A recent Vogue.com article that takes on the industry’s well-known penchant for bloggers warrants a bit of attention, if for no reason other than the fact that it sorely lacks context. The piece at issue, entitled, Ciao, Milano! Vogue.com’s Editors Discuss the Week That Was, which was published on Monday on the heels of the Spring/Summer 2017 shows in Milan, includes some interesting and controversial excerpts, particularly from Alessandra Codinha, Vogue.com’s news editor, on the state of the runway show and fashion week, in general.
A particularly debated bit takes on the popular slant of discrediting bloggers in an attempt to bolster more traditional (and swiftly dying) forms of media, such as magazines. Codinha writes: Am I allowed to admit that I did a little fist pump when Sally broached the blogger paradox? There’s not much I can add here beyond how funny it is that we even still call them “bloggers,” as so few of them even do that anymore. Rather than a celebration of any actual style, it seems to be all about turning up, looking ridiculous, posing, twitching in your seat as you check your social media feeds, fleeing, changing, repeating . . . It’s all pretty embarrassing—even more so when you consider what else is going on in the world. (Have you registered to vote yet? Don’t forget the debate on Monday!)
Loving fashion is tremendous, and enthusiasts of all stripes are important to the industry—after all, people buy clothing because of desire, not any real need—but I have to think that soon people will wise up to how particularly gross the whole practice of paid appearances and borrowed outfits looks. Looking for style among a bought-and-paid-for (“blogged out?”) front row is like going to a strip club looking for romance. Sure, it’s all kind of in the same ballpark, but it’s not even close to the real thing.
Singer, model and great-granddaughter of the late Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, sounded off on this excerpt, saying: "I find it shameful that an institution such as Vogue would demean and belittle these young people who are building their own paths, especially since they are mostly young women, calling them 'pathetic' and comparing them to strippers. This certainly isn't the Vogue voice my great-grandmother once stood for."
The article continues. Sally Singer, Vogue’s creative digital director, adds: “Please stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style.” Enter: Sarah Mower, Vogue.com’s chief critic, who takes to calling bloggers who participate in street-style photography “pathetic,” and adding: “[Y]ou watch how many times the desperate troll up and down outside shows, in traffic, risking accidents even, in hopes of being snapped.” Finally, Runway’s director, Nicole Phelps, adds her two cents on bloggers: “It’s not just sad, it’s distressing.”
These editors undoubtedly make some legitimate points, even if those points are hugely hyprocritical. Yes, many of these personal style bloggers are, in fact, paid to attend and dressed in borrowed or gifted outfits. Yet, these are the exact ones who are, as blogger Susie Lau accurately points out, some of the most frequent subjects of major publications’ street style coverage. These also tend to be the ones posting brand-sponsored content without Federal Trade Commission disclosures. If we consider these bloggers in connection with the rise of the now-almost-satiric “street style” phenomenon, as indicated by the Vogue article, then yes, it may be easy to side with Codinha.
It is crucial that we counter such criticisms with the fact that major publications are more or less guilty of engaging in some of the exact same practices. It is worth noting, for instance, that a large chunk of street style photography consists of editors - at least some of whom are dressed to be photographed (and stop to be photographed) by Tommy or Adam or Scott or whoever - and not just bloggers. But the infractions of the establishment are more significant than that.
It is these major publications, after all, that are driven almost exclusively by advertiser revenue - and those advertisers stage runway shows, that editors attend and cover, oftentimes simply because the brand is an advertiser. It is these publications' editors that turn up in Cuba or Rio or wherever on the fashion brand’s dime to take in a pre-season or couture collection – without disclosing any of those critical details for their readers but being sure to include whatever hashtag is appropriate (think: #CocoCuba or #LVRio) in service of such brands. Yes, they, like bloggers, take advantage of free trips and run afoul of federal disclosure laws.
In furtherance of upholding advertiser relationships, major publications have been known to withhold articles to avoid pissing off their major advertisers. Moreover, it is these publications that give advertisers' garments and accessories - often in the form of head-to-toe runway looks - preferable treatment by way prime coverage in editorials or other articles/segments because they are advertisers - without indicating this pay-for-play practice to consumers. (That does not represent too many degrees of separation from advertisers paying bloggers to wear these same looks, to post them on Instagram and/or to be shot by street style photographers while wearing them). At the end of the day, it is all advertising, albeit in different forms. "It's schoolyard bullying, plain and simple. How satisfying it must be to go for the easy target rather than going for other editors," according to popular blogger BryanBoy.
And before we allow the old school institution to shame the new schoolers for not engaging in world affairs because they are "too busy on social media" at a fashion show, we must remember that editors, too, are taking in fashion shows and attending brands' lunches and dinners in London, Milan, and Paris, dressed in designer wares and covering these spectacles on social media while Syria engages in war crimes. As Codinha says, "It’s all kind of in the same ballpark," no?
Given the rate with which mainstream fashion publications conduct themselves in ways that fall below the standards for equitable journalism, it seems rather 'pot calling the kettle black' to call out bloggers as a whole and suggest that they "get another job," as the article does.
In fact, given what we know about the less than fair-handed dealings between publications and their advertisers, it seems that it is the “journalist” and “editor” titles - more so than the "blogger" one - that are the more concerning ones here. We have all come to know - or at least become somewhat familiar with - the stereotypical role of the blogger, which Codinha very clearly points out. (Note: The arguably well-known blogger stereotype does not free these individuals from having to disclose their endorsement ties in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines). What most people do not know is what goes into many major publications' runway show reviews or the editorials in their magazines or their editors' social media postings.
At another point, Nicole Phelps, director of Vogue Runway notes: "[This] brings me back around to Sally and Sarah’s points about the street style mess. It’s not just sad for the women who preen for the cameras in borrowed clothes, it’s distressing, as well, to watch so many brands participate." This similarly seems to be devoid of context, as many fashion industry insiders, including editors and critics, have no problem when brands participate in "the game" by staging far-flung runway shows - lavish weekend-long affairs - something editors are not necessarily shy to document (in articles and especially on their public personal Instagram accounts).
In short: the article proves perplexing, and sheds light on a larger industry problem. As the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman noted last year, “It's every person's responsibility to maintain their own integrity, and in a sense, there's an onus on the reader to have a healthy dose of skepticism when they're coming at any of us.” So ask yourself: Which brands fund this publication’s ads, what companies have invested in and/or own this website, is this person holding herself out as an objective fashion editor/journalist or a fashion blogger. These answers can be quite telling.