With their Portable TV tour kicking off down the east coast this week, we spoke to one half of the duo behind LOOKBOOK.nu, Yuri Lee, about the future of fashion.
LOOKBOOK.nu is the kind of site you wouldn’t want to explain to your mother (mine is still stuck on the concept of Twitter), but mention it to your trendy cousin and your cool points will rise dramatically. A social networking site for the stylishly gifted, founders Yuri Lee and Andy Chen began the venture in 2008 like most grassroots sites – to create an outlet. Today the site has an expanding community of over 4.4 million users a month from all around the world, and has become a rich source of inspiration for countless labels.
With such a wide reach, it’s only natural that Lee and Chen have become one of the fashion industry’s new generation of influencers and a source of information and trends themselves. Thanks to Portable TV, the two are bringing their knowledge and experience to Australia, with their series of talks beginning in Brisbane, followed by Sydney and then Melbourne.
We asked Lee about how the site has changed the industry, his life and the future of the fashion.
Lauren Burvill: From your perspective, how has LOOKBOOK.nu influenced the fashion industry?
Yuri Lee: When we launched LOOKBOOK.nu four years ago, we simply wanted to create a new outlet for fashion inspiration, and by that standard I'd say we're succeeding. At the time, posting looks was nowhere near as widespread or as huge as it is today. We now get thousands of looks posted every day and hundreds of thousands of people visiting the site to get inspired. The vast majority of our community members are not models or industry professionals, but simply aspiring bloggers, stylists, amateur photographers and creative people from all over the world.
Also, the key aspect of LOOKBOOK.nu is that it's editorless and 100 per cent user-driven. The users post the looks and the community decides which ones become ‘hot’ enough to make the front page. It's a very different approach to the top-down, editorially-curated content of most fashion media outlets. Journalists telling you which celebrities you should emulate, what are the must-haves of the season, that type of thing. LOOKBOOK.nu is more like a level playing field, where the best ideas can come from anyone and rise organically.
How has it changed your life personally?
It's a 24/7 job. Even when you're not working, you're thinking about work. Starting and growing a business is challenging and stressful, but it’s worth it.
With sites like yours and independent style blogs, there has been a huge shift of focus from the runway and celebrities to the street and personal style. Why do you think it is as popular as it is?
It's more relatable because they're real people. In order to stand out, bloggers need to create a unique personal identity. So when you find a blogger you like, you get to know them intimately as a person. Plus, now that many of the more successful bloggers have behind-the-scenes access to the fashion industry, they can give you a firsthand glimpse of the latest developments going on in the fashion world.
LOOKBOOK.nu is quite organic in its concept, but if you take a look at some of the people's
images, they appear incredibly professional. The quality is quite impressive. What has it been like to watch the site develop and evolve?
Since we started the site, the photographic quality of looks has only gotten better and better. It's been incredibly exciting to see the talent within our community evolve and progress. It's a common first reaction from people who discover the site [to say] that the looks are ‘magazine-worthy’ and it blows people away that often those looks are, in reality, the work of a passionate teenager with a DSLR.
Have there been any big shifts or trends that have occurred since you launched?
Fashion blogging has blown up, but that's made it a lot more crowded and more challenging for bloggers to stand out. We also see all sorts of brands take notice and flock to work with bloggers. That’s probably the biggest shift we’ve encountered.
It's recently been revealed that some of the world's most famous 'street style stars' have
become walking billboards for labels and are now paid to wear specific products in hope that they are photographed. How do you feel about that?
We’re cool with it. It takes a lot of time and hard work to style original looks continuously and to be a successful fashion blogger. We’re excited and happy for them when they get opportunities to work with brands and get paid. From what we’ve seen, most of them are discerning about who they work with and choose to endorse brands and products they like anyway, so I don’t feel doing so compromises the integrity of their voice.
Do you attend any of the fashion week events? Or do you prefer to stay one step removed?
Yes. We've been going to New York Fashion Week since 2010 when we were invited to speak for an IFB (Independent Fashion Bloggers) conference. Since then we've been fortunate to go see some of the shows like Rebecca Minkoff, Herve Leger, BCBG, Alice + Olivia and others. I’ve always looked up to fashion designers and recognise the impact of their talent and creative visions. This year we were fortunate to be able to send two of our users, Adam Gallagher from iamgalla.com and Rachel-Marie Iwanyszyn from jaglever.com to go to Fashion Week with us, where they guest-Instagrammed and provided real-time coverage for our audience, and this is a tradition we hope to continue.
With so much user-generated content, do you still think celebrities influence trends?
Celebrities clearly still have the ability to influence trends. There will always be people who look up to celebrities. And celebrities also have access to the same social media platforms we do, and because they’re already famous, they don’t have to try as hard to gain followers. But thanks to the internet, normal people with talent now have a much better shot at making a name for themselves. They can start posting looks and engaging people immediately, which gives fashion consumers more choices when deciding whom to look up to, and the fashion industry is as a whole is better off for it.
Do you see fashion magazines as still relevant, or a dying breed?
I have to be honest. Five years ago I bought at least one magazine a month. Now I only buy them once in a blue moon, because most of the content I want from them can be found online.
And just lastly, since your site is such a source of inspiration to people around the world, who or what inspires you?
It's circular. The passion and creativity of our users is and will always be a huge inspiration to us. Seeing people develop real connections over their shared love of fashion, photography, and creative expression is the most rewarding part of running LOOKBOOK.nu. It's what motivates us to keep making it better.