Tag Archives: fashion blogging

LINKAGE: New Essay!

Some news! An article I wrote last year called “‘Susie Bubble is a Sign of the Times’: The Embodiment of Success in the Web 2.0 Economy” is now available online at Feminist Media Studies. In it, I consider the enormous popularity of fashion blogging phenom Susie Bubble (also, Susanna Lau) as a case study for examining the cultural frames that now shape how we see and recognize “success” in the digital creative economy. Understood more broadly, the essay explores the new racial and gendered formations of the labor market in the creative digital economy. This article builds on and expands some of the ideas from my blog posts tagged under the label “Fashion 2.0” (in the Departments pull-down menu, right column).

Also! This week I was super excited to learn that an older article called “Blog Ambition: Fashion, Feelings, and the Political Economy of the Digital Raced Body” in Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies was the journal’s most-read article in March 2012! WOOOT!!

(I know we’ve been a little quiet on Threadbared for awhile but wanted to share these essays as alternative ways you can keep up with what we’ve been doing.)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under FASHION 2.0, LABOR AND THE CREATIVE ECONOMY, LINKAGE

The Digital Decade in Fashion (and then some)

The End-of-Year List reflecting back on the best, worst, biggest, funniest, etc. is by now a popular culture tradition. The CBS-run website BNET has already come up with its “10 Biggest Fashion Business Faux Pas” list (the Rodarte/Juarez debacle gets top billing, deservedly). And Newsweek has just published its “13 Worst Trends of 2010” (jeggings get no love). Since this month also marks the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I expect (and look forward to) many more lists that recount this historical period. It is not difficult to imagine, for example, a TVLand tribute to reality television competitions (beginning with Big Brother, Survivor, and of course American Idol) which came of age—and for some, is now well past its prime—in the last decade.

On behalf of Threadbared, I offer this (annotated) list tracing some of the roots and routes of what has become a defining event in the fashion industry, in particular, and in global commercial culture, in general: fashion’s digital revolution. (The focus is certainly on the post-millennium but, as with all cultural phenomena, it has a history so my list begins in the mid 1990s.)

  • 1994: The Stanford Federal Credit Union and Pizza Hut establish their place in e-commerce history by being the first financial institution to offer online banking and the first commercial business to record an online sale (a pepperoni and mushroom pizza with extra cheese). Also in this year, the Dutch company Stork Prints launched the first digital textile printer which not only increased the speed and scale of garment production but also helped to initiate the business practice of mass customization, which would later come to define fashion in the digital age.
  • 2002: Friendster, the first popular social media site, helps establish computer-mediated communication (CMC) as an everyday practice of daily life in the new millennium. In the new fashion media complex, CMC is not only an everyday practice but, for many, an all-day activity.
  • 2002: LookOnline Daily Fashion Report and She She Me invent the fashion blog. (Both are still in operation!)
  • 2003: Isaac Mizrahi debuts his diffusion line of classically-designed fashion sportswear made exclusively for Target’s female customers.

While Mizrahi certainly didn’t invent affordable fashion (this distinction, as we know from Joan DeJean, belongs to the 17th century French couturieres’ trade guild) or even designer affordable fashion (Halston had a similar idea in the 1980s with his J.C. Penney’s collection), Mizrahi did successfully re-brand the concept of affordable fashion for a 21st century U.S. market. Claiming that the Target line “celebrated the style of American women of all ages and all walks of life,” Mizrahi successfully inaugurated a sartorial-political philosophy of democratic fashion that resonated strongly with post-September 11 patriotic consumer values while still being attentive to recessionary levels of consumer confidence. (For more on democracy and fashion, see my essay, “The Right to Fashion in the Age of Terrorism.”)

Mizrahi’s mass market partnership was both a commercial success (to the tune of $1.5 billion over its five year run) and a cultural sensation. Boldface named designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Roberto Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood, and Oscar de la Renta followed Mizrahi’s business model by collaborating with Target but also other mass market retailers including H&M, Payless Shoe Source, Macy’s, and Kohl’s department store. And style icon Sarah Jessica Parker teamed with discount (and now defunct) retailer Steve and Barry’s to create a line of fashionable clothes and accessories under the label Bitten that she promised would never cost more than $19.98 for any single piece. Meanwhile, prominent tastemakers such as American designer Tom Ford and Gucci creative director Frida Giannini publicly boasted about shopping at the Gap, Banana Republic, Target, and H&M.

Though certainly not without its detractors, the idea that fashion is a cultural form and practice that every woman had a right to—a right coextensive with her right to self-expression and self-determination—was firmly established in the cultural imaginary by the mid 2000s. However, the global economic crisis, widespread un- and under-employment, and the emergent trend of eco-chic in the latter half of the decade strained, if not ended, U.S. fashion consumers’ love affair with cheap chic fashion, now often disparaged as “fast fashion,” the sartorial equivalent of fast food. (Parker’s move away from Bitten to Halston Heritage where she now designs is reflective of a larger shift in popular sartorial philosophy from the logic of cheap chic to that of investment fashion.) Nonetheless, the neoliberal democratic discourse around fashion has a second life in fashion’s digital revolution and particularly in the rise of fashion bloggers.



