Norma Kamali (NK): So how did you decide to become a blogger and when did you do that?
Madison Avenue Spy (MAS): It’s almost been four years already. I was a journalist. I wrote for the Wall Street Journal. I worked at NY Magazine for a while.
Then I had my second daughter. I was missing having something else to do. I was wasting a lot of time surfing the internet. The economy was changing. My husband and I were joking that we were poor before it was cool to be poor. I felt bad that he was under so much pressure. I have to do something with my mind. I kept telling myself- I’m smart, I’m smart. I can do something. Then one night, I was up at midnight and I started writing my blog. You can go back to the very beginning. And you can see that very first post- I say I know I’m not talking to anyone at the moment, but one day I’ll be talking to many.
MAS: It’s been a daily exercise for me - which is not only wonderful for my brain..
NK: So who is drawn to you? Who do you attract?
MAS: I started out with a pseudonym not wanting my friends to know that I shopped as much as I did. I thought I would lose the respect of my peers so I kept it quiet for a while. But you know, everybody is much more supportive than I ever imagined they would be.
I started off speaking to people like myself – people who liked high end merchandise, but you know there’s sticker shock. But you can’t be intimidated. You have to be true to who you are. You can’t spend more money than you have. And you have to know the true value of things. Many things don’t go on sale, is the bottom line.
I remember being in Gucci when they started a site. I had gotten a call from a sales person and she called me to say - We’re starting a pre-sale starting Tuesday- would you like to come in and pick out your items.
MAS: Oh my God. Everybody does it.
MAS: I’m there picking items. And there are people from out of town and I’m like “This is going to be 40% off starting tomorrow- did you know that?”
MAS: How could you look somebody in the face- you know let’s blow everything out of the water. That’s how it started off. Publicizing these high end sales. Very high end stuff.
NK: Very interesting. So you said now it’s a business for you. How did you make it an entrepreneurial adventure? What did you tag on to make that happen?
MAS: My belief is that if you build it, they will come. I’m not a self-marketer or a good sales person. After a while, readers were very loyal. And after a while, people wanted to tap into that reader- discerning-shoppers, if you give them the right opportunity, they will jump on it. I guess people saw that, and they advertise on the site. I try to keep it very clean. And I consult for a couple of companies too.
NK: What kind of consulting do you do?
MAS: Kind of people like me. Is this priced correctly? Who do you think will be attracted to this?
NK: So what’s the demographic?
MAS: My demographic is a little older than the average blog.
NK: Like what age range?
MAS: I think probably 35 would be my average reader. I have younger readers who are more aspirational. But the people who are really reading and acting on it are my peers and even their mothers. My best friend’s mother says: “Oh my gosh- I went to Manolo Blahnik and I bought ten pairs!” My friends are not buying 10 pairs of shoes.
NK: Oh my God! So Moms.
MAS: I definitely didn’t want it to be a Mommy blog.
NK: So you don’t talk about kids. It’s straight out...
MAS: Yeah. Sometimes I’ll talk about children’s clothing.
NK: Where do you do your research? How do you do it?
MAS: (laughing) Some people call it shopping; I call it work.
NK: Do you do it here; do you go out?
MAS: I go out. I talk to salespeople. You know? Salespeople are people too. I’m doing what I do anyway. But I look for the story when I ask questions. They’re more pointed.
NK: Do you review service when you talk about bargains? When people are looking for bargains, do they care about service?
MAS: Absolutely. When we review sample sales we let the readers know what is worth the wait. Four hours for a Manolo Blahnik sample sales if you can get shoes on sale at about the same price. For me, it’s worth it not to wait in line. I think that’s where my readers really connect. I don’t mind spending more money. I just want the value – sometimes there are nominal differences. But there are also great sample sales that are really worth going to. Smaller fashion houses that want to get rid of their samples. The term sample sale lost its meaning along the way.
NK: The entrepreneurial side of what you do? Would you say that you could support yourself with your business?
MAS: I could support a studio apartment and some nice things.
NK: It’s substantial enough to do that?
NK: My curiosity about bloggers is- I really believe that bloggers are pioneers and it’s a certain spirit that will do it. There are more and more of you- It took a lot to take that step forward and it takes a lot to feel so passionate about something to make it happen while you’re not making money at it. Or doing everything else while you are getting it done.
What I am thinking about as a part of this interview- I think that in 25 years, of course the term “blogger” won’t exist anymore- and you guys will be the pioneers that started all of it. Where do you think? And I have a notion about it.
Where do you think the blogger community (a communications community and I believe an entrepreneurial community) where do you see the potential for you guys?
MAS: It’s hard to say. For me, I come from a strong journalism background where I feel passionate about fact-checking and keeping things very accurate.
NK: Yes... .
MAS: If I’m taking money from somebody, it’s going to be very clear. I feel in many ways, that would be the death of the blogger.
NK: Not being forthcoming.
MAS: A lot of personal style bloggers- I see their writing go down in quality. Look at me in my fabulous life. After a while, there’s not much to connect to. How does your original reader going to connect with you? I think in the future, that’s going to be a big issue come up.
NK: So this real person is now a celebrity. You’ve switched gears. The authenticity is no longer the same. Now there’s a celebrity. So it’s a different.
MAS: Almost reading a blog by Kim Kardashian, as opposed to your neighbor with great style. I think that’s what happens to fashion editors as well.
NK: Bloggers will become... well editorial is connected to how many ads are placed or preferences due to special favors. PR is done that way.
MAS: Because I’m not one of the bigger blogs, I don’t get access to everything like some of the bigger launches. I do like them, but I don’t get access to them. I can’t say beforehand. I can’t tell my reader until it’s launched and I can grab some pieces. I’m not given as much access as some other people. But at the same time, it keeps it authentic. I’m not begging for invitations.
NK: The celebrity blogger- do you think it’s almost another category?
MAS: Yeah. I think there are a lot of them right now.
NK: What makes a difference between a celebrity blogger and an authentic- what’s the line crossed to celebrity? Do you think it’s their personalities?
MAS: You hear every season about who is sitting the front row. I think that people who are sitting in the last row – they are the ones who are passionate about what’s going on. IF people took time to interview and see who PR people are placing in the last row, you would get some great stories about who is there. I remember sneaking into shows. I remember getting kicked out of shows.
NK: How did the blogger get to be in the front row in the first place? What defines them as different?
MAS: Because they were influential enough to make a difference in a company’s revenue. And companies thought they were important enough to throw dollars at them, which is less money than throwing money at a glossy.
MAS: It’s less expensive than a PR firm for a month. Fashion is a very expensive business . If they can keep your item at the forefront of your look. It’s very valuable. I understand how it happens, but I don’t always agree.
NK: Do you think it’s the writing skills of those bloggers or their personality? What is the difference between a celebrity blogger and other bloggers?
MAS: Their attitudes. With any celebrity or almost- like reality stars is what happens. Recently, I was speaking to someone who said- when I was young, I was so poor that I would take a bucket and chase the coal truck to find the coal that fell off the truck to get heat.
As much as we have these days, we still feel like we have nothing. I always tell my children that you should be so happy with all the things you have. It’s nice to have the basics in life. To make more is even better.
NK: My thought with KamaliKulture was- and I think all women designers feel that way about their customers. That they want to create an empowerment in women in some way or another. Part of power is being a smart shopper and getting a good deal and making sure you come away with a valued purchase and that you use it a lot because it has a great price and you didn’t buy something that you’re almost afraid to use too much because it’s too expensive. I’m assuming that this is your mantra too.
MAS: A perfect example- I bought a batwing cardigan from your collection for Walmart, which was my whole pregnancy wardrobe. I wore that with leggings and high boots and I thought I looked fabulous. But I lost it. Then I bought another one. I bought another one so it wasn’t so precious that I couldn’t pack it- and it was durable, wearable and it was affordable.
