We're reporting on each of the events in the RA's free salon series for GSK Contemporary - Aware. Second in the series is Storeytellers of Fashion. Participants include blogger Susie Lau, set designer Hattie Spice, Editor-in-chief Perry Curties (125 Magazine) and Dr. Agnès Rocamora (London College of Fashion).
How have blogs changed fashion journalism? How do we 'read' fashion magazines differently as individuals? These and many more questions arose in tonight's focus on storytelling.
The RA's Dr Alison Bracker kicked off the conversation by asking Susie Lau (lauded by the New York Times for the cult status of her Style Bubble blog) how and why she first entered the world of blogs.
Lau explained she began her blog four and a half years ago while working in a "boring job in digital advertising - the blog was something to reignite my love of fashion alongside having a full-time job".
Susie Lau aka Susie Bubble What began as a hobby eventually grew into something much bigger, leading to work writing for Dazed & Confused and freelancing for the likes of POP and Elle.
How long does the blog take each day?
"Anything between two and six hours - now it's become more of an occupation there's no limit".
Agnès Rocamora first discovered fashion blogs while "at work and not wanting to work… I was just surfing on the 'net and then came across some blogs. I was quite seduced by them. I guess that was about five years ago and I was very interested in the new format."
It was about young women and men putting themselves into the fashion story: "Some people would say it was about narcissism, but I thought, 'surely it's about more than that… it's changing the way fashion journalism works'. And it has."
Lau, who scans "about 400 blogs a day" via RSS feed, reflected that blogging has now blown up in such a way that there are sub-categories even within fashion blogging.
"There are some where people just take photos of themselves, some that are more informative, some that are more like traditional media, and of course 'street style' blogs.
"It's only in the last two years that it's really come into its own and become a fashion media, one that is one that is very much distinctive from fashion magazines, one which we all know. In the beginning I think there was a perceived animosity between blogs and magazines."
Perry Curties agreed: "I think at the beginning there was (a fear) that blogging would take over from magazines. But then magazines panic every six months to a year that someone’s going to come along and steal their business."
Now that there are so many style blogs, he asked Lau, how do you make yours stand out?
Lau explained that she didn't set out by trying to be different: "I think the only thing I do is talking about younger designers and the kind of things that are not necessarily talked about by other bloggers, because we all have different interests in fashion. But tone of voice as well - that's very important."
The way people consume blogs is very particular, Lau noted.
Dr Agnès Rocamora
"Maybe it’s a new generation of people consuming fashion in a new way, because of image-based sites like tumblr and flickr. People are so obsessed with the instant, do we have a generation of people who are not used to consuming at a slower pace?"
Along with all this blog-browsing, Rocamora pointed out, there are magazines - which are all about taking your time. Lau agreed: "Just the act of buying it is a call to action, you’re not just going on your computer and clicking.. you’re investing time and money into it."
Curties felt the main difference between blogs and magazines was the process.
"In a magazine you have to justify your opinions to the team, whereas with a blog it’s much more of a diary - your voice, your thoughts at that moment.
"Your opinions can change every day whereas in a magazine you have to decide what your opinion is and stick to it. It’s there in print forever."
With the rapid growth in blogs, how will a unique voice be heard in two years' time? He mentioned a university class that had given each of its students a blog: "If everyone has a blog, how does one voice cut through?"
Lau thought that each year, a name rose to the top: "whether it's through being written about or blogged about, creating a buzz - I think certain websites just become viral in the same sense as YouTube videos."
Rocamora made the point that rising to the top carried implications.
"You become included in fashion which means you can’t carry on doing you blog for free; you can be a fashion celebrity and do your blog but you have to earn money and do some work."
Lau acknowledged that fashion bloggers were operating without precedent.
"It's a period of flux for bloggers, each blogger has their own situation to deal with."
"Every fashion editorial is product placement"
The issue of transparency came up - how to draw a line between editorial, advertorial and product placement, and the potential grey areas in between.
Hattie Spice and Perry Curties
Lau referred to the recent legal clampdown on paid-for endorsements and freebies, especially on Twitter (see this Guardian article on the subject)
There was general agreement that in magazines, the relationship between paid advertising and editorial coverage was more complex than perhaps the average reader realised.
Curties: "I think it's an industry thing. It's a secret, really, and it applies to every single magazine - will a label advertise on the back cover if they don't get a certain number of places in the magazine? If that (disclosure) law was applied to magazines it would really change the way in which editorials work.
"The costs of producing a magazine are so huge, you do have to bend to the advertisers because they’re paying for your printing. Technically, every fashion editorial is product placement."