While some critics contend that social media spectacles like D&G’s are nothing more than marketing ploys to show off a designer’s technocultural relevance (and thus curry virtual street cred with the highly influential consumer market segment that is the Teen Vogue and Nylon fashion crowd), the impact of social media in fashion is more than symbolic.

A recent study finds that instantaneous user-centered viral marketing—also called word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing—“is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.” It is no surprise, then, that the WOM marketing industry is growing at an exponential rate. In 2001, U.S. companies spent $76 million in WOM marketing; in 2006, spending increased nearly 67 percent to $981 million. Analysts expect that by 2013, U.S. companies will spend $3 billion on viral marketing. Interactive fashion media, in general, is expected grow into a $55 billion industry and represent 21 percent of all marketing spending. These numbers are especially staggering when we consider that fashion’s traditional commodities like the stock overseen by the chief executives of Saks, Neiman, and Bergdorf’s and print magazines are on the wane. Recall the decline of advertising in 2009 in Vogue and Lucky (each 44 percent), Allure (41 percent), and Glamour and Vanity Fair (15 and 15.5 percent, respectively). Some magazines like Jane, Cargo, and Men’s Vogue shuttered their offices altogether. Fashion business – like the creative economy in general – is fueled more and more by the nonmaterial, though highly valued, goods of images and information than traditional material goods.

However, even the most popular of fashion’s new technologies and nonmaterial commodities – fashion blogs – remains a relative minor player in the digital commons. Political/news blogs; celebrity culture/gossip blogs; and tech blogs rank highest in terms of online traffic. Still, the digital fashion media complex on the whole is an incredibly significant cultural, social, economic, and, yes, political site. In addition to the 2 million or so fashion blogs, there are countless more fashion-focused blog posts on non-fashion blogs and websites like The Huffington Post, Jezebel, and Mashable; fashion/style/beauty vlogs; microblogs; and through Facebook pages/links/updates. The digital fashion media complex thus generates at breakneck speeds and unprecedented frequency countless web streams of popular knowledge (and nonmaterial goods) everyday.

Taken together, the proliferation of online sales information and product reviews on e-commerce sites as well as on fashion search engines like Google’s latest venture Boutiques.com, blog posts, tweets, how-to-dress and what-to-buy advice streamed to our mobile devices, and of course online magazines begin to illustrate fashion’s central and organizing role not only in the new creative information economy but also in digital literacy and the very nature and form of public culture today. In other words, not only is fashion experiencing a digital revolution, digital culture is experiencing a fashion revolution in which fashion objects, images, and information are the stuff of which digital imaginaries are now made.

4 Comments

Filed under FASHION 2.0

LINKAGE: Hidden Costs of Fashion Blogging

This is the work of Barbara Kruger, the American conceptual artist.

IFB recently republished a post titled, “Finance & the Fashion Blogger: Ignore-ance” that dovetails nicely with the amazing discussions about labor, new media, and capitalism that are happening in the comments sections of Threadbared. (See here and here. If you haven’t joined the conversation, it’s not too late!) In “Finance & the Fashion Blogger,” the blogger considers the personal financial cost of fashion blogging:

I think the rise of the fashion blogger has led to the rise of other things–increased need for consumption, a competitiveness to buy more and keep up with other bloggers. I remember reading about shopping addictions in magazines when I was younger, but I question if that’s on the rise too, with instant access to dozens of sale emails and posts popping up before our eyes every second.

What really struck me was a quote she gives by another blogger, Birdie (of Bonne Vie): “The act of buying is so integral to writing that sometimes I wonder how bloggers keep it up.”

Is capitalist consumption integral to creative production? Is the creative process inextricably bound up in capitalism? Is this new media only a technology for enlisting gender normative capitalist conduct from women bloggers, naturalizing further the myth that “women are born to shop”? I’m not so sure which is why I’ve been pushing myself (as well as asking readers) to imagine the value of digital content and digital labor outside of capitalism.

This isn’t easy. It’s especially daunting for fashion bloggers who are, by definition, engaging (albeit in very different ways) with the procedures and logics of consumerism, accumulation, and possessive individualism. Of course fashion consumption isn’t necessarily a constitutive element of fashion blogs. Maintaining Threadbared doesn’t require that Mimi and I replenish our closets because style posts aren’t a central feature of this blog. (When we shop, we do so for the sheer joy of it!) Strictly speaking, though, Threadbared isn’t a “fashion blog” – it’s a research blog about the politics, economies, and cultures of fashion, style, and beauty. Still, many other more traditional fashion bloggers don’t shop for their blogs either. I’m thinking of bloggers like Amy Odell of the The Cut or Cathy Horyn of the New York Times.

Sheena Matheiken isn’t a blogger, as such, but you can see in the video that she’s insanely adept at putting together outfit posts for The Uniform Project. Just so we’re clear, Matheiken produces these amazing daily outfit posts without shopping for new clothes. In fact, she wears the same dress (taken to dizzying heights of creativity and difference) 365 days per year! I especially love her “pants posts” which magically transforms her dress into a tunic or a jacket and doesn’t at all give that dress-over-pants look that I grew tired of almost immediately as it became popular (8 years or so ago). [I feel that I have to qualify that statement: the dress over pants look is entirely acceptable if one is wearing an ao dai (but technically, that’s a long shirt over pants) and if one is not doing so as costume.] But I digress . . .

[Vimeo 11113046]

If you don’t already know about this amazing project, definitely check out the link as well as this mini-interview with Matheiken. Oh, and if The Uniform Project sounds familiar to you, it may be that you read Mimi’s incisive post about the project and the way it puts into productive tension the desire for  individualization and imperatives of standardization. Now that The Uniform Project is embarking on Year Two, it’s a good time to revisit Mimi’s post!

Here’s how Matheiken describes the project:

Starting May 2009, I have pledged to wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. Here’s how it works: There are 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week. Every day I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies. Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade’s boudoir.

The Uniform Project is also a year-long fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing education in India. At the end of the year, all contributions will go toward Akanksha’s School Project to fund uniforms and other educational expenses for children living in Indian slums.

7 Comments

Filed under LINKAGE

Anna Wintour Totally Gets Popular Culture

Given the surge of backlash against fashion bloggers in recent months by self-appointed gatekeepers like Anne Slowey, Joe Zee, Simon Doonan, among many others, I was gobsmacked by Anna Wintour’s rather positive comments on the subject at the Pratt Institute last night.

We love as much coverage of fashion as possible. We don’t care at all where it comes from, and we embrace bloggers and video and social networking, and anyone that’s talking about fashion is a good thing . . . what’s interesting to us with this new phenomenon that ‘everyone’s a fashion editor, everyone’s a fashion writer’ is that all of that actually helps Vogue.

To be sure, Wintour is not putting forth a populist perspective on bloggers nor is she really advocating the democratization of fashion writing. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. What I find fascinating (and frankly, impressive) is her clarity about the assimilative operations of popular culture within the context of consumer capitalism. While the gatekeepers continue to hand-wring and carp about the devaluation of professional fashion journalism by amateur bloggers, Wintour understands that, as with many marginal practices and bodies throughout the history of commercial culture,  fashion blogging is being absorbed and incorporated into the mainstream. Historically, this absorption and incorporation has been the process by which mainstream institutions of popular culture maintain, secure, and expand their dominance. The assimilation and commodification of fashion blogging (which unevenly benefits some bloggers) works to contain the threat of difference through a depoliticized mode of liberal tolerance and pluralism. As such, it is to the economic and cultural advantage of fashion stalwarts to be magnanimous about fashion bloggers.

And anyway, many bloggers blog not because they want to overthrow the powerhouses of the fashion industry – they want in.

from BryanBoy's post (30 Oct. 2009) "Anna Worshipper Part 3"

5 Comments

Filed under FASHION 2.0

Digital Work and Child’s Play

Creative director for Elle magazine Joe Zee seems confused about the role of a fashion/style blogger and the role of a fashion magazine editor. In yet another barb against Tavi Gevinson, the ‘tween-age blogger wunderkind from suburban Illinois, Zee reiterates his colleague Anne Slowey’s skepticism about young bloggers’ fashion expertise: “What am I getting out of a 13-year-old’s opinion about fashion? How does that help me distill the collections? What am I supposed to be buying? That’s what an editor’s job at a magazine is.”

Um, yeah. That may be what “an editor’s job at a [commercial] magazine” is but when did telling the public what they’re “supposed to be buying” become the only legitimate mode of fashion writing?

While Slowey, Zee, and other gatekeepers want to keep the “digital natives” off their cultural-economic territory (presumably, they’re nostalgic for a time before the democratization of fashion), there is a growing discourse about the problem of the the ‘tween blogger that is worth considering seriously. By the way, notice how real and virtual territorialism always only works in one direction. Nearly all major fashion magazines now have full-time bloggers on staff. Can you imagine how ridiculous – but also wonderfully hilarious – it would be if ‘tween and twenty-something bloggers protested the print media’s convergence and capitalist takeover of digital media spaces?

To get a sense of how non-territorial bloggers are, check out this very short video from the Evolving Influence Fashion Blog Conference (NYFW 2010) hosted by the Independent Fashion Bloggers. Panelists included Britt Aboutaleb and Lauren Sherman (Fashionista.com), BryanBoy, Tavi Gevinson, Susie Bubble, and Phil Oh (Street Peeper).

In the past few months, a number of people have raised concerns about ‘tween bloggers and child labor laws. The spark, I think, was lit by the news that Gevinson had been commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to write a column for their January 2010 issue reviewing the Spring collections. Here’s what some of them are saying:

The ethics of the industry employing young models have been discussed at tedious length, but because of the “massification” of bloggers, Tavi gets to elude these discussions because we can pretend that she’s just an “amateur,” that she’s not at work when she’s at fashion shows. Yes she is. She is being invited to these shows for economic reasons, so we’re not just talking about techno-generational issues; we’re talking about child labour. (March 5, 2010)

Having exhausted teenagers in the pursuit of fresh material to exploit to connote “youth,” the fashion industry has begun to seize upon ever younger recruits, willing victims fashionized far before their time. Bled of their individuality by the parasitic industry, these victims are left for “generic” . . . (February 16, 2010)

[P]erhaps after some formal journalism training, Tavi could probably make a decent fashion journalist. Still, the question remains: Will she be taken seriously? It’s hard to tell whether she will be greeted with open arms as the new and improved Tavi, or rejected and thrown aside like so many child actors before her. (February 10, 2010)

Each of these critics in different ways are shedding light on the underside of work flexibility that the new creative economy both desires and demands. The Internet’s reorganization of time – what Michel Laguerre calls “flexitime” – and its impact on the meanings of work/leisure, workplace/home, workday/weekend, to name just one set of traditional spatio-temporal binaries is generally celebrated as post-industrial freedom:

[T]he process by which work that used to be done at a conventional workplace can now be carried out elsewhere (locational flexibility) and at a time of their choice (temporal flexibility) . . . allow[s] employees more freedom in the organization of their working hours.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post about the new digital work order and its regulatory mechanisms that induce not only multi-tasking but also omni-tasking (the idea that because one can always work, one should always be working) and which manifests for me as blogger guilt, the flexibility of work in the Digital Age particularly for those working in the creative economy is a complicated thing.

Returning to Gevinson: On the one hand, she is an exemplar of the democratization of fashion and the media that define the neoliberal present moment. Her youthful pluck, unique creative expressions, mastery of information technologies, and enterprising initiative embody the characteristics that are most valued in the creative industries of fashion and media today. Moreover, her age and gender, her location outside the traditional centers of fashion (she lives in Oak Park, Illinois), and her aptitude for multitasking as consumer and producer of fashion objects, images, and discourses confirm the neoliberal beliefs in the democratizing potential of work flexibility and related to it, the flexibility of geographic, social, and economic borders. That a 14 year-old girl (14, this month) from a Midwestern suburb has made her way into the global centers of fashion is suggestive for many people of the decentralization and thus democratization of the powerful cultural institutions of the media and fashion.

On the other hand, as the critics above point out, the numbers of hours she’s working, her integration into the adult world of fashion commerce (where she’s exposed to a host of extracurricular activities that are surely not Board of Ed approved), and yes, the level of public scrutiny she invites and does not invite should make us all seriously think about the exploitation of young bloggers by the high profit-seeking fashion and media industries.

(In the above photos, Gevinson sits front row with BryanBoy at the Marc Jacobs show and hangs backstage with Leigh Lezark and Geordan Nicol of the MisShapes before the Y-3 Spring 2010 fashion show in New York City.)

Ironically, work flexibility was once the “rallying cry” of laborers who were sick of the Fordist industrial work order. As Andrew Ross writes in his latest book, Nice Work if You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times (NYU Press):

The demand for creative, meaningful work in factories and offices was a rallying cry of the 1970s ‘revolt against work’ [movement which led to] calls to humanize the workplace by introducing mentally challenging tasks and employee innovation . . . as an alternative to the humdrum routines of standard industrial employment.

Fashion blogging exemplifies precisely the conditions of labor being fought for in the 1970s. Bloggers work in a field where creative passion and playfulness are job requirements. They typically work from home or from exotic locations like the tents at Fashion Week (in New York, Milan, Paris, Moscow, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg, etc.) As such, “work” often looks a lot like “play” – and as the photos of Gevinson attest – what we once considered child’s play (playing dress-up, cutting school to hang out with the cool kids, and poring over the sartorial styles of star designers and celebrities) is now potentially a culturally and economically profitable business.

It is the playfulness of the creative economy that works to gloss over the un-democratic social and labor conditions internal to the capitalist logics driving the media and fashion industries even in the age of democratization. As the critics who are concerned about the issue of child labor in the new creative economy allude, the future of the Digital Age may look a lot like the Industrial Age.

12 Comments

Filed under DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION, FASHION 2.0