Friday, December 01, 2006

Although I was familiar with the blog format (the Sartorialist and Fashion Incubator being two particular personal favorites), I had never explored its potential myself. To be honest, in the beginning I was not entirely comfortable with starting this blog. I had heard too many stories about people getting into trouble at work for their actions on the internet to be excited at the prospect of starting a blog. However, when I actually started to use Blogger, I found it to be much more rewarding than I had initially expected. Fashion is an incredibly visual field, and the ability to incorporate beautiful and interesting photographs into my essays about fashion inspired me but also allowed me to not just tell but show the reader what I was talking about. For example, the post critiquing Another Magazine's website especially benefitted from contrasting the gray, static Vogue photograph of model Gemma Ward in head to toe Prada with the colorful and unique Another Magazine image of a model in a shocking pink tutu with red clown lips.

Additionally, I appreciated the potential of links within the essay. Being able to link to not just sources but background material, news stories, photo shoots, and other fahsion content allowed me to create a web of extensive supplemental information. However, the true genius of the link is that it is completely voluntary - the reader can choose to just read the essay, or they can choose to click those links that are interesting to them and discover new areas and information they may not have otherwise found. Creating informative links and finding great supporting photographs significantly added to amount of time I put into my posts, but was ultimately rewarding because it took advantage of multimodality opportunities. And in the end, I feel that multimodality ended up being the strongest feature of my work.

However, I also think that there were wasted opportunities along the way. I think that I may have been too restrained in my use of pictures (as I did not want the site to look too cluttered), but what I regret more was not using them in a more interactive way. As they are, they make perfect sense to me, but I realize that I never explained to the reader what was good about them, or why they were relevant to my essay. I do regret not taking the opportunity to find a way to engage readers in the photographs - through captions or incorporating explanations into the body of the posts. In their current format I think that they are beautiful but not as meaningful as they could have been, especially since all of my pictures were very carefully chosen to enhance the content of the posts.

Now that I am at the end of my blogging experience, I can truthfully say that I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would and I am not (as I originally thought that I would after I was done) going to delete it. I may even show it to others.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

James Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth College, wrote in his book Liberal Education and the Public Interest that “in bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most” (117). Awarding honorary degrees is an important practice of any university, as it honors a deserving recipient, adds to the prestige of the institution, and creates a bond between that recipient and the awarding institution. The University of Southern California has shown itself to be committed to this mission by giving degrees to such distinguished people as Antonio Villaraigosa, Neil Armstrong, John Williams, John McCain, and Frank Gehry. Many of these past recipients have been persons of great achievement in the arts, but perhaps as a result of our location in the center of the film industry, those degrees awarded have been heavily slanted towards Hollywood. Although it would be controversial, and would anger many, USC should fulfill its mission to be a leader and live up to its “entrepreneurial heritage” by awarding an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts to Anna Wintour, editor in chief of American Vogue and a leader in American fashion and design.

As stated specifically by the University of Southern California, the purpose of the honorary degree at this institution is to “honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements,” and “made outstanding contributions to the…communities of which they are a part,” as well as “elevate the university in the eyes of the world.” While very similar to what any other university’s standards and purpose are in giving honorary degrees, these are the specific criteria by which USC judges those nominated. Given these criteria, Ms. Wintour is an outstanding candidate – as Editor in Chief of American Vogue, she is at the pinnacle of her field, and has used this position not only to advance the magazine but also to advance American fashion design.

Since so many candidates are worthy, and as USC itself notes, "not all excellent nominees can be recognized," the question of how to evaluate a person's accomplishments and qualifications for an honorary degree becomes especially important. What makes one accomplishment more worthy than another? I do not propose to argue that Ms. Wintour's work is of more weight or worth than any other qualified nominee, but in order to thoroughly examine her qualifications, I do propose to use three specific components of personal success as the main criteria. These components were originally outlined by Mike Martin in his book Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics, with the three areas being craft, compensation, and moral concern. To these criteria for evaluating achievement I would like to add one more self-interested element – the promise of a mutually beneficial relationship between the honoree and the honoring university. An honorary degree is not, after all, an entirely disinterested act. Freedman philosophizes that it is “an opportunity to emphasize an institution’s values” but also admits that the practice can have more tangible benefits for the awarding institution–donations but also “enduring bonds of friendship and mutual regard between the college and the recipient” that can result in “summer jobs…career counseling…[and] professional opportunities” for students (117, 130). In USC's honorary degree statement, there is the stated motive of "elevat[ing] the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded," but there are other discernable motives. In the repeated emphasis on honoring alumni, those with ties to the university, or those who have committed "exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university," USC also reveals an interest in forging ties with those who could benefit or advance the university. Since the giving of an honorary degree is meant to such a relationship that would be beneficial to the university and its students (and such relationships are vital to the health of any university), this is a valid and important criteria for evaluating candidates that I will examine in addition to Martin’s categories for personal achievement.

