Daily Archives: November 4, 2009

OF/SB, part I: Going Postal

One estimate suggests that there are 100 million blogs worldwide. the tiniest fraction of these blogs–about 800–are dedicated to celebrity, street, couture, luxury, indie, mass-produced, masstige, vintage, and eco fashion and style. But these are only estimates. There are no precise numbers because there’s no single-accepted definition of the form and function of blogs. Blogs might be personal, informal, public, referential, and participatory (through link trackbacks and reader commentary), or they might be commercial devices of promotion and marketing and information clearinghouses that are restricted to registered users or they might incorporate several of these qualities. Also, surveys of blogs usually miss those that don’t use “host” systems like blogspot or LiveJournal while accidentally counting abandoned blogs (as many as 45% of blogs are “static, abandoned web pages”) and spam blogs (so-called splogs account for about 9% of the blogosphere).

Classificatory distinctions between fashion blogs and style blogs are also unclear–many bloggers and readers use the terms interchangeably. For our purposes, we understand these genres as overlapping but also recognize that there are significant distinctions between their focus and form. Fashion blogs report on and often celebrate fashion commodities, the fashion industry, and fashion celebrities; style blogs celebrate, critique, and at times criticize the aesthetic, cultural, political, and economic style or mode by which fashion forms are produced, expressed, and circulated across a wide range of industry and everyday sites.

Despite the relatively small number of fashion/style blogs, their impact on the fashion scene is undeniable. This is illustrated most clearly in the incorporation of bloggers into the fashion industry. Today, many bloggers are also credentialed journalists. Eighty bloggers received invitations for New York Fashion Week in September 2009–up from 40 in 2006. The fashion press has also embraced bloggers, featuring them as editorial subjects (i.e., Harper’s Bazaar September 2007; Elle UK September 2009; Sketchbook October 2009) as well as hiring them as photographers and writers. Schuman’s illustrious blog, The Sartorialist, has led to numerous jobs for GQ and Esquire, for example, and “the reigning queen of the fashion blogosphere,” Lau was recruited by Dazed Digital to be their commissioning editor. Meanwhile, fashion and design companies are turning more and more to bloggers as insightful and discerning trend forecasters, cool aggregators, and unofficial promoters. In 2007, the Chanel Company invited 12 bloggers to Paris for a weekend of discovering “the history and iconic places of Chanel.” Lau stresses on her blog “that there was no obligation to do blog reportage but for me along with most of the bloggers I think, it would have been criminal not to blog about the wonderful experiences we had.” No doubt, the executives at Chanel were counting on this unspoken social contract . Young and popular bloggers posting about this institution of fashion both lends Chanel hipster credibility as well as garners relatively inexpensive and global marketing.

Some, like Tyler Laswell, disparage the fashion/style blogging phenomenon: “It’s really sad that the fashion business has turned into a world of bloggers . . . everyone has become so taken up with living in a world of immediate satisfaction. Nobody wants to wait for the beauty in the magazines . . . where the editors truly do their homework and fact-check everything.” The perspective that bloggers are sloppy with the facts and are more interested in self-promotion and “mass exhibitionism” leads Andrew Keen to blame bloggers for “transforming culture into cacophony” in his book, The Cult of the Amateur. Keen’s description of blogging as cacophony hints at the conservative gender politics of blogging. Detractors denigrate blogging and their practitioners for not embodying the “seriousness of purpose, sensibility, and rational self-directedness” that are perceived by the patriarchal and masculinist mainstream to be indicators of intelligence and proper forms of journalistic work. That is to say, bloggers (imagined as self-absorbed, gossipy, and superficial) are silly because they are feminine. A 2003 study done by Perseus Development, a research firm and maker of software for surveys, diminishes the cultural and social import of blogs by describing “the typical blog [as] written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends.” Perseus’ snide dismissal of bloggers demonstrates a blatant disregard for recent history. In 2002, it was bloggers that forced Trent Lott to be taken to task for praising Strom Thurmond’s segregationist history when too many politicians wanted to forgive and forget and in 2004, bloggers would again transform public discourse by discovering and making public the forged Air National Guard documents that launched Rathergate. And in 2006, gossip bloggers would take credit and be credited for the demise of Tom Cruise’s star power and the transformation of Hollywood’s system of star production altogether.

