MEDIA ROUNDUP: Fashion: Staying in step with the powers of the fashion press

While television can help even the small design house get its foot in the door, the glossy fashion magazine remains the place to be. David Ward reports on how these media outlets stay in vogue.

While television can help even the small design house get its foot in the door, the glossy fashion magazine remains the place to be. David Ward reports on how these media outlets stay in vogue.

Staying in step with the powers of the fashion press While television can help even the small design house get its foot in the door, the glossy fashion magazine remains the place to be. David Ward reports on how these media outlets stay in vogue. Those looking for a quick synopsis of how power is distributed in high-fashion journalism need only glance at the seating chart at any designer show, from New York to Paris to Milan. "The top editors sit in the front row, and the further down the totem pole you are, the farther back you sit," explains an executive with Kevin Krier & Associates, which produces many of the top designers' shows in New York. "It can be a very political situation." The high end of fashion is one journalistic arena where reporters and editors often carry as high a profile as the designers they cover. Editors such as Vogue's Anna Wintour and Glenda Bailey of Harper's Bazaar or the E! network's Joan Rivers are more likely to be household names than the fashion houses they cover. While this is not likely to change, fashion journalism is going through a bit of a metamorphosis, thanks largely to television. "TV has really broadened its coverage," says Chris Martinelli, account executive with LaForce & Stevens, which represents several fashion clients, including Perry Ellis and Carlos Miele. "E! and E! Style have fashion running continuously through the day, and shows such as Extra and Access Hollywood are airing segments in those highly watched 7pm time slots." Reaching celebrity status In addition to raising the fashion IQ of people who aren't regular readers of Vogue or Women's Wear Daily, TV has served to blur the lines between couture and entertainment coverage, especially for icons such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Isaac Mizrahi. While there can be a danger in having designers overshadow their own lines, many PR pros believe it's worth the risk because it becomes another way of driving consumer awareness. "It really depends on the designer," says one executive for New York-based PR agency KCD. "Donatella Versace, our client, has sort of become a pop icon through Saturday Night Live, and while most people know her for her designs, she's also known for being at all the awards shows, as well as the legacy of her brother." "Certain [fashion] houses don't want their designer to stand alone," explains Beth Orr, director with New York PR firm Harrison & Shriftman. "But if you have the appropriate designer, you can go for it because having the designer with a name is one more brand you can have out there. It's one more way to get the name on the page." The media is also fuelling the other major trend in high-fashion journalism: the courtship of celebrities. Ever since Joan Rivers began trolling the red carpet prior the Academy Awards for E!, who's wearing which design at what award show has become one of the major subplots of entertainment journalism. "Having the right clothes on the right person is definitely key," notes Martinelli. "Dressing a celebrity can make your sales go up 50%." Along with noticing what celebrities are wearing, media outlets are also paying close attention to who attends designer shows. The general news coverage of the recent Fashion Week in New York was as much about the stars in attendance as the designs themselves. And over the past year, pictures of Britney Spears and Chelsea Clinton attending Versace events have been reprinted in newspapers and magazines around the globe. David Tupaz, founder of a small California-based design house, questions whether this obsession with dressing celebrities is changing high-fashion journalism for the better. Although Tupaz says he received his first recognition by clothing stars such as Mariel Hemingway and Christine Baranski, he notes, "It used to be focused on the flair and creativity of the designer - the way he cuts the fabric, the way it falls, the way he puts the look together. Now it's different. It's who wears your clothes." Despite the growth of television, most of the power in the fashion press still resides in print outlets such as Elle, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar, as well as the style sections of key newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. "Magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar will always be the most influential because they have that monthly view on fashion that you can't get from five minutes on Extra," says Martinelli. The most influential journalists in designer fashion/haute couture tend to be magazine and newspaper writers and editors such as W fashion director Joe Zee, Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey and fashion features director Jennifer Jackson Alfano, Elle fashion director Nina Garcia, New York Times Magazine style editor Amy Spindler, Vogue's Anna Wintour and Tonne Goodman, and Robin Givhan of The Washington Post. Looking good, even now While not quite recession-proof, high-fashion coverage seems to be weathering the current media and advertising slump better than most categories. "Some outlets may be hiring freelancers to cover a show rather than sending staff, but most newspapers and magazines still find room for stories," says the KCD executive. "If they don't have a dedicated section like Sunday Style in The New York Times, it gets put in Lifestyle or the Female page." And despite the overall media trend toward "news you can use," most media outlets are still willing to cover the daring and occasionally over-the-top designs of haute couture. "Haute couture is more of an art form - these are literally one-of-a-kind pieces of art," says Orr. In fact, any decrease in coverage has to do more with the industry itself than any change in journalistic focus. "There's not that many people doing haute couture anymore," says Orr. Still, Martinelli says coverage of haute couture remains important simply because it can offer an inkling into a designer's inspirations and how that may impact his ready-to-wear lines. "It's focused on getting an imprint into people's heads for the future," he says. While the industry remains New York-centric, many PR pros warn against neglecting outlets in other US cities. "Regional markets are huge," says Orr, who cites Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Palm Beach, FL, as among the most important. "There's a lot of money out there." It's also important not just to focus on fashion outlets. Publications ranging from People to Departures to Vanity Fair can do a lot to raise the profile of a designer. "Vanity Fair is important," says the KCD official. "Especially the Hollywood issue and the rock 'n' roll issue, which is in November. People want to know what stars such as Sheryl Crow and Gwen Stefani are wearing." Though it's a glamorous life on the surface, high fashion, in the end, is just like any other journalism beat - and so the PR strategies have to be the same as well. "It's a lot of press releases and continually researching which magazines are doing what," says Martinelli. "And a lot of time is spent just getting to know the reporters." As for the future of high-fashion journalism, it's likely to stay robust, just like the industry itself. "Fashion will always be needed," says Martinelli, adding that while the industry certainly slowed in the aftermath of September 11, "We're almost in 2003, and we're back to where we were before." ----------- Where to go Newspapers The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Palm Beach Post Magazines Elle, Harper's Bazaar, GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair, People, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Details, Glamour, US Weekly Trade titles Daily News Record, Fashion Mart Daily, Women's Wear Daily, California Apparel News (and other regional industry outlets) TV & Radio E!, Style, Video Fashion Weekly, Access Hollywood, Extra, Entertainment Tonight, Today, Good Morning America, CNN, MTV Internet Fashionwiredaily.com, Eonline.com/style/, Style.com

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