In the domain of fashion reporting, the blogger is king. This largely has something to do with our amplified dependence on instantaneous content consumption. Fashion brands and designers may use social media to boost popularity and sales, but it’s the star-power of influential bloggers that helps them reach a wider market of fashion devotees. And that includes consumers who wouldn’t have considered them in the past. Interesting outcome from a platform that used to be scoffed at as the equivalent of gutter press.
According to research commissioned by the Crossmedialab in the Netherlands, it wasn’t until 2004 that the word ‘blog’ received the honour of being named ‘word of the year’ by Merriam-Webster dictionary. And it still took a couple of years after that to cease being described as the superfluous, clingy rabble of the fashion world. Guess who had the last laugh? Definitely not the English editor-in-chief of American Vogue, Anna Wintour,who now shares the front row with some of these bloggers. While the world of journalism may scoff at these untrained writers, their presence has become undeniable. Style and fashion bloggers have garnered such an impressive social media presence that they can and have influenced content in fashion oriented magazines, newspapers and websites. They’ve even captured the imagination of photographers and PR offices to be the face of brand campaigns.
Before we go any further, a little clarity on the difference between personal styling blogs and a fashion blogger is needed. Fashion editor of O – The Oprah Magazine – Robyn Cooke explained in her styleguidecapetown blog that whereas the former is a legitimately popular “online fashion diary,” the latter offers fashion commentary, news and well-constructed arguments or criticism.
Fashion bloggers use their platforms to add their voice to the fashion industry. A voice that may have never been heard in this elite industry, had it not been for the blog-platform. You can find some of the voices of the Kenyan Stylist scene here.
*Although it must be brought to your attention that most of the popular Kenyan fashion bloggers actually fall under the ‘personal style’ category.
The Blogger/Designer Relationship
When someone is willing to give you ‘real talk’, you’re inclined to listen. It may bruise the ego but it’s also an opportunity for designers to get transparent feedback on how their collection was received. Be honest, when was the last time you read candid feedback about a designers collection in any of the local lifestyle magazines or Saturday newspaper pull-outs? Truth be told we have some amazing talent and inspiration here worth stealing (read cultural appropriation) but everyone has an off day/season/ collection, right? The media and fashion community here is so close-knit that it’s caught up in delicate diplomacy, politics and networking of the industry. One bad word could get you out of the loop. No more fancy invites of champagnes and chocolates for you.
That is where blogging is meant to come in. It’s meant to cut through the sensationalisation and act as arbiter between designer and consumer. They are viewed as a friend – super chic one at that – that uses ‘word of mouth’ to inform audiences. Unlike a commercial voice, the blogger is perceived as trustworthy because their opinions are perceived to be unaffiliated to the designer. In this game, credibility is power.
It’s meant to cut through the sensationalisation and act as arbiter between designer and consumer.
Instead of delivering what they think the public wants, they appear to just be themselves. The most successful of the blogging-breed don the editor’s hat and wade through the sea of collections to bring what truly makes the cut. They also take on the role of stylist and model armed with professional photos to offer some visual inspiration. And it’s all tied up in a part reality-star bow where the consumer can put a name to the face. Readers can also get a glimpse into the blogger’s glamorous life. Whether it’s their fairy tale proposal from their boyfriend that included helicopters and spectacular views, or a simple picture of their shoes. It really does have their fan base hanging onto their every recommendation; double tap, retweet et al.
Therefore the smart move for any designer is to get cosy with influential bloggers and position them in their front rows, send them clothes to wear to fashion shows or events, make them brand ambassadors, among other freebies. Designers view them as supportive elements in the already existing marketing campaign to increase their online presence and sales. That said, the impact isn’t always the uplifting kind they hope to receive. That’s the thing about objectivity. A creative tweet could make a dress fly off the racks or that same dress could go viral for being an unfashionable abomination.
So why doesn’t everyone embrace the fashion blogger?
To answer that question, we’ll quote the fashion editor for The Washington Post Robin Givhan, whose criticism made her the first fashion writer to win the Pulitzer Prize. In an interview with Toronto Star, Givhan claims that the current breed of bloggers are stuck in the ‘I loved/Hated it’ phase. They lack the suitable acumen and knowledge to critique designer collections and show presentation.
Another pitfall is that there isn’t much criticizing going on. How bloggers praised Kanye West’s SS16 collection without even highlighting that it was very similar to his first collection is proof of that. Well, except for American fashion journalist Cathy Horyn… she really didn’t hold back what she thought about the collection:
“This second round of drab, broken-down basics proved he can’t be taken seriously as a designer, but nevertheless many people in fashion do seem to take West seriously — they keep showing up expectantly for his performances — and that makes them fools. Because they wouldn’t bother with this stuff if it were offered by an unknown, and if it’s the spectacle they seek, it changes as little as the clothes.” – Cathy Horyn
Perhaps they only choose to feature what they consider great but Givhan questions how untainted their opinions are. Could the free clothes, trips and endorsement campaign opportunities be compromising the fashion-criticism integrity?
Now that’s not to say all bloggers aren’t following the ethics of journalism. There are some who do their homework and provide an objective outlook. Most importantly they disclose that they did receive gifts, advertising or endorsement deals from said designer to gush about a certain piece or collection.
The reality is that bloggers are vital to the fashion ecosystem. And with social media allowing anyone and everyone to share their opinions, it will be writing prowess, personality and ethical conduct that will define the relevant commentators. Those who aren’t afraid to criticise and answer the tough questions truthfully, such as, is the collection unique, well crafted, fairly priced considering the production quality and how well positioned it is for the market? Bloggers’ pages are entertaining to look at and easy to read, but in between the latest trends, they should critically look at the fashion industry for a clearer picture on what’s really happening in the fashion world. Perhaps to even push it to be better.