Most of Ms. Wintour’s most significant achievements (although by no means all of them) have been in her work at Vogue, and show an extraordinary dedication to craft. In outlining craft motives, Martin describes "desires to manifest technical skill, tehoretical understanding, and creativity" (22). While Ms. Wintour has demonstrated her skill and understanding to be extraordinary, the area where she has truly excelled in craft is her creativity. When she was brought to Vogue in 1988, she had her work cut out for her. The previous editor, Grace Mirabella, had shifted Vogue’s focus to lifestyle (from fashion), circulation had plateaued while other, newer fashion magazines were gaining ground, and “the magazine had become boring” (Fortini). Another editor probably would have looked into Vogue’s past when designing a vision for its future, perhaps drawing upon Diana Vreeland’s now revered work for the magazine. However, Ms. Wintour did no such thing. Most importantly, she refocused the magazine on fashion, and abandoned lifestyle, returning the magazine to its core identity. She moved photo shoots out of the studio into the sunlight, let the models look like real women instead of untouchable goddesses with hair and makeup that was not perfect or too done, and most importantly, created a new fashion mix that still dominates today (Fortini). Photo shoots and particularly covers now featured affordable clothes with the designer fashions, giving an idea of real dressing, even if most of the clothes were still much too expensive for the average reader.

She has also worked to ensure that Vogue works with the best in everything – photographers, models, clothing, designers, and editors. As a result, during Anna Wintour’s reign at Vogue, it has forged contracts with the biggest names in photography and fashion photography (Annie Leibowitz, Irving Penn, Stephen Meisel, Mario Testino, etc), commands exclusives from all the top designers, has featured the First Lady of the United States in its pages twice (Hilary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush), and was the first and only magazine to be granted permission to shoot at Versailles. Additionally, it is the only major fashion book that does not tempt its readers with improvement columns. Vogue does not advertise on its cover that it knows ten secrets to attracting men, quick and easy ways to trim that holiday waistline, or the ten best buys of the season. There are frequently articles on relationships, on diets, on skin care, and on fashion, but as Christina Larson puts it, “Vogue [presents] the point of view of the woman who has already arrived…it doesn’t purport to solve problems, to help you feel less guilty…While it surely exists to sell ads – which it does remarkably well – it does so primarily by exploiting ambition, not insecurity.” This has always set Ms. Wintour apart from other fashion editors-as early as 1984, when she was the new editor-in-chief of British Vogue, she proclaimed to the press that she "want[ed] Vogue to be pacy, sharp, and sexy. I'm not interested in the super-rich or infinitely leisured. I want our readers to be energetic, executive women, with money of their own and a wide range of interests." It was a departure in 1984 (especially from the Vogue run by Diana Vreeland) and unfortunately remains a departure today, as no other fashion magazine assumes that its reader is already a satisfied and successful woman. On the business side, Ms. Wintour has also boosted Vogue’s circulation numbers and advertising revenue, and raised the magazine’s profile so that it is unquestionably first among the fashion books (Gray). Essentially, she engineered a reinvention that put the magazine where it is today but also saved it from decline – a feat that no other Vogue editor has ever been called upon to perform.

Anna Wintour’s achievement in compensation both monetary and otherwise is equally impressive. As editor in chief of American Vogue her salary is estimated at over one million dollars per year plus benefits that include a clothing allowance, chauffeured car, first class travel, and a suite at the Ritz in Paris (Gray). However, as Martin defines it, compensation is more than money – it is also “power, authority, recognition, and job stability” (23). These she also possesses in spades. Her position at Vogue, while never iron clad (as two of her predecessors were unceremoniously and suddenly removed), is secure enough that many have speculated in recent years that she might leave Vogue for an even higher position, perhaps as editorial director at Conde Nast Publications or to run the recently acquired Fairchild Publications (the publisher of W and Women's Wear Daily, among others). Si Newhouse, the chairman of Conde Nast and Ms. Wintour's boss, intensified speculation when he was quoted in a New York Magazine article as "think[ing] Anna is capable of handling anything within magazine publishing." However, Ms. Wintour has given such rumors little credence, saying that she "can't imagine anything better than Vogue." Outside of Conde Nast she wields immense power and influence in the industry. Fashion shows do not begin until she gets there, designers that will listen to no one listen to her, and everyone in the industry (as well as many who are not, thanks to the Devil Wears Prada) knows her name and the power that she has to either make or break a career. This is not to suggest that she is out to destroy others, merely that while her recognition and approval can boost a young designer’s prospects, lack of notice can also hurt them immensely.

