When Vogue’s Creative Digital Director Sally Singer, seconded by three colleagues, slams the fashion bloggers of the InstaGeneration for “heralding the death of style” and tells them to “find another business,” one is tempted to meow like a cat whilst seeing just how far one’s eyes can roll backwards without help.
As a time-served journalist and editor myself, with a couple of Vogue editorships on my CV, I will readily admit to wanting to torch the London headquarters of the National Union of Journalists when they started selling press cards to bloggers. The NUJ probably needed the money, given the numbers of journalists chased out of the profession by plummeting wordage rates.
Bitterness and hatred are so much easier than calm analysis. Some dismiss bloggers as peanut gallery commentators and plagiarists who generate no new content of their own, like the ‘musicians’ known as rappers who sample the work of others, their metronomes tock-tocking on the moron setting. But I have known many print journalists fitting that description, some of whom rose to lofty positions at leading magazines. I have also known a few bloggers who turned out to be natural-born journalists. And who are we to say otherwise when reading their work? I never went to writing school and in my time at Condé Nast, nobody ever asked me for a CV. But that was when there was room in fashion media for misfits and eccentrics, some of whom occupied sufficiently senior positions to give people like me jobs.
However, reading through the commentaries and op-eds following Singer & Co’s indictment, it turns out that the tantrum wasn’t about blogger journalism, unless I am missing something. It was about InstaVIPs and bloggers modeling designer wear and accessories for the photographers in the street outside the fashion shows. But why would four top fashion magazine editors with nearly a century of experience between them feel sufficiently threatened by these InstaVIPs to throw such a public hissy fit? Is it as simple as Susie Bubble’s tweet: “The fashion establishment don’t [sic] want their circles enlarged.” Are they really scared of these newcomers? Or is it something else? At the risk of taking Suzy Menkes’ comparison in The New York Times between “black crows” and “peacocks” slightly out of context, Menkes’ allusion inevitably evokes the perennial image of older women resenting younger women.
Is it about money? With a few exceptions, editors in fashion media are badly paid, which is tough for those without trust funds. They rely on the ‘gifts’ they receive from fashion houses in return for energetic product placement, subsequently selling the expensive handbags and accessories on the thriving black market in such merchandise to make ends meet. They have often spent decades eating shit to get to the level where such gifts come their way, so seeing the same perks handed to InstaGeneration upstarts who arrived five minutes ago must be hard to stomach.
Some say the InstaFollower phenomenon is a bubble waiting to burst. Marketing executives and brand managers have convinced their web-shy bosses that getting their product worn or carried by an InstaVIP in a photo is worth the grand per post they pay some Kardashian Klone with 500,000 to one million InstaFollowers, a rate that rises to an alleged 300,000 per post when Kim herself gives photo for her 80 million-plus followers.
The late Yves Carcelle of LVMH compared promoting luxuries like a Dior handbag on the web to advertising them on billboards above Third World slums. He was not wrong, although truth is often brutal to those who deny it. Another truth is that very few of the InstaFollowers that fashion houses’ marketing drones are so desperate to reach will ever become customers. They’ll be buying knock-offs in the local street market.
Whilst one can understand and perhaps empathize with the exasperation expressed by Singer and her colleagues, trying to explain that exasperation to those driving the current trend is like explaining the Theory of Relativity to a roomful of cats. Singer & Co. might have been better off maintaining a dignified silence whilst hiring gypsies or the three witches from MacBeth to put curses on their nemeses.
Prosper Keating is an Irish journalist and editor based in Paris. Throughout his nearly 30-year career, he has held editorships at publications including Vogue Hommes International, Australian Vogue, and Paradis, among many others.