IT was only a matter of time before publicists, a.k.a. PRs, and the companies and individuals they represent realize that quantity doesn’t always equate to quality.
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that IMG Fashion, the outfit behind Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, is reducing its media invites by as much as 20 percent. Since it can’t do away with legitimate journalists working for some of the world’s most influential media outfits, it has decided to cut cost by limiting access to bloggers.
(My friend, the ever incisive Kitty Go, traced this development to the fact that huge emerging markets for luxury items like China are showing signs of slowing down. High-end designer brands have begun to cut cost, as they brace themselves for the inevitable.)
The story, which was picked up by an on-line fashion magazine, which calls itself Buro, even went as far as to say that “no bloggers will be on the guest list.” I doubt it, though.
Turning into a zoo?
Since the world of high fashion feeds on luxury and exclusivity, not a few industry heavyweights from the boardroom to the production room have complained that the scene was “becoming a zoo.” According to the story, the likes of Oscar dela Renta have even stopped staging big shows in favor of more intimate ones with no more than 350 people on their guest list.
In a nutshell, the new direction seeks to invite only guests that are of “value to the designer” by “tightening their accreditation guidelines,” Buro reported.
For people who are unfamiliar with the way fashion is covered abroad, there was once a time not so long ago when invitations to fashion week were limited to reputable fashion journalists, buyers, sponsors and A-list celebrities.
In an article for the New York Times titled “The Circus of Fashion,” journalist Suzy Menkes even went on to describe their preferred outfits then: all black ensembles by either Commes de Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto.
Blend in, don’t stand out
In short, the unspoken rule for invitees then was to blend in and allow the featured pieces on the runway to stand out. Although red carpets and press kits were probably already de rigueur, photo walls—which my good friend Jude hates with a passion—and loot bags weren’t.
With the explosion of digital media, from smartphones to deadline-free blog sites with unlimited space, the blogger was born. Like journalists in the real world, each blogger gravitated to his or her area of interest.
While some became instant restaurant reviewers, others became authorities in travel, interior design, gadgets, watches, beauty products, shopping haunts and even cars. Again, like journalists, not a few know how to write (Filipino fashion blogger Bryanboy is one of them) or at least catch your attention with a combination of provocative texts and photos.
The biggest and by far most visible bloggers are those identified with fashion. Thus, the likes of Bryanboy (Bryan Grey Yambao in real life), Tavi Gevinson and Scott Schuman (a.k.a. The Sartorialist) became household names.
Armed with smartphones, digital cameras and tablets, and unhampered by editors, space constraints and production processes, these bloggers uploaded their individual takes on a fashion show even before the designer could take a bow.
It wasn’t long before more and more publicists saw the power these intrepid practitioners of so-called new media wield. In turn, more and more individuals out of a sincere desire to be heard and make a difference, and/or get invites and freebies, started blogging.
Thus, from a few pioneers with something smart or weighty to say, the number of fashion bloggers has exploded, fueled in part by fawning and accommodating PRs and even the designers themselves.
(Designer Marc Jacobs, Menkes noted, opened the floodgates of good and, well, evil, when he named one of his bags after Bryanboy in 2008. Suddenly, the development “turned on an apparently unending shower of designer gifts, which are welcomed at bryanboy.com.”)
In order to stand out in a field that was getting more crowded by the tweet, fashion bloggers, in turn, started dressing up more outrageously. Again, the industry gamely obliged by aiding and abetting them.
Since almost none of them have heard of ethics expected of a journalist (and with no editor or publisher to make them toe the line and/or strike the fear of God in them), not a few basked unashamedly in freebies publicists, designers and fashion houses showered them with.
Wittingly or not, not a few of these bloggers even upped the ante by posting their loot on Twitter or Instagram. Such acts of brazenness do pay. Not wanting to be outdone by the competition, not a few fashion houses responded by throwing away more lavish and creative giveaways each season.
Joining the fray
Instead of putting a stop to it by crying enough, as Menkes pointed out and lamented in the same article, not a few fashion editors—real or imagined—joined the fray by also doing the red carpet and preening in front of the cameras in the most outrageous furs, exotic skins and froufrou in a bid to outdo Bryanboy et. al.
(And this phenomenon, take note, is not limited to New York and other fashion capitals the world over, but is also happening in such fashion backwaters as Manila.)
Suddenly, the industry has started to feel the backlash. Never have high fashion and the sense of exclusivity that fuels it become this pedestrian. Since fashion houses are the ones validating members of new media by giving away designer stuff to them, what sets the intrepid blogger apart from members of the fashion cognoscenti who are willing to pay the price just to get first dibs at what’s next? Nothing!
Like Menkes said, “there is a genuine difference between the stylish and the showoffs—and that is the current dilemma.” If fashion, particularly high fashion, is for everyone, is it still fashion, she asked. Or, more to the point, is it still fashion worth spending a toned arm and a waxed leg for?
Famous for being famous
Worse, since there’s no one to regulate them, everyone, from the virtually illiterate to the unabashed freeloader, could set up a blog and Instagram account, and call himself a fashion blogger to get invited (even flown in!) to these events. People “famous for being famous,” as Menkes put it, have never had it so good.
Sure, PRs are getting more than enough warm bodies and media mileage they so crave from a combination of journalists and bloggers, but are they getting the quality coverage and attendance that their high-flying clients expect and demand of them? Are posts and tweets made by these bloggers translating into actual sales?
If Mercedes Benz Fashion Week’s latest move to trim down its future guest lists is anything to go by, then the answer to these questions is a resounding no.
As for Bryanboy, after enjoying a considerable head start, the celebrity fashion blogger would still be there finding new ways to reinvent himself and his brand. But the train has already left. It won’t be that easy anymore for those thinking of following in his footsteps.
(And what about journalists with neither the writing chops nor the circulation/reach to effectively set the agenda or sway opinion? As far as organizers are concerned, are these journalists worth more than celebrity bloggers with a huge following and writing panache to boot? Stay glued.)