August 22, 2014 5:53 pm

Love at first site?

Are we all falling out of love with the fashion blogger?
Photographer Scott Schuman and Garance Dore at the Gucci beauty launch event hosted by Frida Giannini on June 4 2014 in New York City©Getty

Scott Schuman and Garance Doré

The news that the street-fashion photographing power duo Scott Schuman and Garance Doré were no longer romantically involved was announced, appropriately enough, via their independent blogs. “After seven wonderful years, Garance & I have decided to split,” Schuman wrote on TheSartorialist.com 10 days ago.

“We’ve shared so much of our creative life (and more) with you, our readers, so we thought it was right to let you know about it,” echoed Doré, in her own “personal note”.

The bulletins were posted simultaneously and phrased with the same determined positivity of the amicably split. “We’re still great friends, and we’re both doing OK,” Doré concluded. “A big kiss to you all.” In a rare appeal for privacy, both posts were closed for comment.

The end of the affair, born in the earliest days of the online boom and documented with touching intimacy for nearly a decade, seems a timely opportunity to examine my own relationship with the fashion blogger. When I first encountered The Sartorialist in 2006 (a year after the blog’s launch), I was smitten. Schuman, an amateur photographer and stay-at-home parent who championed original style in New York City, was a thrilling new voice. Like a modern-day Brassaï, his pictures focused on everymen and women who were both ordinary and arresting. His blog was without social prejudice: he shot shop girls, city boys, single mothers and even, occasionally, vagrants. Yet he didn’t dwell on status, he simply shared what he saw – an artfully scuffed shoe, a shapely silhouette, a sassy hair style.

Could Schuman, or any of his contemporaries, have imagined how influential this new genre of photography, street style, would become? I couldn’t. Back then, blogs were just an interesting alternative to the homogeny of mainstream fashion. Yes, yes, you could argue Bill Cunningham had long done similar in The New York Times, and, yes, other magazines showcased “normal” people on their pages. But this was different. The blogs were unedited, unfiltered and – even better – regularly updated. I was hooked.

The blogs were unedited, unfiltered and – even better – regularly updated. I was hooked

I was also promiscuous. I fell for scores of other new names, among them Schuman’s future partner, the Corsica-born fashion illustrator Doré, who documented a highly seductive portrait of Parisian insouciance in softly backlit portraits that were as accessible as they were attractive. I flirted with a history graduate in London, Susanna Lau, who obsessively detailed the changing fashion landscape – and her own brilliantly idiosyncratic wardrobe – via a quirky online alter-ego, Susie Bubble (StyleBubble.co.uk). And I became infatuated with a then 11-year-old schoolgirl called Tavi Gevinson, who had a terrifyingly sophisticated take on fashion, feminism and adolescence at TheStyleRookie.com.

But things changed. I had to share my affections. And, as thousands more like me discovered the fashion blogger (as they became collectively known), so the fashion industry started courting them too. Soon, the very people once identified as outsiders were sitting front and centre at the shows, working alongside stylists on brand campaigns and starring in magazine profiles. Fashion blogging became a business, and the bloggers self-made brands.

Even the bloggers acknowledge my misty-eyed nostalgia for the good old days. Bryan Grey Yambao, whose flamboyant personal style and unstoppable shopping habits attract up to 1.5m unique users to his site Bryanboy.com each month, is astonished at the change. “When I first started,” he tells me, “I was in my bedroom in the Philippines, in front of my computer 12 hours a day, obsessed with interacting with people. I used a point-and-shoot camera. And it was totally unfiltered. Fast-forward 10 years and I’m living in New York, shooting on two digital SLR cameras, often switching between four lenses, and hours are spent editing photos to look a certain way.”

That blogging has become so monetised is inevitable. “My voice is my livelihood,” Yambao explains. “And it’s impossible to evolve, both as a person and as a blogger, without going commercial.”

I don’t begrudge anyone the right to make a living but, for me, the branded blog is a passion killer. Today, Doré’s blog appears in bilingual editions, is frequently the work of staff writers, and features an online shop that sells her illustrations, phone covers, stationery and featured products such as swimwear and bags. Call me an old romantic, but it’s lost a bit of its magic.

“I would never start a fashion blog if I was 22 years old again today,” says Lau, now 30, who still (for the record) writes every entry herself. “I started at my blog eight years ago because it seemed fun – and because I liked coding. It was something I wanted to do for myself. Today, people are more likely to see blogs as being a profession: they just use them to get free stuff.”

“Many young people think blogging is the fast track to fame and fortune,” agrees Yambao, who does occasionally outsource some photography for the site but still edits all the images and posts everything himself. “But Givenchy and Chanel samples don’t fall from the sky in my neck of the woods.”

Despite their misgivings, however, neither will accept for a moment that the era of the blogger is over. Or that I should give up on finding that special someone online. I just need to get back out there. And I will fall in love again, insists Lau, because original voices will always emerge. “You’ve just got to keep looking . . . ”

Jo Ellison is the FT’s fashion editor. jo.ellison@ft.com, Twitter: @jellison22

Photograph: Getty Images

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