'Vogue' versus the blogger...and how are Irish influencers involved?
As 'Vogue' launches a scathing attack on bloggers, our reporter asks if the old guard are shaking in their Gucci boots, or if the fashion world has had enough of peacocking influencers?
The times, they are a changin', and never was this more apparent than last week when senior editors at 'Vogue' were met with a barrage of abuse on social media in retaliation to a scathing attack they launched on fashion bloggers in, rather ironically, a Vogue.com blog post.
In a Milan Fashion Week wrap-up blog, the publication's creative digital director, Sally Singer, took umbrage at the hordes of bloggers creating chaos outside the shows in their "paid-to-wear outfits", claiming they were "heralding the death of style".
In the same blog post, Vogue.com chief critic Sarah Mower called said bloggers "desperate" and "pathetic" for trying to get photographed, and Alessandra Codinha, Vogue.com's fashion news editor, said: "It seems to be all about turning up, looking ridiculous, posing", signing off with calling the whole charade "pretty embarrassing". Nicole Phelps, director of 'Vogue' runway, added insult to injury, by writing: "It's distressing to watch so many brands participate."
The bloggers - and their followers - fought back.
Perhaps the most vocal of them was Susanna Lau, aka Susie Bubble, whose style blog stylebubble.com has been going strong since 2006. Susie criticised 'Vogue''s hypocrisy for calling out bloggers for being paid to wear clothes, tweeting that it's no different to 'Vogue' featuring paid advertising in its magazine: "Let's not pretend that editors are not beholden to brands in one way or another, getting salaries at publications that are stuffed full of credits that are tied to paid advertising."
Another 'original' blogger, BryanBoy, who blogs at bryanboy.com, called out the 'Vogue' blog as "nothing more than schoolyard bullying", reiterating Susie Bubble's point: "I'd have a bounty for my head if I name-checked all the editors who told me they only go to certain shows because they're advertisers."
So was 'Vogue' right to decry these 'influencers' as nothing more than walking advertisements, or are these editors simply intimidated by the young whippersnapper bloggers who now command seats on the FROWs, in turn democratising the fashion industry once and for all?
Well, both really.
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While the old guard at 'Vogue''s attempt to assert authority reeked of an industry running scared of the new, hipper, more digital-savvy, think-outside-the box influencers, there is an element of reaching peak blogger - even here in Ireland.
It seems these days you only have to post a photo of yourself with one leg in front of the other, hand to windswept hair, and pouting at the camera, to call yourself an 'influencer'. If you've managed to gain 10,000 followers or more on Instagram, brands will pay you, or throw free stuff at you, to post about them, be it fake tan, clothes, or the more hefty 'gifts' of a holiday.
And Irish influencers are taking it a step further, by creating brands of themselves through their online personalities - by documenting every aspect of their lives through Snapchat.
Just two weeks ago, a popular Dublin make-up artist and digital influencer was slated by a fellow social media icon for live-posting her labour pains. What would the senior editors at 'Vogue' make of that, considering they get offended at multiple outfit changes during Fashion Week?
Corina Gaffey, a freelance stylist and fashion writer, says some bloggers - albeit a "1pc minority" - simply turn up to events to blag free stuff. "Some of the newer influencers think it's about turning up, putting a bit of time in and posting a photo.
They don't realise how much work actually goes into creating and curating content for a blog and to maintain a loyal following."
"Any editor or blogger who is relevant to a target market or demographic is an influencer," says Sophie Flynn-Rogers, a freelance fashion, beauty and lifestyle PR for the last 15 years. "What PRs call key influencers have been around long before social media. Social media influencers are just a new medium of the media.
"Who you want on the FROW are those influencers - whether they write for magazines, newspapers, report to TV or their own blogs or Snapchat. Because they have a reach and a relevance, know their subject and create good copy and content. It's a PR's job to make sure your invite list is relevant to do what you want to achieve for the brand you're representing.
"We don't have huge brands with the according huge budgets for influencer marketing (where content is 'sponsored' and paid for) based here in Ireland like there is in the US and UK.
