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The Polarisation of Fashion Media 

In the 2010s, the publications covering fashion — regardless of whether they were chasing clicks or subscriptions — found that success wasn't so straightforward anymore.
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By
  • Lauren Sherman
BoF PROFESSIONAL

As the 2010s come to a close, BoF reflects on how the past decade transformed the fashion industry — and the culture at large. Explore our insights here.

NEW YORK, United States — In 2010, a "get" for one of that era's handful of scrappy fashion sites was an exclusive on an H&M collaboration look book, or being the first to post a grainy image from the nosebleed seats at the Céline show during Paris Fashion Week.

Today, nobody would care.

And it's not hard to determine the cause. Instagram, and everything that comes with it, has replaced traditional fashion media as the first point of contact.

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Fashion magazines may have once been the consumer’s only way in, but today, shows are broadcast live and designers happily post “candid” photos of their living rooms. Brands can directly feed news and information to their followers, controlling the message.

In the past decade, as every fashion brand became a media brand, many venerable publications have lost their reason for existing — or have ceased to exist altogether. To be relevant in 2019, journalists have to do more than document the latest viral trend, they have to do it first, and in such a way that the analysis itself goes viral. (Kudos to New York magazine for discovering the "Amazon Coat.") The "get" isn't just breaking the news of a major designer shakeup, it's delivering the inside story — often the one the brand doesn't necessarily want people to know.

Given that the relationship between media and brands is less symbiotic than it once was, it's not surprising that some of the most successful brands of the last decade — including Céline (and Celine), Saint Laurent and The Row — have been led by designers that rarely interact with the press. Like actors and musicians, they feel less compelled to participate in potentially unflattering profiles. For instance, in 2014, Phoebe Philo and Beyoncé both posed for T magazine without granting interviews, resulting in nice images and two effortful "write around" stories.

But it’s not simply the Instagram effect. The proliferation of stuff to read on the internet — long-form, short-form, galleries, charts — means that readers simply have too much to consume, and what used to intrigue frankly doesn’t any more.

Some publications have sunk because of the change, including a spate of fashion news sites that sprouted up in the aughts and early 2010s, including Fashionologie, Stylelite and industry-beloved Style.com. The latter — where I was a contributor from 2013-2015 — is a particularly tragic case, caught between quality and commodity. Style.com did a lot of things very well — runway reviews, industry commentary, designer discovery — but nothing that could attract enough eyeballs to be worth a media buyer's time.

Those that have survived — thus far — have taken one of two routes. The first group have embraced commodity, writing about every little thing in order to scale, but also to sate advertisers, which are spending more and more of their marketing dollars on their own channels. Because these publishers count on fashion brands to advertise, brands have more leverage, resulting in "safer" stories that might not exactly be pay-to-play but are close to it.

This has resulted in a lot of boring content. It’s difficult to get excited about a designer profile or a brand launch these days, in part because so many of those stories are executed in such a careful way so as not to offend anyone. They are snoozy. But it’s also because readers are better educated than they’ve ever been. They expect more from us.

However, out of this has emerged an influx of journalism from publications driven not by advertisers, but by subscribers. (And most of which are more generalist, less focused on the industry, although I am well-aware that my employer is a part of this, too.)

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Today, you can read reported, analytical, entertaining pieces from a wide range of sources, including The Atlantic, where Amanda Mull writes with humour and sensitivity about the trials of modern consumerism (see: "I Gooped Myself"), Quartz, where Marc Bain magically distills the news of the day ("The Battle Between Minimalist and Maximalist Fashion"), or The Washington Post, where Robin Givhan gives meaning and insight to topics others try, but cannot manage, to penetrate ("For Dignity's Sake, Jim Jordan, Put on a Jacket").

But what none of them do is focus on the “get.” Why? Because people don’t want to read about Fashion. They want to read about the culture of — and the consumption of — fashion. Not the clothes themselves. Fashion is a part of everything now, and everything needs context; those that deliver that context are winning. Those that don’t will continue to see their relevance fritter away.

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