According to R. Scott Hall, blog-curmudgeonry is just a case of status quo maintenance. “The true reactionaries are those who want to stick to the old business model, and keep plugging in the new and popular artists to feed that old hungry beast. The true revolutionaries are hurtling over the legal and financial barriers that have always protected the Old Guard, armed with technological sophistication that the Old Guard had long ago decided it did not need.” Like Hall, many others view “the rise of the fashion blogger” in positive terms. The presence of “citizen journalists,” they argue, reflect “a democratization of fashion criticism,” in particular, and the democratization of the fashion industry, in general. As the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer, Robin Givhan puts it in an article in Harper’s Bazaar, the internet and weblog have enabled “the average person, too often estranged from fashion, [to take] ownership of it.” Pernet echoes Givhan when she tells Grashina Gabelmann in her interview in Sketchbook magazine, “Blogging has democratized fashion . . . the Internet makes fashion available to anyone with a computer. It does not matter where you live; it is available to you instantly.”

Democratization is probably the most widely shared interpretation of the fashion/style blogging phenomenon. But does fashion/style blogging really signal a uniquely radical moment in fashion history? And is democratization really democratic? Does it matter?

To read our answers to these questions, click on OF/SB, part II: Blog in the Machine of Democracy.
To jump to OF/SB, Part III: Blog Ambition, click here.
To go back to On the Fashion/Style Blog: Intro, click here.

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On the Fashion/Style Blog: Intro

As Stanley Kowalski tells Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning.” And so it is with us and this specific post on the what and why of the fashion and style blog.

Even before we began threadbared in 2007, we wondered why everyone (it seemed, to us) had a fashion and/or style blog. Diane Pernet, renowned fashion icon, designer, and photographer, has a blog. But so too does Valerie Steele, the prolific fashion historian and Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and 13 year-old Tavi Gevinson, a veteran in the fashion blogosphere and a fixture at New York Fashion Week. Among the regular staff at major news companies including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The Wall Street Journal is a fashion blogger – or two. (Robin Givhan of Washington Post is a Pulitzer Prize winner.) The prevalence of Asian fashion and style bloggers in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and Asia (that continent of over 4 billion people and more than 2100 languages) also did not escape our notice.*

We have ruminated privately and informally on the fashion/style blogging phenomenon–its trends, effects, and problems–even while posting about the moralism of anti-counterfeit discourses, the cultural politics and colonial histories of fashion photography and fashion editorials, postcolonial aesthetics in Africa, racial-sartorial profiling in the US, and our divergent but equally impassioned modes of consumerism and sartorial philosophies.

But right now is a particularly opportune time to consider what is really going on with fashion and style blogging. In the last few weeks, we have seen the anticipation levels for one fashion blogger’s book tour rise to rock concert pitch (namely, Scott Schuman’s for the print version of The Sartorialist); the release of London-based Sketchbook Magazine‘s inaugural issue (a double issue on “The Fashion Blogger”) with Susie “Style Bubble” Lau as its cover girl; and numerous “Best of” lists for fashion and style blogs compiled by media giants like Telegraph and The Chicago Sun-Times as well as by peer fashion/style bloggers such as FashionHippo and The Sunday Best. Fashion/style blogging seems to be having a moment but what kind of moment is it? In this three-part series called On the Fashion/Style Blog (OF/SB), we explore fashion blogging–what it is, what it was, and what it might be.

Click here for OF/SB, part I: Going Postal
Click here for OF/SB, part II: Blog in the Machine of Democracy
Click here for OF/SB, part III: Blog Ambition

The question about the prevalence of Asian fashion/style bloggers is a complicated one that surely deserves its own post and requires much more research. However, one answer might begin with our good friend and super-smart colleague Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu’s theory of the incidence of Asian Americans as fashion designers. In her forthcoming book, The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans, Fashion Design, and the Cultural Economy of Asian Chic, she persuasively argues that Asian American designers are embedded within a “broader history of labor and migration.”

An excerpt from her manuscript:
Without those crucial experiences and social connections [forged in fashion school], designers lacking a formal education have had to rely on other paths of skills acquisition and social networking. For many Asian Americans the knowledges passed around and handed down [from parents, who often worked on the lowest rungs of the clothing industry] were at least in the beginning quite crucial, for it fostered in them a sense of ease and familiarity with the craft of fashion that made it possible for them to experiment with its forms even while, Tu incisively notes, this education was . . . a part of a larger effort to situate women appropriately with the family and the state–not to enable them to pursue creative interests or entrepreneurial profits.

Without more quantitative data and ethnographic research (e.g., are there really a disproportionately larger number of Asian fashion/style bloggers? how are we defining “Asian”?), Tu’s answer helps to contextualize some of the roots and routes of Asians in fashion.

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