In the Glare of Fashion’s Growing Circus, A Double Standard?

Susie Bubble and The Man Repeller join the debate sparked by Suzy Menkes on the circus outside the shows, personal branding and the politics of preening for the cameras.

Fashion paparazzi outside the shows | Source: Style Snooper Dan

LONDON, United Kingdom — It’s no secret that a democratising tide of digital media has brought a radical new accessibility to the global fashion industry, giving rise to a wide range of new voices and transforming what were once closed, industry-facing fashion weeks into large-scale consumer spectacles. Perhaps nowhere is this shift more apparent than in the growing power of street style imagery, which has turned show-goers into virtual actors on a digital stage that’s beamed across the world in realtime to thirsty fashion followers via blogs and social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, now, Vine. Some have actively courted the attention, peacocking for the cameras, becoming online celebrities and attracting lucrative marketing deals in the process.

Writing in The International Herald Tribune last week, in a piece entitled “The Circus of Fashion,” respected fashion critic Suzy Menkes laments “the celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous. They are known mainly by their Facebook pages, their blogs and the fact that the street photographer Scott Schuman has immortalised them on his Sartorialist web site.”

Menkes goes on to criticise bloggers, many of whom, she charged, accept “trophy gifts and paid-for trips” from brands, ignoring established journalistic ethics, and court the spotlight of Internet celebrity, while styling themselves as fashion critics. “There is something ridiculous about the self-aggrandisement of some online arbiters who go against the mantra that I was taught in my earliest days as a fashion journalist: “It isn’t good because you like it; you like it because it’s good.”

Now, prominent fashion bloggers Susanna Lau, aka Susie Bubble, and Leandra Medine, The Man Repeller, have joined the debate, publishing measured, thoughtful responses to Ms Menkes’ piece.

“It doesn’t seem quite fair to peg the bloggers that have actually become ‘famous’ as such just for being famous,” writes Medine, in a post entitled “Blog is a Dirty Word,” taking issue with the way Menkes paints all bloggers with the same celebrity-seeking brush. “When I think Tavi Gevinson or Susie Bubble or Emily Weiss or on the street [style] spectrum, Tommy Ton, I think recognition based on the merit of astounding work,” she blogs. “Like all writers do not write with the same pen (how would Hemingway have felt if he were shepherded into a group among the likes of, say, E.L. James?), all bloggers do not type with the same keyboard.”

“This is my generation, my vocation, my moment that she is reprimanding, and I, too, have a sincere problem with the notion that front row squatting may be based less on excellence in trade and more on social following density,” continues Medine, presenting a counter-image of fashion bloggers as members of an “entrepreneurial generation,” who, facing a post-recessionary economy, “couldn’t land the jobs we wanted, so we just made our own.”

But Medine concedes that fashion bloggers have made mistakes: “We never should have accepted gifts in the first place. We shouldn’t have bragged about the free trips and cool events and recognition from our industry heroes. We’ve painted a picture portraying the circumstances of blogging that is inaccurate…. how can we really assume that we will cull the respect we think we deserve if we don’t even respect our own brands?”

In a reflective post entitled “The Sad Clown,” Susanna Lau agrees with Medine that “blogger” has become a dirty word: “The b word has been tarnished — asking us [how] much money do we make, suspicions that every blog post is sponsored, outfits that have been littered with gifts, accusations that we’re poseurs and not fashion critics, lack of journalistic standards — things, which, I along with others have been guilty of to some degree or another… If I am just a ‘blogger,’ a word that has become an irritant and a pest to the industry, then how can I carry on at present with all the current connotations that go with that word, and still write about the things that I want to write about?”

But when it comes to personal branding and the politics of getting one’s photo taken outside the shows, Lau, who has a penchant for eccentric colourful outfits, objects to what seems like a double standard: “Who gets to make that judgment call as to who has ‘genuine’ style or who is dressing up for the cameras? … An editor can get away with it because he/she has a title. Alas I have a blog, no chic Céline and a sick preference for strange and funny textures. That leaves me in a precarious position.”

Indeed, in fashion, the act of personal branding is not a new phenomenon. Nor is it unique to bloggers. Top editors, from Carine Roitfeld and Lynn Yeager to Andre Leon Talley and Anna Wintour herself are vivid examples of established industry insiders who have long cultivated personal brands, complete with strong visual signatures. In today’s New York Times, Ruth La Ferla writes: “members of fashion’s old guard, each has mastered the art of visual self-branding, marketers’ pet coinage for the cultivation of a personal style as quirky, distinctive and easy to read as a box of Cheerios on a grocer’s shelf.” They are “more like avatars, really, second selves fashioned purely for public consumption,” she continues.

But while the old guard of “confirmed eccentrics” escapes the kind of criticism that so easily sticks to young aspirants, La Ferla paints bloggers as part of “a new breed of self-promoters… fanning out their plumage in the hope, it would seem, that a bit of canny self-packaging will secure them a place in fashion’s front ranks.”

It’s a shame, because fashion has always been an industry populated with wonderfully colourful characters and self-promoters alike, but in the glare of fashion’s growing “circus,” differentiating between the two is rarely as simple as whether their native medium is digital or analogue.

