Despite a propensity for eccentricity, eroticism, and envelope-pushing, the fashion industry is, in many ways, quite traditional. On an artistic level, innovation is crucial and there is plenty of space for creativity, but much of the culture, and even some of the laws, that govern it are rooted in centuries of convention. That said, an array of new job descriptions that ten, five, even three years ago were simply unheard of have cropped up and become staffing staples. Now, major houses and fledgling indie brands alike employ teams of social media managers, SEO experts, and User Experience leads alongside couture stitchers, designers, PR pros and marketers.
Indeed, fashion is finally embracing technology, and that means that now more than ever a brand's identity is easily and instantly downloadable via two-minute "fashion films," blogger collaborations, and Instagram dioramas.
Progress, right? Well, kind of.
While established and new brands now find themselves caught in a digital turnstile where content is devoured and discarded as quickly as it's churned out, there's a void where there should be a sturdy backbone of the label's history, records of its achievements and failures, and a narrative illustrating the space that the brand has created and inhabits.
Fashion needs writers, and I don't just mean the kind who work in their pajamas for next to nothing and churn out interchangeable, SEO-ready headlines about celebrity sock lines. (Hey, been there, done that!)
In-house, most brands would do well to employ a staff scribe, separate from the team of quippy copywriters who design sales-oriented marketing copy. (Not judging, I've been there, too!)
Just as each label has a designer, or a team of designers, they should have at least one person whose sole role is painting a vivid picture of the brand - its history, its outlook, and its future - that can be shared, archived, referenced, used for staff training and PR purposes alike, or rewarded to top clients as an intimate confidence. The writer should have a desk in the offices, should see, know and experience the workings of the company, and should ultimately construct stories as intricately artistic or starkly structured as the clothing and as richly profound as the visual content.
Sure, fashion is very much about touch and sight, movement and hype. But it's also about emotion, and while a video or staged Instagram shot does a fine job bringing that to life, it's no substitute for story-telling in a more traditional sense - that is to say, with an actual story. Last year, The Atlantic posted an article "'Life Keeps Changing': Why Stories, Not Science, Explain the World," and I'd argue that just so, stories, alongside video, 140-character tweets, and perfectly-polished copy, can explain a brand.
Narrative is a crucial part of brand identity, but it's a part that has been nearly fully engulfed by quickie content and quippy copy that is the Instant Noodle equivalent of a voice, an ethos. That is to say, too much (and too easy) visual content runs the risk of training consumers to look for quick bursts of activity, rather than to commit more time and attention to digesting written content that will arguably allow them to form a lasting relationship with a brand.
And while a picture is worth a thousand words, a thousand words can paint a truer picture than a perfectly pre-filtered Instagram image. Providing history and background in the form of stories is a critical way to educate a consumer, and if a brand is seriously able to envision its own future, then even for new brands, forming an early connection rooted in intimate knowledge should be pivotal and prioritized.
As brands are supplementing their lines and creating "worlds" with housewares and fragrances, so too should they be spinning a narrative to encapsulate, define, and reflect all of that; it becomes a mantel enveloping the brand's universe, a proverbial branded space.
Just as fashion designers are given artistic privileges, in-house fashion writers should be granted the same, and perhaps even more so. The clothing, accessories, or shoes that the designer and team conceptualize and make are ultimately designed for sales - they are quite literally what keeps the house afloat - but a brand's narrative can be the emotionally enriching factor, a demanding canon of think-pieces that refuses to be lumped in with more fleeting bits and bytes and tweets that are also crucial, if not très temporary.
Plus, at the risk of sounding too much like a dreamer, people just need something actually good to read! I mean, have you seen what's out there these days? (I was once tasked by an editor with writing an article that investigated whether or not Kylie Jenner's "alleged" tattoo was real or not. All too often, this constitutes as "fashion writing.") Brands have slightly more leeway to foster more creative works because it would only have to cater to two points of view - the brand's, and its customer's. While it may be a somewhat one-sided peek into a very specific world, it'd be a welcome addition to the oversaturation of fashion writing that is largely dictated by allegiances to advertisers that all need to be serviced, or by SEO content. In-house, on-brand fashion content would only service the customer, while defining and strengthening brand image.
In terms of format, this could come as a mix of printed matter - books, coffee table tomes, biographies, pamphlets to be handed out in-store or mailed out - and digital content, similar to a blog but more geared towards introspection of the brand and less towards dissecting current market trends or promoting shopping, both ways in which many branded blogs are used.
Some of the top brands worldwide have already launched magazines that build upon the brand experience and rival the most influential fashion rags in aesthetics and quality of reporting. Aesop puts out a bi-monthly literary 'zine, The Fabulist (which, despite a fabuloso-sounding name, is a nod to the author of Aesop's Fables) that features short stories, essays, interviews, and industry reporting. Hermes' in-house magazine, LE MONDE D’HERMÈS, features some truly outstanding writing - a standout is an essay about the author's childhood playing in the workshops of the last true leather workers - alongside stunning editorials and product shots. Of course there's Porter, Net-A-Porter's magazine that is now a staple (and a beau ideal) in bookstores and stands nationwide. And down-market, ASOS has a beautiful glossy that regularly features Pretty Young Things on its cover and embodies the lifestyle and energy of the brand.
Whether it comes in the form of magazines, biographies, or coffee table books, fashion needs more of this kind of storytelling.
And, writers need the challenge of chronicling and profiling, documenting and shaping, as well as the benefit of long-term relationships and respected positions with a solid footing within the industry, and within a family unit within the industry, not only as critics or as advertiser mouthpieces. Looking slightly backwards, away from disposable, digital content and towards stories, the written word, could be the most innovative investment for a fashion brand yet.