Although her achievements in craft and compensation are unparalleled in her field, many would raise questions about Martin's last category, moral concern. There are lots of people who love to hate Ms. Wintour – some because they think that she is icy or bitchy, others because she wears fur, and yet others because she is at the head of an industry that worships certain ideals of beauty. Because of all this, some would argue that Ms. Wintour is missing the moral component that is essential for any honorary degree candidate. However, Martin reminds us that “a life is more than outward events, and we understand persons only when we grasp the value commitments embedded in their motives, character, and worldview” (16). While this would clearly be the ideal, I would argue in this case that it is only valid to draw conclusions about Ms. Wintour’s value commitments from her actions, as we are unable to know her motives or worldview. Using this stated criteria by which to judge her moral concern, she has certainly demonstrated real and unrelenting care for her field, if not humanity in total. During her career as editor in chief at Vogue, she has used her position and influence in the industry to forward the careers of several young designers, among them John Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, and Michael Kors, all of whom have gone on to be big names in fashion (Gray).

In 2003, with the support of Conde Nast and Barneys New York, she launched the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, a program that would give a yearly $200,000 cash prize as well as mentoring and business support for a carefully chosen emerging designer – in effect establishing a continuing method for nurturing new American design talent. In an industry where connections are everything and entry is extremely difficult, this is a priceless gift to young and unknown designers. Additionally, Ms. Wintour has raised millions of dollars for AIDS research and is a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she has been behind many of the museum’s recent successful special exhibits (such as the AngloMania exhibit this year). Finally, she is constantly looking towards and promoting new futures in fashion - such as the internet. Just as Vogue started to focus resources on expanding its web presence at, she told an interviewer from New York Magazine that she was "very excited about []...I want to do it right. I don't want to just rush in. I'm very interested in the commerce side, how it will support itself." Since then, has won several awards and is the most popular fashion website operating today. Given her track record in pioneering new looks (the high-low fashion mix that now dominates every fashion magazine), promoting new designers, and pushing fashion towards the modern and the new, it is exciting to think about where she will take us next.

While Ms. Wintour's professional and personal achievements are certainly worthy of an honorary degree, there remains one final criterion, the desire to "advance the university in the eyes of the world" by awarding these degrees Awarding Anna Wintour a doctor of fine arts would absolutely achieve this goal. As editor in chief of American Vogue and the most influential person in American fashion, she could significantly benefit USC students. American Vogue (and the larger Conde Nast Publications Inc corporation that publishes it) is headquartered in New York at 4 Times Square but also has a smaller branch on Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles. The publications with satellite offices at the Los Angeles location include Vogue, Teen Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, W, Architectural Digest, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and DNR – in short, some of the most prestigious titles in publishing. Not all of these publications take on interns, and most are not looking for permanent hires in Los Angeles, but they are wonderful places for USC students to gain valuable experience that would otherwise be unavailable to them (as most magazines of this stature are based in New York and do not have Los Angeles offices). Obviously, Ms. Wintour only has direct control over Vogue, but as it is the leading Conde Nast publication, others would likely follow her lead. Anna Wintour has shown herself to be committed to advancing the causes of those she believes in, as discussed above, and should the university forge ties with her by awarding an honorary degree, more USC students might find themselves with internships at Vogue and other Conde Nast publications – similar to the programs that have been established with Columbia College and Parsons School of Design.

