Bloggers and Ann Taylor’s Bottom Line

As a postscript to my previous post about the implications of the corporatization of the fashion blogosphere, I just wanted to share this bit of hubbub over Ann Taylor LOFT’s recent invitation to bloggers to “come take a sneak peek at LOFT’s Spring 2010 Collection before anyone else.”

The invitation, according to Jezebel and the Los Angeles Times (threadbared was not invited), promised “a special gift to all attendees and entry into a ‘mystery gift card drawing.'” So far, okay, right? The cause of the controversy is LOFT’s fine print stipulation that “all bloggers must post coverage from our event to their blog within 24 hours in order to be eligible” for the gift card drawing. (The amount of the gift card to be revealed after the submission of this blog coverage.)

Jenna of Jezebel admonishes those “editors and bloggers [who attended the event for being] too excited by the opportunities for graft to notice that it’s precisely this kind of constriction of editorial judgment that atrophies creativity, and which is turning the fashion media — women’s media — into a lowest common denominator whirl of focus-grouped, product-placed bullshit. The internet was supposed to be different.” (Click here to read one blogger’s response to this post.)

While LOFT’s terms of inclusion are no doubt unseemly, my point in the previous post is that creative digital labor, while represented as free from market relations, is actually deeply entrenched in capitalist relations and logics. Moreover, the capitalization of creativity is rooted in a much longer history of art and commerce dating back to the late 18th century, when writers and other artists labored under what cultural economic scholars call a “regime of patronage.” What’s shocking about the LOFT’s invitation is not that it invites bloggers into a matrix of market relations — let’s be honest, this happens all the time! — but that it does so so openly.

Recall, for instance, that in 2007 the Chanel Company invited 12 bloggers to Paris for a weekend of discovering “the history and iconic places of Chanel.” Susie Bubble 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.” While there may have been no formal agreement to post (positive) comments about Chanel’s traditions, products, and largesse, Bubble clearly understands that there is an unspoken social-economic contract conditioning bloggers’ access to the fashion industry. It was precisely New York Times fashion writer and blogger Cathy Horyn’s perceived breach of this contract that led legendary designer Giorgio Armani (and before him, Helmut Lang, Carolina Herrera, and Dolce & Gabbana) to ban her from their shows.

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