For two years, Kelly Cutrone, the brash headmistress of public-relations firm People’s Revolution and frequent guest star on MTV’s The Hills, has banned Julie Fredrickson, editor in chief of Coutorture.com, from her fashion shows. In a well-publicized incident that was covered from MSNBC to MediaBistro.com, Ms. Fredrickson said she quietly asked Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour if she could get a video interview at Costello Tagliapietra’s Fashion Week show in Bryant Park in September 2006. Ms. Wintour agreed, but after just two questions, “Kelly went apocalyptic on me and told me to get away from Anna immediately,” Ms. Fredrickson said. This is what happens when you are a blogger who crosses a publicist.
“Oh, this is one of my favorite stories,” Ms. Cutrone said in a raspy voice over the phone on Labor Day Monday. “I was just telling a bunch of interns about this at 3 a.m. last night.” Ms. Cutrone explained that Ms. Wintour had shown up an hour early to the designer’s show and that she wanted to accommodate her carefully. “As a producer, you live in fear of things like this happening, of an editor getting bum-rushed for an interview that they clearly did not approve or want to do,” she said. Ms. Frederickson had rights under Fashion Week’s video policy to ask for the interview from Ms. Wintour, but she didn’t check with Ms. Cutrone first.
“I kind of feel like, ‘Hey, you know what? You’re 22, you’re poorly behaved, you made my life a living hell,’” Ms. Cutrone added. “I don’t care about these people who are trying to further their own career off my back. I don’t need that.”
Ms. Cutrone isn’t the only publicist still flummoxed by what to do with, and where to seat, the fashion bloggers and photographers who are still struggling for a toehold in Fashion Week. With nearly 100 designer collections for spring and summer 2009 showing over eight days beginning Sept. 5, it would seem like there’d be plenty of room for anyone who cares about fashion even the tiniest bit to find a slice to make their own, whether for a Tumblr or for Tatler. But we all know this isn’t how things work. And publicists still worry about Web writers causing friction when they bump elbows with celebrities and VIP R.S.V.P.’s from glossy magazines at their designers’ shows. Who knows what such fashion-obsessed, outer-borough riffraff might do!
Even trusted fashion-industry darlings, like Scott Schuman, who left his job as director of the men’s fashion department at Bergdorf Goodman in 2005 to nurse his sick daughter and take digital pictures for his Web site, TheSartorialist.com, and Style.com, has found that PR companies “look down their noses” at him.
When he returned to the runways four years ago as a blogger rather than a buyer, “you could see them kind of looking at me like, ‘Whatever,’” Mr. Schuman explained over the phone. “There’s such a class system. Editors are here and treated a certain way and photographers are treated a certain way, and friends of the family are treated a certain way. In the beginning it was confusing to them because they were like, ‘Is he a photographer? Is he an editor?’
“I’m probably a pain in the butt because I’m going in and out of the venue taking pictures,” he added.
Natalie Hormilla, Fashionista.com’s associate editor, has had similarly lukewarm responses from publicists in the past. “Are we getting front-row seats at Ralph Lauren? No,” she said over the phone. Sometimes she can get good seating at smaller designers, she said, when there are empty front-row spots because more notable guests didn’t show up. And that helps with getting the snapshots for quick posts.
“When you’re a blogger, you need to take pictures, so technically you need front-row seats more than the people who are just writing about the clothes,” Ms. Hormilla said.
Certainly, some publicists are softening. Huilian Ma, senior account executive for Williamson PR, said she screens each blogger’s writing and coverage to make sure it’s of a good “caliber.” “I think obviously bloggers have come a long way,” she said. “PR houses have been wary of them and [of] accommodating them the same as traditional media outlets, but I’d say in the last one or two seasons, they’re seeing them as a source of creditable information.”
Ms. Fredrickson of Coutorture.com said that “this year has been the best yet” for access —besides Ms. Cutrone’s, that is. “I think a blogger is so much more likely to get more coverage about a designer than, like, an assistant accessories editor from Marie Claire who might feature a shoe of theirs on like page 132,” she added.
Still, most Fashion Week publicists seem overwhelmingly concerned with old-media fashion writers. Surely they are more familiar. But the glossies also have a different relationship with the fashion houses, designers and publicists who fund their print publications with advertising and offer access. Blogs are a riskier affair: Writers tend to say what they want about a designer without worrying about access to interviews, and they can attract ads by building their traffic, which seems to increase commensurately with the level of cattiness or attitude.
One major PR firm submitted this statement to The Observer, requesting anonymity, perhaps partially in fear of blogger retaliation.
“[B]logs give ANYONE the power to publish an opinion, being accredited by the industry or not. Since blogs are usually ‘normal people’ who speak from a ‘love it or leave it’ standpoint they usually do not review with the same things in mind, i.e. past collections changes in trends etc. Rarely are they experts or individuals with professional expertise on the subject, and therefore generally put a very strong opinion out to the world for readers, regardless of its credibility … at the end of the day they still do not compare to the credibility [of] nor have they completely replaced the traditional print media.”
(We always knew normal people didn’t belong at Fashion Week!)
Ms. Cutrone seconded that idea.
“I don’t want to sound completely outdated because I’m in fashion and we’re not the quickest as far as technology goes,” Ms. Cutrone said. “But at this point in time, the blogging world is the Wild West. It’s a new media, and we’re all the rats in the laboratory in what this is going to mean. … Once something has been said, it’s like taking a nail and putting it in a piece of wood. You can take the nail out, but the hole is still there. Once it’s up on the Internet, you can’t get it off; it’s just there forever.”