Despite Ms. Wintour’s very real achievements, she would for many reasons be a fairly controversial degree recipient. As noted above, many feel that she promotes unhealthy standards of beauty and thinness, encourages animal cruelty through her use of fur in her wardrobe and in the magazine, and is generally against feminist principles. However, as real as these objections are, I do not think that they outweigh her extraordinary achievements. The University of Southern California makes it very clear in their Code of Ethics that it is committed to being an “ethical institution,” and the real question to ask is this – if USC were to award Ms. Wintour an honorary degree would it be against the ethics of the university? USC’s Mission Statement describes the mission of the university as “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit,” and two of the stated methods of accomplishing this mission are “artistic creation” and “public service.” Ms. Wintour, through her work in the CFDA/Vogue Fund and at Vogue and the Met has combined the two – creating art for the enrichment of society. Although some dismiss fashion as frivolous, it is an enduring part of our lives and a cultural institution that cannot be ignored. Fashion is a form of art as valid as any other, and perhaps even more relevant to our daily lives, considering that we encounter it every day. Additionally, it would be mildly hypocritical of USC to refuse a degree to a leader in fashion based on the industry's rigid standards of beauty when we frequently award degrees to members of the film industry, which certainly has similarly inflexible and unrealistic standards of beauty for its actors.

Freedman argues that honorary degrees are “an opportunity to emphasize an institution’s values" and by awarding a controversial figure an honorary degree the university would probably be questioned about its values (7). Should we refrain from giving a great honor to an extraordinary woman just because she has a reputation for being a ‘bitch’, or because some do not agree with the images in her magazine? In a time where so much of art has been reduced to things that are new or shocking for the sole purpose of being new or shocking, should we criticize someone for trying to uphold one notion of what is beautiful? For an educational institution to have true merit, it cannot simply be a follower, it must also be a leader. We cite the importance of leading specifically in our emphasis on research but cannot we also lead in whom and what we think is worthy of admiration and praise? Why resist forging ties with an extraordinary and powerful woman who has done great things because some will call her names? This cannot be right, and it is not right for a leader in higher learning to bow to critical voices simply because they are loud. It also sends an important message that we value the achievements of women in honoring achievement in a field almost exclusively made up of women.

Although it will probably not be a popular decision, it would be a brave move to award an honorary degree to Ms. Wintour. USC frequently honors members of Hollywood and the arts, but has not yet bestowed an honorary degree on a leader in fashion, which is an art just as relevant as Hollywood, if not more so, since fashion is a daily mode of personal expression. Furthermore, while there are some who decry fashion publications (and Ms. Wintour) for their dedication to rigid norms of beauty, it is important to note that Ms. Wintour herself has defied those notions. She is now 57 years old in an industry that prizes youth as much as it does beauty, and continuing to do her job without allowing anyone to make her age an issue. Additionally, awarding Ms. Wintour an honorary degree would show that we are not afraid to honor the achievements of women even when they are not in traditionally recognized fields, a goal that any person should be able to support. Ms. Wintour is a brave figure who herself has not been afraid to be different, and it has been a remarkably successful path. When considering what those around us and within our community will say if she is selected, however, we should keep this quote in mind: “[Ms. Wintour] is variously imagined to be brilliant, stupid, an artist, a bully, a hero, a scapegoat, an empowerer and the reason why women suffer from eating disorders. The only thing everyone can agree upon is that she is above fashion because she is fashion.” Whatever the opinions of her character and her personal life are, we can judge her only upon her actions, and those lead to only one conclusion: Ms. Wintour is not only fashion, but the champion of fashion and design.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Paris + Karl Lagerfeld = Love

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The advent of the internet has played a large role in the democratization of fashion; it has sped up trend cycles, allowed the average Jane ever increasing amounts of access to images from fashion shows and events (meaning that she no longer has to rely on editors to tell her what will be important for the upcoming season), and as some argue, facilitated copying. The audience for web-based content will almost certainly expand for many years to come, as more and more women grow up using the internet. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported in February 2006 that people between the ages of 18 and 29 were the most likely to use the internet (with 88% of that population describing themselves as internet users), but they were only narrowly ahead of those aged 30-49. Those two demographics make up the primary target audience of fashion magazines, and as more readers move online, the role of fashion magazines may have to change from filtering raw fashion information and shaping it into trends because so much of that raw information is now available online without the previously necessary interface of the magazine. In this sense, the role of the fashion magazine online is also changing – should magazine websites provide simply part or all of the editorial content published in print, or should magazines add something more to compete with the growing number of fashion bloggers and independent fashion sources?

