striding and sashaying for socialites. Why the sudden desire to return to a past that was a cushy affair designed to entertain ladies who lunch and buyers - and not much else? How about embracing the age of the Internet and using us bloggers - yes, USE US! - as the new mouthpiece for the buying (read: $$) public.
Instead of banning Bloggers from the tents and flailing around for the Fashion Week of yesteryear, designers, and IMG, should embrace the Age of the Internet and use us Bloggers - yes, USE US! - for our earnestness, our realness, and our connection with and to the buying public. The fact is, Bloggers -Fashion’s resident Outsiders - have a lot to bring to the table.
Plus, the show must go on. So what’s a few more?