Here, Riekert adopts Gladwell’s term to refer to street-style fashion bloggers whose keen sense of fashion results in documentation of the some of globe’s newest and funkiest looks featured on the web for all to see. As a result, fashion industry executives, rather than hiring street teams to seek out “cool” looks, are turning to fashion bloggers in order to ascertain what is in style. This occurrence is widespread and Riekert identifies several companies whose soul purpose is to sift through fashion blogs in the hope of determining the next big thing.
Riekert argues that while these blogs provide a valuable service to the fashion industry, they also democratize the act of coolhunting. “In the end, the price the companies pay for this 'free' information is that they don't have exclusivity,” she explains. Yet coolhunting does not just apply to the fashion industry; indeed, corporations focused on almost any aspect of culture or technology frequently turn to blogs in order to ascertain what the next big trend will be. Like Gladwell’s version of coolhunting, online coolhunting is valuable because it provides up-to-date and cutting-edge information. Furthermore, the interactivity of blogs helps generate further dialogue, as readers comment on posts and debate trends. In the end, ideas debated and favored on the web can be translated into real products created by the industries for the marketplace.
In general, Riekert combines interviews with bloggers and media companies and web statistics to form a solid argument, yet her adoption of the term “coolhunter” to refer to fashion bloggers seems to deviate slightly from Gladwell’s original designation. Unlike the coolhunters of the 1990s, today’s coolhunters are not tied to industry insiders but work for themselves. Rather than reporting their finders directly to a fashion corporation, they post their findings online. Thus, fashion industry experts must go through an extra step in order to access the information that the coolhunters have amassed. This extra step is crucial because it grants both industry insiders and the general public the same information at the same time. Thus, readers are providing feedback in the form of comments and discussion at the same time the fashion industries are designing their new lines. The result is a line of fashion directly influenced by popular opinion.
Yet while many fashions captured by fashion bloggers end up being adapted by the masses, just as many of these fashions are ridiculed or rejected. Although Riekert never explicitly states that fashion blogs make the so-called “cool” subjects featured on blogs susceptible to the (sometimes cruel) opinions of the greater blog-reading public, she ends her article with the mention of a German blogger whose blog features tee-shirts with faux underarm hair – a trend which will likely (or at least hopefully) be rejected by the masses. Extrapolating, one can glean that this more accessible form of coolhunting also strips the cool of some of their power to dictate the fashions, as any new trends must be approved by the masses before they are translated into profitable market goods.
This article examines how online fashion bloggers are gaining more and more credibility with industry insiders who are attracted to their large numbers of readers and hope to win them over. As a result, these bloggers are granted advertising deals with major industries and are greeted with open access to fashion shows and events formerly accessible to major media companies only. Top-ranking blogs can also be sold for considerable amounts of money, especially among media companies looking to strike it rich in the world of the elite.
Bloggers also wield considerable power because their snarky, critical comments leave designers fearing an online trashing. Other designers seek out bloggers in the hope of gaining extra publicity. Finally, many designers and media corporations recruit bloggers to come and work for them, hoping that bloggers’ keen sense of style will give their company a coolness boost. Fashion-blogging represents a quickly growing industry, with revenues only expected to rise as online advertising becomes increasingly popular.
A well-researched article, Dodes incorporates comments from several top fashion executives and photo-bloggers with statistics from Technorati (a blog tracker) and BlogAds (an agency responsible for placing advertisements on top-raking blogs.) While the article uses the data to draw reasonable conclusions, it neglects to consider differences between blogs that cover street style versus those that cover couture or celebrity styles. Although Dodes’s failure to differentiate between different types of blogs makes the article appear as it if speaks for them all, when analyzed closely, Dodes seems to focus only on the latter two types. Thus, while she draws a connection between fashion bloggers whose posts about couture and celebrity style may gain them insider status, she does not mention street-style bloggers and never suggests that the writers of such blogs might have a different relationship with the fashion industry.
Nevertheless, the implications of this article are enormous. First of all, Dodes credits fashion bloggers with making the secrets of the fashion world available to anyone who cares to seek them out via the internet. It also posits fashion bloggers as independent and increasingly powerful experts, almost akin to a ruling aristocracy, who are not tied to any one company or designer, but who can praise or criticize different labels as they see fit, and who have commanded the attention of both media companies and fashion industry bigwigs. Finally, Dodes posits a capitalist superstructure (not surprising for WSJ) which maintains that control ultimately lies with whoever influences the masses, and that bloggers succeed because they are more in touch with reading audiences (and thus more likely to influence their liking of a particular item or design) than the industries themselves.
One could argue that is almost impossible to attempt to understand the complex relationship between fashion bloggers and the fashion industry without an understanding of postmodernism. Frederic Jameson posits commoditization at the base of a postmodern culture, arguing that aesthetic and cultural production has become integrated into commodity production generally. The need for profits drives corporations to bombard the market with new products for eager consumers, yet in order to develop new products, there is a constant need for new ideas that will translate into marketable goods. Thus, Jameson grants “aesthetic innovation” an important structural role in driving the market.
This aesthetic innovation, however, takes on new forms in the late capitalist society. While the complex, amorphous nature of postmodern culture makes it difficult to define, Jameson is able to identify several key (if often contradictory!) characteristics of postmodern aesthetic innovation, including a focus on pastiche, nostalgia, schizophrenia, euphoria, ahistoricism, fragmentation and camp. He also argues that because economic motives drive the creation of culture, as well as that of political, social and commercial discourse, postmodernism witnesses a melding of all of these discourses into one. Thus, while postmodern is on one hand increasingly fragmented and diverse, its complete commoditization closely aligns it with the creation of the social and political sphere.
If we apply Jameson’s theory of cultural creation to the world of fashion, we encounter a society in which fashion arises from a population whose fragmented, yet global world view results in styles that are part kitschy, part retro and influenced by international as well as local trends. Jameson might very well be describing the large varieties of looks that one finds on Face Hunter (a popular Paris-based fashion blog). A furthering of his theory would put forth these looks as a type of highly valued aesthetic innovation, which would then be adopted by the fashion industries in order to produce marketable goods. Jameson’s theory seems to accurately describe the relationship between the trendsetters (Gladwell’s innovators) and the fashion industries, yet leaves the relationship between the fashion industries and the masses unclear. Always and ultimately a Marxist, Jameson grants the masses little control over cultural creation, arguing that they are tools of the capitalist machine. However, in a world where the variety of choices means that the masses can select freely among different fashions, the masses seem to have more agency that the industries, who must invest time and energy in hoping to capture a mass audience. Jameson’s granting of cultural discourse a spot among social and political discourse however appears to hold true with regards to fashion; a tie-dyed shirt and love beads conveys political messages, just as a designer suit and expensive handbag convey social and economic ones.