|An old pic from London Fashion Week|
I was quite disappointed I couldn't go. There is still nothing like rejection of any kind to make you feel rubbish about yourself, about what you've done and like tossing in the towel every time it happens. The application process asks for blogger stats and so it was clear that it was going to be a numbers game where the numbers were pretty highly stacked against me. This isn't a big blog with lots of followers or gazillions of hits and I would need to find another twenty four hours in my day to take this blog to pro level or keep to the kind of scheduling that would merit any kind of commercial sponsorship.
The times I'd been to LFW in the past had always been on a buyer's pass assisting a friend who had a boutique to give her a second opinion on what she was buying, but she has since sold up, so bye bye buyer's pass. I first attended way back in 1997 before anyone was even blogging let alone blogging about fashion! It was fascinating to see how the whole process worked from the inside - it's essentially an extremely glamorous trade show for the benefit of the designers to showcase their work and before the rise of the fashion blogger it was a pretty closed shop in terms of who could attend.
Blogging seemed to open that world up, in a very positive way at first by making that world more accessible to the masses. But then the explosion of fashion blogging has become a bit overwhelming and now it seems the fashion industry is closing ranks to being an exclusive closed circle again. I was told by someone who attended LFW that they seem to have clamped down on blogger attendance in comparison to previous years, so I guess if you are not high on the popularity stakes or don't fit a certain type of blogging mould then you're not going to make the grade to get into that circle.
While I totally get that you've got to put limits on numbers for crowd control and the priority is always going to go to whoever has the biggest audience for commercial reasons, the last couple of times I attended LFW I did wonder if the designers and their work were really the focus of bloggers anymore. There seemed to be more bloggers outside Somerset House rather than inside, either lining up to take photos of each other or vying for the attention of the street style bloggers. If you haven't borne witness to this phenomenon then have a read of this article in the NY Times "The Circus of Fashion" by fashion bigwig Susy Menkes to get an idea of what goes on and how the fashion blogger is now gaining a reputation as a kind of fashion Frankenstein. Jeanine Jacobs chose to respond on IFB decrying the criticism as unoriginal. I have mixed feelings about it myself.
After reading the Susy Menkes article and all the comments after it (worth a read in itself for the debate) I now actually feel kind of ashamed to be a blogger. Having personally witnessed that particular circus up close myself I have to say that Menkes is right on many counts. Even Jacobs' bristling riposte admits that Menkes is right.
For some time now there has been an increasingly competitive fashion blogger arms race to see how outlandish your outfit can be, how many designer labels and/or trends you can clobber together in said outfit and how many times you can get your picture taken strutting around between shows. It has gone beyond people dressing to be original in order to push style boundaries and become more about chasing fame. And the tactic works. The scrum between photographers and bloggers to get photos of the street style stars with camera lens and mobile phones competing for the best view is a testament to that.
When I do the rounds post fashion week of some big name blogs, there are more photos of said blogger getting papped in their fashion week outfit than of anything they actually saw coming down the runway or at exhibitions and their posts on collections can often be thin on the ground in terms of thoughtful write ups. So I have some sympathy for Menkes sniffily implying that bloggers lack the fashion nous to be able to provide any meaningful contribution to fashion critique.
Rank amateurs at the fashion game we may be but surely we are not all fame whoring, peacock strutting, attention seeking and shockingly badly dressed with nothing to contribute? Even though I would like to think I am excluded from Menkes snider broader brush descriptions such as the "cattle market of showoff people" I feel like some of that negative taint got slopped on me anyway. To give another quote from her that hit the mark - this on the credentials of bloggers to judge fashion:
"...judging fashion has become all about me: Look at me wearing the dress! Look at these shoes I have found! Look at me loving this outfit in 15 different images!"Touché! I'm sure some of us will cringe in a bit of self-recognition at this, I certainly know I did and on reading this I suddenly felt pretty vapid for having a personal style blog at all. But I can't help think that there is a bit of a mixed message being sent out here.
We've all seen the types of bloggers for whom most of these barbs from this doyenne of the fashion world were probably meant for, but ironically those same bloggers also seem to be the ones who get the stratospheric stats to be successful, who in fact end up being the darlings of the fashion industry with their crazy outfit pictures in all their gaudy glory splashed across magazine spreads, who receive countless invites to glamorous events, who get oodles of free stuff thrown at them and who get front row seats at fashion shows.
However snarky the mouthpieces of the fashion industry like Menkes might get about bloggers, fashion is showing itself to be a two faced beast here, because while it might criticise blogger behaviour, it is clearly in some part responsible for fuelling it by publicly courting bloggers with big followings purely in the interest of increasing sales. For all the lofty claims that fashion is about blue sky ideas about how the body will be clothed, it is an industry padlocked to the uncomfortable reality of the business world, where ultimately the bottom line matters and the generation of profits is essential in order to survive. The fashion PR machine knows it might reach thousands of potential consumers by getting a blogger to wear their merchandise (either through gifting or by paying them), or by having them tweeting or instagramming from the front row of a show.
There are some of us out there who have a genuine enthusiasm for what fashion designers have to offer and still want to voice our opinion even if we aren't being paid or sponsored or given free stuff. But even then Menkes takes issue with bloggers voicing the view of the public at large on what fashion is producing, claiming we have forgotten the principal she abides by as a fashion journalist:
There is something ridiculous about the self-aggrandizement 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.”I think the point she is trying to make here is that there is too much subjectivity in blogging and not enough objectivity. Granted, many blogs, including this one, are essentially about our personal and subjective tastes. But do you really learn skills to give you the ability to discern what is objectively good and not good by studying fashion without subjectivity colouring this? I would have thought, as in any creative field, that at the end of the day the audience would be the best judge of a show, no matter how skillful the producer. There is also more than enough fashion "journalism" in the mainstream fashion press which amounts to little more than hyping an overpriced here-today-gone-tomorrow trend or item in order to satisfy advertising contracts to make me question if Menkes can really claim the moral high ground on this one.
In the end we the public buy and wear the damn stuff we get shoved down our throats every season as supposedly being good - why wouldn't we have an opinion worth listening to? Even if it just happens to be a subjective one? I would have assumed that eventually it is this personal opinion of the fashion consumer that would eventually drive (gasp!) - actual sales! We may not have degrees in art history or fashion, but to quote one eloquent commenter, Respectfully (from Australia) on the Susy Menkes article:
"Why should we only ever receive an image of a show filtered through an editor? Why shouldn't we have the choice to make up our own minds by seeing the images ourselves? We're the ones paying the bills! We're buying the fashion magazines, clothes, bags and shoes."Sadly if fashion is going to close ranks and only include bloggers who will toe the party line in exchange for sponsorships, paid travel and free gifts then we are effectively getting messages filtered through an editor rather than an independent view. The breadth of opinion is bound to narrow towards something palatable to the fashion industry which is the aim - to reclaim some control. Fashion blogging was initially so exciting because it offered a broader representation of women, offered inspiration that catered to a wider range of budgets and lifestyles, and had more relevance to the majority rather than pandering to the minority. For some time now the only type of bloggers who I see being brandished in the fashion press as "influential" are very young, thin, beautiful and increasing extremely wealthy young women who seem to be able to spend the equivalent of my annual salary on one outfit or buy Manolo Blahniks in every colour without batting an eyelid.
I'm not interested in being papped by street style bloggers, nor do I realistically expect to ever work in the fashion industry or make a living out of blogging, but I would have thought there would have been more interest out there for a blog attempting more considered writing on the process we all must go through daily in dressing ourselves. I'm more than happy to throw my two cents worth out there in the blogosphere on things I find beautiful or have bought with my own hard earned cash, I enjoy the blogger camaraderie and frankly, I could blog away quite happily without having to do any outfit shots. But maybe that's where it's all gone wrong for my blog. A lack of burning blogger ambition! Rather than trying to write something interesting I should be donning some outrageous outfit, sticking a stuffed swan on my head and fervently strutting up and down outside Somerset House on the zaniest flatforms I can cope walking on in order to gather the attention of street style bloggers.
While dressing up is part of the fun of Fashion Week (where else do you get an opportunity to push the envelope and not feel out of place?), I've always thought more of it as an event where you get to see some beautiful, interesting design first hand and can talk to designers about their work. Whenever I attended I would spend all my time inside the exhibition. If I wanted to do a post for the blog I would always ask permission to take photos of designers' merchandise, I tried to ask what designers were trying to say through their designs and tried to write thoughtfully about the designs I was enthusiastic about. Some of the designers actually told me in person later that they really appreciated the things I wrote about their creations. I was hoping to do some more of that this time. It was not to be and I wonder if it ever will be again.