Every fashion week, Jennine Jacob plans the Independent Fashion Bloggers conference. It includes panel discussions and talks with the internet's most successful fashion personalities, and hundreds of unknown fashion bloggers buy tickets to hear their tips on making it big as an online fashion star.
But just four years into the conference, figuring out which bloggers to invite to speak has become a huge challenge. "It's like, I'll get Susie Bubble and Bryanboy and Fashion Toast, and four years later, I'm like, who are we going to bring on that we haven't brought on before?" Jacob said. (Full disclosure: I have spoken at the IFB conference twice.)
Fashion blogging is very much in its infancy, relatively speaking, and even the most successful in the field have all expressed an acute awareness of their uncertain future. Print magazines ruled fashion media for more than a century and are just now taking a backseat to internet coverage. So no one knows where these indie blogs — however popular they are now — will lead or how they will evolve.
When the industry talks about fashion bloggers, they're referring to people with independent sites that create posts about fashion, often not in a purely journalistic context, but by frequently showcasing photos of themselves wearing clothes. A handful of them — the likes of Susie Bubble, Bryan Boy, Fashion Toast, the Man Repeller — have become quite famous, attaining celebrity-like status at fashion week, where they sit front row next to Vogue editors and famous actresses, and draw hordes of street-style photographers wherever they go, as if they're Suri Cruise leaving divorce court.
"I work hard, but I would say I'm really, really lucky. I'm fully aware that all of it can just disappear in a flash," said Susanna Lau, who blogs as Susie Bubble. Though she was quick to add: "I can't see bloggers disappearing completely off the grid unless they themselves disappear. [But] there's no precedent yet."
But for a business that craves and makes significant money on constant newness, surprisingly few new fashion bloggers have managed to become as important as the first generation of breakout personalities. Ask most people front row at fashion week, and while they could probably tell you who they think the next hot designer, model, or photographer will be, they likely couldn't tell you who the next Bryanboy will be. The success stories seem so rare, the market so oversaturated, and the medium's future so uncertain, that you have to wonder: Is it even possible to become the next Bryanboy anymore?
Yes, and no. Major influence like Bryanboy's is theoretically up for anyone's grabs — but it won't be attained in the same way. In this "look at me!" age of social media, a unique willingness to stay behind the scenes seems key as fashion blogs like the Man Repeller offer more and more content more akin to a traditional magazine's. But the majority of people trying to blog their way to the front row probably haven't picked up on that yet.
The landscape is completely different from when Susie Bubble and Bryanboy started. To truly break out, the roughly 10 bloggers and blogging experts interviewed for this story agree that people need talents beyond personal-style blogging and the ability to draw the attention of street-style photographers at fashion week. Now the industry and potential followers are hungry for more depth — but finding those flowers amongst the weeds is still incredibly challenging.
"I think it's really, really difficult," Lau said of trying to break into the field now. "I would not want to be a blogger starting out today. I really don't think I would have done it actually, having known there are so many."
When Lau started her blog Style Bubble in 2006, fashion bloggers weren't a thing in the industry — or at fashion week — at all, really. But she's gone on to appear in countless fashion magazines and fashion sites, as well as accrue hundreds of thousands of followers. "I've gone to these conferences and panels," Lau said, "and they ask the same questions: How do you get a following? And the truth is, I have no idea."
She said "it must be possible" to become the next her, "but I think it's getting more difficult, and perhaps there are people starting to blog for the wrong reasons" — meaning, the freebies, the money, and the fabulous life, as opposed to an innate love of fashion and the internet.
The lifestyle of Lau and her peers, like Bryanboy, does seem appealing; the most successful fashion personalities land lucrative deals to promote brands and appear in ad campaigns, get paid to wear certain labels' clothes to fashion week, and get flown around the world — from Paris to Sao Paolo to Hong Kong — to cover parties and shows. And they get tons of attention for their fabulous outfits every time they show up somewhere.
The brands themselves get instant exposure to a large fashion-savvy audience. Lau gets 30,000 visitors a day to her blog and has 183,000 followers on Twitter. She and her peers also cover the fashion world from a fan's perspective, meaning brands don't worry about them publishing a negative review, the way a critic might (especially if one of them has been paid to make an appearance). They also give brands something print fashion magazines can't: a direct view into how fans react to their products. And still, a lot of brands are working with bloggers without understanding the benefit of the alliance, while others have decided working with certain bloggers provides no value-add — and would rather spend money on things like custom furniture for a party.
Jacob, the conference organizer, says that when people get into fashion blogging just for the sake of becoming internet celebrities and getting their photos posted online, "it's very obvious." She added, "If your only objective is to be kind of famous, I don't think you're going to have the longevity to make it [to [Bryanboy's] level" — that is, previewing the top designer collections before fashion week and even joining the cast of America's Next Top Model.