Fashion editorial content is for the most part so thoroughly dominated by the established names (the many international editions of Vogue and Elle, Harper’s Bazaar) that it is refreshing to see a new name among those titles. Compared to these other titles, Another Magazine is in its infancy, as it was founded in 2001 and has only put out eleven issues, as it publishes bi-annually. Thanks to the excellent connections of its editor in chief, Jefferson Hack (who was involved with superstar model Kate Moss for several years and is the father of her only child), what appears to be a fair amount of funding, and alternative approach to fashion content, Another Magazine has been able to attract big name photographers, editors, and models (as well as the designer clothing to back it up). As a result, Another Magazine publishes content that is of high quality but also more original, surprising, and subversive than its big name counterparts. Similarly, the website for the magazine is also of a very high quality (it received a 2006 Webby Award nomination for Best Fashion Website) and presents the superior editorial content of the magazine in a format that is clean, fairly easy to use, and complementary to the photographs and essays. However, the site's content is limited to the previously published editorial content from the magazine and does not take advantage of the unique opportunities that the internet presents for a fashion website. This is especially disappointing when one considers that Another Magazine has explored new ways of presenting fashion in its published form and could potentially do so in an online medium as well.

Despite the failure to go beyond the editorial content of the magazine, the website is still very successful in many aspects. This is partly due to already excellent published content of Another Magazine but also to the design of the website itself. This superior design can largely be attributed to the professionals behind it. As the Webby Awards note, the site was designed and produced by the agency createthe, which has also done similarly elegant websites for Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Marc Jacobs (another 2006 Webby nominee in fashion), Stella McCartney and Gucci, among others. The createthe website describes the company as “the leading full-service interactive agency providing creative, technology, and strategic service to Luxury and Fashion brands.” As standard as that statement sounds, it actually provides a lot of information about the Another Magazine website’s goals. Among createthe’s clients, Another Magazine is the only one that is not selling a luxury product (although Vogue is listed as a client, the website is a Conde Nast production and also the winner of the Webby Award for which Another Magazine was nominated), which begs the question – why a brand focused agency? There could be many answers to this question but one of the most likely is that Another Magazine is seeking to establish a brand that can hold its own among Vogue, Elle, etc (which are print publications but also very important international brands).

Branding is of vital importance in the luxury business, and for Another Magazine to have the necessary pull to continue to attract the best in models, editors, photographers, and clothing (which all serve to grow the magazine), they have to grow their brand. Vogue’s influence as a brand is great enough that they can routinely command not only the best in models, editors, and fashion as mentioned above, but also the most advertising money, circulation numbers, editorial budget, and personal attention from designers (as seen in their recent yearly fairytale stories, like the Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz spreads, where several important luxury designers not only custom made dresses for the shoot but also frequently appeared in it themselves). With all this in mind, Another Magazine’s website is designed to attract customers (readers and general attention/awareness) and grow the magazine’s brand and prestige. This can be seen specifically in the organization of content, in which all photo shoots and editorial stories are listed together (without differentiation as to issue) under broad categories – thus the individual content of each issue (a feature story, celebrity interview, one or two photo shoots), which might not be as impressive when separated is instead presented as a list of some very impressive people (models, photographers, celebrities).

Visually, the site depends on the published content of the magazine. Text is not available without accompanying photographs, and the minimalism of the site’s design (block text, black and white color scheme) highlights the arresting and unqiue photographs. The Horst Diekgerdes 8 shoot is arguably the best example of Another Magazine’s photography, as it combines visual beauty with an approach to fashion that is truly unique. Most fashion magazines today publish content that is largely static – the same faces, the same bodies, the same poses. There is no movement or life to these women and little excitement surrounding the beautiful clothing they are modeling – indeed, multiple Vogue shoots in recent years have been based around conceits of alien or disconnected women. Another Magazine rejects that concept entirely in this shoot – many of the individual shots show the model actually moving, as opposed to standing in a blank, held pose. There are also a couple of shots of the model with a brightly painted clown mouth, and this is the most interesting aspect of the shoot. So many of today’s top models (they are not supermodels in the vein of Kate Moss or Christy Turlington because they lack personality, individuality, and celebrity) look the same, with the same beautiful but boring features. Another Magazine takes that quality and turns it on its head by giving the model a clown mouth – she no longer looks like everyone else, and she is no longer a paragon of beauty, she looks silly. Another Magazine's photo spreads reject the role of the magazine in upholding ideals of beauty (although not entirely, as Another Magazine has not yet featured a model who was not incredibly beautiful) and choose instead to subvert it.