See reactions to “The Circus of Fashion” from Stefano Tonchi, Cathy Horyn, Tommy Ton, Scott Schuman and others in this video report, courtesy of Nowfashion.com.

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18 comments

  1. distracting … admire the business sense of the bloggers who are at the front row … enthusiasm, quirkiness and CAA

    dislike the lack of grace and love of fashion many exhibit and cannot see how that trait, prevalent now, can sustain the interest

    that said, the democratization of fashion has allowed something fresh in, and the intensity of caring and passion is beautiful

    umbrage with Ms. Menkes? nonsense, ill-advised … she is compassionate and priceless

    madeleine gallay from Santa Monica, CA, United States
  2. It’s been an open secret that Vogue favors clothes from their advertisers with more editorial coverage. Using the pretense of “journalistic integrity” to denigrate independent on-line publishers seems hypocritical.

    Melissa from San Francisco, CA, United States
  3. A burgeoning unknown industry will always challenge the ideals of the old guard. It will also make mistakes. It doesn’t make it wrong. It’s hard to define what professionalism is, when you are the very first to be professional.
    As for self branding – is the Menkes quiff not an internationally recognised brand in the industry all by itself?

    Nick Bain from Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands
  4. I feel that blogging has become significantly more commercial, with brands wanting to harness the influence of bloggers to their advantage. Blogs and Twitter do risk becoming a bragging space as the gifts get larger and more frequent the further blogging progresses.

    However, from my experience in publishing and PR, a number of editors and reporters DO accept gifts and paid-for trips and don’t always disclose them to readers. Then there’s the role of Market editors to make sure the advertisers are getting enough editorial ‘support’. Fair enough, blogging is supposed to be a more transparent medium, but I doubt that Suzi or her publication pays for everything.

    Nina from Chester-le-street, Durham, United Kingdom
  5. Carine Roitfeld had been minding her own business for many many years before street style photographers started capturing her. she had and is focusing solely on her work. she deliberately avoids obvious runway pieces and wears balenciaga from few seasons back. these clownish bloggers remind me of the starlette wannabes posing naked on the beach at cannes in the 60s, during the cannes film festival. what are they branding really? i don’t need to see their clothes and they cant even write. these posers are all there for cheap marketing we all know that. no brand really respect these freaks.

    olivier from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  6. There are many merits to what Menkes has written in her New York Times piece. Why is there such a tide of malarkey outside of these shows when the only purpose and reason for attending fashion weeks is to review or observe the collections for the purpose of work, or for your media organisation. Should we all care about who are fanning peacocks? Bloggers have dug their own graves because for so many years, their modus operandi has been product aggrandization – displaying goods and clothes that they have either bought or borrowed. In one sense, it’s less about integrity but more about professionalism. To think that either Lau or Medine truly represent bloggers is incorrect. They have become power bloggers with the detriment of eclipsing bloggers who had a greater quality of content. Medine also spoke of Darwinism; in reference to this, those who have aggressively used advertising, collaborations, and the overexposure of branding really has made blogging a dirty word.

    At a time when blogging was great, and an enjoyable experience and exemplified by Scandinavian food bloggers, now we have bloggers with too much bravado.

    Michael H from Revesby, New South Wales, Australia
  7. People forget that fashion week is actually a professional business event for creatives to sell their wares to stores and the public. Having attended Aus Fash Week a number of years it’s easy to get lost in the hype, the crowd and the events, but at the end of the week what was the point in actually attending if you don’t accomplish anything?

    I watch bloggers do street style shoots outside the venues, but after attending the shows they were individually invited to, a lot of (I’m clearly generalising) them don’t actually report on the actual collection but instead cover the experience of the show or of going to a fashion show in general often with little mention of what is going down the runway.

    I usually find fashion week a great business event to generate content for my blog, but also to contribute content to other publications to expand my portfolio as a writer. These stories are pretty much given to you on a silver platter and people don’t take advantage of it. People complain about there being a lot of poor quality content in the digital space, but do little to change that.

    http://www.scenesofsydney.com

    mr.t.dion from Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia
  8. I don’t understand the controversy here. Editors and fashion writers get free trips as well. I know that for a fact. I think Susie might be upset that she had to spend a good portion of her career sucking up to a boss to prove herself when bloggers are going direct without seeking approval of a higher-up. If the audience doesn’t like the work, well then no one reads it. Everyone needs to calm down. The circus is making fashion interesting again.

    Najat from New York, NY, United States
  9. it’s interesting to see how one “op-ed” piece from Menkis can start such a tornado! Welcome to the fashion tornado Imo. I’m in full agreement with her view but what Suzy has done is call out all these style bloggers and challenge them to a game of fashion intelligence!

    I’m sure fashion designers are looking at bloggers who dress for the camera’s as free advertising, and a small expense if they choose to dress them, even on loan. But at the end of the day if all you have is ” OMG I just loved the shoes, can’t wait to buy them”, I’m sure a Kardashian could spit that line and Kardashian & designer get more mileage then a blogger swirling in the “fashion tornado” looking to get their pic taken hopefully immortalized by Scott.

