Off the Runway: Glitz and Glamour of Fashion Journalism

Photo by Liat Neuman

By Sveta Soloveva

Club music plays at the entrance of the Waterworks building at Richmond and Augusta. On the fourth day of the 2017 Toronto Women’s Fashion Week, people showed their tickets and headed to a neon bar with craft cocktails, mini-pizzas and exclusive desserts.

The collection of Zoran Dobric amuses Liat Neuman, the creator of fashion blog YomanChic, She says the original textiles of digital prints, embroidery and hand painting looking like kaleidoscopical patterns.

“It was very futuristic,” Neuman says right after the show, trying to distinguish Dobric’s collection from the nearly 90 designers she saw. “A lot of fringe and very unique details asymmetrical lines … It was mix of everything.”

Last year she spoke with one of the fashion week’s designers backstage, just before the designer introduced her fur and coat collection. It was Neuman’s favourite experience in her journalism career.

“All the people were running around, putting makeup on,” recalls Neuman. “It felt so real.”

Bringing individual styles from catwalks to the masses, fashion journalism cannot be separated from fashion itself. In her book The History of Fashion Journalism that came out in February this year, Kate Nelson Best says that fashion journalism reflects all of the creativity and variety of fashion and the relationship between the industry and public consciousness.

If the key functions of fashion journalism haven’t changed since it started, its mechanisms has been dramatically modified.

Nevertheless democratizing fashion, the Internet and technologies have challenged traditional print media and broughtforth the question of fashion journalism identity as well as the role and professionalism of those who cover fashion.

With a boom in digital versions of magazines such as Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar, and blogs such as by Camila Coutinho and by Jennifer Grace who have from 100k to two millions followers on Instagram, fashion gets more views than reads. Followers scroll through photos taken by bloggers and read comments sometimes. Does that mean keeping up with the fashion cycle, taking professional pictures and promoting brands have become the new core of fashion “reporters”?

While that works for bloggers, journalists of publications like Teen Vogue have different tactics. They still believe that fashion is not all about appearance, celebrities and brands and treat fashion journalism as a discipline. The magazine has taken fashion to the next level recently by mixing coverage of beauty and style with politically oriented content. Featuring pieces like “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America”, Hillary Clinton’s personal essay, and stories about young activists and people of colour, Teen Vogue shows that politics is an integral part of the fashion, and in order to be stylish, young people have to be educated on the recent issues too.

Photo by Liat Neuman

Something magical and intriguing lies in being a part of fashion madness, where up to eight arms work on one person, pink clouds of powder dissolve above backcombed hair, and garments zip on bodies on the fly.

The interest in fashion media has been developing since the seventeenth century, when Paris became the epicenter of women’s fashion and Louis XIV wanted to disseminate his aristocratic leadership. However, the first reports on fashion (in Le Mercure Galant (1672-74) or Le Cabinet des Modes (1785-86)) were mostly addressed to aristocratic women who could afford servants to read for them.

Today, with a $1 trillion global industry, fashion has become a global discussion, thanks to social media, live streaming of catwalk shows and online retailers. Anyone could follow the style of America’s former First Lady, Michelle Obama, and order the clothes from all emerging fashion centres.

The world of fashion today that Neuman calls “so real” is actually an “escape from the reality” for her. With so much hard news now, she wants to entertain her readers with some creative writing, which is “full of life”.

“Fashion gives you a break from hard news …. to read something which is more artistic and more fun,” says Neuman. “People want to read good news and fun stuff. There is [in fashion] something which is more glamorous.”

The glamour and an opportunity to express themselves might also be a thing that attracts some young people in getting into fashion journalism.

“They want to reflect their own personality, and fashion allows them to do it and be creative, be themselves,” says editor of INFUSE Magazine Arianna Popat, who studies fashion arts and business at Humber.

In her book Fashion Journalism (2013), Julie Bradford notes that “fashion journalists feel very privileged to do what they do”.

Some professionals agree with the statement saying they get a chance to work with the topics they like while a lot of people are not always excited about their beat.

“It is a privilege and should be treated as such,” says Drew Brown, editor-in-chief at Novella Magazine in Toronto. “A lot of people don’t always get the opportunity to do what they are most passionate about.”

However, he adds that sometimes people don’t understand that fashion requires him to do the same amount of work as any other beat does.

“I feel like people assume that we get to go to a lot of events, that it’s more fun than actual work,” “It takes a lot of work to create a magazine and keep your website updated. Yes, there are many events, but most of the time we don’t get to enjoy that much because we are taking notes, posting on social media, et cetera. It’s work!”

Beverly Bowen, a veteran journalist and lecturer on fashion communications at Ryerson University’s School of Fashion, states that fashion journalism is gaining interest and a new audience because of social media that provides a space for diversity and allows everybody to show off their looks.

Blogs are is one of the most significant channels that give fashion enthusiasts the freedom to express their view on beauty, style and brands.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

As the platforms for self-expression for fashion writers and guides into different styles for their readers, blogs have become an integral part of the fashion industry.

Having appeared around 2005 (Diane Pernet’s Shaded View of Fashion and Bryan Yambao’s Bryanboy), fashion blogs have been rapidly gaining new audiences who were attracted by the conversational and intimate tone.