The magazine's greatest strengths are fresh perspective and outsider status, and the website is designed to enhance those qualities, keeping the design as simple as possible, and trying to let the content of the magazine (which is undoubtedly original) speak for itself. This is successful in that the website is visually beautiful, and refreshingly free of ads. The Web Style Guide notes that the "winking, blinking, and blaring colored boxes [of banner ads] interfere with on-screen reading," and that this is a common problem among magazine web sites. Another Magazine's sleek design is immediately differentiated and enhanced by the lack of ads, which is one of the more positive aspects of being a niche magazine. Unfortunately, the site is not always particularly user friendly, as trying to move between categories and individual stories/shoots can be difficult, and despite all the striking design and wonderful photography frequently feels hollow. There is simply not enough published content as of yet to support the website – after fifteen minutes of browsing the user has seen most if not all of the content and is probably ready to move on to the next site.

Another Magazine
would definitely benefit from adding another layer to the beautiful photographs, as the writing, most of it by the editor in chief, is not generally as creative or interesting as the visual material. It is rather pretentious and offers little of real quality. In an interview with Drew Barrymore, who is described as "turn[ing] to face the future as she turns 30 this month," the first question asked is "I hear you're into quantum physics." This is ridiculous for several reasons. To start, they disdain the base personal questions of most actor interviews for more intellectual questions. This is apparently to demonstrate to the reader that Another Magazine is above most trivial Hollywood concerns, but they betray this goal by talking about the fact that she is turning 30 in the first sentance. Additionally, Drew Barrymore is an actress who did not finish high school, much less attend college. She is in no way qualified to discuss quantum physics, and the magazine demeans both itself and her by asking such questions. The interview mostly avoids discussion of her career as an actress (although there are a few questions in which they talk about her work as a director and her "chance to manipulate people's perceptions") - a silly proposition given that they are ignoring the craft that has brought her to the reader's attention. Similarly, the interview with Jude Law, read today after his divorce from Sadie Frost and affair with his children’s nanny, is presented as if it were published yesterday (there is no date or notation as to the issue it is from) yet comes across as pandering to the actor’s ego, especially when he talks about his honeymoon or his family life. After the very public revelations of his divorce, affair with the nanny, breakup with Sienna Miller, and general philandering (all of which coincided with several films that did not live up to expectations, as well as being made fun of in front of an audience of millions at the Oscars), does anyone still think that his existence is still one of "boring, family-loving normality"?

As Another Magazine grows and its web presence evolves, it will be necessary to decide what the website's goal truly is. As it is now, it is simply the content of the magazine presented online, which means that it is rather static - readers know that there will be nothing new on the website until the next issue of the magazine comes out, which only happens twice a year. This may not be the wisest approach for a young magazine if they wish to grow. Although Another Magazine is seeking to differentiate itself from the leading titles, they would probably be well advised to follow Vogue’s lead in web-based content. The Internet is an amazing medium with limitless potential for interaction and engagement, which Another Magazine takes little to no advantage of. Indeed, one of the factors that may have secured Vogue's win over Another Magazine in the most recent Webby Awards is this interactive component. The Webby Award's judging criteria cites this as one of the six essential components of a website, saying that it shoud insist "that you participate, not spectate" because "interactive elements are what separat[e] the Web from other media." Recently, Vogue and New York Magazine have had great success in inviting popular fashion bloggers to contribute to their websites as a special Fashion Week supplement. Vogue gave the Sartorialist (a New York based blogger who photographs street fashion) press passes to various shows and published his photographs and comments on; New York Magazine had the Fug Girls (Los Angeles bloggers that criticize celebrity fashion) attend shows and write fabulously mean columns for the website on the people and fashions they saw. Both brought significant amounts of traffic to their respective sites and made news in other publications. also features full coverage of important fashion events and parties (most of which is never published in Vogue) to create an image as the home of all things fashion as opposed to just all things Vogue. Although one cannot expect Another Magazine (which is, after all, a very young and fairly exclusive publication) to have the kind of budget to be able to do as much as big budget sites like, by attempting to have more web only or interactive content they could draw more traffic and invite browsers to stay at the site for longer periods. This may not be their goal, considering that it is an exclusive magazine that apparently intends to stay exclusive and not try to compete with the big names, but an attempt to bring more traffic to the website would still be beneficial to the magazine. It will only be good as long as it draws the attention and interest of creative and powerful people (who provide Another Magazine with its opportunities to work with the best fashion, photographers, editors, models, and celebrities). So far it has had great success doing so, but that is no reason to neglect a powerful and wealthy audience - especially considering that 91% of educated or wealthy people are internet users.

