What The Independent Article Didn’t Tell Us

Tavi Gevinson's Bow at Dior Couture | Source: Twitpic by SteffiSchuetze

Tavi Gevinson's Bow at Dior Couture | Source: Twitpic by SteffiSchuetze

LONDON, United Kingdom — A veritable firestorm erupted across fashion blogs and twitter streams this week in response to an article that appeared in London’s Independent newspaper over the weekend, highlighting Tavi Gevinson’s front row presence at the Haute Couture shows in Paris.

In a piece entitled “Fluff flies as fashion writers pick a cat fight with bloggers,” The Independent reported that “senior fashion insiders believe blogs have turned into little more than mouthpieces for fashion brands, which are increasingly using bloggers to regurgitate their press releases.”

As those controversial words rippled through the blogosphere and twittersphere, the protest and outrage came from all quarters of the fashion blogging fraternity and sorority. And, while we at the BoF were hesitant to take the bait and join the fray — the whole ‘editors versus bloggers’ story is becoming tired — it would be even worse for us to remain silent. Indeed, the Independent article raises very important issues which merit further discussion and debate, and perhaps, a more balanced perspective on this so-called “backlash” against bloggers.

In fact, this is exactly what I said when I was contacted for quotes on the Independent piece — quotes which were ultimately not used. As it turns out, several other bloggers were also asked to comment, including Susie Bubble and Helene of The Luxe Chronicles, but none of their quotes were used either. In fact, not one blogger was directly quoted to provide comment on the other side of the story. The result is an article that comes across as very black and white, on an issue that actually has many shades of grey. We are only at the very beginning of the digital revolution that is sweeping across the fashion industry. And so, to only show one side of the story does readers, and the industry as a whole, a disservice.

In the spirit of adding to the dialogue and providing a more balanced perspective, here’s some food for thought.

First, most bloggers worth their salt operate with integrity and professional values. This is not to say that bloggers are beyond reproach. There are always some bad apples in the bunch, in this case, those bloggers who accept products in exchange for positive coverage or special treatment. However, smart bloggers recognise that if they lose their independence, they will quickly lose the trust of their audiences. Simply being a mouthpiece is a short-term strategy.

So Who Isn't Bought? | Source: Bryanboy

So Who Isn't Bought? | Source: Bryanboy

Second, for editors from the mainstream media to hold bloggers to a different standard than that to which they hold themselves, is hypocritical. As one fashion insider told me, more than ever, major fashion editors are putting advertisers front and centre in their fashion editorial, giving smaller independent brands a miss.

“By and large, the way that bloggers respond to brands still results in content that isn’t unlike a traditional advertorial or ‘bought copy’ seen in magazines,” said Susie Bubble, author of one of the world’s most widely read fashion blogs, to the Independent, in quotes that she kindly shared with me but weren’t used in the piece.

“It is up to the blogger how they handle it and how they portray themselves.  They are accountable to their readers and if they choose to do something that strikes [readers] as being biased or ‘bought by brands,’ then they have to suffer the consequences,” she concluded.

This is more important than ever before. Now that brands have cottoned on to the influence that bloggers have, they are doing everything to seduce them and win their approval.

In theory, there is nothing wrong with bloggers building relationships with brands and gaining special access. But, if these relationships become so cozy that bloggers stop saying what they really think, they risk losing the audiences that have grown to love them. The trick for bloggers, therefore, is to maintain healthy relationships with the brands, while also staying true to their audiences — it’s a fine balance.

Finally, we must all be aware that the tensions we’re seeing simply reflect the growing pains of a new medium that’s only just finding its way. As Vikram Alexei Kansara, Managing Editor of BoF said, “Like them or not, bloggers are here to stay and should be recognised as the powerful and significant ‘Fifth Estate’ that they are. Today we are at a moment that’s not unlike the invention of the Gutenberg press. It took hundreds of years for print media to evolve beyond biased pamphleteering, so why should they expect blogging to mature over night? If anything, I would argue that blogging is maturing much faster than print ever did!”

For her part, Susie Mesure, the author of the controversial article, said “the story ended up being much shorter than initially envisaged so I couldn’t use all the comments. Writing in a paper is not like writing online as I am constrained by the word limit set by my editor. I would have liked to use all the comments I received as they were very interesting. Hopefully I may yet get the chance.”