Bryanboy said that he sees a lot of people who don't seem to be into blogging for reasons beyond their own narcissism. "There are so many people out there who start blogs not because they have a genuine passion to share their experiences to readers (which, to me, is the essence of blogging). But they now proactively chase fame," he wrote in an email. "When I first started my blog eight years ago, there was absolutely no desire to be famous, no dream to sit front row, so on and so forth. There was no master plan or road map to follow. Everything happened organically." Now, in addition to being a regular on America's Next Top Model, he's signed to top talent agency CAA.
Each season, plenty of bloggers show up at fashion week just to have their photos taken by street-style photographers. The desperation for attention has become so extreme that you hear stories of some who linger outside show venues even if they don't have tickets to the actual shows. But even if their loitering successfully draws that kind of attention — which can give a certain face name recognition — it won't be enough for a lasting career.
"I wouldn't rely on street-style blogs if I were a new blogger. It's more important to develop your own brand," Bryanboy said. "What do you do next once you've had a barrage of photos taken? Where do you go from there? What happens if no one shot you anymore?"
It seems like the bloggers with the most potential for lasting careers offer something akin to a fashion magazine.
"Anybody who wants to be successful at anything needs a very distinct and original point of view and talent. Because you can't put something out there that everybody has seen a million times," said Karen Robinowitz, cofounder and chief creative officer of Digital Brand Architects, a firm that manages fashion bloggers. "Someone who just wants to put photos of themselves up in the hopes of becoming famous — that's not a business plan."
Yet certain bloggers have managed to break out of obscurity in the past three years by posting nice photos of themselves wearing clothes, like the Blonde Salad, who started her blog in 2009 and did not return request to comment for this article. But she has something else going for her that Jacob sees as one boon to major fashion blogging success: She looks like a model. And that's surely helped her forge deals with Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, and Yves Saint Laurent, to name just a few.
Robinowitz says that fashion brands are still quite interested in working with internet fashion personalities, but as companies become savvier, they're less interested in using bloggers as gimmicks just to garner headlines like: "Blogger Sits Front Row at Such and Such Show" or "Blogger Fronts So and So's Campaign." Brands are increasingly looking to partner with talent — photographers, stylists, illustrators, graphic designers — who use the internet to promote their work.
Photographer Jamie Beck started her blog, From Me to You, on Tumblr four years ago, where she showcased her photos and popular cinemagraphs created with her now-husband, animator Kevin Burg. Now her clients include Rachel Zoe, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Louboutin, Google, and Gilt. "I think it's all about consistency — trying to post every day, having a Tumblr and Instagramming two or three times a day," she said. "You have to think about it too. You can't just post a terrible flash photo of your dog. No one's going to trust you to take pictures if you can't take a good Instagram, so you have to think about those kinds of things, how it reflects on you and your work." (From Me to You has now evolved into the site Ann Street Studio, a thorough, very attractive, image-driven diary of a lot of her contracted and independent projects.)
Kelly Framel has used her blog, The Glamourai, to leverage her styling career. Though she posts lots of photos of herself wearing clothes, she's started shooting original fashion editorials just for her site. "It seems to me like the trend is going less toward bloggers as personalities to online magazines," she said, though like many bloggers interviewed for this piece, she still has trouble pinpointing what made her site so successful. "I've never really done anything specifically to promote the site or promote myself. It all just sort of happened really naturally, and therefore in some ways I don't even know how it happened," she said. "I worked really hard to make the site and I hold myself to a high standard with my content and spend a lot more time on it than I'm sure it looks like."
And the breakout success of newer blogging stars like Leandra Medine, the Man Repeller, and Emily Weiss, who runs Into the Gloss, suggests a strong appetite for people who can offer more than just nice pictures of themselves wearing clothes. A unique concept and strong, highly specific point of view are essential to capturing a following.
"I think if Susie Bubble just posted her outfits on a daily basis, I don't think she'd be as popular as she is," Jacob said. "What makes her blog so interesting is that she has it in the context of up-and-coming fashion and history, and developing a visual culture around her look, which makes her really unique."
Lau herself thinks this is more important than looks, access to fashion shows, or money to fly to fashion week and buy nice clothes to wear in photographs for a blog. "I wish I could find really amazing writers, actually, through fashion blogging, rather than style personalities, because that's so saturated," she said. She also harbors an understandable reluctance to perpetuating belief that anyone with the right outfits can become famous bloggers. "I find that the more of that there is, editors develop a sort of snobbishness toward bloggers, and it's because they only see that at the shows," she said. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, "That creates a weird animosity," she adds. "It kind of generalizes every blogger as one mass of people hanging out at shows getting photographed and all they care about is getting photographed, and that's not the case."
And one reason so few bloggers break out each year may be that they seem oblivious to the industry's oversaturation of attention-seeking bloggers. "I recently went to a blogger junket in Europe," Bryanboy recalled. "At one of the after-parties, I had to tell some of these girls, 'Yo, whatever happened to having fun? Stop taking photos, grab a drink, and just dance!'"