“Hey there guys, my name is Arianna Popat. I am eighteen years old and about to start my fashion career at Humber College this fall…This blog is going to express my love for fashion as I will style several outfits for many different events, occasions and more!” (Ari Styles of Arianna Popat)

Bloggers share their own experiences based on their choices of particular clothes, products and styles. Trying on their fashion purchases and putting on makeup in front of web cameras, bloggers become friends for their audience. After all, their content is free to everyone who has an access to the Internet.

“I think people trust you after you trust yourself,” says Popat, who now has a few hundred followers on Ari Styles. “When I started my blog, I wasn’t sure if that’s gonna work out, but I have confidence in myself. When I started sharing posts, my friends showed them to their friends.”

By 2010 there were around two million fashion blogs reaching out up to 25,000 people a day (Susanna Lau and William Oliver) according to fashion blogging researcher Dr. Agnès Rocamora.

“Right now people need that sense of belonging, so they look into bloggers for that and to stay on trend,” says Popat.

The success of bloggers has been noticed by the mainstream media that hired many of them as their contributors. Garance Doré became a columnist for French Vogue and, together with Scott Schuman received the Eugenia Sheppard Award for Journalism in 2012, after they shot a mini-series for

Popat and Neuman agree that starting off a blog and having people read it can really start someone’s career in fashion journalism.

“It’s a good way to make connections,” says Neuman. “You can meet all famous and important people from the industry and bring yourself out there.”

At the same time, blogging itself is a hard way to earn a living.

“There’s a lot of fashion bloggers out there, and you need to be very creative to make people notice that you have something extra,” says Neuman. “You have to be a really hard worker, take pictures, work with social media … If you are average, it’s very hard to make a living.”

Neuman says she makes about a hundred dollars for a brand or designer she covers for her blog. She often gets free clothes, makeup items and pieces of jewellery like a white-gold bracelet from Topaz Custom Jewelry she covered in March. Neuman never limits herself to one style or wears just a plain T-shirt with jeans. She always accompanies her clothes with accessories such as massive necklaces, bright-coloured bags and wide leather belts. She actively shares all her looks on Facebook and Instagram.

“Instagram gave me a big boost because I started from nothing,” says Neuman. “It makes my life much easier.”

For Neuman, her blog is also a personal diary that she used to keep as a child. She says that the passion for fashion made her comfortable to share her stories with the real people, and social media gave her a platform to do it.

“As a girl I was very shy, and I feel like fashion and writing gave me an opportunity to express myself,” she says. “When I go to a public place, I feel like I want to hide sometimes. And when I’m writing, I write for my soul, and I’m not shy.”

Photo by Liat Neuman

There are fashion journalism degrees in the UK (London College of Fashion, University of the Creative Arts in Epsom, Southampton Solent University and the University of Sunderland) and the US (Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons, the New School for Design in New York City, Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, etc.).

Even though Toronto doesn’t have degrees in fashion, some schools, such as Ryerson University and Humber college, which have writing courses in their fashion programs.

Bowen, who teaches creative writing for fashion communication students at Ryerson, says covering fashion is just like covering any other beat: no degree other that journalism is necessary.

“Anyone who wants to write about fashion needs to understand how to be a good journalist, first,” she says. “You wouldn’t have a music journalism degree to write about music. But you have to build the core journalism skills.”

Neuman, who took some courses on fashion and used to work as a personal stylist, considers passion the most important part when it comes to fashion journalism.

“I don’t know if you need a degree, but you need to be a very open-minded person who wants to explore the history of fashion,” she says.

The recent works of Brenda Polan (2006), Djurdja Bartlett (2013) and Julie Bradford (2014) are evidence that the research of fashion journalism and interest in it are growing.

However, as Nelson Best states, fashion journalism is now recognized as a discipline, the identity of a fashion reporter remains unestablished.

Some might say the beauty of fashion writing is freedom. While hard news is based on objectivity and impartiality, there are always new and different perspectives and ideas about fashion. Fashion writers guide their readers through the gallery of garments showing the glitz and glamour of fashion. From that point of view, passionate writers are able to self-educate through reading books, magazines and blogs about fashion and googling important designers and collections.

On the other hand, with so many designers, Instagram celebrities and fashion bloggers,  it might be challenging to decide what is important and what is not.

Photo by Liat Neuman

That is why the Internet doesn’t seem to be threatening the role of the expert journalist. In the face of fashion chaos, voices of authorities like Teen Vogue have become even more important. Together with fashion news, the magazine introduced young people to the most thoughtful political and social stories that has been noticed by the general media.

“As Teen Vogue demonstrates fashion is really about culture,” says Bowen who also noted that the future of fashion journalism is up to magazines like Teen Vogue. “And that is why people are interested and that is how fashion journalism stays relevant by chronicling changing culture and attitudes.”

She gives an example of how the fashion pages embraced transgender culture through androgynous fashion and models long before it was a mainstream concept.

Magazines like LOVE and Glamour are continuing to succeed because their editors and writers have a strong point of view when it comes to fashion.

In the time when printed fashion media came to the crisis point, but the new mechanisms of media haven’t gained the same level of trust, it might be hard for those who are passionate about fashion journalism to choose it as their future career.

It seems more like a hobby rather than real job. Probably, that is why it’s hard to find fashion writers with fashion journalism degrees. Neuman, Brown and Popat are the examples of those who studied something more practical before their passion took over.

Bradford mentions that people accuse fashion journalists “of being PR puddles” promoting consumption. Would developing more fashion journalism degrees change it and make people more confident about their future?

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