Indeed, all of the bloggers I spoke to said that their conversations with Ms. Mesure were pleasant and interesting. Even though she may have had an preconceived agenda in mind, she was asking all the right questions. It’s just too bad she wasn’t able to share the answers.

In the end, as Helene Le Blanc of Luxe Chronicles said, “it would be a far more productive debate if, rather than sniping at bloggers such as Tavi, journalists and editors actually engaged bloggers in a genuine dialogue about the state of the industry and the ways in which social media can make fashion a more participative industry.”

Hopefully now the mainstream media will turn its focus to discussing and analysing what bloggers are saying, instead of perpetuating the unconstructive ‘us versus them’ tension. Indeed, contrary to what the article may have indicated, Ms. Mesure is  “a big fan of blogs – fashion blogs and otherwise,” she says.  “I do however think there is a danger with readers assuming bloggers are independent when there is so much ‘gifting’ and ‘seeding’ going on, which was really the main point I wanted to make.”

Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion

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25 comments

  1. Tavi who?

    anonymous from Los Angeles, CA, United States
  2. it’s a shame that ms. mesure doesn’t have a blog in which she could self-published that version of the story she rly wanted to write. or at the v. least, post the quotes in a blog entry entitled ‘hey, stuff that was said for my independent piece that wasn’t incl because of my editor’s word limit’. whatever cuts it in print doesn’t necessarily do the same online. (so lucky for her that you used your platform to do this!)

    a v. good point is made here by @susiebubble — mags’ ‘bought copy’ are usually reserved for the big brands, which inevitably leaves behind the emerging designers. if bloggers’ coverage is being ‘gifted’ and ‘seeded’ by the very same emerging designers, then what’s so unfair about that? online fashion trends move at a diff pace than the offline. the reality is, if you click through the visual inspirations found on fash micro-blogs, you’ll usually get a good sense of what the print editorials will be focusing upon in the next 4-6 months (and some of those creatives are leaking real-time deets themselves — see terry richardson’s tumblr and nicola formichetti’s blogspot). i don’t know about you, but i like getting trailer versions of the print spreads i see in the near future (or who designed lady gaga’s stunna shades during the grammy’s).

    & re: the ‘us vs. them’ tensions that continue to perpetuate — there’s still this you know, ’13 y/o, o rly?’ type of attitude there. obv, the real conversation to be had is not how this 13 y/o is ur new ingenue pin-up of the outfit bloggers, but rather representative of the online fash subcultures and niches (read: ‘ecosystem’). i still haven’t seen any thorough examination from the msm perspective of how say, trends happen within online fash community formations and social networks. but i haven’t seen that thoroughly explored either on the online. if maybe that was taken on, there would be at least a better understanding of how fashion moves. but that sort of endeavor is a bit heavier to take on, and quite contrary to your typical fashion show seat hierarchy.

  3. Imran, I’m happy you’ve joined this conversation. I personally believe independent bloggers and fashion journalists can and must coexist. It’s further evidence that the barriers are crumbling between the ivory elite and the mass class — who, thanks to low-cost digital technology, can now hang on the words of Alexander McQueen, even though they may never be able to hang one of his coats in their closets; engage with Burberry on The Art of the Trench, even when their bank accounts are in the trenches; and publish thoughtful, provocative magazines using digital cameras and customizable blogging platforms, as you and Susie and Tavi and many others have done so well.

    The rise of blogging is also a boon for the fashion industry, which more people care about and have access to today than ever before, even though we Suave-washed masses have less money to spend on fashion than either the industry or we, ourselves, would care to admit. Yet, thanks in large part to bloggers, thousands of fashion worshipers can be in the front rows. Today the rock stars of fashion are *just* within reach, and that makes fashion all the more valuable to average people like me.

    However, I do have to wonder one thing: While Tavi is certainly talented and sophisticated beyond her years (and I truly do relish her perspective), has anyone in the industry considered whether all of this exposure is good for Tavi, or are they only focused on the fact that she is good exposure for their brands? Furthermore, why are people more concerned about Tavi’s ubiquity than about her safety and sanity amidst a machine that may very well chew her up and spit her out next season?

    KS from El Cerrito, CA, United States
  4. This was the most widely discussed topic and thats exactly what the fashion houses wanted, maximum publicity for their house, though the strategy employed might not always be an intelligent one!!

