Yale News

Clean black leather boots clicked on the tile, and Burberry black and beige spilled over the backs of chairs on Friday as some of the Yale community’s most fashionable members anxiously awaited the evening’s guest: Nicole Phelps, fashion journalist and director of Vogue Runway.

The event, held in William L. Harkness Hall as part of the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism, was part of the Y Fashion House speaker series, which regularly invites fashion experts to campus. The 30-person audience listened intently to Phelps’ description of the fall of the magazine and the rise of dot-com era fashion journalism. She was among the first to leave print behind, heading from Elle Magazine to Style.com in 2004. The event took the form of a one-on-one interview with Phelps and Co-President of the Y Fashion House Claire Kalikman ’21. Kalikman said that well-researched writing with deep analysis is becoming increasingly rare, which is why Phelps was an especially important guest.

“[My editor] was shocked, horrified at the idea that I would leave magazines,” Phelps recounted. ‘Why would you leave a magazine to go online?’”

Still, Phelps knew what she was doing. Before she moved, she had relied on Style.com for the latest in fashion news and knew that it had potential. She explained that online media allowed readers to see more than just a handful of photos from a fashion show.

“It was every picture from the show and a substantial review by people … who I took as gospel,” she said.

While it became increasingly apparent that magazines would fizzle and online content would boom, the industry was still cautious, Phelps said.

“When Style.com came around, many brands were almost reluctant to have their images posted on the site for fear of ‘down-market’ brands copying them,” she recalled.

Even the French fashion titan Chanel, known as a relentlessly innovative brand, was wary. Phelps said that they would only allow their pictures to stay on Style.com for a couple of months, fearing that downmarket brands would copy their latest looks.

With a change in media came a change in pace too. For Phelps, it seemed that whether she published eight or eighty articles in a day, the Internet didn’t care. Jadedly, fashion journalists call uploading content “feeding the beast,” she explained.

Online content has also changed the dynamic at the runway.

“Style.com codified the way runway shows were absorbed,” she said. “It used to be — you had all the photographers in a photo pit at the end. [With the advent of social media] they became much more orderly, they became much more about the celebrity in the front row. Most of the time the celebrities are paid a lot of money to sit there. [But] by the way, they’re not that interested in fashion.”

Phelps also noted how influencer culture has changed the fashion show. She said that as soon as Instagram came along, people stopped clapping at the end of shows because they were already creating their next post. Vogue.com now competes not only with other publications but also with individuals who have millions of followers, she explained.

Phelps sees the upcoming decade as “a new age of independence” for the fashion industry, she said. She hopes to see smaller brands operating sustainably.

“A lot of fashion now, there’s a coldness to it,” she explained. “I think of it more as a product than fashion. To me, that’s not seductive.”

Fashion needs a human touch, she said.

Co-chair of the YFH fashion show Haley Prince ’22 told the News that “it’s less about saying, ‘Oh, I really liked that show, oh I liked that piece, or I liked that concept.’ Someone’s going to have something to say about race, gender, the environment.”

Y Fashion House was created in 2015.

Tyler Brown | tyler.james.brown@yale.edu

TYLER BROWN