Last Monday the British Fashion Trust invited me to hear Alexandra Shulman in conversation with Tom Chapman. The Editor of British Vogue talking designers, shopping and style with the Co Founder of Matches? I certainly didn’t need to be asked twice! Given the calibre of the speakers I imagined some sort of lecture theatre scenario with hundreds of eager bloggers and journos in attendance so didn’t stress about pitching up solo after my plus one dropped out last minute. However, when I arrived at Claridges I was ushered not into a vast banquet hall but escorted up to an intimate space on the 6th floor. “Intimate” would indeed be the best word to describe the situation I found myself in. Think British Fashion Cheief Executive Caroline Rush, Kim Hersov, and a handful of other editors and major industry names sipping champagne, looking unbelievably chic and chatting amongst themselves. I very nearly turned around and fled but by the time I’d gauged the situation and kicked myself for going alone it was too late to escape without looking like a total moron. So I steeled myself, grabbed a glass and stayed… Boy, am I glad I did.
As Alexandra Shulman reminded us, “house rules” applied so I probably shouldn’t repeat the whole thing word for word. However I reckon I can probably get away with saying that the conversation revolved largely around the increasingly editorial bent of e-tailers and the effect this has, or doesn’t have, on glossies. The past 12 months have certainly seen a huge surge in the amount of editorial content produced by stores, both online and on Bond Street. At the same time increasing numbers of editors have left fash mags to take on roles in retail. Harpers Bazaar lost Lucy Yeomans and Carmen Bornogovo to Net-a-Porter and My-Wardrobe respectively, while Vogue waved goodbye to Fashion Coordinator, Tilly Macalister Smith who recently joined Tom’s team at Matches. So does the fact that virtually every fashion emporium on the planet now produces their own online and/or print magazine spell doom for the glossies? Has the likes of Bornogovo and Macalister Smith moving over to retail created an atmosphere akin to “the Wild West”, as Shulman joked that rainy evening at Claridges? Are the lines between editorial and retail eventually going to end up so blurred that it’s impossible to decipher one from the other? The resounding message I got from Alexandra Shulman and Tom Chapman’s discussion was no, there is still a place for both and many people still want their monthly dose of fashion delivered to their doorstep, not their iPad.
The iPad issue raised another very interesting point, namely how far should fashion magazines be about selling products? Grazia, for instance, recently released their app which allows you to “click to buy” pretty much every garment featured, an idea that’s both ingenious and lethal for your bank balance. So if magazines can be used for shopping, and online stores are packed with articles, editorials and trend reports where does one end and the other begin and do we really need both? For all her innovations, Shulman is a traditionalist in this respect. She feels ”very passionately that a magazine isn’t just something to sell product through” and argued that “you have to be careful as a journalist… that you don’t start catering your content to what people are interested in.” According to her, Vogue and it’s ilk should still predominantly be about inspiring, mesmerizing and telling people what’s chic, not just showing them stuff you think they’ll buy. This is a trap that, on a much MUCH smaller scale, I constantly try not to fall into. In between “weekly wish lists”, affiliate marketing and “ohmigod look at these shoes!” type posts, as a blogger it’s easy to inadvertantly find yourself flogging clothes which isn’t really what the whole thing’s about.
Another point that cropped up was cost, always a contentious subject. If the likes of Matches, Net-a-Porter and My-Wardrobe are offering magazine content free of charge won’t people just do their reading online instead of paying £4.10 for Vogue? According to Shulman, that’s not the case for the simple reason that the online user is “not the same” as the print one. Personally I’m not sure that’s entirely true but I certainly don’t think that having the option of finding out about the latest trends on Net-a-Porter will result in widespread magazine subscription cancelletions (tongue twister alert!). In order to survive retailers need people to buy their products so, unlike traditional magazines, their editorial content is about engaging the customer but ultimately the point is to encourage them to make a purchase. That’s not to say e-tailers aren’t offering up top quality stuff, God knows if the likes of Lucy Yeomans are in charge it will undoubtedly be fabulous. But from where I’m sitting it seems that one approaches the Matches website in a different way to, say, the latest issue of Harpers Bazaar. If you’re shopping, be it on My Wardrobe or ASOS the editorial content serves the purpose of helping you decide what to buy, which of the featured brands to support and seasonal trends to buy into. A monthly glossy isn’t so much about finding a new pair of jeans or getting the latest fashion news, it’s about enjoyment, inspiration and experience. Digital devotee though I am, personally I’d always rather curl up with a cup of tea and a magazine than my iPad.
I know I haven’t really come to much of a conclusion, to be honest I don’t have the knowledge to do so. But I think, and certainly hope, that the next few years will see fantastic editorial driven e-tailers and our favourite glossy magazines continue to co-exist. What do you reckon?
Love Ella. X