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What's in your name? Fashion's underdogs bite back Add to ...

With the fashion world in high gear for spring show season, it takes a really juicy story to pry eyes away from the catwalk. One good candidate? Indie fashion bloggers taking on the establishment, turning a top-down industry bottom-up.

A recent example is the saga of The Coveted (the-coveted.com), one of the most influential and well-regarded independent fashion websites in the industry. Jennine Jacob, who started The Coveted in 2007, is part of a group of style bloggers who have gone from relative no-names to mini reporting empires that warrant guest-list status at marquee events like New York Fashion Week - all the more amazing in an industry that privileges access to all things haute.

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"Generally these women - and guys too - want to nerd out and talk fashion news and designs, their favourite designers and what's going on internationally," says Stefania Yarhi, a Toronto fashion blogger at textstyles.ca, of the rising new class. "Indie fashion blogs give the enthusiasts a platform and a voice, it's like a digital speakers corner." And if they can turn the head of someone like Anna Wintour while doing something they truly enjoy, there's a lot to covet about the life of an indie fashion blogger.

Cut to late last month, when buzz arose about new site by New York-via-Toronto duo Erin Kleinberg and Stephanie Mark, fashion insiders with ties to magazines such as Elle and W. The concept: highly stylized interviews and photos of the private homes and boudoirs of fashion's elite, mainly professional designers, editors and writers. The new site's name: thecoveted.com.

The dispute between The Coveteds got ugly. Lawyers were contacted and cease-and-desist letters were sent. It also resulted in a community uprising: A petition started in support of Jacob received more than 1,000 signatures in a matter of days, from places as far-flung as Ghana and Indonesia. Many bloggers also used their bandwidth to blast the newer, glossier Coveted.

As Yarhi describes it, this was "a schoolyard fight and [Jacob's]community of fashion bloggers, who have been with her for years now, [rallied]to make sure she wasn't bullied.

"The blog world can be an extension of a cliquey high school. You find your group of friends and stick with them," she says.

A supportive community is important for independent bloggers, since the fashion industry can be cut-throat and intellectual property can easily be compromised if no one is watching your back.

"It's really starting to feel like bloggers against the machine when it comes to usage of anything, whether it's the photo you uploaded to Lookbook or the name of your blog," says YM Ousley, editor-in-chief of New York-based Signature9.com, a fashion and tech site. "What do you do when you're up against this big entity that can seemingly do what they want and obliterate who they want, and it includes your blog?"

Spanish fashion chain Zara is learning about the wrath of the indie blog community. According to the Daily Mail, the retailer is facing accusations that it used images of prominent Euro bloggers Louise Ebel (misspandora.fr) and Michèle K (beware-of-my-heels.blogspot.com) on T-shirts without permission. (True to the plucky spirit of fashion's blogging underdogs, the women only realized their likenesses had been immortalized on garments thanks to their online communities.)

"I was contacted yesterday by [Zara]- even though the T-shirts have been on sale for over a month - and they apologized," Ebel told the Daily Mail last week. "I told them to consult my lawyer." Other bloggers have accused the chain of using their likenesses without permission in the past. A company spokesman blamed the most recent snafu on an outsourcing mix-up.

The Coveted saga, luckily, has a happy ending: Jacob got to keep the name and the new site can now be found at thecoveteur.com. And Jacob knew exactly who to thank for her ultimate victory: "Privately, I was devastated. Angry. Disheartened. Deflated. The only thing that kept me from losing it was the outcry from my fellow bloggers," she wrote on her site.

Smaller blogs "may not get a million hits," Signature9's Ousley says, "but the users they do get are very engaged ... the little guys may not be as little as you think."

 

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