Designers versus bloggers: this edition’s showdown pits Danielle Meder against Juma

Designers versus bloggers: this edition’s showdown pits Danielle Meder against Juma

Left: Danielle Meder, Right: Jamil and Alia of Juma (Images: Caitlin Cronenberg and Juma)

Yesterday’s introduction of our series Designers versus Bloggers led to an interesting criticism of what makes a “Toronto Social.” As far as we know, it is a back-breaking endeavour, not at all led by self-congratulation, to present oneself as a Toronto socialite. That said, the fame-positive bloggers merely make up one segment of the on-line divides. As blogger Danielle Meder puts it, they are the “queen bees” in what we see as fashion’s very own Mean Girls, which makes today’s pairing a collective Ms. Norbury.

TODAY’S MATCHUP: London-based (formerly Toronto) fashion illustrator and blogger Danielle Meder squares off with Jamil Juma of design house Juma.

When did you first start to notice the fashion blogosphere had gained real traction in the fashion world?

DM: The first mainstream “fashion bloggers at fashion week” story I recall was by Cate Corcoran in WWD in 2006. But it didn’t really seem to sink into the collective consciousness until 2009 or 2010 with the emergence of the teenage celebrity bloggers: Tavi and Jane, etc… It’s amazing, as someone who has been watching the scene since 2005, how incredibly short-memoried everyone is—but also a relief. Fashion blogging’s early days were far scrappier and rawer. In retrospect, sometimes a little amnesia is a blessing, but also frustrating, because the assumptions people make about fashion blogging don’t accurately reflect the true history and reality of it.

JJ: We started following blogs around four or five years ago. Back then, it was more about people in their bedrooms trying to express themselves on-line to whomever. I would say in the last two years, however, it has blown up and become the norm and more mainstream.

What is your opinion on the state of fashion blogging today? Is the market over-saturated? How can you tell the serious contenders from the dozens of fashion bloggers out there?

DM: This is a broad topic. I think that fashion blogging has divided along a few significant lines. One divide is between the “queen bee” bloggers, who have been anointed by the established fashion press, and the rest of us. Another divide is between the pro-bloggers, whose operations reflects the media sales business model of traditional media, and the “who-bloggers,” as I call them—bloggers like myself who use the medium to complement and promote their true profession, whether it’s writing, illustration, styling, whatever. So, I’m a fashion illustrator who blogs—get it? I think the serious contenders stand out pretty clearly from the pack. A real player updates consistently, persistently and, most significantly, with personality and character. Fashion bloggers are far more like fashion designers. They tend to be independent, personality driven and creative. The act of curating a truly original blog is a lot more like developing a collection and a brand, look by look, than it is like journalism.

What is your opinion on fashion bloggers? Do they help you? Hurt you?

JJ: We believe the democratization of expression is important and valuable in this industry. Fashion journalism is no longer the privilege of a handful, but belongs to the most informative and insightful. So far, fashion blogging has helped us break our name out there, and we don’t see it hurting us unless we ourselves have a few missteps. But we don’t plan on it!

Do you think fashion bloggers can affect sales?

DM: Under certain circumstances, yes. But for the most part, what I hear from those who can directly measure these things is that they don’t. If they do, it’s in that airy-fairy brand-recognition, public-relations sense, which is hard to express in data. From what I understand, to significantly affect real sales, a blogger has to be extremely popular, and also it helps a lot if they are shopping focused.

JJ: Although it is hard for us to correlate the two, we feel that some of the positive write-ups and exposure some fashion bloggers have given us has led to positive sales.

Do you think bloggers’ ability to be so candid and honest hurts or helps designers?

DM: I think that candor is an incredibly helpful thing for anyone. It allows people to connect and believe in each other. Modern audiences just don’t take to being spoon-fed fancy brand aspirations any more. We’re interested in people. The way that people react to criticism tells us a lot about what kind of people they are—and if you think bloggers can dish it, they also have to take it. The feedback loop in this medium is so tight that there is a culture of conversation, response and even rap-battle rules for flaming. So, yes, it helps designers, but only if they can also show they can hack the back-and-forth with the same sense of confidence and verve that the best bloggers can.

JJ: Firstly, we feel all bloggers, as well as all press and media, should be candid and honest. That is the point of journalism. Bloggers can help or hurt you, depending on their opinion about your collection. They influence their audience, as well as some people within the industry. But we don’t feel one person can sway the opinion of everyone.

Is there still a tiered hierarchy between the print and web media?

DM: Yes, in that whenever I get a little blurb in print, it is far more impressive to people perceptively than a link back from a blog. The irony is that the link back is far more valuable to me from a business perspective. Watch that hierarchy flip this year!

What justifies a blogger getting front row seating? Why is it important that they get these prime locations?

DM: If a blogger qualifies as a celebrity, I think that’s a good enough justification in the modern circus. The front row is extremely visible, and it’s not so much about how well the blogger needs to see the collection as how important it is for everyone to see the blogger. I think that front-row seating makes the most sense based on appearances (sad but true!) and real-numbers influence.

JJ: We only invite bloggers and media who support us or whose opinions (bad or good) we hold in high regard.  That being said, if it was up to us, we would give first-come-first-serve to everyone attending.  However, since it is completely out of our hands, due to sponsors, we have to give preference to media or bloggers with the biggest audience.

If you could change one thing about how fashion bloggers behave/write/act/attend shows, what would it be?

JJ: Nothing really.  As long as everyone is respectful, then it’s fine.

DM: Bloggers need to avoid running with the pack. Covering the same stuff from the same angles on multiple sites doesn’t help anyone. I think there will be a new schedule and system of how fashion designers will work coming down the pipe, and I think it will be more related to how the modern publishing and music industries are changing. Bloggers are on the vanguard of a new type of industry, and what I’d really like to see is designers picking up on that. In the same way that albums are giving way to singles, I think we’re going to see a similar fragmentation in the business of fashion design.