The Fashion Club Blends Menswear and a Feminine Sensibility

“I love blogging, but it can get people to be kind of narcissistic, especially when there’s really nothing you’re promoting besides other people’s products or yourself,” points out one of the blogosphere’s prominent fashion bloggers, Lulu Chang of LuLu and Your Mom. Chang may have gained notoriety through her popular style blog where she documents her affinity for streetwear culture and her passion for technology and fashion, but she always had big plans to flex her creative muscles outside of the blogger world. Since launching Lulu and Your Mom in 2009, Chang has done just that, releasing The Fashion Coloring Book, a fun collection of fashion illustrations sold at MoMA and The Met. This summer, Chang, along with designer and friend Heidi Leung, is making the transition into the world of fashion design with an impressive new line called The Fashion Club, which melds high fashion tailoring, menswear and luxurious fabrics with a touch of punk and streetwear appeal that’s all Chang and Leung.

The Fashion Club designers talked to BlackBook about their new line, their vision for women’s menswear, and the importance of well-fitting clothes.

While there have been many established brands that have collaborated with fashion and style bloggers on special collections or pieces, The Fashion Club is really the first line created by a blogger from scratch.
Lulu Chang:
The Fashion Club was a natural and organic next step. Heidi and I were looking for the next evolution. It all came together naturally through the powers of technology. We IM each other a lot because she is based all the way in London and I’m in L.A. There are a lot of bloggers who are just the face of a brand and aren’t involved in the design process. This is definitely not that. First of all, it’s a real partnership between us. I have a hand in everything. We do everything for this line. It’s our baby. It’s a capsule collection for this first season. We will be producing double the amount of pieces next time around. I don’t want the fact that I’m a blogger to discredit the fact that this is a real label. Real talent and really hard work were put into this line just like any other established label. This is not simply to sell off my name.

Heidi, your background is deeply rooted in fashion design. How did you end up launching The Fashion Club with Lulu?
Heidi Leung:
I went to UC Berkley [where Lulu and Heidi first met] and then Central Saint Martin’s to study fashion. I just graduated in 2010. I did my internships at Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane. I always wanted to start a label, and last year I entered a contest for young designers called Fashion Fringe. I made it to the finals and was given my own show and funding to design a line. I realized, after working on my own line, just how hard and stressful this process was by myself. I was encouraged to continue the line but decided against it. One day Lulu and I were talking about my experience and we just decided to launch a line together. We’ve always been fans of each other’s work. I really like to take my time researching and drawing. That’s really my favorite part of the process. Lulu is really good at getting things done in a timely manner. That’s her strength and it balances out with how I like to work.
LC: You can sit around and keep perfecting one thing forever. I’m pretty much always pushing to get things done and to make it happen now. This is always with the intention of doing it as best as we can. Heidi’s final collection to graduate had a lot of shirting and structure, and it was beautiful. I really took to that aspect of her designs. She really likes wearing dresses and I like wearing pants. I’ll be like, “We need to make more pants,” and she’ll say, “I don’t think I can make pants!” We played around with some ideas and now Heidi is the best pant designer. The line is a seamless collaboration between both our worlds.

Although there’s a strong menswear aesthetic injected in the collection, the feminine sensibility is very much present. Where did you guys draw inspiration for your debut?
HL:
It’s very important that we keep it feminine at all times. As much as I like to look like a robot sometimes, it’s really nice to feel like you look really pretty. We were looking at a lot of uniforms and utilitarian garments. Lulu and I are small girls, so it’s hard for us and many other girls to wear a man’s garment without it looking obviously like we tried to do exactly that. The fit of these pieces were very important to us, especially at the shoulders. People don’t care about quality anymore. They aren’t that knowledgeable about it and they can’t tell the difference. It’s important for us to show that as a young label we are serious about quality and fit.
LC: Stores like H&M are the ethos right now in the US. It’s all about finding the cheapest ways to make trendy clothes, so expensive materials such as wool is so much harder to find. I was talking to suppliers and it seems like the environment is changing. There is a shift for better made clothes. People are oversaturated with high street brands. I don’t want 50 pants; just one great fitting pair is fine. There are also enough boyfriend jeans and boyfriend things out there. I wear a lot oversized clothes, but a lot of what we do in the collection is fitted garments. What we really like from menswear is not what people traditionally like or borrow from. Men have such limited options, so they really concentrate on the fit of their clothes. Shirt and jackets fitting perfectly is what we respect and admire from menswear. We are both still very girly and love pink. Girls communicate on a level only girls understand. We want to maintain that balance.
 

The Fashion Club online store will be open for shopping in August.

The Fight of the Fashion Bloggers

Not too long ago, fashion editors regarded fashion blogs, with their real people and street style, as the hobby of a handful of overzealous, amateur fans. Today the fashion blogosphere’s littered with individuals sharing their passion for style, from their own daily outfits to photographing other well-dressed pedestrians. And the perks that come to the web’s fortunate shinning talents are impressive: front-row seats at fashion shows, free samples, modeling contracts, design, styling, and photography contracts with established retailers, book deals, and editorial work. Fashion bloggers, once outsiders to the insular world of fashion, are now carving a spot for themselves among the fashion media and reaping the benefits of exposure. But what are they giving up?

