in defense of vloggers
Could the future of fashion be a democratic world of fashion fans talking to each other?
Blue and black or white and gold? Not since the battle of the chicken vs. the egg, has a question divided such a nation. In fact, more people responded to this one optically challenging dress (or #TheDress as it's now referred to) than to the entirety of LFW fall/winter 15 coverage. One was an internet phenomenon - the result of a girl posting a picture onto Tumblr and asking the world to wade in on the debate - and the other is one the most important events of the fashion calendar - inaccessible to the masses and exclusive to all those celestial beings in the business. But that's not all, pipping the likes of Valentino and Alexander Wang to the post, last year 19-year-old American vlogger, Bethany Mota, was named 2014's Most Googled Fashion Designer of the Year. Who?
Up until this point I had no idea what vloggers were. Why would I? I'm over the age of 15, I'm not particularly perky, I don't care how well you and your boyfriend know each other (it's a vlogging thing), I'm not that interested in learning how to do the perfect Oscar's look, because I'm pretty sure I'm never going to be invited to them, and I can haul myself to shops just fine, thank you. But tasked with finding the coolest vloggers on the web, I delved into the weird and wonderful world of vlogging and found it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be.
First off vloggers aren't "cool", but neither are they trying to be. They're not models, polished to perfection, and the videos they make aren't corporate wank, out to bewitch and beguile the mindless consumer. In fact, the only thing they're trying to be is themselves: real people chatting about the things they love, from what they bought on Asos to what lip gloss they wear on a big night out - except that they have millions and millions (no, seriously) of fans. But why are they so influential? More importantly, with more hits than the largest fashion brands in the world, where does this leave fashion?
Born and bred in Los Banos, Bethany Mota was just your average American teenager. Bullied at high school, she suffered from bouts of depression and chronic anxiety until one day she clicked online and stumbled across some YouTube videos of regular girls, just like Bethany, giving make-up tutorials and going on shopping hauls, which is internet speak for kids trying on items of clothing they've bought, discussing the price, and weighing up what they think - basically the kind of thing you do in front of your bedroom mirror, only this time you're doing it to a whole army of subscribers. Captivated by their warmth and authenticity, it wasn't long before Bethany became hooked and in 2009 she set up her own YouTube channel, called Macbarbie07, and started making homemade videos of her own. Fast-forward to today and she has her over 8,000,000 subscribers, her own fashion line at Aéropostale, and was even named one of 'The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014' by Time magazine, alongside Malala (the Pakistani activist and youngest Nobel Prize winner who got shot on a bus for standing up for female education) and Jazz Jennings (the 14-year-old transgender rights activist and youngest person ever to be included in the Out 100 list.) That's how influential Bethany Mota is.
Someone who also has that kind of influence is British vlogger Tanya Burr, who is not only a celebrated style authority for the digi generation (sure, she's no Bethany Mota, but she does have over 2 million subscribers on YouTube, her own line of cosmetics, and a newly released autobiographical beauty guide to her name) but she's also fast-becoming one to watch on the fashion circuit, something which was cemented by her regular appearances on the frow during Fashion Week, sitting on the judging panel for the Elle Beauty Awards, and, attending the British Fashion Awards last year - which is where things start to get problematic. Because, up until this point, vloggers have been viewed with some disdain as nothing but high street fodder, and, basically, nothing to do with high fashion. But now these two worlds are starting to collide, and, as with the case of #TheDress, people are totally divided.
In one corner, there are all those fashion traditionalists who view vloggers as just regular people with no expertise or appropriate qualifications, while the high street garb they talk about in their budget homemade videos are anything but fashun, darrrling. It's this kind of academic elitism or industry snobbery that greeted fashion bloggers when they first started to emerge. But fast-forward to today and look how far super blogger Susie Bubble has come. She's one of the most influential figures in fashion, loved and adored by everyone from big brands to esteemed editors.
But before you go and get your Calvin's in a twist, vloggers are a long way away from joining the #BalmainArmy for a shindig at Annabel's or being invited to Alexander McQueen private views at the V&A. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the fashion world isn't taking notice. I mean, what is the latest issue of Love if not a komphrenisve survey on the power of internet celebrity, particularly that of the Kardashians? Or what about French Snapchat super star Jerome Jarre who broke the internet during PFW, with his footage of Derek Zoolander strutting his stuff on the Valentino catwalk? Or even the latest cover of Spanish Vogue, which features a portrait of Blonde Salad blogger Chiara Ferragni, under which a caption reads "How to dress for 3.3 million followers"? Never mind the caption, this is the cover of Vogue we're talking about, which is one of the most sought after gigs you can get. Even the most recent cover of British Vogue speaks volumes about the cult of the internet celebrity. Sure, Cara Delevingne and Georgia May Jagger are both world famous models, and, yes, Suki Waterhouse is an up and coming actress and famous girlfriend of Bradley Cooper, but where would they be without the power of social media?
Then you have millennials, in the opposing corner, who see the rise of vloggers as ushering in a new era of democratic fashion and opening up the conversation to include an unmediated plethora of new voices. Because, bored of the industry's unrealistic ideas about beauty and body image, its inflated prices, and overwhelming sense of exclusivity, more and more kids are turning to people their own age for advice about what to wear and how to wear it. Furthermore, in a climate of recession, unaffordable housing, zero jobs and broken dreams, the dreamy escapism of fashion is, quite simply, not enough. I mean, who wants to know how to work 70s bohemia when you can't even afford a sandwich from Pret?
Unlike that of generations past, kids today want to see real people of all different shapes, sizes and colors, with lipstick on their teeth and hair in their mouths, waxing lyrical about their favorite high street purchases and deep rooted body insecurities. Which is where vloggers and their candid, relatable videos come in. There's also a level of trust involved. Unlike mainstream magazines and celebrity ambassadors, vloggers aren't slaves to their advertisers. It's not like they live in fear of slagging off a Chanel lipstick lest it gets them banned from the next Métiers de Arts show. They wouldn't be invited in the first place. Loyal to their fans, and true to themselves, vloggers only advertise the products that they like, which, considering the way the billion dollar beauty and fashion industry is run, is pretty unheard of!
To put the whole vlogging phenomenon in Marxist terminology, as Peter Day did in his brilliant BBC podcast: the workers have taken over the means of production and the revolution has begun. And as long as vlogging remains for the people, by the people, then I don't see why there's anything wrong with it. Anyway, love them or hate them, you better get used to them, because one thing is for certain: vloggers are here to stay. The question is what's next?
Text Tish Weinstock