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A Riposte, Of Sorts: Why I’m Proud To Be A Blogger

This piece was written for The Sunday Times Style magazine.

At Paris Fashion Week, there was one topic on everyone’s lips: “Did you see the Piece?” The Piece was a Vogue.com rant about “desperate” bloggers “heralding the death of style”. According to this reputable coterie of Voguettes, bloggers are no more than vapid show ponies, sponsored by brands, with no function in the industry. “Looking for style among a bought-and-paid-for front row is like going to a strip club looking for romance,” wrote Alessandra Codinha, Vogue.com fashion news editor. “It’s all pretty embarrassing. Even more so when you consider what else is going on in the world. (Have you registered to vote yet?)”

It struck a chord with me (let’s leave aside the implication that an interest in fashion negates any political awareness — then US Vogue would be in as much trouble as bloggers are) and I feel compelled to write about my dual identity as both blogger and journalist. When I tell people I am a blogger, they will ask one (or all) of three things: does that mean you take photos of your shoes all day long? Do you get given free clothes? Is blogging an actual job? No, yes, yes.

When I started my blog in 2009, I had no idea it would develop into a viable business with a reliable revenue stream. Or that it would one day help to secure me a job at Style. I was fresh out of university and struggling to break into journalism. The blog came about partly as an online portfolio and partly to keep up my writing. I wrote about family, and made social observations. Fashion came later, and it’s only in the past two years that I’ve begun to be paid to consult, style, create content and collaborate with brands. This often means they pay me to create an edit of their clothes and to produce supporting editorial, backed up with social media (I only work with brands that I like and/or wear).

It’s true that bloggers get paid by a brand to wear their clothes, but as Susie Lau, aka Susie Bubble, a former journalist and the UK’s most influential blogger, was quick to note, it is the same quid pro quo as any editorial “credit system”, whereby most publications feature products in exchange for a brand advertising on their pages. Shady? Not at all. It’s impossible for a magazine to survive without advertising. “Let’s not pretend that editors and stylists are not beholden to brands in one way or another,” Lau says.

“I’d have a bounty on my head if I name-checked all the editors who told me they only go to certain shows because they’re advertisers,” blogger Bryanboy retorted. A storm in a teacup? Perhaps. But it’s been a long time brewing. Certainly, magazine editors and fashion writers, including here on Style, are given free clothes by advertisers, as the industry well knows.

However, it is rare that my Wardrobe Mistress column is aligned to any advertiser, and Style credits many fashion labels — from high-end Marni and Céline to high-street Zara and Ted Baker — that never advertise with us at all. We try be as transparent as we can; I use the #sponsored hashtag, as any reputable blogger does, and even have a line on the Wardrobe Mistress page that reads: “Some of Pandora’s blog is sponsored content.”

I used to mention my blog as a guilty suffix, worried it devalued my role as a journalist, but I soon realised that not only does that do a disservice to all my late-night work and the blogging careers of others, but that being a blogger bolsters my role at Style. The Voguettes are suggesting that bloggers are all biased: so you’re saying you’d write a scathing review of your biggest advertiser’s show, then? I thought not.

The common charge levied against bloggers is that they lack knowledge. Certainly, most don’t have the experience of Suzy Menkes or Sarah Mower, but many of the original bloggers are now the chief executives of successful companies. The American blogger Leandra Medine launched Man Repeller six years ago, aged 21; she now has 1.5m Instagram followers and employs 15 people. The net worth of Italian Chiara Ferragni, who launched The Blonde Salad in 2009, was put at $12m last year. And let’s not ignore the successes of Emily Weiss of Into the Gloss and Garance Doré.

To suggest that these women do not have a legitimate place in the industry is like denying the success of Insta-influencers who are born of reality TV. These include Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, who, incidentally, fronted US Vogue’s September issue. Last year, Vogue Spain put Ferragni on its cover, and in December, when UK Glamour ran YouTuber and blogger Tanya Burr on its cover, it scored one of its biggest selling issues of the year.

Vogue.com was right about one thing: street style has become a circus, though that doesn’t stop it from employing its own street-style photographer, the marvellous Phil Oh. As for the sartorial carousel, I’ve simply never had the time to change my clothes during a day of shows, but the digital influencers who do, I find amusing rather than offensive. Ironically, some of the most photographed individuals are, in fact, magazine editors. Take Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo, who got changed three times on two successive days during Milan Fashion Week.

“My perspective is, let them live,” says Medine. You don’t have to ham it up for the cameras, but refusing to let someone take a picture of you in your favourite blouse on the grounds that you are “a serious journalist” makes you look po-faced. As someone said to me recently at a show, “It’s PR, nor ER.”

If fashion magazines consider themselves the highest authority, then blogs are more like a friend. “We’re not in the business of making people feel small,” Medine says. The difference, says Lau, is that “bloggers cannot hide behind their publications”. The old guard feeling threatened by the new guard is a tale as old as time. Fashion used to be elitist; now blogging has brought down the wall, but some would rather it stayed up, so they can view over it from their ivory tower. I’d like to think that the publishing industry could function more cohesively — after all, I’m a one-woman example of how blogs and magazines can be bedfellows. Certainly, after a decade, it should no longer be the case of one versus another. But if it is? With a troubled print industry? Then bloggers might outlast them all.

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