Since 2002 the term ‘democratic fashion’ has been bandied about in fashion media. This catchphrase is used to describe the unprecedented access – propelled by the internet and social media – the general population now has to a once opaque industry. This technological change, combined with our voyeuristic tendencies, has spawned the fashion blogger.
Before the internet, designers and editors disseminated trends from behind closed doors, then fashion-following citizens would lap up images and items once magazines and merchandise landed in stores. But like any good bubble, this one eventually burst. With the emergence of bloggers, a new, intermediary voice grew louder, one that translated trends from the upper echelons of fashion to a broader range of consumers. Coinciding with this was the rise of ‘fast fashion’ – high street brands (Topshop, Zara, H&M) emulating runway designs and collaborating with designers themselves – making fashion more affordable and extending its reach.
But has the emergence of bloggers and ‘fast fashion’ really turned the fashion industry into a democracy? Or does it still have the same hierarchy, with decisions made at the top that then trickle down to a mass audience at the ladder’s bottom, which the bloggers simply help to spread? Jess Blanch, editor of Australia’s RUSSH magazine, suggests the latter. “We should not forget that the fashion industry is still run by the big brands, most of which have existed since the early 1900s,” she says. “They dictate the trends that filter down into every corner of the fashion business, they qualify magazines by choosing to advertise there, they decide the big girls of the season by casting them for campaigns and they even choose their celebrities.”
Which doesn’t mean that bloggers aren’t an important cog in the industry wheel. Australia’s biggest fashion blogger, Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl (who at time of writing has 815,000 followers on Instagram), explains the exposure and impact bloggers are capable of due to their ability to show a product to a large audience instantaneously. “Many bloggers have built their business through social media. When I attend a show, I broadcast what I see through my social media platforms, with Instagram being my first choice. The publicity for the designer is instant, engaging and helps to build their own social media channels.”
The promotional aspect of what bloggers do is beyond question, but whether this is actually conducive to sales is harder to quantify. Or to qualify. As Blanch asks, “It’s fine to have a lot of followers, or ‘likes’ but how do you qualify them? Who are they exactly, and what is more important, the quantity or quality?”
Although Blanch agrees that bloggers are a good investment for brands short-term, she wonders if their influence will be as potent in the future. “Brands have embraced certain bloggers as a part of the current landscape, and it is this I feel that has made them relevant. Whether those bloggers will still stay relevant will be judged on their ability to touch the desired audience at the time.” After all, this is an industry that thrives on change.
No one knows this better than the bloggers themselves. The most successful fashion bloggers have been able to use the popularity of their blogs as a platform to build a business, allowing them to broaden into other roles in the industry. They have launched themselves as brands and trade on the approachable personalities their blogs showcase, and their authority on the topic. Warne has collaborated with brands as a model, stylist, consultant and creative director and in doing so has made a viable career of it. Last year she signed with IMG Talent (International Management Group) to become the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week insider, hosting their live-stream coverage. Warne is the first to admit that blogging has helped her to achieve bigger things in the four years since she started her blog. “I think blogs are a short-term goal. They are the perfect stepping stone to something bigger and better that has more longevity. My main goal is to have my blog evolve into its own brand, which could take me in any direction, whether that be designing my own label, writing a book or opening a cafe.” Her current role as style consultant for Lavazza coffee (which sponsors Virgin Australia Fashion Festival, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia and the Spring Racing Carnival, into which Warne will have creative input) may help her to do just that.
This doesn’t mean bloggers and social media haven’t played an important part in changing the way fashion is presented to us. Bloggers were the first to embrace social media in fashion and in doing so paved the way for editors who have now become much more savvy in this respect. Though the lines between an editor and blogger can sometimes be blurred (teenage blogger Tavi Gevinson is now editor of her own magazine, while many editors such as Vogue Italia’s Franca Sozanni regularly tweet, Instagram and have their own blog), this doesn’t mean one will replace the other. As Warne points out, bloggers are able to connect with the audience everyday in a way that is, “The perfect balance between being aspirational and attainable.”
Magazines create concepts to showcase the clothes and produce images that can stay with us for decades. It’s this impact which may be the reason why there have recently been less bloggers at international shows. On her recent trip to Paris, Blanch noticed that, “There were less and less bloggers at the big shows, with a lot of brands going back to more intimate presentations.” Some fashion insiders have argued that the presence of bloggers and street-style photographers have led to a photographic frenzy outside show tents that has taken away from the focus of the actual shows and the clothes presented there. Earlier this year, New York Fashion Week took steps to stop this by changing security measures and the way technology is used at the shows in what was called a ‘pre-show anti-blogging campaign’. It will be interesting to see if MBFWA follows suit. The smaller nature of our industry may mean that the more press we have, the better. Fewer bloggers will mean the more relevant ones will evolve and thrive in a kind of fashion Darwinism. But one thing won’t change – the people who make the decisions in the fashion industry will always be those at the top. In a way, that elitism is part of what we knowingly buy into.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia is from April 6-10 at various locations around Sydney. You can view the schedule of runway shows here: