My "silly" Yang Du backpack with a House of Holland x Schott jacket. Photograh from The Cut.
Rebuttal is an ugly word. Well, firstly it has the word “butt” in it but, mostly in my head, it sounds like a physical and violent affront to whoever you’re “rebutting”. Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller has written a “rebuttal” to the now contentious and widely circulated article that Suzy Menkes wrote for T Magazine, concerning the circus that goes on outside fashion week - the editors, the bloggers and any other “riff raff” who are peacocking around outside shows. What it is though is a beautifully written defense of fashion blogging as a profession, pointing out its shortcomings, its strengths and how it has changed the industry. It argues with tact and a measured tone. It ends with a potent question of how do we earn respect if we cannot police our (bloggers at large) own ethics?
Therefore being one of the bloggers mentioned in the original Menkes piece (and not cast in a particularly favourable light, it has to be said), I thought I’d pick up on that word “respect” that Medine concludes with and go on to relay a response here. It's certainly not rebutting anything that Menkes says. It does present the other side of the coin though that perhaps I've failed to reveal here on the blog. These are thoughts that I’ve been gathering up over the last few seasons but didn’t know how to quite articulate. Menkes may have helpfully given me reason to go all Dear Diary on you. Speaking on behalf of all bloggers and defending this fairly new and not yet-developed vocation as a whole is never going to be easy when the waters have gotten so murky, so it’s best to talk from personal experience. Seven years into the game and I can frankly say I have a fair bit of that.
It’s an ambivalent position that I occupy. Yes, I am a blogger. Yes, I dress in a way that can be construed as peacocking. But I have also worked at a publication. I now freelance for other publications. I’ve now been going to shows for a good four years and more. Increasingly I’ve felt conflicted about what it is that I do. I’ve cowered in embarrassment when I say I have a blog. Depending on who I’m speaking to, I’ve also had to add that “Oh, and I write for other publications” just to feel like that validates me as someone who isn’t a complete fraud. I’ve also strongly defended my content at conferences. I’ve hopefully gained some respect from designers, editors, stylists and journalists. You might ask, why does it matter if I've not earnt any respect from the industry? Aren’t you an independent fashion blogger who flouts the rules? As we all know, that isn’t how it works. I don’t work within my own parameters or to put a pun on it, in my own bubble. I have to work with the industry to get the content that I’m after and I’m happier for it. We can talk about the “good and pure” days of fashion blogging but I remember it as a time when I’d email PRs or designers and get ignored or when I would have to sneakily take some crappy pictures in a shop because it was forbidden to do so.
A well-known PR recently said to me, “Oh we don’t even think of you as a blogger. You’re an online editor in chief.” Medine hit it in one when she titled her post “Blog is a dirty word.” When blogging is supposedly a full-time legitimate profession as my peers like Medine, Bryan Boy and Rumi Neely have proved, for me, it has never felt enough to say that it’s all that I do. Because the b word has been tarnished - asking us how much money do we make, suspicions that every blog post is sponsored, outfits that have been littered with gifts, accusations that we’re poseurs and not fashion critics, lack of journalistic standards - things, which, I along with others have been guilty of to some degree or another. If I was more positive, I could defend the content on my blog and say that 99.9% of is absolutely NOT sponsored/commercially related to anything except for my genuine love of what I’m writing about, but even then once you commit one instance of gift or trip accepting, how can I get all high and mighty and say that I’m something of an exception.
I work in London, which is rooted in a rich fashion history of, as Menkes mentions, underbelly club kid dressing, who apparently did it for themselves. We give kudos to those that dress bat-shit-cray but only if it comes from a genuine place. A truly don’t give a fuck attitude, which industry folk (I’m talking longstanding newspaper journalists, style title editors and stylists) don’t generally associate with personal style bloggers. The build-up of annoyance (Menkes is only echoing thoughts that are felt quite widely within the industry) of bloggers or people who dress up purely for the shows and loiter around outside the Lincoln Centre, Somerset House or in the Tuileries gardens, is now sky high. I cite a British Vogue article in their recent January issue, where parliamentary sketch writer Ann Treneman has a go at running around London Fashion Week, and there are references to “bloggers” as creatures that “real” professionals such as the Vogue team need to get past and do battle with, in order to get to their “real” job of covering and seeing the shows. At least that was my impression of the article. It didn’t help that alongside the article was a picture of me, wearing something weird and outlandish. This all brings about something of an identity crisis - what is it that I do and am I actually contributing something positive to the industry? If I am just a "blogger", a word that has become an irritance and a pest to the industry, then how can I carry on at present with all the current connotations that go with that word, and still write about the things that I want to write about?
