If a war was ever to be fought for fashion, then the front-row seats would definitely be the hidden WMD, with a potential to tip even the most expertly sanguine fashionista against the other. Widely known to rest to backsides of pedigreed fashion editors, elite boutique owners and film actors and actresses who precociously cheer/blow flying kisses to the designer as he/she takes the final blow, no unknown face can dare graze the noisy leather that bears a name sticker. But here was a portly young gent with thrift store Lenonesque glasses and bright red Minnie Mouse ears, who stubbornly sat on the hankered for position show after another, compromising for a subservient second row only if physically replaced by a camera-frenzy-causing celebrity.
With an attitude to boot, none that gave away the fact that this was only his second outing at the Fashion Week, he would proficiently hug the fashion editors; rattle similar show settings from international labels without missing a breath and clap alone for a look even when no one else bothered to join. The new-age Indian fashion blogger, 20-year-old Santu Misra of The Devil Wore, whose fashion posts and reviews few hours later would get about 2500 hits in a single day. And he is not alone.
West did do it best
Internationally, the fashion blogging industry is now a part of mainstream fashion journalism with bloggers like Susie Bubble, whose highly popular personal style blog, Style Bubble, prompted her to quit her full time job as the Commissioning Editor at Dazed.com so she could explore alternate economic exaltation. There are also the eerily spot on it-bag predictors, Tina Craig and Kelly Crook of Bag Snob whose earnings go up to six figures, or the highly influential Filipino blogger Bryan Grey-Yambao aka Bryan Boy , who had designer Marc Jacobs name a bag BB Ostrich after him, post his gushing on the blog. With special show invites, product endorsements deals, party hopping and a celebrity-like status, none of them need to hanker for front-row seats with harrowed organisers anymore. But the Indian market, which will otherwise happily lap up tech advice from experts or pore over what Bollywood stars are eating, drinking, thinking on their personal blogs, is still building up for fashion blogs.
Who, wear, what, why, enough!
It was back in the year 2006 was when the global blog boom's gargantuan proportions had forced the international fashion industry to start taking them seriously, whereas it took as late 2007 for the first few Indian fashion blogs to even start. And even now in 2011, only very few like the High Heel Confidential, Miss Malini and Style Kandy are the ones who fall under the celebrity blogger clout with a massive readership. And almost all three restrict themselves to celebrity-style bashing and reviewing of the multiple fashion weeks across the country, to the extent that most actresses are known to be wary of a certain look if it has been hosed over on either of these blogs. "When I style, I find that celebrities often don't want to wear something similar to what they have seen being unappreciated on blogs like High Heel Confidential or Miss Malini," reveals Anaita Shroff Adajania, celebrity stylist and fashion director for the Indian edition of Vogue.
But whilst these blogs are run by experienced professionals, who after observing the changing industry trends for several years decided to employ their skills into blogging, what makes the entire phenomenon interesting are young, fresh voices who choose to view fashion in the non-serious, tongue-in-cheek and completely irreverent manner that it deserves be. Allowing 14-year-old Tavi Gevinson's show reviews on her blog The Style Rookie to stand right next to those by New York Times' fashion critic, Cathy Horyn. And even though we, along with producer and younger Kapoor sibling Rhea Kapoor, might still are waiting for our own Tavis and Bryan Boys, there is a breeding crop of youthful and enthusiastic bloggers like Santu, who just might take us by surprise. Anil Chopra, the CEO of Lakme Lever and one of the organisers of the Lakme Fashion Week, which regularly invites bloggers to review the shows, says that Bloggers are soon becoming serious stakeholders in the business of fashion and are creating a tremendous impact on the fashion community. "There are buyers who look forward to these reviews to understand the mind of their customers. Since these customers are a major part of the internet age that follows blogs seriously, bloggers play an important role in the success of a collection. In fact, increasingly designers are using blogs as a mainstream marketing tool to promote new collections."
16 is the new 25?
Although, among dozens of fashion and design school graduates trolling fashion shows and streets on the lookout of individual style, very few have been able to sustain and gather attention. Like the 16-year-old Aarushi Khosla, who loves playing dress-up and engaging in debates about the importance of fashion on her widely covered blog Fab Blab. After reading several style blogs at 14 and having no one interested enough to discuss it with, she decided to start one of her own. Now two years later, manning her Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts along with the blog itself, Aarushi uses it to show off her very chic, metropolitan style through pictures which she asks "whoever is close", to click for her. With succinct opinions and a surprisingly well-developed writing style for her age, she peppers the blog with items on her wish-list, film stills, videos, opinion pieces and even interviews with international fashion icons, like the recent one with celebrity fashion photographer, Tyler Sheilds. "Fashion blogging as a force hasn't come to India yet, in fact even a mid-level blogger is being appreciated, which is simply due to lack of competition," she says. She maintains that like Indian economy which is still growing, the fashion industry is following suit too, though she believes they could do with more organisation. "Even though it's been said before, but they would greatly benefit by having a single fashion week, over the hundred others which exist now. Also, designers still need to understand the potential of selling online, with most big names not even having their own websites," says the tenth standard student who deftly uses the same to market her blog all over the webspace and aims to establish a career in fashion marketing.
But she is not alone as running one of the first Indian self-style fashion blogs, 22-years-old Lesly Lobeni of LazyManxCat , third year student of History at Delhi University, thinks that Indian fashion needs to stop replicating international designs and believes that age is just a number. "Be them 13 or 30, it's only the opinions of the bloggers that will take them further. And most or all of them have always been interested in or are studying fashion or have interned in some fashion related place. So that gives them the exposure or the right to shoot their opinions, whether good or bad," she states to anyone who might proportion their skill and knowledge with age.
