- Fashioning Identity Work:The Perils, Politics, and Pleasures of Aesthetic Labor
One of the conceits of the fashion industry is its traditionalism and hostility toward change. Bloggers, for the most part, bear the brunt of fashion editors' and journalists' ire and reluctance to adapt to the industry's digital coming of age. One illustrative example comes from a recent article on Vogue.com where several editors reviewed Milan's Spring/Summer 2017 runway collections, but not before the conversation briefly devolved into bizarre asides and invectives directed against bloggers. Sally Singer, creative digital director, went so far as to literally spell out the ill will, "Note to bloggers who change head-to-toe, paid-to-wear outfits every hour: Please Stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style" (Vogue Runway 2016).
This recent example, published months after Minh-Ha T. Pham's book, proves the need to understand how social and occupational roles in the global fashion industry are reformulated in network capitalism. Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet effectively contextualizes the rise of the figure of the blogger in the informational age and claims it has "democratized" the field of fashion. Pham not only dispels the rumor that social and occupational positions in the global fashion industry can ever be truly democratized but also convincingly argues that blogging and the antagonism it has incurred by critics in fashion publishing are both raced phenomena. Rather than construe Asian fashion bloggers as distinct from the Asian garment workers who perform the majority of the industry's manufacturing labor, Pham compellingly argues that both groups occupy similar social and occupational roles within fashion even as they are placed in distinct spheres of labor. [End Page 88]
Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet begins by noting a cadre of Asian superbloggers' whose influence on the fashion industry the mainstream press paints as helping to define fashion's blogging moment. Pham focuses her attention on the personal style blogs of three superbloggers in particular, London-born Hong Konger Susanna Lau, mixed-race Japanese American Rumi Neely, and Filipino Bryan Grey Yamboa. In noting the inordinate levels of attention, clout, and acrimony they have attained in the industry, Pham seeks to understand how these bloggers rose to prominence, why their taste has become so valuable to the Western fashion industry, and how they articulate their identity through their digital labor.
In answering these questions, Pham employs a mixed-method approach that begins by historically situating how neoliberal trade practices have culturally and economically reshaped Western consumers' taste for Asianness. The rise of kawaii or Japanese cute culture—so perfectly encapsulated in material form by Hello Kitty—and Western taste for these products are situated in the context of the rise of Asian markets and the consolidation of China and Japan as superpowers. From the analysis of cultural political economy discussed in chapter 1, the ensuing chapters take a cultural and media studies approach to dissecting the constitutive elements of bloggers' digital posts. Chapter 2, for example, focuses on the discursive elements of blogger style stories, whereas chapters 3 and 4 focus on the visual and aesthetic components of outfit posts, including the formal aspects of outfit photos and the poses bloggers strike.
This book proves an invaluable tool for scholars of fashion, consumer, and media studies due to the sophisticated ways it thinks through the ways value accrues and is disseminated in the digital era. In particular, Pham's insights on the ways social media has influenced communication patterns—with its values of connection, relatability, and collaboration—go a long way in explaining the rise of blogging as a phenomenon and even the stagnation or ascent of certain fashion brands or business models. One has only to look at the fashion house Gucci's brand revitalization under creative director Alessandro Michele in 2015, including his innovative practice of having different artists take over Gucci's Instagram account...