The Fight of the Fashion Bloggers

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Not too long ago, fashion editors regarded fashion blogs, with their real people and street style, as the hobby of a handful of overzealous, amateur fans. Today the fashion blogosphere’s littered with individuals sharing their passion for style, from their own daily outfits to photographing other well-dressed pedestrians. And the perks that come to the web’s fortunate shinning talents are impressive: front-row seats at fashion shows, free samples, modeling contracts, design, styling, and photography contracts with established retailers, book deals, and editorial work. Fashion bloggers, once outsiders to the insular world of fashion, are now carving a spot for themselves among the fashion media and reaping the benefits of exposure. But what are they giving up?

All this attention from the fashion mainstream is blurring the line between independent, accessible fashion bloggers and the rest of the industry gatekeepers. The whole allure with fashion blogging is the fact that it’s an alternative to the fashion media. While not all bloggers are rubbing shoulders with those in the industry, when designers are dressing you for their shows and giving you a front-row seat or department stores are sending you packages, a regular gal you are definitely not. Street-style photographers have turned their lens from nameless faces on the street with great style to fashion insiders with access to designers most could only dream of. The dynamics of the conversation in fashion blogs has changed with the reader left now as the only outsider — just like in glossy magazines. And what’s so indie about that?

“If a blogger is interested in fashion and ultimately wants to pursue a career in the industry, that sort of absorption should be commended, and considered a success of the medium,” says Zana Bayne, who runs the cheeky and popular Garbagedress.com and designs leather accessories. The 21-year-old Bayne is an old-school fashion blogger who at the age of 12 was writing her fashion thoughts on LiveJournal fashion communities before personal blogging became a la mode. “A blog has the unique power of functioning as a portfolio of personality, taste, and ability — some have realized this and are smart and strategic with their blogging intentions.”

Unlike some other forms of blogging, fashion blogging in the last couple of years has proven to have a possibly disproportionate effect on the industry it covers — not to mention becoming a profitable new media business for some. Gone are the days of the anonymous blogger. A fashion blogger today must be fluent in networking, self-promotion, and be ready to put in a considerable amount of work into a blog in order to stand out from the crowd.

Work-at-home designer and Keiko Groves, who blogs about fashion at Keiko Lynn, says having to adhere to the independent label associated with blogging is ridiculous. “I imagine most fashion bloggers blog about fashion because they love it. So how is it selling out to accept an invitation into a world you once thought was completely impenetrable?”

Some bloggers, like Lulu Chang, aren’t so easily wooed. “I think it’s hard for anyone to avoid the allure of the fashion industry. It’s a personal choice — I love fashion, but I prefer to stay away from the industry.” Back in March 2008 Chang launched her blog, Lulu and Your Mom, to offer readers a fresh perspective on fashion. She never envisioned how popular it would become. “Bloggers have definitely reached a whole new level of influence. It can be overwhelming. I think the problem with a lot of new bloggers is that they are too motivated by free stuff and fame. At the end of the day, you should blog because it makes you happy.”

Considering the rate at which loyal readership of fashion blogs is steadily growing, a mention on top blogs for designers is becoming a serious component of their marketing approach. It’s cheap and fast PR. Needless to say, designers shower bloggers with free samples and invites to events in hopes of receiving an enthusiastic shout out — not unlike the relationship they share with the print fashion media.

“I think those who are disappointed by advertisement and endorsements need to shut their computers and start living their own lives,” says Bayne. “The internet is the most public and widely accessed domain for self-expression. To imply all bloggers must be inherently indie while broadcasting themselves online is rather contradictory.” Just take a look at the history of every other medium such as TV, film, and radio and see how ad revenue ultimately always affects content.

Anina, who runs 360FashionNetwork and Anina.net, believes transparency in fashion blogging is very important for credibility of the bloggers. “Fashion bloggers are mistakenly carrying over old media techniques into new media space. Where traditional media cloaks their advertising into editorials, bloggers are supposed to disclose when they are being paid to promote a product.” Such a disclaimer is a rarity on fashion blogs. It’s hard to believe a blogger who is offered a trip to Paris to attend a show would have anything remotely negative to say about the designer’s collection.

For star fashion blogger and fashion critic Susie Lau of Style Bubble fame, accepting gifts from designers after she raved about them on her blog is not the issue. “Whether I got it for free or not is besides the point if the thing itself is absolute crap and in no way reflects my personal taste,” she says. “For me things get offered as a way of thanking me for a post that I did which is usually a pleasant surprise as opposed to something I expect.” Lau is currently working as a commissioning editor at Dazed Digital.

Not everyone shares Lau’s views on the ethics of swag. Chang knows first-hand how this delicate new relationship between bloggers and the fashion world can go awry. “I know for a fact that certain bloggers will try to use their blog as leverage in exchange for free stuff … sometimes approaching a designer or label first.” Chang would rather not name names, but she said the trend is widespread. She’s turned down her share of sponsors and celebrity coverage. “A lot of publicists try to get me to interview celebrities. The whole point of blogging is that it’s supposed to empower the everyday person. Who cares what celebrities think?”

While more access and ads on their pages doesn’t necessarily always translate to bloggers not keeping it real with readers, it does raise relevant questions about the unbiased nature of the content in a medium celebrated for its autonomous opinions. [Top photo by Mary Ellen Matthews, from singer-songwriter Ryan Adams’ brief internship with us last year.]