Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Good, clean, honest fashion writing

If you follow me on Twitter, you might know I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. My current favourite is a show called Longform. If you haven't heard it, each episode is an interview with a writer, journalist, editor or someone else involved with the media. What I love about it is that each person makes me think a little differently about their sector, whether that's podcasting, investigative journalism, or fashion writing. When I was listening to the Molly Young episode, she said something about fashion journalism which resonated with me a lot:

Molly: "It's an industry that is only interesting from an outside perspective, which is one reason why there's just no good fashion writing out there. Anyone who's involved in the fashion industry who writes for a fashion magazine, their paycheck is directly tied to their..."
Presenter: "Right, that story is sitting next to a giant ad."
Molly: "Exactly."

This was always something of which I had been peripherally aware, but not something with which I was willing to fully engage or accept. I have several memories of hearing people say "fashion magazines are all just advertising" when I would list examples of in-depth and interesting features from the latest Vogue to defend the form. But when I look back, I realise those features which I was namedropping were rarely directly to do with fashion, they were the profiles of high-flying career women, or investigations into new health treatments. And when they were about fashion, they were flattering interviews with designers or write-ups of shows which lacked any real criticism or, perhaps more importantly, honesty.

What's the point in this kind of journalism? I, along with many others, will champion the analysis of fashion as something which reflects on our economy, political and social changes, and the progression of modern art. Yet fashion is not being approached in the way any of these other fields are. Can you imagine if political journalism was written like this? We would have a 10-page edit of the best policies from George Osborne's latest budget, followed by an overly-flaterring interview with Donald Trump, then an exclusive tour around the headquarters of the Assad regime.

I recognise I'm being somewhat unfair in this analogy, but the point is that good journalism requires more than just an expertise in the subject. It needs strong voices to criticise when things are flawed, and it needs fresh perspectives from people who don't feel obliged to flatter every big brand. It is remarkable that for an industry with such a bitchy reputation, very little actual criticism is ever published.

There are a lot of attempts to achieve this kind of writing out there, especially in blogging. Yet even bloggers often feel that if they want to monetise their blog or work their way into a job in the industry then they can't fully say what they think. Perhaps an even bigger problem is that, when you've been reading the same sycophantic media all your life, it's difficult to strike out from that. I know that for a long time all of my fashion writing was an echo of what I read in Vogue, InStyle, Miss Vogue, and the weekend supplements of newspapers. That's fine, all writers tend to go through a period of imitation. But fashion journalism could be so much more.

The only way to break this habit is to make a conscious effort to look at your'e writing and say "what do I really think"? If you think that Raf Simmons is actually the wrong choice for Dior, say so. If you think this year's September issue doesn't live up to expectations, talk about what's wrong with it and how it could be improved. I guess what I'm saying is that we have critics for restaurants, theatre and film who aren't afraid to speak their minds; the same should be true of fashion.

Of course there's always room for the articles and posts which are purely about how much you love a new collection, or which brands you find the best deals from. Fashion is, and always will be, a different beast altogether. Whatsmore, it's fun, so there should certainly be fun ways of talking about it. But it's time those of us who have written about it for a while took a step back to re-evaluate. On top of that, I'd love to see more writers from other sectors trying their hand at fashion reporting.

To this end, I'm adding a quick link on this blog to any pieces tagged 'opinion', and I'm also putting out a call: come guest-post for me. I'll do a proper post about this soon, but if you're reading this and you think you have something to say about fashion - whether or not you've ever tried writing on fashion before - get in touch. Tell me your ideas. They don't have to be radically opinionated, they just need to be your honest take. Find me on Twitter to let me know you're interested.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Links a la Mode & developing the blog

It's always nice to have a post in Links a la Mode, and this week it's particularly gratifying, because I was trying something a little different with my piece about Clinique's new campaign. I'd like to have a lot more of this opinion-based writing on the blog, because although I love thinking about shopping and outfits (and will still be writing about those) I also like having the chance to create some in-depth analysis.