    The blogosphere is awash with plenty of opinions and a fashion blogger (http://fashionfifthavenue.blogspot.com/2010/02/dont-be-angry.html) even went as far as to say that even Tavi coloring her hair was a deliberate move orchestrated by the fashion houses!!Interesting perspective!

    Patricia from Madras, Tamil Nādu, India
  5. Having worked as a fashion PR for many years i think it’s important to note that the fashion press have been schmoozed and gifted forever in exchange for editorial – this is how things have always worked, stylists and writers will brand check in exchange for various favours from brand PRs. As a 17 year old student doing a placement month in paris I remember wrapping hundreds of Ralph Lauren bags which were editor gifts!

    It happens less now but in luxury print the advertisers are king and those super brands are in a position now to ask for editorial as part of the ad deals and they do. Thankfully the young cutting edge brands get into print purely on talent still but for how long?

    The bloggers are a voice of unbiassed opinion which we consumers love – a voice also for many brands that are not advertisers and find it hard to get a look in print media, there is nothing wrong with them being treated similarly by the fashion houses and it was always going to happen with the power they have and volume of readers – the brands are right to try and woo them, perhaps it gives them the status they deserve but as a consumer we still need the honesty from them.

    Is they a way we can have both? Would we rather hear (from a blogger or in print)’I received this product by a brand / was flown over to see this show etc etc, here are my thoughts’ on a product or collection.

    IA from London, London, United Kingdom
  6. 1. Due to the ‘half-life’ of trends in the fashion industry in all probability no-one will be talking about Tavi in 18 months time.
    2. Magazines are contractually obliged to provide editorial for major fashion advertisers.
    3. Shown me a mainstream fashion magazine editorial criticising an advertisers collection.
    4. Isn’t this all about a 13 year old being a row in front of a career journalist at a major fashion show?

    Stuart Newman from United Kingdom
  7. I guess we should consider the aspect that bloggers are independent individuals, and they can do whatever they want (as long as it’s legal, of course). Who will determine if the blogger’s tactics will work or not are their readers – they are also free individuals, and can or cannot support their preferred blogger’s manners.

    I’ve been noticing recently that bloggers, despite their audiences, are trying tho find their ways through some profit, and it seems difficult to find a proper way. But some of them have found a way: they are using their blogs as showcases for their fashion and communication skills – and THIS assets, their skills, can be sold to brands that need to learn how to speek through the internet to their publics.

    And, as we are talking about Tavi, in my opinion that’s not the case at all. The brands that had this gremlin on the frontrow are certainly very regretful now: they wanted the potencial coverage of having the little 10-thousand-reader-a-day-freak on their shows, and now are dealing with a gigantic and ridiculous purple bow on the mainstream fashion headlines.

  8. Being age-ist is as bad as being racist or sexist. Just because she’s too smart for her own age doesn’t justify her being called gremlin or freak.
    The contretemps only shows how desperately bankrupt the fashion industry has become of ideas: nothing about the clothes that will fire the headlines or bottom line, but plenty of heat about a wise little owl with an over-sized head ornament.
    Morally reprehensible, too: exploiting an adolescent to get some buzz about some lousy threads. Tavi is good, but give her some space to dream and grow up.

    cicero from Sekudai, Johor, Malaysia
  9. Dear Cicero, is not a question of age-ism, as you pointed. And, by the way, that’s nothing to do with blog-ism either: It’s just a wise little owl with an over-sized head ornament as the center of a discussions that will never come across intelligence, journalism, media or ethics; when we talk about Tavi, Cicero, we’re are just talking about the vain freakshow performed (and cherished) by the international fashion business. And, as I have written before, we are all individiduals – and we can dress, write blogs, read blogs, dye our hair white, have our dreams, our opinions and our discussions. And we – Tavi included – will never grow up if we don’t have a critical vision over all this aspects. Best wishes, AF

  10. I just posted a lengthy Q&A with Tavi, in which I think her unique personality really shines through (there’s also a concise timeline for anyone not familiar with her trajectory from unknown Chicago blogger to international media phenom).

    http://thefashioninformer.typepad.com/informer/2010/02/random-questions-fortavi-g-.html

    Personally, I think all the Tavi haters need to cease and desist with the mean-spirited blah blah (which as a rule seems to be self-righteous judgment masquerading as caring concern) and just let the girl do what she does, which is bring a smart, outside-the-box point of view to fashion coverage.