"Online influencers here have a different and proportionate parallel when budgets for guaranteeing coverage are made available. Nobody's getting €50k for a social media campaign here," adds Sophie.
But the truth is, fashion journalism has changed drastically - and the consumer is all too aware of this. No one has time to pore over a double-page spread of what trends hit the catwalk anymore - if it isn't in a slideshow they can access from their phone, they're not interested.
Bloggers have just cottoned on to this business model ahead of the likes of 'Vogue', and understand that the way we consume content, and how brands put their product out there, has forever changed.
With 'Vogue''s single-copy sales dwindling 22.5pc in the first half of 2014, nearly one fifth more than 2013, brands such as Chanel, Levi's and Pantene know teaming up with a blogger like Chiara Ferragni will get their product direct to 6.7m followers on Instagram, and net Ferragni a six-figure sum in the process (her earnings were reported to be in the region of $2.5 million in 2015, just from affiliated posts on her blog alone). Ferragni, for what it's worth, has featured on the cover of multiple international 'Vogues' herself, is one of the world's best-known street-style stars, and has collaborated with the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, all before the age of 30.
Irish business-savvy influencers, like Suzanne Jackson, whose So Sue Me brand has seen her launch her own make-up and beauty ranges; Rosie Connolly, who was the first Irish influencer to sign to an agency here, and Anouska Proetta Brandon, who travels around the world posting about it on her blog, have not only made a name for themselves in the fashion and lifestyle world, but have made a pretty penny too.
Lorna Weightman, a Dublin-based fashion blogger and stylist, is just back from London Fashion Week, where she says there's still a preference for "top-end publications" on the FROW over bloggers.
But there is a sea change, both at LFW and at home in Ireland, she says.
"In my own experience I've been treated very well and get great access to shows - before you were lucky to stand at the back," says Lorna. "I've worked really hard to get where I am and it takes a really long time to get to that level with designers. So the landscape for me has certainly changed.
"In Ireland I still think there's a preference for traditional media, but it is evolving.
"There is room for both," adds Lorna, who says 70pc of her income comes from her blog, styleisle.ie, and the rest is from her styling and other work.
Clyde Carroll, director of marketing and communications at Dublin Town, which organises the Dublin Fashion Festival, says he reserves the FROW for both traditional media, i.e. print, as well as bloggers.
"We respect the print media hugely - there's a trust there that you just can't compete with. The experience the print media brings is vast.
"But we're targeting two different audiences - bloggers and influencers get the content online instantly, which goes straight to a younger market. Print media have a loyal following as well, and we would also hold back a lot of content for newspapers specifically.
"There doesn't need to be an 'us versus them' mentality," he continues. "There's definitely room for both forms."
Corina agrees: "I myself use both new media and old media. Potential clients will sometimes ask how many followers I have, but I'm confident enough that my experience speaks for itself.
"There is definitely room for both traditional media and bloggers in fashion; it's a reciprocal relationship that works quite well."
This instantaneous concept has gone beyond the FROW, with brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Topshop Unique and Burberry all introducing a 'see now buy now' concept at London and New York Fashion Weeks. Consumers were able to buy products online, straight after seeing them on the catwalk. This surely cuts out the middle man of 'Vogue' and other fashion publications, making a 500-word critique of a show obsolete.
This trend also makes way for the democratisation of fashion - consumers are no longer relying on editors to tell them what's hot or not, they can buy straight from the catwalk after seeing Susie Bubble or Leandra Medine of manrepeller.com post a catwalk shot straight to Instagram.
"It's no longer the reserve of the editors or the bloggers to hold news for six months. To stay alive in retail, brands have to sell straight away," says Sophie.
"That's not caused by influencers - ultimately that's caused by consumer demand."
There will always be a place for 'Vogue', of course. Fashion at its core is a fantasy, and everyone wants to escape their real life every now and then.
Perhaps 'Vogue''s place is just no longer on the FROW.
Or is it possible this whole bloggers furore was part of a larger plan? After all, you can't say the old Establishment didn't dominate this last Fashion Week...