By Seth Baker
20-year-old Hawaiian born Alexis Cheung never thought the simple fashion blog she created with her cousin would ever grow into anything but a hobby. A sophomore at NYU, Cheung, with her long brown hair, tan skin, and regal posture seems more like someone who should be walking down the runaway, not writing about it. After featuring a Brooklyn based actress on their site, Cheung and her cousin Monet were contacted by a storeowner who had learned of their blog from the actress.
While sitting in a small Korean café near NYU’s campus, Cheung recounted the tale with an equal measure of pride and humility. “[The owner] asked if we wanted to model for her [New York] store’s look book, but because my cousin lives in Hawaii, I said I would do it.” The owner treated Cheung as if she was a hired celebrity, giving her a clothes stipend to the boutique and featuring her in the store’s catalogue. “This was something that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have our blog.”
Their blog, soul-ma-tes.tumblr.com, started from humble beginnings like most blogs do. Both Cheung and her cousin began using Tumblr, a blogging form with a pre-made template where one is able to take photos from other sources and put them on their blog, but rarely does one ever post their own original content. Now their blog has evolved into a shrine to the earthy beauty of Hawaii mixed with vintage clothing, literary quotes, and striking black and white photography.
“Before, we just posted pictures we pulled, but we had always done photography together, and we just decided to take the pictures we had taken and put them on a blog with quotes and excerpts from literature we think are really beautiful and inspiring.”
While their blog does not have a place for people to post comments, Cheung explains that people have the ability to click a “like” button and are able to reblog their own photos. “We wanted our blog to be a source of inspiration for ourselves and so that other people can take inspiration from what we like.” One way in which they have begun to translate their inspirations is through “features”—Cheung and her cousin “feature” someone they find inspiring and post photos and an interview on their site. “Through our blog, we interviewed a Hawaiian photographer who we have been big fans of for a long time. With our blog and the features, we have a medium to tell these women’s stories.”
Cheung’s blog only started as a hobby, but many fashion photographers and bloggers have made full-fledged careers out of this pastime. One of the most famous bloggers, BryanBoy, originally beginning in his native Philippines and is now know for his humorous adventures and almost theatric outfit choices, just signed with Creative Arts Agency, a Hollywood firm that represents celebrity clients like George Clooney.
Until recently, the main form of payment for fashion bloggers was free merchandise, if they were paid at all. Now, these internet celebrities have parlayed their small blogs into full fledged brands, sometimes earning 4-5 figure paychecks from fashion companies by writing sponsored posts, selling space for advertisers, and acting as product ambassadors. Their influence on consumers has grown to match the power of magazine editors in deciding what consumers should purchase.
Yet with success comes criticism, with many, including Cheung, feeling that all of this hysteria has gotten out of control. Hamich Deau, a freelance stylist who has worked for GQ Russia, Vanity Fair, and Italian Vogue has witnessed the rise in bloggers first hand with great interest. He explains that many bloggers and editors of fashion magazines whose photos are taken by fashion photographers have become too focused on this celebrity driven culture. “People are guilty of googling themselves. It’s become a circus now and everyone looks like a clown at the shows. People are hungry for fame and if they cannot become an actor or singer, they will become famous for fashion and what they wear.”
Cheung acknowledges the self-indulgent nature of blogging. “I think if you’re a street style photographer, that is a little more interesting to me because they are focusing on other people, and then usually putting their artistic abilities out there, where as with fashion blogging, its kind of gets all the same after a while.”
When discussing the fact that most of the photos posted are of her and her cousin wearing different outfits, she says that she personally does feel self-indulgent and narcissistic when taking and uploading her photos. However, she argues, “At the same time, we read fashion blogs to look at other people, that’s a product and were going to consume it, so you cant really blame certain people who are making a living off themselves.”
Yet, one must only visit some of the most popular fashion blogs to fully appreciate their success. Be it the beautifully candid street photography of Tommy Ton on his blog Jak and Jil or the New York based Sartorialist who captures photos of stylish everyday people, it is not difficult to feel the passion that these individuals have for the beauty of finely crafted garments.
In many ways, as it is with all blogs, they give the reader a personal connection to what is being discussed; we feel as if we have a real relationship with the person and can share in their opinions and excitement. Mr. Deau says he can understand the appeal of bloggers. “They are easy access to consumers and give the same view point as many consumers. Let’s say a person in Cincinnati loves fashion but that city isn’t exactly fashion capital, that person can log onto Jak and Jil and see the photos during fashion week as though they are right there.”
Cheung says she sees fashion as becoming less about the brands themselves and more about the public figures who endorse and wear them. “Having [bloggers] that consumers already like, these companies assume that because people like them, that there is something appealing about them; therefore, consumers will like something [bloggers] will like.” Although a lover of fashion, Cheung doesn’t read any traditional fashion magazines. “I like Vogue, but I mean, its kind of the same after a while, Vogue is Vogue. “The accessibility that the Internet offers also allows her to see all the editorials and runaway shows online for free. “I am on my computer all the time anyways. I live in a shoebox,” she says with a slight smirk.
Should magazines feel threatened? A topic that both Cheung and Deu agree on is that some magazines, ones that they find truly special, will never fall out of style. For Deau, he finds that “if you’ve picked up a special copy of V magazine or even Love magazine”— two high end brands that release monthly magazines at higher price points than Vogue and Elle— “you’d understand the beauty of having just one copy. I feel blogs cannot give this type of novelty.” Cheung cites magazines like The Gentlewoman, which is only published biannually, because they contain not just fashion but in depth interviews that seem more justifiable for her to buy. “It’s more than just consumerism,” she explains.
When asked if she has any interests in pursuing a career as a blogger, Cheung is quick to acknowledge that, while she is not averse to the idea, she and her cousin are full time students and are trying to be fully realistic in their career goals. “ [My cousin] wants to go to medical school, I’m not planning on being a professional blogger, so for now its just a hobby. If other things come from it that would be great.” Throughout it all, Cheung takes any success she may get from her blog with an air of nonchalance and a touch of modesty. “That’s the great part about it, things can happen, you can meet people, and I think that’s the most important part so whatever happens, happens. We are happy with that.”