And so it is that behind the toothy smile, the peppy colours, and the cacophony of textures, there’s a crippling doubt that has gradually built up over seasons of doing shows. It’s an overwhelming fear of not being seen as an intelligent, capable or competent journalist because I’m dressed the way that I am. It’s dulled my own innate instincts to reach for the zany and the cray (although what else is there in my clown-esque wardrobe?). The mainstay of fashion journalists that go behind the scenes do tend to be dressed discreetly and I stick out in amongst the scrum trying to get words from Haider Ackermann or Riccardo Tisci - and sometimes, I do think that it’s to my detriment. After Paris is over, a huge weight is lifted as I can go about my day, waiting for the bus, whilst wearing clothes that are so much a part of who I am. Being made fun out of by the bloke, who sells Arsenal merchandise on my road, is nothing compared to walking into shows, getting photographed and then feeling the prickles of derision from your peers and colleagues or feeling like you’re overdressed to go and ask Ann Demeulemeester what her inspiration was. Whoever said the fashion show circuit was like high school or secondary school, was bang-on. If I’m walking with people who are perhaps dressed in that chic n’ demure way, which Menkes cites at the end of her article (examples such as Emmanuelle Alt and Virginie Mouzat), and a photographer asks for my picture, I now feel embarrassed to say yes. We need to keep walking and trooping along to get to the shows, to demonstrate that we are there for a legitimate reason, and not to stop, preen and pose for photographers. The proper thing to do would be to politely say no and walk on with purpose. But I do say yes. In fact I don’t mind it one bit unless I'm genuinely in a rush and can't stop (I can never say no to the Japanese photographers - they’re just so sweet about it asking), and that apparently dents my credibility. Do I lose respect of others because I get my picture taken? Probably. An editor can get away with it because he/she has a title. Alas I have a blog, no chic Celine and a sick preference for strange and funny textures. That leaves me in a precarious position.
Then I think about all the outfits I’ve worn this week at London. A London Fashion Week designer featured in every instance - Jonathan Saunders, Meadham Kirchhoff, James Long, J.W. Anderson, Simone Rocha - things I’ve bought with my own money or someone was gracious enough to lend me knowing that I genuinely wanted to wear it. They’re badges of support for the people that we are writing about, exalting and celebrating. They’re the designers making and creating the feathers for the peacocks to don. Are the clothes supposed to stay confined within fashion editorials and PR press days? Who gets to make that judgement call as to who has “genuine” style or who is dressing up for the cameras? Who even cares when an outward celebration (and economic contribution, I might add) of fashion at its most creative is on display? The doubts that I carry, however strong they may be or however low I might feel during fashion weeks, aren’t enough to push me into a uniform of a sleek black blazer, a neat button-down shirt and some discreet but still insanely expensive Alaia shoes. I’m just sorry that convention, as dictated by the inner sanctum of the industry, weighs heavy on me. I could get all angry about it but what’s the point if I just grin and bear it, trudge along in my lilac marabou, neon trainers and pink pastel dresses - clothes that make me giddy most of the time, but inadvertedly drive my spirits down in a fashion week context.
That is my response from the inside, feeling as ever, like an outsider, and even more so now that there’s a general paintbrush being painted over every blogger and every person who wanted to express themselves through personal style, purely because it has become such an indiscernible mess at shows. I don’t blame Menkes in the least. In fact, I have a lot of respect for her for writing an article that pushes this issue to the forefront. It has made bloggers like Medine and myself do a spot of self-reflection. My anxieties that I outlined above are even more heightened than ever before. That won’t stop the clashing prints and colours, the fugly shoes and the unflattering outfits. I’m too far gone for a Breakfast Club-esque make-under. I’m nearly thirty for god’s sake. Still, I know I’ll be feeling like an over analytical teenager pondering what’s the point of it all, after that late Givenchy show on the Sunday night, writing up reviews, in my rented Paris apartment and eating one too many bags of mustard-flavoured crisps.