    And frankly, I don’t recall anyone ever complaining this loudly or publicly about the outlandish headgear worn by front row denizens Anna Piaggi or the late, great Isabella Blow and their ilk. To which I say: Stuff a sock in it and go pick on someone your own size!

  11. This is a brilliant post, as are the comments. An intelligent, beautifully written piece on an important subject. And I agree with all the comments – as diverse as they are.

    It all seems to come down to one little thing, I feel – and no, it’s not Tavi. It’s that old Green Eyed Monster.

  12. I don’t remember anything near this firestorm when celebrities who don’t really have much interest or anything to contribute to fashion, are placed in the front row at major shows. I mean, I’m not in the field, but w/r/t Tavi, here’s a creative and interesting person, who some designers like – what’s the problem? I guess I’m naive because I always thought the cattiness in fashion was reserved for editors, stylists, professionals, I never thought it’d be directed at a young girl with no attitude who’s not trying to look like a runway model.

    alindc from Washington, DC, United States
  13. I think that it is so sad that these kids who simply love fashion, and telling people about it, have to be put down for doing something they love. Something that, really, a lot of us love as well. I enjoy reading Tavi’s blogs moreso than reading an article in a popular fashion magazine. Why? Because she’s a kid who is so far ahead of so many people creativity-wise, and she isn’t ashamed of it. I think she’s great, and if I have a daughter sometime in the future, I’d love it if she were like that Tavi.
    Also the pot calling the kettle black picture – so true.

    Natasha from United States
  14. When will the world finally stop judging people, not for what they are, or for what they look like, but for what they do?

    It’s interesting that her first public supporters were Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte. These incredibly talented – and reclusive – designers genuinely connected with Tavi’s magical – and unaffected – viewpoint. The Mulleavy sisters nurture their imagination within a creative bubble – far away from the hype of the NY scene – but they let Tavi into their world, to hang out in their studio – she had made them a scrapbook and they swapped sentimental gifts. My point? Tavi is genuinely inspirational . But I agree she is a child, and her parents should keep their eyes wide open to how the world likes to turn people into celebrities -only to then try and pick fault with them.

    If it hadn’t have been for POP and Love featuring Tavi last season, her profile would not be what it currently is. So, without printed media, would she even find herself in this position?

    Dying your hair grey, whacking a cartoonish bow in your hair, and sitting front row at Paris Couture, is fine if you a fashion thoroughbred – like Anna Piaggi – but when you are vulnerable to attack from vying eyes who doubt your credibility as a fashion commentator, it’s best to keep a ‘low pro’. The traditional crowd will only revel in the confirmation, that you are indeed, just a novelty.

  15. I think they are doing a hell in a saucepan. Let’s be clear, we in view of new technology in such a view is full of young people, who are the future of it. If publishers are annoyed with Blogger, rather by the blog Tavi, because that is the contraversia, then try to give a 360 degree approach to the fashion industry. The school today, educating children to have more independence, their education is more daring and therefore children are facing as tavi, that one day he dared, for fun, make a small blog on Blog with all its large letters. Live and let live. Ursula Wenzl

  16. Tavi has incredible courage and style. She stands out whilst the rest of us blend in. Shes a true inspiration and is fantastic. Who has the right to critisize her?

    Helen from Hartlepool, Hartlepool, United Kingdom
  17. I do have a slight feeling that the video interview with Suzy Menkes and her comment on seeding might have had an influence on this discussion. Maybe some journalists felt inspired through this and the ridiculous hat discussion to let go a new dismissal of bloggers. And still I have to say and totally agree with you – magazines are way more involved in corruption than bloggers (maybe this will change, though). And I found it very interesting how the magazine editors reacted on the panel we did at Premium exhibitions, when I brought up the word “corruption”, which in the end it is when you think about the relations between pr-companies and fashion houses.

  18. p.s. Hope you don’t mind but I used this post as inspiration on my own post (nudes: http://streetstylelondon.blogspot.com/2010/02/nudes.html ) giving me an opportunity to ask other bloggers, can they be bought and at what price? Got some interesting comments & it all comes down to the same thing – which seems to be a blogger mantra: it’s all about integrity, full disclosure. (‘as long as you’re honest about it’) Which the print media – esp in fashion – has long lost sight of.

