the true fashion feud – words vs. images

thinking — Danielle on November 6, 2012 at 10:12 pm

The Spring 2013 season skidded to an awkward finish with a bitter aftertaste. The breathless anticipation suffocating the collections at Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior ensured that whatever walked down the runway was bound to disappoint. There’s no way the designers could satisfy our collective imaginations with mere clothes. The louder the hype, the fainter the hope.

In the end, both Simons and Slimane delivered what they were hired to deliver, as best they could in high pressure corporate environments. Two professional, polished, on-point, collections. No rough edges, no surprises.

The notorious feud between New York Times critic Cathy Horyn and Hedi Slimane that ensued, to me, wasn’t just a spat; it was indicative of fashion’s ongoing tensions with the world of words.

The axis of images and words is of particular interest to me as an illustrator who loves to write. Images are the id; words are the ego. Fashion is a visual world – images always come first, and they’re always stronger. Words are an upstart force in fashion – but they have their own pugnacious power that cannot be denied. Especially now that the discourse of fashion takes place online, words matter more than ever before.

Fashion designers have to have tremendous visual intelligence to do their job well. They process their world in pictures; they produce appearances, not analysis. If you’ve ever seen an interview with a fashion designer, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re not as smart or interesting as you thought they were. The truth is, most designers don’t thrive in vocabulary-demanding environments like panel discussions. They’re not usually very articulate people. But that doesn’t mean they’re not smart – fashion design is too difficult, you need be a near-genius polymath just to keep your head above water in that business. Literary abilities aren’t necessarily a requirement, however.

The rare fashion designers that do have a way with words possess a kind of superpower as brand builders. Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, and Tom Ford are the outliers – fashion designers that can turn a phrase as deftly as they can turn heads can consistently deflect their critics. The rest of them, when they’re confronted with the written word, are operating at a significant handicap.

Fashion criticism is a recent development – Horyn herself dates its genesis to the 1990s. It was that decade when fashion started to get intellectual – for the first time fashion was deemed worthy of academic study and critical analysis, and fashion writing became something more than elevated ad copy. Up until that point, fashion designers almost never had to deal with any kind of intelligent discussion of their work – that’s why most of the fashion designers who balk at being written about – Armani and De La Renta come to mind – belong to an older generation. But even for younger designers, the sense of entitlement to keep the power of their images from being trivialized by mere words runs deep.

When Slimane chose to confront Horyn’s dismissal of his collection on her terms, he was stepping well out of his comfort zone. It’s even symbolic that he chose to format his defence as an image rather than text – subconsciously he must have understood that he was fighting a losing battle on uneven ground. In the word-dominant domain of blogs and social networks, it seemed unanimous that the ‘winner’ of this lost-in-translation bitchfest was clearly Cathy Horyn.

And yet, it seems that Slimane will win the war. Image is always far more indelible than words. Far more universal, too – unlimited by language barriers or differences in education. The relative influence of a New York Times column is minor compared to an expensive international onslaught of advertising. Horyn’s words might mean something within the fashion bubble for a week or so, but just one month later, the persuasive vision of Slimane’s dark Californian dream that is oh-so potent right now (it belongs to the same trend as pop phenomenon Lana Del Rey), is what the rest of the world is left with. Fashion criticism has no afterlife in our culture. The clothes – and the images – will echo through the collective consciousness long after the feud is forgotten.

it takes time

thinking — Danielle on October 9, 2012 at 5:31 pm

I have been live sketching runway shows for a little over five years now. Above on the left is an early runway sketch, Jeremy Laing Spring 2008. On the right is a recent sketch, Jean Pierre Braganza Spring 2013. You can see the progress between these two examples by scrolling back through my archives – not that I would encourage that use of your time. To my eyes now, I think what I have developed over ten seasons of hustling my way into fashion shows in six cities and sketching what I see is a nascent sense of sophistication – an early iteration of elegance. After five years of trying, I’m just beginning to master this anachronistic art form.

A few weeks ago, I was revising my portfolio and looking through the work I’ve created over the past few years. I’m not the sort of person who looks backwards much – I prefer futurism to sentimentality – so this experience was both psychologically uncomfortable and eye-opening. I realized that it was only early this year – 2012 – that my work both as a writer and as an illustrator made a quantum leap. It may be barely perceptible to anyone else, but I felt that something profound had changed in the way I create, without me even being aware of it. Before that invisible transition, my work seems provincial and sophomoric, and yet of course, I didn’t realize it at the time I was doing it.

The shifting levels of ability and taste rarely match as you develop your craft. Usually as a young person, your ability will exceed your taste. You will create questionable work with naive facility, and be irrationally proud of it without recognizing its shortcomings. If you continue, an imperceptible reversal occurs, when your taste exceeds your ability. Education and experience will reveal to you where your lack of skills limit you. Everything you create  will fail to satisfy you. This is the stage where you will be truly tested – discontent and discouragement will divide the dabblers from the dedicated.

I joked the other day about giving advice to struggling young creatives – “quit and get a real job, clear the field for stubborn perma-bohemians like me”. It is kind of mean and it is kind of true. We live in a time where the visual arts are saturated with young people who have been encouraged to pursue a creative career, all thrashing it out on the lower levels, resulting in all the ubiquitous internships and other forms of subsidized bohemia. Those who survive the economic necessity of mass attrition to become true professionals will only make it due to sheer persistence. Both the persistence to overcome the financial difficulty of getting through the beginning of a career, and the persistence to invest all the thousands of hours it takes to actually develop the taste, skill and intelligence to contribute something of cultural significance.

I just turned 30. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, even though I’m not as far ahead in my career as I thought I would be a decade ago. Back then, I vastly underestimated the challenges I would face and I overestimated my own talents and the modern viability of this specific niche. And yet, now that I have a much more nuanced understanding of what I’m attempting to do, I feel more determined than ever to continue, no matter how many years it takes.

When I investigate the masters of fashion illustration that I admire – especially the live runway illustrators like Joe Eula and Kenneth Paul Block – I notice that very few of them achieved acclaim until they had already banked decades of practice. Consistent elegance of line is a quality that the young do not have – barring the outlying cases of child prodigies – it is earned only with experience.

Mastering an art could be defined as that point where your abilities finally match your sense of taste. There’s only one way to get there.

in praise of the unplanned career

education,thinking — Danielle on September 21, 2012 at 2:16 pm

If you, like I often do, need some reassurance that it’s okay to stumble towards destiny, I wrote some words for you. Ryerson Folio invited me to submit another piece aimed at my favourite audience – the young person at the cusp.

The essential element of the unplanned career is embracing the emptiness. When you are in school and every second is scheduled, you are taught that unoccupied hours are wasted hours, that allowing downtime between life’s events is unwise. Having gaps in your resume is considered undesirable. When people ask you what you’re doing, it is implicit that “nothing” is not an acceptable answer. Yet your life’s purpose won’t reveal itself to you when you’re constantly in the midst of mundane tasks or doing things just because you’re supposed to. You might think that if you enter a lull you’ll become indolent, but for most human beings indolence quickly loses its charm, and in the absence of obligations you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating towards your real desires, even if you didn’t know what your desires were before.

Read the entire article in Ryerson Folio, or if you’re a student there, pick up a paper copy.

thoughts on copy culture

thinking — Danielle on September 8, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Recently a California-based organization called Zócalo Public Square invited on me to bring a fashion illustrator/blogger’s perspective to a conversation on intellectual property theft. The discussion included a mixologist, a photographer, a dance director and a web developer also sharing their own fascinating and diverse philosophies on copy culture. Here is my extended contribution in response to the prompt, “When is it OK to take an idea?”

I work as a professional fashion illustrator. I am also an enthusiastic, non-professional fashion blogger. Of these occupations, illustration is more clearly governed by law when it comes to intellectual property. Although I’ve discovered that explaining the nuances of copyright to clients unfamiliar with the concept is so confusing in the digital age, the conversation can be counterproductive to developing relationships and doing business. Once the illustration is released into the online realm, its value becomes impossible to quantify – there is no way to control how many times it is used or copied. The tangible value of my work to my clients seems to be my ability to visualize their ideas. This means that my business is often run more on intuition and good faith than on copyright and contract. As an illustrator who works in the fashion industry for a wide variety of clients, my laissez-faire approach to enforcing the usage of my work would horrify illustrators who work in traditional publishing. But, with my limited time on Earth, I’d rather draw than practice the law.

Fashion blogging is a virtual Canal Street of grey-market intellectual property violation. A lot of this is lazy blogging—just appropriating other people’s creations. Then there are a few clever bloggers who are combining existing images and ideas in startling new ways, creating a fascinating and viral universal cultural pulse. Regardless of the quality of the appropriation, however, watching concepts spread with incredibly liquidity is invaluable to understanding and predicting trends, which is an occupational obsession of mine. Controlling copying inhibits culture.

When is it not OK to take an idea? That may be the more cogent question. I believe the answer relates to power dynamics. When a wealthy corporation profits off copying an idea from an independent creative, something feels unjust about that. But if a teenager somewhere throws an appropriated image up on their Tumblr, logging it into the stream of consciousness of modern youth, throwing the book at them just seems petty… and old-fashioned.

 

words for kids who love fashion

education,thinking — Danielle on August 15, 2012 at 10:09 am

This summer, I have been getting a lot of wonderful emails and comments from kids who love fashion. Sometimes they even send me drawings, like 17 year old Alina Kehoe did. I love looking at their work, which is so full of passion for the subject, and totally uninhibited by conventional fashion education. They often ask me very broad questions, looking for advice on how to pursue their fashion dreams.

This post is for all the kids out there who love fashion and are trying to figure out what to do with their creative energy.

1. Develop cultural literacy.

Even though the internet is a far vaster resource now than it was, there is still so much to learn from books and magazines. I spent ages in libraries as a kid, soaking up words and pictures. The more you learn about the history and theory of design, the more sophisticated your own work will be. Don’t just limit your research to the fashion section – seek out art, photography, film, as well as non-visual sources of information like literature and audio. Why?

Fashion is full of people who got into it because they can afford to be good at shopping, or because they like looking at magazines or blogs, or because they’re pretty and they like getting attention. But there are very few who are culturally literate beyond the superficial aspects of fashion. Those with real curiosity and intelligence create more complex, more interesting, and more unconventional work. They are the ones who push the art of fashion forward, and if you’re asking me for advice, I hope that’s the kind of fashion creator you want to be.

If you only consume fashion media, your work will quickly become derivative. There is a circular feedback loop inside the fashion bubble which results in a lot of boring revisions of the same old things over and over again. If you’re going into fashion, please don’t contribute to its stagnation. Break the cycle. Be disruptive. Use the entire world as your inspiration.

2. Create images. Make things.

If you’re a kid now, you probably have access to a digital camera already. Use it to record the fashion in your own life. Everyone has access to pencils and paper. Draw your ideas, what is inside your head. Your drawings won’t be slick, but it doesn’t matter. The more you draw, the more you document, the more confident your visual abilities will become.

Also, if you can, get access to a sewing machine and try altering your clothes and making your own designs. In the digital age, everyone can manipulate pixels but few can sew a fine seam. The ability to actually make what you design will make you a much more intelligent designer – or for that matter, writer or illustrator or whatever you become. Understanding the physical properties of fashion will give you a rare advantage in a very competitive field.

Some day you might want to apply for an internship or to fashion school – when you do you’ll need a portfolio of work to show what you can do, so the sooner you start developing your skills the better. The best part is since you’re not yet in school, you don’t have to worry about being told what to do, economic justification, or competition. So that means, you can create whatever you imagine. Revel in that freedom! Finding chances to create for the sheer joy of it just gets more and more difficult the older you get. Dig it, deeply, while you still can.

3. Start a blog, but DO NOT become a fashion blogger.

Developing internet skills keeps getting more and more critical, so knowing how to use the digital tools is necessary. While you’re still a kid, you can start blogging without having to worry about being professional or even good. Just put it out there. It’s not about being popular, it’s about finding friendships. Reach out to people who are into the same things you are. These relationships will help you discover where you belong in the fashion firmament.

My big, counterintuitive piece of advice for blogging as a young person is to totally avoid advice. DO NOT visit Independent Fashion Bloggers, don’t try to make a business out of it, don’t compare yourself to Tavi or Jane or whoever. Don’t be a fashion blogger. The medium is not the message. Be a designer, be an illustrator, be a photographer, be a writer, be a stylist, be a model, be anything, and post about what you do. Don’t just post inspiration – post what you create. Original work is rare in the era of the “repin”, and therefore much more valuable.

4. Plan your big move.

Unless you are lucky enough to grow up in a major city, the people around you probably don’t share your interest in fashion, which can be frustrating. If you’re serious about pursuing fashion ambitions, the pilgrimage to a major fashion city – London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo or, of course, Paris – is an important journey. If you can, visit the one that’s closest to you and get a feel for what it’s like to be in a place where fashion is a vital part of life. Even if you can’t make the trip yet, start planning how to make a big city a part of your future now.

5. Work hard. Be brave.

Fashion is not easy, practical, or reasonable. It is extremely competitive, and kind of crazy. If this is what you really want, just go for it with everything you’ve got. Good luck.

the biological imperative

thinking — Danielle on July 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Sex is one of the few things that we usually do without any clothes on, part of the remaining fragments of our lives that we still keep private, if we choose. If we’re lucky, sex becomes more about feeling than seeing, and transcends being about superficial displays of beauty and status.

Yes, of course, like everything else, beauty and fashion is connected to sex, but perhaps not in the way it would seem. This post describes two ways I break – or make – the connection.

One. Fashion is not sexy.

Recently, I was watching an interview (OK, he’s very talkative so it was more like a monologue) with the fashion designer J.W. Anderson on SHOWstudio, whose knitwear is featured in the Teen Vogue photo above. He was talking about the universality of blue jeans and t-shirts for men. To paraphrase, Anderson said that most men wear the anti-fashion uniform because almost all of us want to sleep with people in jeans and t-shirts. That’s why selling innovative fashion is an uphill battle. Jeans are just what’s sexiest, for almost everybody. It is the biological imperative that keeps us dressing alike.

Dressing differently is more about status than sex.

Most people don’t want to sleep with men in suits – men who wear suits in their dating profile photos aren’t as successful at getting responses. And then there’s the anecdotal cliche of the terminally single fashion female. If you’re trying to attract a partner, to appear formal or trendy is a liability – that’s the crux of the whole Man Repeller joke. High fashion models are barely legal, asexual aliens. There’s something about fashionability that says: look at me, don’t touch me.

Two. Overcoming being the body.

We all have a primal urge to continue our species, and women have a critical role as bodily vessels. This is why beauty and and body snark alike are the feminine counterpart to politics and tabloids. Imagine fashion as the feminine counterpart to sports.

Whenever women are criticized and measured by their appearance, instead of their ideas, their merit, their work or their actions, this is not a rational, civilized impulse. This is base animal instinct. I’ve observed almost every kind of person doing this, regardless of gender or orientation, myself included. The biological imperative can only be overcome by sheer intellectual effort.

To extricate a woman’s physical body from her body of work, she needs to still be working after she hits menopause. Once a woman loses her childbearing potential, the human race’s collective interest in her – fuckability – subsides and she is allowed to just get on with doing her work – and well, because she has decades of experience. We stop looking and we start listening. Watching this process happen to Hillary Clinton made me notice how profound this shift must be.

Being the body is part of the female experience. Once you graduate from the animal reproductive agenda, whether by age or by fashion, you stand to gain freedom from the tyranny of appearances you wouldn’t have had any other way.

collectivism vs. individualism

thinking — Danielle on July 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Hierarchies are what fashion is all about. The driving force behind all change and innovation in fashion is the desire to appear better, somehow. Or, different – fashion serves us endless variations to satisfy our never-ending desire for novelty. Concepts of equality don’t jive well with fashion, which is why fashion and social justice are such uneasy associates.

There are two essential choices when we dress ourselves. Sometimes we dress to emphasize our distinctions from our fellow human beings. Higher heels. Better bag. Custom made. Avant garde. Flair.

However, most human beings dress to emphasize equalities, most of the time. We follow trends, we don uniforms, we all wear blue jeans and Chucks. Suits. Dress codes. Most human beings in the western world dress to appear more alike, not different.

Often, we do both or either. What we lean towards though, does seem to reflect our essential view of the world. One example of this division can be seen in the simultaneous emergence of the punk music scene in New York and London in the 1970s.

Emblematic of the nascent New York punk scene, The Ramones dressed in tight blue jeans, t-shirts and black leather jackets – the ironically ubiquitous post-war uniform of rebellion. Punk in America was steadfastly anti-fashion – it wasn’t cool to dress differently from one another. This sameness is reflected in almost all aspects of American style and stems from revolutionary roots, showing how all men are created equal, and of course, to distinguish the New World from the old one. Although the American dream that anyone can achieve whatever they want can be interpreted as an extreme form of individualism, the actual philosophy is one of equality and the result is that American style is essentially homogenous.

Concurrently in London, The Sex Pistols exhibited a very different visual display of punk – it was a scene where the importance of fashion superseded even the music. The uniform of rebellion was subverted, everything was customized, and the idea was to appear as different as possible – one common comment from contemporary observers was that they had never seen anything like it before.

It makes sense that the European version of punk would be much more about emphasizing aesthetic diversity. In England, different classes of society have always dressed to express inequality. This historical hangover is why fashion thrives with such intensity in Europe, and why innovation in Western fashion trends develops more frequently in London than anywhere else.

Of course there is natural bleed-through and contradiction between these opposing forces which make sorting out an individualist sartorial expression from a collective one more complicated than you’d think. Hierarchies will assert themselves in hypocritical ways even when the superficial appearance appears to be collective – whether it is subtle tweaks in a Savile Row tailored suit, an expensive pen in a Mao suit pocket, or an artfully distressed pair of expensive Dolce & Gabbana jeans. Fashion dies hard.

Although I would like to think of myself as intellectually individualist, I’ve noticed that my own personal style is far more collectivist. I tend to dress to blend in rather than stand out, and I have a casual classicist preference that is quintessentially indicative of my North American roots. This also, not coincidentally, extends to my illustration style, which seems to appeal to American clients much more than European ones. I recently realized, or admitted to myself, that my work, like my closet, skews much more towards mainstream than avant-garde.

I’m curious… do you dress more individualist or more collectivist? Does it reflect your personal philosophies at all, or what part of the world you live in?

 

thoughts on contemporary fashion illustration

illustration,thinking — Danielle on June 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Whenever I attend a fashion illustration exhibition, or otherwise find myself in the company of fashion illustration enthusiasts, I hear variations on this sentiment: “fashion illustration is having a moment“! My inner reaction is always: is it, really? What does this mean, exactly?

A moment.

To me, “having a moment” in the context of fashion means that for a period of time, fashion shines the spotlight on your particular specialty, attention shines on the work across all media, rates inflate, and superstars emerge – that is, names become recognizable even to outsiders. Photographers had a moment in the 1950s and 1960s. Designers had their big moment in the 1970s and 1980s. Models had their moment in the 1990s. Currently, bloggers and fashion editors are both having their moment. Outside of these “moments”, the practitioners of their respective crafts carry on doing their thing, and a few outliers will make a name for themselves on an individual basis, but for the most part careerists receive relatively modest levels of scrutiny and interest.

I think fashion illustrators had their moment in the 1940s. That was when Bérard and Gruau were superstars – their artwork was featured on magazine covers, and their work even influenced designers rather than the other way around. At that time, fashion illustration was everywhere – mail-order catalogues, advertising, home sewing patterns – a lot of hands were needed to create all those drawings. When I was in school, I voluntarily studied fashion illustration texts from the 1940s, in which it was clear that fashion illustration was treated as a common, appropriate profession for young ladies to occupy themselves with between graduation and marriage. Fashion illustration paid, sometimes quite well, as Elizabeth Hawes documented in Fashion is Spinach.

So, no, I don’t think fashion illustration is having a moment right now, or will anytime in the near future. That’s just wishful thinking. The current state of fashion illustration is a tiny niche on the periphery of fashion’s consciousness. Even within the industry, the names of fashion illustrators aren’t well known. When you tell people outside of the fashion industry that you are a fashion illustrator, the reactions are always quizzical. Which is fine – you can’t make a moment, even if a moment can make you. Just know that if you pursue a fashion illustration career now, your chances of become rich and famous doing it are virtually nil. Even fashion illustrators at the top of their game right now live in middle-class, relative obscurity.

A career.

Despite reduced circumstances, fashion illustration still carries on. There are about half a dozen well-known, respected fashion illustrators with names that are recognized, at least within the industry. For some reason, most of them live in London. Beyond that, there is a small cohort of full-time working fashion illustrators struggling to make a name for themselves (I include myself among this number), and a much broader population of amateur, and part-time fashion illustrators who often combine their work with other professions. There are also the more general illustrators who also occasionally do fashion work.

Fashion illustration is currently making the media/technology shift along with the rest of the creative world. Along with illustration as a whole, fashion artists are increasingly creating careers online. Personality has always been an essential component of creating a name for yourself, and the up-and-coming cohort of the future-famous (moment withstanding) tend to also be bloggers – most notably Danny Roberts, Kathryn Elise, and of course Garance Dore. As the internet has become the starting point, the role of the agent or editor as the mediator in launching an illustrator’s career is waning.

There are two main ways to build a career as a fashion illustrator. You can create an original body of work and sell it as originals and prints, either through galleries or online. This type of career is more on the “art” end of the spectrum. Or you can assemble an online portfolio, based on which freelance clients will hire you, as I do. This is more aligned with the “commercial” side of the business. Or you can do both. There is a third, more obscure stream you can sail down too – but I’ll get to that at the end of this (long) post.

A trend.

One thing I find fascinating and unique about modern editorial and commercial fashion illustration is its susceptibility to micro-trends. Illustration is very rarely used in major fashion magazines now, and for some reason when it is it seems that certain styles tend to be ubiquitous for short periods of time. In the late 1990s as computers were just beginning to be used as a tool, vector spot illustrations were suddenly everywhere. Though Jason Brooks actually works in Photoshop (example above), he has become the most well-known example of this slick style. When editors became tired of the digital look, there was a reactionary shift back to classic painterly effects, notably David Downton and Stina Persson.

This lovely 2004 ad campaign for Choice by Calvin Klein was illustrated by the multitalented Charles Anastase. Anastase used photo-realistic pencil rendering, done so tightly that every hair was articulated. This was a major campaign and I remember seeing and remarking upon it at the time because fashion illustrations are so rarely on billboards. It would have been great if it had inspired more brands to commission illustrated campaigns – but instead it inspired a host of photo-realistic pencil-rendering fashion illustrators. This has become the most common style of fashion illustration, and now in 2012 it is dangerously near saturation.

It is very difficult to differentiate the styles of illustrators who use this technique unless they combine it with some other element (like Richard Kilroy‘s linear effects). There are also copyright and ownership issues when the illustrations are based on fashion photography, not to mention the identity of the models. In a way, the proclivity for this style of shifting analog illustration towards photography mirrors photography’s own migration towards illustration with digital dependency on photoshop. Perhaps it indicates a future category of imagemakers, the photostrators? Still, my heart goes out to the illustrators whose careers are based on this style, which is not likely to keep fashionable favour forever.

Never mind the medium, no fashion illustrator is immune to the ends of trends. The main thing that differentiates fashion illustration from any other type of illustration is its currency. A fashion illustration’s essential quality must always reflect the attitudes and tastes of its time – as a result fashion illustration dates very quickly and fashion illustration careers are rarely long ones unless the illustrator is remarkably adaptable, like the great Antonio.

An idea.

The other aspect of fashion illustration that differentiates it from the rest of the illustration industry is that it also plays a vital, creative role in design development. As an illustrator who also creates ideation sketches, design drawings and technical flats for designer clients, I have a very personal interest in fashion illustration that is used for practical purposes. To me, these are often the most fascinating types of fashion illustration, and I find it poignant that such a huge swath of drawn material is not for public consumption. It bothers me that when fashion illustration is discussed, its hidden industrial role is so often ignored.

This is why fashion illustration will never be eclipsed by photography. Sketching plays a secret, significant role in fashion: the genesis of an idea.

cashing in on fashion blogging

blogging,thinking — Danielle on June 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I have been a committed, or addicted, fashion blogger for over six years now with the archives to prove it. There is no point in downplaying or denying it – I love this blog and I put a lot of heart, and time, into it. I never did unpaid internships to get into fashion – instead all my free time and priceless hopes I pinned on this URL.

So here we are. Perhaps indirectly, I’ve become a fashion illustrator. I am fulfilling a childhood fantasy. I absolutely adore what I do, and I feel like I still have a long way to go, lots of things to make and say and do.

Great, right? It is. Here’s the thing about a blog-based creative career – it is a capricious occupation. Don’t be fooled by the edited facade we throw out there; it’s just glamour. Sometimes things get sticky. Projects get cancelled. Payments are delayed. You have a quiet week. A quiet month. Times when opening your email feels like scratching a lottery ticket.

So, how about the blog then, what can it do to pull some weight? I’ve tried a few things – my experiments with sponsorship are on the public record. My early efforts integrated quite a bit with the content of the blog, and after I tried it, I didn’t feel like it was the right direction. I wanted Final Fashion to be universal and as free as possible from obligations. I wanted to treat the blog more like art.

A while ago, I had the opportunity to sell a post. I rarely respond to these opportunities, but I had an illustration project cancel that week so I was thinking about money. It turned out that the client was high profile, the rate they offered was excellent and the content they wanted me to post was pretty cute. This time, I treated it like a fashion ad in a magazine, or a commercial on a TV show. Disconnected from the rest of my content.

I bought another week in London, thanks to the goldmine of fashion blogging. After just six years of mostly-unpaid labour. If Vogue can sell off bits of itself, why can’t I?

Was it worth it? I have no idea. Final Fashion is not a shopping blog or a personal style blog. It seemed like a few regular visitors found it a bit jarring, and most took it in stride. When I solicited reactions, some readers thought it would have been better if I had included more of myself in the sponsored content somehow. This came as a surprise to me – sponsored content on fashion blogs is often a little too integral for my taste. Especially on the personal style blog end of the spectrumprofessionalization is beginning to heavily distort content. Now it seems like the genre is about to enter some kind of existential crisis.

As a niche fashion blogger and independent creative careerist who has mixed feelings on monetizing, here are my personal thoughts on how to sell out and still love your fashion blog.

  • Never rely on your blog for income. Depending on the blog will inhibit your ability to be creative, it will also make it more difficult to take time away from the blog when you need to. Beware inadvertently turning your role into a media salesperson and content-generator, when your true calling is elsewhere. If a serendipitous sponsor opportunity comes along, by all means take it – but treat it like mad money, not rent.
  • Set a high bar for how much a post sells for, keep the independent:sponsored content ratio as high as possible.
  • Selling out is not a sin. Almost all artists have to navigate this challenge in order to finance the pursuit their craft, and the snobs who say otherwise are anti-creative. Sponsorship is not universally bad or good – but like any business choice, it has tradeoffs. Be careful.
  • The more of your blog you sell off, the less the blog is yours. If your ego is as heavily invested in your blog as mine is, you know what a personal endeavour this pursuit can be. Value your authorship, and keep your independence.

the masculine renunciation

thinking — Danielle on May 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Three hundred years ago, the guillotine divided men from fashion. Ever since, the individuality of modern man has become an above-the-collar issue. The Great Masculine Renunciation underscored great modern ideals like equality, social mobility, and the worthiness of work. The sacrifice that the abandonment of fashion symbolizes is less often considered.

Last year, I explored the idea of whether fashion is – or could be – feminist. Reflecting on the problems of reconciling the mixed messages that result from combining gender equality rhetoric with sexually distinctive clothing, I theorized that fashion as a feminine domain might have something to do with the visual nature of male sexuality. Since then my personal point of view has changed. I’ve come to believe that gendered clothing has way more to do with class than sex.

Before the French Revolution, fashion was divided by class, not by gender. Aristocratic men, like King Gustav III of Sweden and his brothers, above, approached fashion and grooming with the same level of expression, indulgence and care that their female counterparts did. Instructions for arranging men’s hairstyles of the time seems excessive and complex even to modern women. The use of fashion highlighted the leisured lifestyle of the nobility, and lower classes had no access to the time and money style demanded.

The political revolutions of the 18th century were reflected vividly in the clothing of men. While the power rested with the nobility, the bourgeois adopted the pretentions of aristocratic fashion. As financial and political power began to shift to the new middle class, any assumptions to aristocratic style became subject to mockery, and the tide turned. Even those to the manor born began to dress in a way that emphasized equality and fraternity.

The renunciation of fashion occurred simultaneously with another renunciation – of emotional expression. As men symbolically abandoned the excesses of physical aesthetics, and their clothing became more rational, practical, and understated, so did acceptable masculine displays of feeling. Male romantic heroes became notoriously inaccessible. Modern men’s clothing is often directly derived from military uniforms – evoking regimental, rigidly ordered ideals of masculinity.

Like women, men also had a small dress reform movement moment, which was similarly mocked and diminished in its time. Men also long to escape from the gendered expectations and demands of society through aesthetic expression. In modern times, women have won the option of adopting masculine attire if they desire without fear of diminishment. Men have not yet achieved that freedom, as this photo project demonstrates.

Fashion dies hard. Even after men attempted to discard fashion, fashion still had a sneaky way of sticking around. The most cited poster boy of masculine renunciation is the prototypical modern dandy, Beau Brummel. Denied the frivolity and artifice of the Macaronis of centuries past, Brummel instead achieved sartorial one-upmanship by applying excessive restraint, thus introducing irony into the world of fashion. The limited scope of acceptable masculine expression has encouraged aesthetically-minded men to develop an unhealthy obsession with extreme minutiae most famously parodied in American Psycho.

Just as middle class men once switched the script by asserting sartorial authority of practicality over courtly indulgence, the achievement of gender equality will be underscored not by women adopting clothing considered masculine, but by men adopting styles currently considered feminine. Because the instigation of all fashion is predicated on changes to power structures, this will happen simultaneously as women achieve greater authority and financial clout. We’re seeing the beginning of this now, as men gain more expressive freedom – at the risk of being judged by the same harsh aesthetic standards as women.

 

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