On bloggers and the changing face of fashion week

New York Fashion Week is in full swing and London editors are gearing up for LFW which is three days away. With IMG and various New York designers rethinking their blogger strategy, the conversation continues to rage around the current and future role of fashion weeks and their associated ‘circus’.

I took part in a panel discussion on this very subject a couple of weeks ago with WGSN. We did it as a live Google Hangout and the panel also included Quynh Mai, founder of digital agency Moving Image & Content, WGSN’s senior arts editor Elle Hankinson, Fashionista’s editor-in-chief Lauren Indvik, and was hosted by WGSN’s senior digital media editor, Rachel Arthur.

Very unfortunately, I had some tech issues so my connection kept dropping during the Hangout, but I did manage to weigh it on a couple of points. As with all Google Hangouts, you can now watch the whole discussion on Youtube. You can see it above or on WGSN’s Youtube channel here.

While it’s ‘bloggers’ who get blamed for the circus of street style photographers clogging up show entrances, I was keen to make the point that actually, the people posing aren’t necessarily bloggers. Which begs the question, what is a blogger anyway? This catch-all term (which in many cases translates as ‘annoying fashion wannabe only in it for the fame and freebies’) doesn’t really define things adequately. As Lauren points out, a blog is just a digital platform, and like printed publications, there are endless different types and audiences.

I also feel that blogs have evolved so much so that the blog itself is only the anchor for a host of other more immediate content. Instagram and Twitter are just two types of micro-blogs that have a more instant connection to fashion audiences. As such, there’s a whole new type of influencer who might not even have a blog in the WordPress/Blogger sense, but who are regarded as bloggers with the same reach and reader engagement. I’d put certain fashion editors in this category (hello Caroline Issa and Eva Chen!) and these tastemakers now play a similar role as celebrities in regards to being courted by PRs and loved by consumers.

Why do bloggers need to be at Fashion Week anyway? Good question, why do they? The answer is, they don’t. Like fashion editors and journalists, all fashion bloggers don’t need to go to all the shows. Ten years ago (and I’ve been going to LFW for much longer than that!) fashion editors would block out LFW and go to back to back shows because that was the only way to see the collections and plan their pages. But now the fashion cycle is so much faster. We have live streaming, live tweeting, real-time catwalk imagery from Now Fashion and, my favourite app ever, the GPS Radar app, delivering show photography to my iPad seconds after the final exit. So I (and my colleagues) only really need to go to key shows. For me that’s the ‘important’ ones such as Christopher Kane and J W Anderson which set the tone for the season, or the smaller influential ones like Thomas Tait or Marques Almeida that I’m personally interested in. The big extravaganzas (that we don’t really have in London) aren’t much use for seeing the clothes. What you do see is the vision of the brand – its ‘statement of intent’ for the season. It’s a show, a spectacle and it’s what excites the consumers and gets them buying the perfume, lipstick, or entry-point items like keyrings and wallets. (Although am I the only one wondering if Nicolas Ghesquiere will strip all that right back for his Louis Vuitton debut?) The role of the press/bloggers/brand ambassadors at a mega-show like Chanel or Vuitton is to be their bitch… wear the clothes, pose for the paps, Instagram like crazy and get everyone excited. And let’s admit it, it works.

But the main reason for bloggers and most other Fashion Week goers is for networking, self-promotion and building relationships with brands. It’s well known that the likes of Anna Wintour and Franca Sozzani attend certain shows not because they need to see the collection (they can do that privately in the showroom), it’s to show support for the brands. And it’s the same for other editors and the most commercial brands. It’s an open secret that most editors find commercial shows like Burberry, Armani and Kors a bit of a chore. But those are big advertisers and if your bum isn’t on that seat, it will be noted. Likewise for bloggers, having worked with the DKNYs, the Coaches and the Tory Burches, it’s a bit of a snub to then say ‘actually I’m not so bothered about seeing your show’. Plus yes, I do believe some bloggers are paid to turn up to shows sporting the designer’s looks. If I’m not covering the shows for a publication or a brand, I’ve become much more strategic about the shows I go to. I’d rather go to a handful I’m really interested in and spend the rest of the time catching up with PRs and other work colleagues or checking out the exhibition stands and re-sees.

Re-sees are something you don’t hear much about. It’s more of a Paris thing and it’s where you see the product on rails in the showroom the day after the show. Sometimes there’s nibbles or a nice spread, but really you’re there to study the clothes, while buyers place their orders. It’s more about hard research than canapés and goody bags and so you don’t find the circus there. There’s no celebs, no street style paps and consequently, a lot of serious work gets done. For me it’s the real ‘insider’ part of fashion week. Like backstage, it’s the place where only the legitimate get access and consequently has an air of mystique. I almost wonder if the re-see will take over from the show as the important place for editors to understand the designer’s thought process, while the show is the real circus, entertaining the masses.

Elle Hankinson and Quynh Mai made pertinent points on the consequences of some NYFW designers shutting out bloggers. Quynh believes that brands who have been accessible to their fans should be wary of closing the door just because it’s fashionable right now as it could ultimately damage the rapport they have built with consumers. And Elle pointed out that one brand’s ‘riff raff’ is another’s target market. As Fashion Week’s parameters spread ever wider – it seems every season another high street brand joins the schedule – the shows aren’t just about luxury designers. So I’d say the real issue here is for the fashion councils to decide what (and who) Fashion Week is ultimately for. We’re in a transitional phase with one foot in ‘trade show’ and the other in ‘consumer spectacle’. Can it really be both? Or should the fashion councils define and decide who it’s for and tailor their guest lists and coverage accordingly?


[Image: T Magazine]