Should bloggers be at fashion week?
The same conversation has been going on since 2010 when the spark that lit the growing hatred towards bloggers at fashion week first set flame.
No doubt, it was when Tavi Gevinson wore an oversized hat to a Dior show, thereby obstructing the view of everyone sitting behind her, that the anger really started to boil.
It has been four years and, while we may have learned a few common courtesies regarding what is acceptable to wear on the front row, we are still having the same discussion about whether bloggers deserve to be at fashion week. The resounding answer that comes from within the industry is no. Shows are overcrowded, the atmosphere resembles a circus and, as a result, print media and buyers are incapable of doing their jobs.
Ultimately, it is the designer that suffers.
But bloggers are still coming to the shows and, these days, no one bats an eyelid when Susie Lau is positioned on the front row next to heavyweights like Anna Wintour or Suzy Menkes - as I'm sure you know, she is a blogger. This leads me to think that the debate we're having is misguided. The issue is no longer about whether bloggers should be allowed at fashion week. Instead we should be looking at which bloggers get to attend and what they can offer in return for their ticket.
This seems like a simple issue and one that PRs should have a firm grasp on. They are the ones who decide on ticket allocation so surely they have a systematic approach to dealing with bloggers. I contacted a number of London based PR teams who organize shows for fashion week and none were willing to comment on why they invite bloggers to shows or what they hope to achieve through sending them a ticket. I was told repeatedly that the issue was 'too sensitive' for them to weigh in on. But really it is rather straightforward. Do they look at stats? Social media following? Quality of content produced? Do they try to gauge their overall influence? No comment was given. Their insistence on remaining secretive hurts both the blogger and the designer they represent. If there was transparency regarding ticket allocation then bloggers would know what PRs deem important and could thereby act accordingly.
For print media and buyers there is a clear hierarchy regarding seat allocation but when it comes to bloggers it often feels random. In the past, I have been given front row tickets to shows by designers I have never supported or previously written about. Other times I've been denied access to shows that I've attended for years and repeatedly covered. I spoke to a number of bloggers and they all said they had experienced the same treatment. As a blogger, if you attend a show you are likely to feel confused and bewildered by seat allocation. The incentive to post about a show is reduced when you are on uncertain terms with the designer and their PR team. You are left wondering if they value your coverage or if you are just there to fill an empty seat.
To get to the heart of the issue regarding bloggers at fashion week I contacted a few designers directly.
In the same way I did with PRs, I asked them how they decide which bloggers to invite to their shows and what they hope to achieve by sending them a ticket. Everyone I spoke to was willing and eager to comment. None of the designers ranked blog stats as being an important factor when deciding whether to invite a blogger to their show. Repeatedly I was told that having a relationship with the blogger was of utmost importance. Nik Thakkar, for example, expressed a desire to establish long term ambassadors for his label Ada + Nik. Vin & Omi told me that one of the reasons they value bloggers is because of their ability to put their brand in touch with people who aren't part of the fashion industry but could become potential customers. Charlie May acknowledged that bloggers are key in creating instant buzz through social media but also recognized that for a blogger catwalk reviews often receive the least traffic. For her, it's also important that bloggers be seen wearing her designs because that's what helps boost sales. Each designer expressed an interest in having bloggers post about their show but only if they genuinely saw something they wanted to feature. There were also concerns raised about poor coverage coming out from bloggers that are unable to take clear photos or write a coherent review.
As far as I see it, there are two types of bloggers that should be invited to fashion week.
First, there are the ones that are 'online famous'. These are the big guns who often attend shows in every city and whose mere presence is good publicity for the brand. They are the equivalent of a celebrity except they have the added bonus of being social media savvy. They'll likely Tweet and Instagram live from the show. They'll probably hashtag FROW along with a photo of their designer clad feet next to the catwalk and that's great because it generates instant buzz. Second, there are the bloggers that are great 'content producers'. These people will Tweet and Instagram too, albeit to a smaller audience, but there is also the chance that they will post a show review if they identify with the collection. They will likely appreciate their ticket and, therefore, feel a loyalty to the designer whose show they've attended. Famous bloggers and people who can produce great content are rare in the blogging world but they are the people that need to be sought out and invited to fashion week. The others should be left out.
Designers, along with their PR team, should devise a strategic plan when it comes to allocating tickets to bloggers. They should think about the brand's image and what sort of person they want to be marketing to. This shouldn't be an afterthought and time should be allocated to properly think though it. Bloggers that are invited just to fill seats should be left out. The aim of a fashion show should not be to generate the loudest buzz but instead to create one that is well suited to the designer in question.
Photos taken by Jennifer Inglis at the John Rocha SS14 show.