Scan the most coveted seats of any hot Fashion Week show and you’re likely to see a similar mix of characters. There’s the fashion editor scowling from behind oversized sunglasses, the smiling celebrity bathed in camera flashes, the department store buyer intently taking notes, the socialite clad in next season’s collection and the style blogger posting yet another selfie on Instagram. But over the past several years, a new breed of Fashion Week attendee has been making its way from the standing-room-only sections of New York to the front rows of Paris: the up-and-comers of digital fashion news.
From Fashionista and BuzzFeed Fashion to PopSugar Fashion and The Cut, a handful of industry-centric news sites have managed to make the transition from upstarts to established players. They’re breaking stories (Fashionista, for instance, got the scoop on Donatella Versace’s Versus collection), scoring interviews with hot designers and getting invitations to international fashion weeks. In fact, it’s the print magazines that are now seeking out the valuable skills of these digital natives. Less than two weeks before the start of the New York shows, Hearst tapped BuzzFeed Fashion’s Amy Odell to oversee Cosmopolitan’s website, while Fashionista’s Leah Chernikoff will be taking the reins at Elle.com.
“The attitude has definitely shifted,” said PopSugar fashion and beauty director Melissa Liebling-Goldberg, who was in the process of preparing her agenda for the New York, London and Paris shows. “At the beginning everyone was very nervous, and it makes sense that certain houses that are steeped in tradition had a slightly tougher time.” Now, she said, even the oldest brands are embracing the digital community and the exposure a site like PopSugar (31.5 million uniques in July) has to offer.
It was that same social media know-how that helped establish BuzzFeed Fashion when it launched in early 2012. It wasn’t easy for BuzzFeed when it first started trying to crack the industry, despite Odell’s fashion bona fides. (She was a founding writer at New York’s fashion blog, The Cut.)
“But people were very interested in getting that social traffic,” she said. “If you go to these brands and say, ‘I’m trying to make your content go viral and get people to share it,’ that’s starting to mean a lot to the fashion industry.”
It doesn’t hurt that BuzzFeed is well-funded. The site will be reporting from the runways in London, Milan and Paris, in addition to New York.
Fashionista, with 1.3 million uniques in July, has ramped up its own fashion show coverage in the past few years, according to John Lerner, CEO of parent company Breaking Media, and its team of six full-time writers and about a dozen freelancers now cover all of the major fashion weeks—including 120 shows in New York alone—while also creating content for a partnership with Macy’s M fashion blog. “Because we’re not so big, we can innovate a little bit more in our coverage,” said Lerner. “We do it like a startup.”
In the coming month, these sites will continue to bring their digital twist to runway coverage. PopSugar’s Liebling-Goldberg expects Instagram video to be the trend du jour. (Spring/summer 2013 was all about Vine, of course.) And would-be digital fashion types would be advised to heed Liebling-Goldberg’s advice when packing their Saint Laurent totes: “iPhone chargers are more important than lipstick.”