However, she cautions that one needs to understand the responsibility that comes with this kind of influence and not let their voice be overshadowed. "I have not gone commercial yet and would write/post about something only if I really like it. Also, most of the bloggers are very strong in their opinions and have tough personalities. Whether it is Tavi from thestylerookie, Alix from thecherryblossomgirl or Susie from stylebubble," she says speaking of some of the most commercial international blogs who have ensured that the blog content stayed true to what they want it to be. And even though she expresses an interest in studying Arts and Aesthetics and claims to not take her blog and fashion too seriously, her posts reflect latter as a lifestyle rather than a sum of parts with lyrics, poems, astutely woven tales from the city, juxtaposed with a supremely stylish taste in clothes.
But not surprisingly, most of them have the same views on going commercial. Like second year design student, Santu Misra, who's The Devil Wore, has tactfully being supplying fodder to many national dailies on similarly styled magazine covers and extreme Photoshop of actresses. Falling close on the heels of international counterparts his blog appears as a post on the website of the Indian edition of Vogue, Vogue.com and if his fierce, no holds barred style of writing and photography won't impress you, then his dart-like swiftness at uploading posts and uncanny recall of shows and collections certainly will. "I will never blog for pay and have never asked for free clothes and shoes either. Of course, no one minds them but then you realise that they start taking control of the blog and you lose the freedom to speak your mind. I can't make that sacrifice," he says on commercialisation.
And his reservations about commercialisation extend to the impending celebrity status as well. "We are outsiders and that is why our opinion is valued more. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be famous. In fact, being a good blogger involves knowledge of photography, design, layouts, writing, editing, and marketing along with constant update of the fashion world. I spend hours poring over shows, models, photographers and their styles, designers and their styles, only so what I say makes sense. If even one of them is lacking, then you might lose credibility," he cautions.
As with everything Indian, bloggers too run a risk of aping the west without integrating their own culture in their style. And that's a grouse that 24-year-old-freelance stylist of ItsUberChic, Spardha Malik, has against most of the new crop. "I want to curate fashion, chronicle this new evolution that is happening all around us. And that's not possible if we just keep dressing up like someone in New York, Tokyo or Paris. Our individuality needs to be expressed in our style," she explains about her posts which capture the sari-clad biker women of Pondicherry and ghungroo tied feet of the tribal dancers of Andhra Pradesh along with translation of omnipresent fashion trends through self-styled shoots.
Though, apart from her age, the only digit around that would let the readers feel at ease, what separates her from other bloggers is her real-woman figure. "I don't often post pictures of myself, but if I do find something interesting I certainly want to show it. And on one such post, I received a comment saying 'You are so fat, why are you a fashion blogger?' which made me very sad and wanting to give up blogging altogether. But then I decided that fashion is not about following a trend even if it doesn't suit you, it's about finding a way to make it work for your body type. So, I went ahead and did a post which was titled 'I am Fat' and it got me lots of hits," says this real-sized blogger who also posts for Vogue.com.
Blogs are NOT the new magazines
Even as Vogue Italia Editor Franca Sozzani calls bloggers a 'pointless disease' and terming their comments 'naïf and enthusiastic', it has been more than established that she, Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue's American edition, and several fashion editors in the world have nothing to worry about bloggers stealing their jobs. Almost all Indian and international bloggers have stated at some point or another blogging is just another layer to fashion journalism and a magazine will always be valuable in it its own regard. "There's something tactile about a copy of Vogue that a blog cannot duplicate. You can't take a blog to the beach. But blogs and mainstream magazines can exist in tandem," Jessica Cocks of the Go-Fug-Yourself duo had said in an interview to The Sydney Morning Herald few years ago. And Marie Claire India editor, Neena Haridas agrees though adding that Indian blogs need to move beyond the staple coverage of who wore what. "Fashion magazines and editors create trends that influence what people will wear next season. Till now, I haven't seen any fashion blog work towards that aspect. What they need to do is approach fashion as a culture and move on from commenting only about a certain look," she opines.
Starting a Fashionable Conversation
With fashion having streamed into national consciousness only a decade or so ago, that too not having seeped completely, most are happy about the dialogue that is taking place through these blogs. Designer Gaurav Jagtiani says that fashion blogs are a great way of putting out trends and creating awareness about the subject. "They do affect a lot of public thought and are pretty powerful in terms of the people who are hooked to reading them everyday. And they are extremely interesting to look at," he suggests. A point which Anaita Adajania makes too as she reflects on their instant appeal and no constraint for space. "After the finale by Sabyasachi in the recently concluded Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week, the reviews and posts were up in minutes. Bloggers of today have a great advantage as there is so much interest in India right now and they have the platforms to present Indian fashion to the world," says Adajania. "The bloggers section at Vogue.com has become very popular with so much increased traffic being directed to the blogs."
Everything, but that...
Although, when it comes to serious fashion commentary, most industry insiders feel that Indian blogs have yet to mature. Designer Anand Bhushan calls it a classic Catch 22. "Not all bloggers are credible and only certain blogs matter, so it's effectively a process of weeding out the rest and following only the good ones." Friend and fellow designer Rimzim Dadu seems to agree and doesn't feel affected by any of them. "The comments are not always professional and don't come from an experienced space. Since it's all so new, it will take a while for fashion blogs to start doing serious fashion commentary." On the other hand, FDCI president Sunil Sethi feels that it's fine as until they remain personal opinions. "They are welcome to write about the theatrics, the lights, music, effects and the whole show. But to comment on clothes and silhouettes and cuts, it takes someone with a strong background in the field to be taken seriously."