NK: I have a sleeveless dress from KamaliKulture I wear it so much. And I have two of them because I wear it so much. Having two of them to rotate is so much better. I couldn’t think of a time that I couldn’t wear that. It could be a family thing, business thing. Those are the styles and when it’s under $100, of course, why not?
The idea of buying trendy clothes is tricky. Some people buy it too early and it’s off; and some people buy it too much. You have to know if you are going to trendy- when do you start wearing it and when do you finish wearing it? Because if you wear it after the trend, you look like an idiot. And sometimes there’s a lot of silly stuff going on. If you amortize a purchase over time, it’s not like amortizing a $1500 or a $2500 bag, over 20 years, but you’re amortizing $100 or less over five years, it’s extraordinary. That’s the concept that you empower women by giving them the ability to smart shop.
MAS: Is this going to change every season? Or will core timeless items be available?
NK: Some we will; others we will do in different colors and prints. There’s a core style that I designed in 1974. And I’m still wearing it. So why would I change it? Why not make it a great price and sell it and make it a staple that’s available? There are certain styles that will continue and are classic timeless, and there are many styles that are classic and timeless and will also be added. My job is to make sure I don’t fall into trend and there isn’t this “Hmm I wouldn’t wear it- it’s over.” What’s going to be over about this?
MAS: You could do neon.
NK: Neon is over. You and I acknowledge neon is over. Every store has so much freaking neon. It’s such an irrational decision. Neon is an accent – it’s not the core of a collection for the entire season.
MAS: My friend was asking about shoes. And they said- “Oh you should definitely get the Christian Louboutin in neon.”
NK: We have one of the sleeping bag coats- this littlejacket and a vest and it’s one neon color. It’s all you want. I think neon happens to be timeless- BUT not every neon color under the sun and not everything that you can think of. It’s just not right. It doesn’t look right. But neon and some colors are timeless and will always be good. It’s just you can’t put too much salt on your food because it’s not going to taste good. You have to be careful about how you distribute the accents.
MAS: That’s great- that’s really the truth.
NK: Something went crazy. Who made this decision in all the companies and stores? It’s like everywhere.
MAS: There’s this idea that there’s the fashion mafia. And the fashion mafia shoved it down everybody’s throat. I have always wondered who is the fashion mafia that is benefiting form this.
NK: Following trends is dangerous. You can start too early and end too late. And there’s an expiration date. Once something goes bad, you have a potential problem. In fashion, there’s a deadline to things. Unless it’s extraordinary quality that’s not too extreme in the shoulder or cut and you can invest in and there are suits that are great looking.
The fortune of being in this business for as long as I have is that I can tell you what I have seen hold up since 1967 when I started. What are the styles, the colors, the silhouettes no matter what is happening in the universe? Will sleep or stay for a little bit but never get stale and bad. You can tuck it away for a year or two, but and the other thing I learned is when you look at women throughout the years who have had extraordinary style, what happens with age is you know who you are, and you know what works for you. Don’t let the “fashion” or “trend” change your look and style.
The more you know who you are and connected with your identity, the better you are at having personal style. I got to know Gloria Vanderbilt and Bunny Mellon and a lot of these women who were kind of when I was younger were the idea of this woman who ran Bendel’s-Diana Vreeland and people like that- they knew what worked for them and they wore clothes that they gathered over the years, and jewelry they gathered over the years and they put it together and keep evolving their style, but all things they loved and things that looked good on them. Jackie Kennedy, same thing. None of it was what everybody is wearing.
You can find what in fashion of the moment that you like. If you betray your personal style, it shows insecurity, and lack of sense of self. I think it’s really important for women to know what looks good on them, what enhances their power and to go in that direction. Not to get- even if it’s a great sale, and you buy something, and it betrays your sense of self, it’s not a good move.
MAS: That’s the thing- when you are helping women- is it cheap? If you aren’t going to wear it, no matter how much it is worth or what it was originally, it doesn’t matter. That’s a pitfall that people fall into.
NK: And nobody is going to benefit from neon!
READ LAST WEEK'S INTERVIEW WITH LAUREN DIMET WATERS OF SECOND CITY STYLE.COM.