    I can remember working freelance at magazines years ago, the perks are the whole point for the girls on staff. And my husband, as publisher (Esquire UK) saw it all the time, he just didn’t buy into it.

    That’s the thing about ‘corruption’, in any area, politics, public institutions, whatever: when people are in the center of it, it starts seeming normal. It’s human nature: you just kind of justify it (‘they’re paying me so little anyway’, ‘everyone’s doing it’). They don’t think they’re biased, they just think it’s part of the job.

    Oh! You must have seen, but in case you haven’t : Tavi, the brilliant center of the storm, was talking about your post, too: http://tavi-thenewgirlintown.blogspot.com/2010/02/blowing-every-time-you-move-your-teeth.html

  19. stylebubble is just a tacky press release bin.

    anouck from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  20. I’m neither a blogger nor a journalist but I have one question for bloggers (who in my opinion are acting like the victimized): why don’t you get together and do something about the worms (in other words the bad eggs) that are polluting your world? A code of conduct for bloggers won’t hurt and could be more useful than whining.

    And to the fashion journalists (who in my opinion are fighting a lost battle with the social media): why don’t you master the tricks of the social media and use them to demonstrate your credibility, if you’re so certain that credibility is indeed in your camp?

    And please both bloggers and jornalists, try to give we, your readers something worthy to read, thank you.

    Chloé from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  21. I’ve read a couple of articles about this debate and I must say, this is the best I’ve read so far. I’m sure bloggers will be grateful for this post. Nice work. x

  22. The most fashion person I know in my world does not have a degree in Journalism, English, fashion design, fashion merchandising or has ever had a career in any of those fields. But, If this woman were to start about her point of view of fashion and how she wears her clothes everyday… I would be the first to check it out! Fashion has nothing and everything to do about the people who enjoy making the best of what we live in everyday. It doesn’t matter who tells the story for me. All that matters is that someone cares enough about fashion to write about it. Editors or Blogger! Its all about fashion and nothing else!

  23. I think the rise of the blogger serves a purpose for the traditional fashion press: it fills a “cult of personality” vacuum. I remember being amazed at how editors like Suzy Menkes or Hilary Alexander, Robin Givhan etc would be resolutely ignored by the mass of photographers outside Paris Fashion Week show venues while complete unknowns in the “right” outfit would spark a stampede. As one TV crew remarked to me “I don’t care who they are, I only care who they’re wearing.” People do not want to dress like any of the major editors, even Anna Wintour. They may be iconic but they are not inspiring and magazines do not generally want to run photos of journalists from rival publications. Hence the bloggers. They “live” fashion in a way most editors don’t and are almost like street style photo subjects who can also provide an insightful soundbyte. In this post-Sartorialist age, if you’re not getting your photo taken by a baying mob of photographers, you’re not a fashion editor worth bothering about. Carine Roitfeld is probably the only exciting editor-in-chief right now – and that’s reflected in Vogue Paris’s sales figures.

    Caricouture from Galway, Galway, Ireland
  24. Last time I checked a person who does their own personal style and does background research on what they are writing about deserves the same respect as someone who being paid for it. There is nothing more special than someone who is willing to spend countless hours writing about fashion and not be paid for it. I am a Fashionista who gives respect to any lover of fashion. Why? Not all ” Fashionistas” get to sit front row of a show during fashion week. When a 13 year old has the opportunity to live the dreams of another individual in their 40’s who worked their way to being heard we have to celebrate it. She was discovered for her love of fashion and nothing more. I am of many persons who would love that opportunity but will celebrate the “impossible”. The question of this very topic has shown us that the world of fashion critiques has changed because of this beautiful age of technology. My favorite writers are people from all walks of life because of the new blogger age. I am an African- American woman from Connecticut who once felt as though her dreams of being understood as a fashionista were millions of mile away. I have been proven wrong! This very topic has left me to ask a scary question, “Does the fashion industry want only the Status Quo”? I doubt it! Writers are not followers because they raise the questions that start important conversations. Conversations lead to change. Business of Fashion raised a great question that should have been asked if you do not agree with it or not. Bloggers and Editors are the same! The only difference is most bloggers are not paid. Either way, we are still writers! – dyanitisdol.blogspot.com