The Evolution of Fashion Journalism

14 12 2009

For the past ten years, Los Angeles Times fashion critic Booth Moore has been covering fashion shows in New York, Paris, and Milan. But at New York fashion week this year, she noticed that something was different. “Bloggers were the flavor of the month this season,” she says, noting the overwhelming presence of these hyper-intense fashion fans.

Known for their role behind computer screens, the bloggers upgraded this year to front row seats at once-exclusive runway shows like Dolce & Gabbana and Rodarte. These trendsetting, influential, and style-conscious members of generation Y seized the role of fashion editor, with the Internet as their stage.

Now, the number of colorful blogs and fashion forums has exceeded ten thousand, providing some stiff competition for traditional fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle. Fashionistas, such as Emily DeTomaso, 21, a design student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), rely on daily visits to these sites in order to keep up with the dynamic fashion industry.

As magazine circulation continues to plummet, some fear that our beloved Chanel-clad fashion editors are soon to get the boot. While there is no doubt that fashion magazines, like all media, are evolving, the surge in bloggers is not the source to blame.

“Blogging has nothing to do with the declining circulation of fashion magazines,” says Samir Husni, a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi. “It is two hundred percent related to the economic crisis.”

Husni, who also goes by “Mr. Magazine,” says that there will always be a place for traditional magazines. “Blogging is not journalism,” he says. “Magazines are credible brands that have persevered through the years and they still reach a huge audience.”

However, the looming presence of online blogs and forums has not gone unnoticed and magazines have started to adopt techniques used by bloggers to create their own online existence. The ability to dictate to the fashion industry is no longer left in the hands of a few lucky editors, whose names reside atop the mastheads of our favorite magazines.

“The Internet has really allowed for the democratization of fashion,” says Moore, a veteran of the Los Angeles Times. “Now everyone can participate in the discussion of clothing and designers.”

Maneuvering around the fashion and merchandising hierarchy has become easier. Small-town girls in the Midwest, like StyleRookie’s Tavi Gevinson and Sea of Shoes’ Jane Aldridge, comment on the latest fashion trends as they come down the runway, alongside Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Similarly, entry-level designers have gained exposure without begging for distribution in Bergdorf Goodman or Barneys.

In addition, online streaming, whether via Twitter tweets, Facebook status updates, or You Tube videos, has proven powerful enough to disseminate the latest in fashion, faster than an experienced Barney’s shoe sale veteran can swipe the last pair of size 7-and-a-half Christian Louboutins.

“Online sources are fast and immediate,” says Robin Givhan, fashion editor at the Washington Post. “They offer instant gratification when it comes to news about the fashion industry.”

At fashion week this year, quick online blog posts proved to be the ultimate source of breaking news. Fashionologie, a forum created in 2005, provided access to Rodarte’s runway show as it took place. With minute-to-minute updates, readers caught a sneak-peak at the collection and the backstage commotion at the show.

Meanwhile, magazine subscribers must wait two months for their glossy “fashion bibles” to hit newsstands. By that time, anything newsworthy has already been discussed and the hot Marc Jacobs handbag is already sold out in stores worldwide.

Fashion editors have taken notice. In order to maintain their reign as the gods and goddesses of clothing and accessories, they have shifted their sights towards an online existence.

“It’s all about online presence,” says Christina Roperti, fashion assistant at Women’s Wear Daily (WWD). “Print media is no longer sufficient in satisfying today’s demand.”

Consequently, WWD has really stepped up its game. Staff members at the midtown office in Manhattan have paid increased attention to the daily trade publication’s website, and they Twitter now. Further west at the Conde Nast building, Vogue’s own style.com has recently released an iPhone application. Much farther west at the Los Angeles Times, Moore has familiarized herself with the online aspect of fashion journalism and its impact on her job.

“The cycle is much more 24/7,” says the fashion critic, who has worked in the industry for thirteen years. “Personally, now I have to Twitter and blog in addition to writing print stories.”

In making the move online, magazines have gained the best of both worlds. In providing readers with the instant gratification they seek, they are also supplying expert information that is both trustworthy and influential. Voguettes such as Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington are paid the big bucks for their expertise and their involvement in the fashion world for over 25 years. Working their way up from entry-level positions, they have gained a long view of the industry. And right now, there are no bloggers with that kind of experience.

However, the invasion of the style bloggers has forced traditional fashion magazines to juggle a presence both online and in print. While media gurus claim that the future of print journalism is gloomy, fashion editors need not empty their Birkin bags just yet. Traditional fashion magazines are not doomed.

Although they lack the ability to present the breaking news of fashion trends and events, monthly issues of Harper’s Bazaar and InStyle still offer something unique. With feature articles and editorial spreads, traditional magazines provide an in-depth look at how yesterday’s fashions will affect fashionistas tomorrow. Reading a magazine is a treasured experience. Just ask any fashion design student.

“I don’t think the day will ever come when I give up my subscriptions and go strictly web,” says DeTomaso. “Having the magazine in hand, flipping through page after page of glossy images and fashion delight is something that simply cannot be replaced.”

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