NEW YORK, United States — In April of 2010, Leandra Medine, then a 21-year-old journalism student living with her parents on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, launched a blog with a novel and quirky concept: The Man Repeller.
“It’s about trends that women love and men hate,” the gregarious Medine tells BoF. “I was with a close friend of mine, Rachel [Strugatz],” she says, recalling the lightbulb moment that still makes her laugh. “Man repelling was something that we had already uncovered and been talking about. We’d go to Topshop and I’d try something on and she’d be like, ’That’s really man repelling,’ and I’d be like, ‘I know, it’s great.’ That day, I thought, ‘This is a brilliant blog idea.’”
But this was two to three years after figures like Scott Schuman (“The Sartorialist”), Susie Bubble, Bryanboy and Tommy Ton seemed to have already laid claim to the upper echelons of the fashion blogosphere. How was Medine able to breakthrough and establish her own successful business?
First of all, she is very funny. And perhaps what differentiates The Man Repeller most is the way Medine marries impeccable high fashion aesthetics with a comedic approach that can literally make you laugh out loud. “I think what’s so interesting for people is that I don’t take it so seriously and yet I am still immersed in the [fashion] industry,” she says.
But behind her natural goofiness is the more serious side of a very smart and savvy young woman. While many of the influential fashion bloggers who came before her started their sites as purely personal side projects, Medine was more strategic in her approach, identifying a compelling concept before bringing it to life. Indeed, the success of other fashion bloggers provided something of a ‘proof of concept’ for Medine and underlined the importance of having a distinctive point of view.
But a great concept was only the first step. “Man Repeller as a concept was the door,” says Medine. “But it’s what I’ve done with the site that has enabled me to walk through that door. Execution is almost everything.”
Featuring self-portraits of Medine wearing the kind of edgy and eccentric pieces that risk repelling the average man, as well as plenty of images of similarly challenging and “unsexy” items, including “sweet lime green drop crotch utility pants” and “jewelry that resembles violent weaponry,” The Man Repeller was mentioned on popular fashion site Refinery29, where Medine had friends, just three days after launch, helping to drive immediate awareness and traffic.
Today, just over two years since launch, the site clocks over 2.6 million pageviews a month, according to statistics provided by Medine, and the concept of “man repelling” has entered the fashion vernacular, as has “arm party,” a term coined by Medine to describe her habit of stacking her forearms with numerous bracelets.
Medine has also managed to turn her blogging into a significant business. Recapping her various revenue streams, she says: “I have a storefront but that generates no more than 10 percent. Ads must be 30 percent. Collaborations bring in 60 percent.”
Indeed, it’s her unabashed pursuit of brand partnerships that constitute by far the most important part of Medine’s business strategy. “I am probably more monetisable than the actual site,” explains Medine, who brims with natural enthusiasm and has been paid to write, style and model for a number of brands and retailers. In the last few months alone, Medine has styled store windows for Maje, worked with Michael Kors on a video to help launch the brand’s new Madison Avenue lifestyle store, curated personalised “arm parties” for jewelry etailer BaubleBar, hosted a shopping soirée for Stuart Weitzman and modeled live in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue.
“We have an ongoing collaboration with Leandra called Mr Dannijo. Each season we create a playful statement collection,” says Danielle Snyder, co-founder of eclectic New York-based jewelry line Dannijo. As part of the partnership, for which Medine is paid a commission on each piece sold, she blogs about the collection and stars in a seasonal launch video. According to Snyder, the results have been impressive. “The collaboration has boosted sales and increased our web traffic.”
Medine has also tried her hand at designing. Last year, she worked with Aimee Cho of outerwear label Gryphon to create a navy trench coat with black leather sleeves and a gold leaf camouflage print for which she was paid a commission on each sale. It sold out on Shopbop within a few hours, boosted by a post on The Man Repeller that featured Medine wearing the coat and urged readers to buy. In the comments below the post, her loyal community of ‘man repellers’ responded enthusiastically, almost without exception.
Medine has also scored a book deal. Set to be published in September 2013 by Grand Central Publishing, the book is a collection of semi-autobiographical essays that each link a specific outfit to a key life moment. “It’s based on the notion that the female memory is so driven by fashion,” she explains. “I can tell you exactly what I was wearing when I met my husband, when he first broke up with me, when we got back together.”
And as a sign of the power of her brand, six months ago, Medine signed with top entertainment-industry talent agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to help her capitalise on the opportunities that blogging has brought. “I think they are great at representing individuals and they know how to execute. We have the ideas, we just need an execution plan and that’s where they come in really well,” she says.
“It’s also important to have someone as big as CAA standing behind you saying this is what you deserve,” she continues. “I think more than anything what’s great is that they have taught me to think on a larger scale. This is our moment, so we may as well seize it.”
But how long will the moment last?
“We are at a point in the evolution of blogging where only the strongest will survive — it’s Darwinism,” says Medine. “I think the biggest fight is to stay relevant and innovative. Things get stale very quickly, especially on the Internet.”
Medine has certainly built a successful online brand and has experience designing and marketing products, assets that could take her far. Indeed, Nastygal founder Sophia Amoruso, who first launched her store on eBay and used social media to build her “unapologetically sexy” brand, now heads a full-fledged fashion e-tailer that made $28 million in revenue in 2011 and recently raised $9 million in funding from top tier venture capital firm Index Ventures. Like Amoruso, Ms. Medine commands a huge following on social platforms like Instagram, where she has more than 142,000 followers.
But for now, Medine is focused on developing her editorial voice. “My big push is turning Man Repeller into a major destination,” says Medine. “In my head what I imagine is a cross between Vogue and Jezebel, because Jezebel has the wit and the quirk and the fun that you want and Vogue has the image-driven, glossy, exclusive, chic aura,” she explains. “I want to start producing big stories that are interesting, funny, compelling narratives from smart women,” she continues. “What I’m hoping to do is start hiring writers who can share that point of view. I’m going to do it slow and steady.”
Indeed, while a number of top fashion bloggers now have deals with major media companies like Condé Nast, Medine sees value in staying independent. “The idea of partnering with print kings scares me. And I want to make sure everything stays digital,” she explains.
“Andy Warhol says everyone has their 15 minutes of fame, but there is no reason why that can’t become a lifetime if you have the right tools.”
Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion. Photography by Kevin Trageser.