Despite its interactive shortcomings, Another Magazine is a successful site. Ease of use could definitely be improved, as navigating to the desired shoot or story can sometimes be difficult (although this could be intentional to draw browsers further into the site, it is irritating and more likely to annoy than engage). The Web Style Guide states that the goal of any website is "to provide for the needs of all your potential users, adapting Web technology to their expectations and never requiring readers to conform to an interface that places unnecessary obstacles in their paths," and notes that browsers will simply click away from sites that have difficult interfaces. If Another Magazine wishes to continue to attract web traffic, they would do well to improve the ease of use of their main menu. However, the site is so visually elegant that it is difficult to ignore, and the content is varied enough that there is a broader appeal than many other fashion sites. Although Vogue has many advantages, it does not boast interviews with such diverse people as Lucian Freud and Gore Vidal, fiction from David Sedaris and Doug Aitken, and feature stories on Japanese bikers and Thai monks. As long as the magazine continues to produce quality content, its website will always be enjoyable, but will not fulfill its great promise until Another Magazine's web presence provides more to engage.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

There is currently a bill under consideration in committee called the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, giving designers a three year shield from knockoffs. Both those for and against the bill have made convincing arguments about the nature of fashion design and what a copyright would do to it (for more background on this subject I would recommend this paper by two law professors). Although most of the fashion blogs that I read are currently discussing New York Fashion Week, I did come across two excellent posts at Counterfeit Chic and Prawfs Blog. Sometimes it is difficult to find bloggers discussing more than just what people wear (which is, to give it credit, very interesting), but both (although I would like to note that Prawfs Blog is not a fashion blog) give voice to well thought out arguments both for and against the bill.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's fashion week!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fashion is becoming much more democratic than in the past – today, every average Jane along with every Fabulous Editor/Designer sees the images from Fashion Week the next day on their computer. And more notably, so do the designers at brands like Topshop, H&M, and Zara, all brands whose business is made up of knocking off runway trends - H&M freely admits to borrowing from designer fashion in their "Inspiration" section on their website, saying that their mission is to "[pick] out the finest moments in fashion history and interpret them in your own way." As a recent article in the New York Times points out, the turn around between seeing a look on the runway and a look in the window of H&M is getting shorter. What used to take months is now happening in weeks, and more and more companies are joining the fray. Last week, independent of New York Fashion Week, Wal-Mart held its own fashion show on a rooftop above the city showcasing upcoming looks for its own stores, all at Wal-Mart prices. Their claim is that “fashion is not just for a chosen few who have front-row seats in some elite tent somewhere,” and the New York Times seems to agree, saying that the show “may turn out to have been the most significant runway show” at Fashion Week.

Many luxury designers would like to argue that this is detrimental to their business, and possibly would go further in trying to prevent knock offs, but how does one copyright the shape of a skirt? To some extent, runway trends have always trickled down to retail, where they are copied and sold to the mass consumer (although admittedly not in the way that Miranda Priestly so memorably described in the Devil Wears Prada). Does the fact that the trickle has speeded up to a waterfall imperil true innovation in fashion?

Generally, I would say no. Fashion is a business – as long as the bags and shoes keep selling, there will be money for the designers to keep on producing amazing and creative clothes. And despite the increasing speed of fashion, the bags and shoes are selling. Last week, LVMH reported a 46% increase in profits during the first half of the year, with chairman Bernard Arnault happily relating the company’s “outstanding performance” and “particularly effective” growth model. Brands such as Fendi, Rochas, and Prada that were known for their accessories revitalized their businesses through innovative fashion from inspired designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Olivier Theyskens (even though he is now, as previously discussed, out of a job), and Miuccia Prada.

Additionally, the global luxury brands understand that the relation of accessories and clothes. Labels like Chanel, Loius Vuitton, Gucci, and others justify their high prices mostly through the cache imparted by wearing and owning the branded item*, and cache usually comes through photographs of clothes in fashion magazines, on celebrities in the pages of tabloids, and runway shows. Accessories are precisely that – add ons to the clothes, and while they may provide the primary source of income, clothes are the largest part of the image in a business where image is of vital importance. *note: this argument relates primarily to accessories. For those with enough money to purchase designer clothing, design, craftsmanship, and quality are usually of primary importance.