    As for myself I have to avoid, yes avoid going into stores and talking to salespeople! My fashion history/memory makes me ultimately school youngsters on the business and yes it’s wearing on me…

    I guess I read to much or watch to much business TV, the 3,000-3,500 fashion shows over 14 years might not help either.

    I live for the business of fashion and I rarely get my photo snapped:/

    thefashiontribune from New York, NY, United States
  10. I read the article Miss Menkes wrote and I love her to death. She’s an industry treasure. BUT…the reality is that the magazines are not hiring, so the young people have to start somewhere, anywhere. Early bloggers have made mistakes (if the free gifts, etc) and the field is still in its infancy. But,for the most part, they are, to mirror Medine and Lau, correcting that perception and are hopefully doing better.
    Instead of criticizing, why won’t the “veterans” of the industry seek out and mentor these young writers? If they are doing so many wrong things, why don’t they step up and show them the way? The young bloggers are fresh, enthusiastic and eager to learn. Teach them instead of criticizing–and alienating–them.

    Phillip Johnson from Danbury, CT, United States
  11. What a fashion snob Suzy Menkes is! These bloggers never claimed to be fashion critics on the first place anyway. They are consumers just like us who happen to have fashion blog and tell us what they wear. They actually wear those fashion items no one would ever dare to wear and if that makes them attention whore, let them. I would rather see them on fashion magazines or website than those sloppy celebrities who only looks good when their stylists are involved. And I would rather see them than those fashion critics who look boring (ahem, yeah Suzy, that’s you!)

    Irene from Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  12. The top fashion bloggers do not write nearly as well as the the fashion writers in the traditional press. That is a fact and it includes the likes of Garance Dore and Schuman. These people have other talents that make them unique and just as important.

    Elaine from Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
  13. When bloggers use words like ‘cull’ incorrectly, it just reminds me how ill-equipped they are to be sending commentary out to the public. That’s what editors are for, and that’s why old-school media will always be superior.

    Getaneditor from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  14. Suzy Menkes is just jealous because they are getting more attention than she is. She assumes the new generation have no knowledge of high fashion. She even thought Nicola Formichetti didn’t know anything about Mugler: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmS1X_eJv3w

    anne from Pointe-claire, QC, Canada
  15. I think Mr Menkes has a point here..it’s really starting to get frustrating how commercial bloggers have become- here in Italy blogger articles are entirely based on what they have received as a gift…I mean it all started as a way to express yourself, personality and liberation of fashion…so far so good-all sounds great…BUT it’s starting to be more like just another medium for big brand names to pay to get customers..no different from traditional press…it’s sad in a way cause bloggers are so easily lured by big brands that you start seeing blogs where they showcase the same fashion names over and over again, nothing new..nothing on young talent…it’s all paid and of course young designers and emerging brands do not have the money to organize a blogger event or send you stuff on regular basis…blogs are getting the same and reading most blogs (with few exceptions) it’s like opening a magazine and going through the advertising pages without ever getting to any readable content..(plus some bloggers are so self-obsessed it’s just sick)

    Ral from Milan, Lombardy, Italy
  16. My opinion.As a designer who started just before the great recession hit like running full tilt into a concrete bunker, many that watched my development and watched me grow, offered to, and connected me to, ‘reputable bloggers.’As someone who grew up in the generation that immersed ourselves in social media, I was one of it’s most vociferous advocates, in that I believed that the democratization and the dissemination of information could, and should, be owned freely by anyone who chose to read and write. I didn’t often see prominent editors truly backing the unknown…they had to be unknowns with a lot of money to buy distribution. So I thought that bloggers, being the underdogs themselves, would be the true advocates of the disenfranchised . I was truly disappointed, to be told outright, by a well known blogger, to whom I had been connected through a well known agent, “Look…this is how I make my living. You need to pay me to get my opinion written about you.” In that moment..I knew that the industry was irrevocably corrupt or better said…corruptible. I respect Suzy Menkes because her insight and background in fashion have to me..always come from a well versed, cultured, articulate and educated eye that EDUCATES as well as mirrors what is going on in the industry.I would assume that as a an old school journalist, she feels responsibility to report not necessarily THE truth, but her own,very honest and well informed truth. I think that the opinion of bloggers doesn’t often come with the same professional responsibilities or training and so is more egocentric and corruptible.Doesn’t the adage that “Power corrupts and ultimate power ultimately corrupts” depend greatly upon personal ethics and a strong, personal code of honor, be you a professional journalist or a blogger? The seamy side has been seen from both blogger and journalists alike, and the most admirable professionalism has been seen by both bloggers and journalists alike.The ones that will hold their own through time and circumstance, are the ones that will earn the respect of peers and fans within and outside the industry because their work and their actions will prove that they have an honest and authentic voice.

    KONSTANTINA MAHLIA from Tucson, AZ, United States
  17. I think it’s a beautiful story. Fashion is a language that is conveyed through style and photography. We just need to find the real voices within that conversation.

    http://www.fashionide.com/

    FASHIONIDE.COM from Singapore, Singapore (general), Singapore