We need to talk about Yves Saint Laurent. Excuse me, Saint Laurent Paris. No, make that Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane. Or is it simply Saint Laurent? Bugger. Anyway, when I say we have to "talk," I don't mean about the clothes. Given that I did not even bother requesting a ticket, I do not run the risk of not being invited back. Or invited in the first place. So here goes.
I have to say that what I witnessed from the safety of the Twittersphere albeit here on the ground in Paris disturbed me. I won't rehash the thoroughly trussed conflict that brewed between certain press and certain womenswear virgins (cf. NYT, BoF and Telegraph for excellent assessments from the vantage of the snubbed). But I would like to raise what could perhaps be perceived as an unpopular point that has hitherto not made an appearance in any of the musings surrounding the kerfuffle. I agree with pretty much all of the arguments laid out in this thorough article by Imran Amed, save the final one: "Ultimately, this kind of behaviour is not only arrogant, it also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how winning brands are built in today's world. Successful brands aren't defined by a set of rules conceived in the control tower of a company's headquarters and broadcast to the world. They are ideas that live in conversation with the world. They can't be dictated. They must be nurtured. It's a serious wake-up call for a PR team that is clearly living in the pre-digital age."
While this is a lovely notion of a free-thinking and free-spirited digital era in which people say what they think and the brands are peachy with that, from where I sit, doesn't exactly ring true. Slimane's PR are not living in a "pre-digital age," but rather, smackdab in the middle of it. As a full time blogger myself, I know that loyalty (and hence things like rent and food) can be bought for a small and, of course, FTC-disclosed fee. Hence the rise of the so called "business of blogging." Now that bloggers have been front row mainstays for years, the modus operandi of blogger/brand back scratching, precisely the one that many editors were so wary of when the alternative digital media first appeared majorly on the scene a few years back, has become fairly standard practice. With the majority of bloggers who are thrilled to even be asked to step across the threshold of certain shows, PRs can pretty much bank on orgasmic Tweets and exalting blog posts. And who can blame them? Starting your own website, discovering that people read it and suddenly winding up in the middle of Paris or Milan Fashion Week hardly puts one in the mood to grumble.
But when it comes to the old guard, ink is thicker than blood. For all the other factors at play in the case of Slimane V. The Press, the problem is not, in my humble opinion, that brand-formerly-known-as-YSL's people are afraid of the freedom of the online press and its instant retweetability to infinity and beyond so much as they are taking a page out of the blogger book and forgetting that not all press, in particular the old school keepers of the kingdom, can be counted upon to speak favourably about a collection. An undercurrent has shifted since we in the fashion entered this "digital" age, and however directly or indirectly, its attitudes are starting to infiltrate deeper and deeper. There is a reason printed press were long since barred from accepting gifts. Maybe that's why, as Slimane so maturely pointed out in his "open letter" entitled "My Own Times," Ms. Horyn's sense of style is "severely challenged"--like most adult professionals, the woman pays for her own clothes.
Amed writes: "Successful brands aren't defined by a set of rules conceived in the control tower of a company's headquarters and broadcast to the world." But isn't that exactly how many bloggers make their living? By accepting money from brands to broadcast their products with the blogger's sanctified stamp of approval to the world? This is not to say that we are corporate pawns because we are not, livings must be made but in a way that is done with integrity. But unlike large-scale publications with infrastructure and reputations bigger than any single journalist, we operate as one man/one woman enterprises and count our lucky stars when we receive an invite to the show of our dreams or a new bag we've been coveting or a client whose product we love that wants to pay us to love it--that is living the digital dream, so to speak.
In conclusion, the nugget for your consideration I wanted to put out there is this: rather than being victims of an digitally ignorant PR world, has the cyber sphere actually enabled brands to develop loaded expectations such as these? And what will the consequences be as the march of fashion media, digital or otherwise, rolls onward? Will more brands follow suit when they realise that in barring those who speak ill of you, you actually generate FAR more Twitter buzz than a passing pessimistic review gliding by on the NYT Reader? It seems to me that brands and bloggers alike need to take a page from Horyn's newspaper: everyone needs to stop caring so much about what others will think about them and instead focus on saying what they honestly think about the clothes. So let's talk about YSL, let's talk about it all. Only then can the conversation do one better than, as Amed says be "nurtured," it can actually thrive.
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