Bloggers Descend On Paris For Fashion Week

January is the coldest month of the year in the U.S. But it's hot in Paris, where Fashion Week is in full swing. Host Michel Martin talks with fashion writers Claire Sulmers of Fashion-Bomb-Daily-dot-com and Christina Binkley a style columnist for the Wall Street Journal. They discuss how bloggers are starting to gain acceptance in the fashion world and even becoming influential style-makers in the process.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

The fashion season is in full swing in Paris. Designers are now showing their couture creations. The women's ready to wear shows kick off in a few weeks. Now, if you've thought about it, but you've decided that you just can't make it to Paris or New York or London or Milan, for that matter, how are you supposed to decide what to wear?

Well, in years past, you probably relied on magazines. But now you can see new looks almost instantly, thanks to technology and to fashion bloggers. It turns out that bloggers are influencing the way the fashion industry works and changing the way clothing comes to the people. They're even becoming style makers with companies like Coach and H&M selling pieces inspired by or even designed by bloggers.

We wanted to talk more about this so we've called upon two up and coming bloggers. Claire Sulmers is founder of the Fashion Bomb - that's a daily fashion blog - and a fashion writer for sites like Essence.com and Vogue Italia. Also with us is Christina Binkley, style columnist and blogger for The Wall Street Journal. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Ms. CHRISTINA BINKLEY (Style Columnist, The Wall Street Journal): Good to be here.

Ms. CLAIRE SULMERS (Founder, Fashion Bomb): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Now, Claire, how did you get into blogging? As I understand it, when you started out blogging, you weren't in the industry per se, you were working in magazines, but they weren't really fashion magazines. Do I have that right?

Ms. SULMERS: Right. That's correct. I was actually in the research department of Real Simple magazine. And while I did get the chance to write fashion sometimes, that wasn't my main job. My main job was to fact check. And there was nothing more and there's still nothing more than I like than shopping. So the Fashion Bomb was born.

And I kind of also used it as an outlet to do some of the things I wasn't allowed to do or that the magazine that I was working for at the time didn't cover. So, celebrity style and trends and runway fashion, those are the things that I decided to put into my blog.

MARTIN: Now, how do you get access to the shows? I understand that getting access to shows can be a really tricky business. In fact, there used to be, you know, stories about people trying to scam their way in and, you know, pretending to be somebody's cousin and things of that sort. How has that changed over the time that you've been blogging?

Ms. SULMERS: Well, when I first started, I just applied for credentials and asked for seats. I was always given standing room or, you know, had to wait in line, perhaps, to get into a show. But at the time, I think they were intrigued and they're still very intrigued by bloggers. So I used my blog as my passport into Fashion Week.

MARTIN: Christina, what have you noticed over the time that you've been covering fashion? Have you seen a change in attitude? A change in access?

Ms. BINKLEY: Complete, from zero to 60. Standing room, by the way, that Claire just mentioned means that you're in the crowd at the very back of the room standing and craning over everybody who's in front of you. It's an unpleasant way to try to see a fashion show. In the last five years, bloggers have gone from often not even being allowed in the room to certain bloggers now sit front row at the biggest shows that there are.

And that's a tremendous level of access and brands bestowing front row seats on bloggers. It means that brands think that bloggers are among the most important people that they want to get the message out about their clothes.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you, though, what precipitated the change? What forced the change? I know you wrote about this in your old media outlet, you know, The Wall Street Journal, in, you know, old-fashioned paper, which you can also get online.

But you wrote about how the Dolce and Gabbana event, four bloggers were in coveted spots near the queen of fashion, Vogue editor Anna Wintour. So, what caused that change?

Ms. BINKLEY: The recognition that these bloggers really were speaking to the people who buy clothes. It's all about getting the message out, right? The fashion show is a giant advertisement for a brand these days. That moment that you just described, as a matter of fact, with the four bloggers at the Dolce Gabbana show, the people sitting behind the bloggers were the top executives of Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

So, suddenly you have the people who were selling the clothes for the brands sitting behind the bloggers who are getting the message out to a wide audience. So it's a - the bloggers with the biggest network are the ones that are getting the most access.

MARTIN: Designer Tom Ford has actually gone the other way when he showed his new collection a few months ago - assume it's a women's collection - it was very exclusive. There were only 100 invited guests, only one photographer was permitted to take pictures. So, is anybody following Tom Ford's lead?

Ms. BINKLEY: Well, you know, that's a good question. I don't see it. They were people who loved that he did that. They loved his attempt to go back to the old exclusivity of fashion, where a few in-the-know people got to see the clothes, and everybody else had to wait until Vogue came out. But the truth is I don't -that's not a workable model anymore. We actually do have the Internet, and we do have bloggers. And they're going get access one way or the other.

Somebody showed me cell phone photos of every single look at the Tom Ford show the following day after it had happened. And it's actually miraculous that nobody took those photos and stuck them on a blog the next day. That's a testament to Tom Ford's power in the industry and how scared everybody is of making him angry.

MARTIN: This is Christina Binkley, style columnist for The Wall Street Journal. I'm speaking with her and also Claire Sulmers, founder of The Fashion Bomb, a daily destination for the urban fashionista. And we're talking about the growing influence of style bloggers.

Claire, what role do you think you play in the culture and in the marketplace?

Ms. SULMERS: I think I have kind of a very close relationship with the consumers and the buyers. A lot of the people that I speak to on my blog and who visit my blog are people who wouldn't call themselves fashion people, per se, who need a lot of guidance and they need to know what to wear to the baby shower. They need to know what to wear for their birthday. They need to know what to wear for everything. And I think I may seem - or I am more accessible to them then an editor would be. I'm their friend. I'm their friend, who happens to know a little bit more about fashion than they do, and I'm there to help them along the way.

MARTIN: You know what questions I have, is this whole question of pay to play in this industry. I mean, it is known, of course, that fashion magazines get presents from people. People who work at magazines, they get stuff. And the issue did arise in the blogging world about a year ago about this whole question of whether bloggers really can be trusted as an objective and independent voice, when so many people are kind of out there on a shoestring, when you have to assume that the salaries are not large and probably are very motivated to get free stuff and possibly to shape their coverage accordingly.

So Claire, I do want to ask you about that. Do you take free stuff? And how does it shape your coverage, or does it?

Ms. SULMERS: I do accept some gifts, and I always disclose what I receive. I'll wear it. I'll say this is gifted by so-and-so. Or if someone wants to put an advertisement up, I'll say this is an advertisement. But bottom line, I'm very objective, and I would never promote something that I don't believe in because I do think it's important just in terms of trust with my readership that I'm honest with them.

MARTIN: Christina, a final thought from you. What do you think is next for blogs and fashion?

Ms. BINKLEY: I'm expecting them to evolve into something that is probably going to become more like corporate America evolved, right. Ten years down the line, we're going to probably have some really big, powerful blogs, and then smaller blogs that are popping up all the time. And I'm sure in the same way that Google was a little start-up a few years ago and now it's a corporate behemoth, we're probably going to end up with blogs serving as much bigger sources of information, almost like newspapers once did.

MARTIN: Christina Binkley is the style columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and she joins us from NPR West. And also Claire Sulmers is the founder of the blog The Fashion Bomb. It's a daily destination for the urban fashionista. She's also a contributor to Essence.com and Vogue Italia.

Ladies, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. SULMERS: Thank you for having me.

Ms. BINKLEY: It's great to be here.

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