All this attention from the fashion mainstream is blurring the line between independent, accessible fashion bloggers and the rest of the industry gatekeepers. The whole allure with fashion blogging is the fact that it’s an alternative to the fashion media. While not all bloggers are rubbing shoulders with those in the industry, when designers are dressing you for their shows and giving you a front-row seat or department stores are sending you packages, a regular gal you are definitely not. Street-style photographers have turned their lens from nameless faces on the street with great style to fashion insiders with access to designers most could only dream of. The dynamics of the conversation in fashion blogs has changed with the reader left now as the only outsider — just like in glossy magazines. And what’s so indie about that?

“If a blogger is interested in fashion and ultimately wants to pursue a career in the industry, that sort of absorption should be commended, and considered a success of the medium,” says Zana Bayne, who runs the cheeky and popular Garbagedress.com and designs leather accessories. The 21-year-old Bayne is an old-school fashion blogger who at the age of 12 was writing her fashion thoughts on LiveJournal fashion communities before personal blogging became a la mode. “A blog has the unique power of functioning as a portfolio of personality, taste, and ability — some have realized this and are smart and strategic with their blogging intentions.”

Unlike some other forms of blogging, fashion blogging in the last couple of years has proven to have a possibly disproportionate effect on the industry it covers — not to mention becoming a profitable new media business for some. Gone are the days of the anonymous blogger. A fashion blogger today must be fluent in networking, self-promotion, and be ready to put in a considerable amount of work into a blog in order to stand out from the crowd.

Work-at-home designer and Keiko Groves, who blogs about fashion at Keiko Lynn, says having to adhere to the independent label associated with blogging is ridiculous. “I imagine most fashion bloggers blog about fashion because they love it. So how is it selling out to accept an invitation into a world you once thought was completely impenetrable?”

Some bloggers, like Lulu Chang, aren’t so easily wooed. “I think it’s hard for anyone to avoid the allure of the fashion industry. It’s a personal choice — I love fashion, but I prefer to stay away from the industry.” Back in March 2008 Chang launched her blog, Lulu and Your Mom, to offer readers a fresh perspective on fashion. She never envisioned how popular it would become. “Bloggers have definitely reached a whole new level of influence. It can be overwhelming. I think the problem with a lot of new bloggers is that they are too motivated by free stuff and fame. At the end of the day, you should blog because it makes you happy.”

Considering the rate at which loyal readership of fashion blogs is steadily growing, a mention on top blogs for designers is becoming a serious component of their marketing approach. It’s cheap and fast PR. Needless to say, designers shower bloggers with free samples and invites to events in hopes of receiving an enthusiastic shout out — not unlike the relationship they share with the print fashion media.

“I think those who are disappointed by advertisement and endorsements need to shut their computers and start living their own lives,” says Bayne. “The internet is the most public and widely accessed domain for self-expression. To imply all bloggers must be inherently indie while broadcasting themselves online is rather contradictory.” Just take a look at the history of every other medium such as TV, film, and radio and see how ad revenue ultimately always affects content.

Anina, who runs 360FashionNetwork and Anina.net, believes transparency in fashion blogging is very important for credibility of the bloggers. “Fashion bloggers are mistakenly carrying over old media techniques into new media space. Where traditional media cloaks their advertising into editorials, bloggers are supposed to disclose when they are being paid to promote a product.” Such a disclaimer is a rarity on fashion blogs. It’s hard to believe a blogger who is offered a trip to Paris to attend a show would have anything remotely negative to say about the designer’s collection.

For star fashion blogger and fashion critic Susie Lau of Style Bubble fame, accepting gifts from designers after she raved about them on her blog is not the issue. “Whether I got it for free or not is besides the point if the thing itself is absolute crap and in no way reflects my personal taste,” she says. “For me things get offered as a way of thanking me for a post that I did which is usually a pleasant surprise as opposed to something I expect.” Lau is currently working as a commissioning editor at Dazed Digital.

Not everyone shares Lau’s views on the ethics of swag. Chang knows first-hand how this delicate new relationship between bloggers and the fashion world can go awry. “I know for a fact that certain bloggers will try to use their blog as leverage in exchange for free stuff … sometimes approaching a designer or label first.” Chang would rather not name names, but she said the trend is widespread. She’s turned down her share of sponsors and celebrity coverage. “A lot of publicists try to get me to interview celebrities. The whole point of blogging is that it’s supposed to empower the everyday person. Who cares what celebrities think?”

While more access and ads on their pages doesn’t necessarily always translate to bloggers not keeping it real with readers, it does raise relevant questions about the unbiased nature of the content in a medium celebrated for its autonomous opinions. [Top photo by Mary Ellen Matthews, from singer-songwriter Ryan Adams’ brief internship with us last year.]