The Derek Blasberg apologias are trickling in — hardly surprising considering Blasberg, for his 27 years, is wealthy and well-connected. But in asking for money from a company he intended to write about, Blasberg may have jeopardized his job.
Eleanor Banco, a spokeswoman for Style.com, told us the following this afternoon:
We are reviewing this matter (referring to Derek Blasberg) internally. For the record, it is not our policy to assign writers to cover events if they are receiving any other financial remuneration in connection with that event and we have no further comment on the subject.
Derek Blasberg goes to parties for a living. He covers those parties for venues including Style.com. What Blasberg did in this case was essentially respond to Yves Saint Laurent's event invitation by suggesting that Yves Saint Laurent might like to hire him to consult on that event. He admits doing this. He admits asking for money directly from a company he planned to write about. In Blasberg's own words: "I was always told that one should always discuss finances early in a conversation!"
For the record, Blasberg, after a long series of equivocal responses, finally decided to deny receiving any money from the brand. (I have reason to believe he was paid, having viewed correspondence that alludes to such a transaction. I may not be the only one with such suspicions: Blasberg wrote to me that "Someone from the New York Post also asked about this." And Marshall Heyman at the Wall Street Journal reported that a spokeswoman at the event said Derek Blasberg "helped start the 'Twitter Party,' so to speak." Helped in what way, you say? Hm. Probably just a coincidence, then, that Blasberg happened to tell us, "I had a conversation with a senior member of YSL Beauty's corporate office about social networking and building a buzz for the event.")
But whether he was paid or not, shaking down a subject — and the allegation is that Blasberg asked for $2,500 — is a pretty dodgy move for any writer to pull. Like, maybe not quite Jared Paul Stern-skeevy, but pretty shocking just the same. Or is it?
Fashionista — a website which has in the past failed to disclose its own writers' receipt of freebies — thinks the fashion media should get a pass:
If this were any other industry — tech, oil, biochemicals — it would not be okay for a journalist to consult for a company that they also write about.
But this isn't any other industry, it's fashion. And in fashion, advertising and editorial content are more closely related than anywhere else.
While it's obvious to anyone who's flicked through a fashion magazine that the advertising/editorial boundary is vanishingly thin, the question remains: why isn't fashion treated like tech, oil, biochemicals or any other industry? Is fashion somehow exceptional, all $300 billion of it? Are the stakes lower because we're just nattering on about hemlines over here? Are conflicts-of-interest excusable? Do consumers expect them?
We can all recognize the differences between a fashion writer like Dana Thomas and a fashion writer like Derek Blasberg; anyone who doesn't know by now to suspend disbelief upon encountering the reporting of the latter may continue to find life hard. But the argument for fashion's exceptionalism — which might be summed up as the "Because we do not have to wear pantyhose to work, we get to play by different rules!" line of thinking — has a certain way of applying itself to some rather unfortunate behaviors. Terry Richardson's alleged sexual misconduct has been written off as just a facet of his manifest "creativity" by the Fashion Is Exceptional crowd. And fashion's diversity problem, too, is seen by some as excusable, because Fashion Is Exceptional. So, now, is the ability of a reporter to speak out both sides of his mouth — or to deposit checks from both advertisers and editorial sources — finding its defenders.
Fundamentally, I find the Fashion Is Exceptional argument both dismissive of fashion's importance as a cultural and economic force — conflicts of interest become more real when there are literally tens of millions of dollars on the line for a new product launch — and reductive of the complicated function fashion serves in our culture — the ways in which the industry intersects with race, class, gender, sex, and sexuality. While "consulting" for brands is common among magazine editors and writers, that doesn't make it ethical. Rather than ending the practice outright, however, perhaps FTC disclosure regulations for magazines — like the ones online media must abide by — would be an honest step.
But then again, Blasberg will always have his defenders, such as one commenter on Fashionista:
I love Derek and I think he deserves money.