Live by the sword, die by the sword. That’s what Vogue.com’s senior editors should be thinking at the moment. Ruefully, if they can do that without exacerbating wrinkles. Last week they were simply going about their business disparaging and belittling people – just a normal day at the office for those who professionally sit in judgment on what others are wearing – when they got a nasty shock.
Let me explain. Apparently it’s just been Milan fashion week. I was surprised to hear that because it seems to me it’s always London fashion week. Not literally always, but very nearly literally always. It genuinely feels like it’s absolutely always London fashion week this week, last week or next week. Is that the system? That it’s once every three weeks? If so, I suppose that leaves two thirds of the time for it to be Paris fashion week, New York fashion week, Bristol fashion week (for tidy sailors) or Milan fashion week, which is the one it was last week.
At the end of Milan fashion week, the staff of Vogue.com wrote an article on the internet – a blog, I suppose you’d call it – discussing what the week had been like, what everyone had learned and why it absolutely hadn’t been a vacuous jamboree consecrated to the monetisation of narcissism. But the main issues the Vogue.com team had wanted to raise – the future of trousers, perhaps; how a raspberry sock makes a stylish and practical epaulette warmer; the advent of the thigh-gap storage sporran, a great place for the malnourished to keep cocaine and diet pills – got rather lost because of the digs they all made at bloggers.
Other bloggers, that is, not each other. Not people who get paid to write a blog by a magazine that also has a printed-out version for the dentist’s, but a group who seem to be known variously as bloggers, influencers and street-style stars. The ladies at Vogue.com absolutely hate this group and really let rip at them in a tone of weirdly feverish condescension. Vogue’s creative digital director, Sally Singer, started it, writing in brackets to emphasise her contempt: “Note to bloggers who change head-to-toe, paid-to-wear outfits every hour: Please stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style.”
Her use of the word “style” is illuminating because it reveals weakness. She put “style” rather than “fashion”. It suits her haughty tone, of course. While affecting to give those not actually under her control an off-hand instruction (which they will defy), she also seems to be alluding to something more significant, more permanent than the merely trendy. But she isn’t. The sense of something being stylish is subjective and, as such, will never die unless we create a world that contains nothing at all to which anyone at all has a positive aesthetic response. Talk of “the death of style” is empty rhetoric.
“Fashion”, on the other hand, means something solid. It refers to objects, usually clothes, manufactured to new, cutting edge and/or popular designs. I never know what’s fashionable but plenty of people always do and, at any given time, some things are and some things aren’t. Sometimes flares or ripped jeans or kipper ties or powdered wigs are in and sometimes they’re out. It’s a matter of fact. The discussion and prediction of such facts is what fashion journalism and Vogue are for.
But Sally Singer couldn’t refer to “the death of fashion” because that sounds wrong: something will always be in fashion. Saying “the death of fashion” is like saying “the death of recently”, “the end of the latest thing”. And the latest thing at the moment is the phenomenon of bloggers, influencers and street-style stars. These people, such as Chiara Ferragni, Susie Lau and Shea Marie, whose names mean nothing to me, have huge online followings, can create and redirect trends, and make a lot of money doing it. Essentially they have the same business model as Vogue.
These bloggers are, by definition, fashionable, even if Sally Singer and her colleagues don’t consider them stylish. So, note to Vogue.com: never mind style – that’s not what you’re paid to care about. If what you find stylish is not fashionable, then neither are you.
Now, I would say that being fashionable doesn’t matter. But the staff of Vogue.com can’t say that. Their entire raison d’être has been to elevate and celebrate the value of being in touch with, and responding to, the latest trends. They can’t suddenly go off all that when it gets a bit youthful and digital and scary. That’s the top of a slippery slope that leads down to comfortable shoes.
Of course they weren’t trying to say that fashion doesn’t matter – they were trying to be the arbiters of fashion, which I suppose has historically been the Voguejournalist’s role. It was an attempt to assert authority. Sarah Mower, Vogue.com’s chief critic, called the bloggers “pathetic” and “desperate”; Alessandra Codinha, its fashion news editor, said they were “pretty embarrassing” and that going to bloggers for style was “like going to a strip club looking for romance”; and Nicole Phelps, the director of the Vogue Runway app, called them “sad” and said “it’s distressing, as well, to watch so many brands participate”.
That last remark is a bit of a giveaway. That does sound pretty distressing. If you’re looking to sell advertising spots in Vogue, I imagine it has a positively tragic quality. Phelps’s implication that these brands had somehow let themselves down by associating with bloggers is a hopeless attempt to assert her dated view of the dignity of haute couture above the dictates of commerce.
Essentially, the Voguesters’ bid to make the new girls feel small didn’t work. It didn’t make the bloggers seem gauche, it made the old school journalists seem out of touch – not something the fashion world readily forgives. As “fashion influencer” Shea Marie put it: “You are exactly the type of people that have given the fashion world the cold, unwelcoming and ruthless reputation it has had in the past.” And the really hurtful word there is “past”. It falls to others, bloggers probably, to give it the cold, unwelcoming and ruthless reputation I expect it will continue to have in the future.
Old bullies make way for new. But ageing and mortality must hurt all the more if you’ve made a profession of praising novelty. When Sally Singer lashed out at the bloggers, talking desperately about “the death of style”, she must have been terrified. Because, ultimately, that’s not the death they herald.