Lau said that readers of magazines and blogs alike were anxious that their trusted sources were not "selling out".
An audience member asked about the experience of writing for a blog versus a magazine. How is it different in a collaborative environment?
Lau explained she answered to no one but herself but there was an inherent danger in that: "You do sometimes need someone to bounce an idea off… and it's physically tiring doing everything yourself!"
Curties: "Sometimes if would be nice to just do it on your own and do exactly what you want – working in a team you have to compromise a bit, everybody’s ideas don’t always match up."
15 minutes of fame
Onto a different mode of storytelling altogether - the fashion show. They take longer than just clicking on a website, but how long, exactly?
About 15 minutes, Hattie Spice explained.
"It's not just about walking down a runway, it's also about getting good photographs - that 15 minutes needs to look good, photograph well, be unique.
"It’s a lot to do with venue. You have to find a completely new venue but the fashion person will only go a certain distance, so you end up looking in disused toilets and car parks and God knows what to create a new interesting space. And fashion moves so quickly you really have to keep up."
Rocamora asked what role the fashion show now played in a world of fashion films, websites and magazines.
Curties said that fashion shows had been around for three or four generations, and now fashion video meant you didn't have to fly half way around the world for shows.
These should be combined, Spice said - and mentioned the example of video being incorporated into catwalk shows.
Lau felt that brands were getting very excited about new media, but perhaps weren't harnessing it in the right way. There was even a possible backlash - she cited the recent Tom Ford 'secret' show, which had a tight guest list and a ban on press video and photography (see Grazia and Guardian articles on this).
"In a way it could be a tug of war - do we go this way, or that way?"
The subject of designers going 'off-grid' with their shows was an interesting one.
Spice said that in her experience, London Fashion Week designers chose to show off-schedule to create something unique; it was about "not being on the conveyer belt".
Lau: "That's the great thing about LFW, there's a broader range of designers."
Curties felt that perhaps in London people had to be more creative, because there was less money behind the designs. Lau thought that there wasn't any other fashion week that did things "off-schedule".
The RA's Alison Bracker asked: for whom is the fashion story being told?
The purpose of fashion shows was changing, Curties said. Once they were for buyers, but now they are press events.
Bloggers were now invited to shows too, Lau noted - and mentioned that she noticed a difference in the way she was treated when attending shows as a blogger, versus attending them when working for Dazed & Confused.
An audience member said this raised the question of validation. Bloggers made inroads because of their personalities and their writing, as opposed to being 'officially sanctioned'. What were readers looking for - were they asking to be informed, or were they looking for something with personality?
Lau noted that there are very few 'proper' fashion critics, while Curties felt that magazines were generally positive in outlook - it was the newspapers that gave harsher opinions.
Another audience member said that when people were willing to hand over money for a magazine, they were somehow validating the magazine and what it does. "There are many uninspiring blogs - how can they be considered as valid as someone who spends a lot of time writing and researching?"
But Curties felt magazines were not necessarily more valid: "There are bad blogs and good blogs, bad magazines and good magazines."
"And so much of the writing in fashion magazines is appalling," Rocamora added.
"I like reading blogs, it's about different aspects of the fashion world. I think the interesting thing is that some bloggers have now been validated by the traditional press," she said.
Lau felt there was sometimes a danger in bloggers being validated in this way: "It could become a gimmick and take away from what you do. To decide who is better than others is such a subjective thing, and you have to think about your readership.
"Everything is accountable, in terms of how many people visit your blog. It's a combination of things really. Some of the less-read blogs are still good."
What makes a successful blog?
Rocamora and Lau agreed that it was about connecting with people.
Lau: "I think it's about connecting to people as individuals, like having a cool friend to hang out with online or live vicariously through. Like a cool older sibling you can spy on."
Rocamora said the regular reading of a blog became a "habitual kind of ritual… let’s see what’s going on with him or her."
How we read
Returning to magazines, Bracker asked the audience if they noticed changing narrative styles in the fashion magazines they read. When there's a series of editorial pieces, do you notice a change in photographer, for example?
An audience member said it was the styling that marked the point of difference, and another agreed - "you might think you can see a particular creative direction in a shoot, but you wouldn't notice the difference in photographers."
Curties made the interesting point that what we see comes down to our individual interests and expertise. Two people could 'see' a photo spread very differently.
"I'm a photographer, so I always notice lighting. Someone else might notice the shoes, or a particular item of clothing."
How do you think blogs are changing the fashion storytelling ecosystem? Have your say in the comments field below: