The world of fashion writing is changing.
Like all forms of media of late, fashion, in particular, has seen a huge surge in the numbers of both skilled and unskilled practitioners making and developing their own niche or mainstream fashion blogs.
At the opening day of London Fashion Week yesterday, I witnessed at first hand the remarkable task that this seemingly unstoppable rise in the numbers of entry-level fashion journalists has posed those involved in fashion PR, namely: who is who among the bloggers; and how to stop those who aren’t from invading our press rooms, and eating all the food.
After Sarah Brown spoke following the opening catwalk of LFW AW 2010, there was a battle to the press room not seen since my last visit to a rugby international where understandably bulky former-players-turned-mouthpiece’s-of-the-sport jostled light-heartedly for free drinks after the event.
So, it was with not a little bemusement that I watched as the Prime Minister’s wife was squeezed for room by awkwardly dressed pseudo-fashionable young things who were pushing themselves towards the free press patisserie with aplomb. The coffee machine had run out of water. Something had to be done.
A hastily assembled and never before seen at London Fashion Week rope across the entry to the press room, installed at some point during the morning, managed to restore something approaching order to the situation in a way which highlighted most tacitly a feeling that was becoming increasingly apparent as we went from show to show: bloggers will be tolerated, but there is a food chain at work here, and those with dot blogspot or dot wordpress in their domain name should know that they are at the bottom of it.
This newly installed fourth tier to the heirarchy has added an air of anarchy to the already “runs because it has to” feeling of Fashion Week in general: the job of the PR has just become that little bit more complicated. Because the handling of such matters is usually left in the hands of unpaid interns, one can see how the queues for the shows can only get longer as more and more bloggers enter the fray.
But the problem is not that these fashion bloggers feel they have a right to be at these shows, the problem is that the fashion establishment does not know what metrics to use to differentiate these bloggers – in order to sort the wannabes from the already-ares and the never-will-bes. This could be quite easily fixed with a sensible appraisal in the first instance, before accreditation is handed out: simply ask for verifiable proof of circulation figures, or, horror of horrors, actually go and look at the blog or website in question and discern whether or not it is, in fact, a quality publication. Then greet all approved with open arms.
Either that, or create a different ticket for bloggers, and create a “bloggers room” which is full of computer terminals and tap water.
Unless something dramatic changes, this season’s London Fashion Week represents the tip of the iceberg: with respected fashion publications such as The Daily Telegraph running almost constant items about the fashion bloggers’ rise to prominence in a somewhat ironic piece of touching base – ironic because the scorn which pours from the press areas toward the blogosphere dribbles most obviously from those working for large print organisations – the number of people writing such blogs is sure only to rise.
In my capacity as editor of The Global Herald and other related digital products, I have seen at first hand that the majority of people coming through journalism BA and MA courses whom I have spoken to would list “fashion” as a top three item of interest when it comes to subject matter – rather disappointingly, “entertainment” was resoundingly the number one. While this reflects what people want to read about, it certainly also reflects what people are going to want to blog about and, if you are blogging about fashion, you’ll probably want to go to a major event such as, say, London Fashion Week.
Some questions need to be answered: firstly, is it necessary that every blogger should be physically present at London Fashion Week? If not, how does the British Fashion Council aim to decide who is and is not allowed accreditation? If bloggers are to be accomodated, it is clear that there needs to be more thought into how this might work in practice, as queues will continue to grow for more than just the pastry shelf.
Making bloggers into second rate attendees might do more harm than good due to the negative reaction one might expect, however, so the feeling is that perhaps something else would be a more suitable alternative. With the amount of rights-free pictures and – increasingly – videos offered by fashion PRs, there is the not insignificant creeping question as to whether or not bloggers, with their multiple cameras taking substantially similar inexpert photographs of the same things – not to mention their occassionally limited ability to express themselves particularly well in prose – might not be better served sitting at home watching said videos and copy/pasting said pictures for their unknowable numbers of readers.
That being said, there is, as ever, a worrying air of arrogance which emanates from the mainstream media hacks in the press area. As they push their way to the front of queues across London and take their places in all the front rows of all the biggest shows, some of these people need to know that the very blogs they deride in just this way are read by far more – literally millions more – people than their own articles will ever be. Numbers aren’t everything, but they do mean a lot, particularly where reputations on the fashionable high street are concerned.
One key statistic which was discovered from a LFW press release about the launch of yet more digital services was found in their very own hype: the London Fashion Week website, in 2009, received “over 100,000 unique visitors” during the SS 2010 fashion week. I have been involved – and still am involved with – a number of significantly less well known websites which receive more visitors than that in one day, yet people still hold in sniggers when I tell them the URL or website’s name, because “oh, I haven’t heard of it”.
It would seem, then, that we are at a fork in the road: quite clearly, we can’t go on running out of Danish pastries as a result of the presence of hundreds of bloggers who are impossible to differentiate. Yet fashion must embrace digital PR if it is to move with the times and keep attracting a young and vibrant audience out of their bedrooms and into the shops.
The only way to touch base with the generation which is growing up in 2010 is to elevate some – but not all – of its members to the status which used to be reserved for ‘proper’ journalists. Certainly, we mouldering characters in the press rooms won’t like it. Whoever is tasked with this, just make sure that, when you do, you use the right barometer to guage the brightest and best among the bloggers.
For now, how about “only those in Google News allowed.”