I used to do this a lot more like when I responded to John Galliano's new appointment or wrote about elitism in fashion journalism, but would really like to make this a staple of the blog. I hope my readers will enjoy this kind of piece, which I plan on doing regularly. In fact I've got a lot of ideas for developing the blog, including a redesign and guest posts, but that may be a little while off.

Anyway, make sure to check out the rest of the links. My personal recommendations would be the review of The Rise of Sneaker Culture on Style Curated, and the playlists on Fashion Tales.

Links à la Mode, July 9
SPONSOR: Shopbop sale, Yummie, Fuzzi, Private Party, Boho jeans, Sweater Dresses, Standard Issue, Men's Marni, Doucal's, Tarin Thomas, gold clutches, chiffon blouses

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Face Forward: A New Direction?

I stopped properly paying attention to the skincare market a while back. When you've got pretty unpredictable skin like mine, most beauty products start to seem like scams, too much effort, or the luxury of those with a lot of expendable income. It's frustrating, and I expect there are a lot of people like me who just switch off when they see advertisements for a moisturiser, toner, or cleanser.

That's why it's interesting that I actually noticed Clinique's Face Forward campaign. I guess that the recognisable face of Tavi Gevinson taking up a full page of Grazia Magazine did a lot of the ground work; Tavi is, to a lot of people my age, the pinnacle of a more intelligent and ambitious approach to life than we are often offered by mainstream media. I noted the bare-faced, fresh aesthetic of the subsequent two black and white headshots, and admired the approach.

I thought nothing more of it until I picked up the leaflet from the Clinique counter in Boots. Again, the same three simple headshots are the focus of the campaign, but what I found most interesting was the Q&A feature. As well as expected questions like "What is your typical beauty routine?" they ask the girls "What keeps you motivated in your career?" There is a huge focus on entrepreneurship, healthy living, confidence and the future. The other two subjects are Hannah Bronfman, who is described as a "DJ, model, fitness guru and serial entrepreneur" and Margaret Zhang, a "Creative Director, Blogger, Law Student, One-time ballerina".

Here at last is a campaign aimed at young ambitious women, whose main concerns are living fulfilling, healthy lives. The idea of marketing to the woman who doesn't want a lot of make-up hassle is not a new one. It's pretty much Simple's USP, and crops up in the advertisements for any brands with a teenage market like Freederm, Neutrogena, Witch, and Clean&Clear.

But to be seeing young women in particular as busy, outgoing, career-focused, is a fairly new thing. The anti-wrinkle product-makers have, for a long time, been aware that the women they want to start using preventative creams are the kind of women who are in their 30s, moving up in their career, and have limited time in their days. This Face Forward approach is about catching the ones in their early 20s, who are starting to envision their bright and shining futures, and are busy with internships, projects, studying and having new ideas.

I can't speak for the quality of any of the products - that would be a different blogpost. What I'm interested in is whether this will become the new way of marketing products to the young market. It's a tactic which places as much value on achievement and confidence as it does on clear skin. Of course, taking the skeptical line of thought, that means Clinique is associating their product with those desirable goals. But on the other hand, I'd rather be seeing these girls celebrated for their interests and goals alongside the fact that they have great skin rather than their appearances being presented as the only thing that matters. I'm excited to see whether a greater portion of the beauty industry takes note on this one and makes the effort to engage with this market in what I think is a new and unpatronising way.

If you'd like to read the Q&As or any more about the products themselves visit the Clinique website.

Disclaimer: I'm not being sponsored by Clinique, I'm just generally interested in their approach. Having said that if anyone from Clinique is reading this and would like to send me some samples I am totally up for that... tweet me.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

IdeasTap alternatives for young creatives

Friends, bloggers, fashion designers, lend me your readership.

On the 8th of July, a beloved website of young British creatives will close down. IdeasTap was such an invaluable resource for me in the past couple of years. I haven't mentioned it on this blog before, but I thought it might be relevant to some of my readers. Probably a lot of you are bloggers, writers, designers, artists, models, actors, etc.

I want to share here a few sites which might serve as good alternatives to anyone who, like me, will be feeling the absence of IdeasTap. Or indeed for anyone who's only just heard of it as it's closing down and feels like they missed out on all the fun. A word of warning: although there are many international websites on this list, it will for the most part be a UK-centric article.

Hiive is where Ideastap are directing their users, and where there will still be IdeasTap-funded competitions and projects. This is where the really popular regular opportunities like writing a regular paid column or applying for funding will live for the foreseeable future. I've just signed up myself, and it seems like a really useful resource. The layout is sleek and easy to use, and it still has a lot of the features which IdeasTap is known for. There are groups, jobs listings, and now competitions.

There's something missing though. I think that, unlike IdeasTap, it doesn't have young people specifically at its hear. Setting my profile up just now, I had to pick a level of career, even though there's an option to say you're a student. I think Hiive's users tend to be people who are maybe in their first job or looking for one, whereas IdeasTap - while it can cater for those people - was also good for those just wanting to create something in their spare time while at school. It's still worth signing up to though as pretty much the most similar thing to IdeasTap out there.

Journo Portfolio is another one which I've only just signed up to, though I've heard good things about it from people who I worked with on a student newspaper. This seems like a very neat alternative for anyone who, like me, used Ideastap as a kind of portfolio. It's very easy to use (I just signed up using my Twitter account) and would be good for bloggers who want to showcase some of their best posts alongside work they've published elsewhere.

Although there are no specific guides as to what you can put on your portfolio, the focus is very much journalism. This is fine, though I also used IdeasTap to showcase short stories, poetry, even a play which I co-wrote. Although it has the useful feature of arranging your work by type, I don't think Journo Portfolio is the place for all of that. It's still a very good way of showing your work though, by gathering different publications together in one place.

Behance is effectively the visual equivalent of Journo Portfolio. Again, this is a good place to go if you're now bereft of your favourite place to showcase your work. Both this site and JP obviously don't have everything which IdeasTap had, but they are useful for demonstrating what you can do. Behance has the added benefit of catering to several different creative modes, which you can filter from the main menu. If you're just looking for a photographer, or a fashion designer, it's incredibly simple to narrow down results.

I won't be signing up to this because, aside from my basic levels of design and photography knowledge, I don't have enough visual output to make it worth it. Having looked at it though, Behance seems like a sort of professional Pinterest, and it's easy to get lost browsing other people's artwork! A carefully-curated profile could certainly help you get noticed, and there are actually jobs listings on this one.

YCN (YouCanNow) is more something which you might want to investigate if you're building a brand or business. Membership costs from £120 a year for an individual, so it's certainly an investment. the opportunities and events available certainly seem worth it, though not for people who are just starting out. The website's design is pretty smart, and actually a lot more interesting than your typical sleek site. Perhaps this is one to aspire to join once things are going well!

Other resources

Follow a couple of the Media Jobs UK accounts, Fashion Internships, and any other jobs listings Twitter accounts you can find

Start reading The Financial Diet for career inspiration and tips in a way that doesn't make you stress out or fall asleep with boredom. Chelsea Fagan's personal experiences of becoming a professional writer are especially useful.

It feels a bit corporate, but if you haven't already, make a LinkedIn profile. If nothing else, the jobs listings can be really good, and will show you opportunities from around the world.

Farewell IdeasTap, you were too good for this world (and the current climate of arts-funding). If any of my readers have some more reccommendations, or a different opinion on one of the suggested websites, let me know on Twitter (please note my new handle!) or in the comments. I'll probably be doing another post on this topic or something similar soon.

And if you want to look at my nifty new profiles on Hiive or Journo Portfolio, be my guest!