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(Fashion Diary)

c.2013 New York Times News Service

They perch along the runways like birds on a wire, each with their own vivid markings: the celebrity editors Carine Roitfeld working her swag of dusky hair, kohled eyes and killer stilettos, and Grace Coddington, her flame-colored mane framing her face like a cloud; and the photographer Terry Richardson, his downward-drooping mustache lending him the look of a '70s porn king.

And you won't need a field guide to pick out professional show-offs like Andre Leon Talley, descending on the catwalks with a great sweep of his stole; or the fashion scribe Lynn Yeager tricked out like a Kewpie, all cupid's-bow lips, voluminous skirts and coin-dot spots of rouge on her cheeks; or, in their midst, Anna Wintour, Vogue's vixenish chieftain, ducking, as the house lights fade, behind precision-sheared bangs and dark glasses.

Members of fashion's old guard, each has mastered the art of visual self-branding, marketers' pet coinage for the cultivation of a personal style as quirky, distinctive and easy to read as a box of Cheerios on a grocer's shelf.

''The front row of any show in any city is a billboard," said Tom Julian, a branding consultant and director of strategic business development for the Doneger Group, a trend forecasting firm in New York.

If such prominent placement once functioned as a showcase for outsize personalities fashion originals like the fastidiously lacquered Diana Vreeland or the much mythologized Carrie Donovan, flaunting spectacles the size of a television screen it has lately morphed, in Julian's view, into a platform on which stylists, music and film and reality-TV personalities and assorted hangers-on can strut their maverick style.

''These people are creating alter egos," said Ed Burstell, the managing director of the fashion emporium Liberty of London.

More like avatars, really, second selves fashioned purely for public consumption. Seemingly they are manifesting an innate and highly curated sense of style. But watch, Burstell said. "They go over their look with military precision, especially during Fashion Week."

Who can fault them if they embrace the occasion as a continuous photo op? An era with video streaming, Instagram, Tumblr and Vine has only redoubled the impact of an exotically eye-catching look, providing the chance to raise a lackluster profile and even, in the case of the lucky few, to foster a fledgling career.

Small wonder, then, that thriving alongside confirmed eccentrics is a new breed of self-promoters: editors, stylists and bloggers, fanning out their plumage in the hope, it would seem, that a bit of canny self-packaging will secure them a place in fashion's front ranks.

''Fashion's one big game of status where recognition is everything," said Daniel Saynt, a founder of Socialyte, a year-old agency that negotiates deals between tastemakers and brands. Having a recognizable image seals the impression that you may be worth talking to, or talking about, Saynt said, "even if nobody actually knows who you are."

For every Jenna Lyons, the studiedly geeky executive creative director of J. Crew, a modern-day peacock has alighted: young, consummately Web-savvy and unabashedly ambitious.

''These people have found footing in the industry by making a bold statement," Saynt said, a case in point being the model Alice Dellal, whose half-razed hair has made her a standout in a forest of competitors.

There is, as well, a handful of bloggers like Susie Lau of Style Bubble, instantly identifiable by her high-contrast color and print combinations and her pert topknot; and the blogging superstar Leandra Medine, whose sassy melange of high-crown fur hats and football jerseys, harem pants and clogs is the visual extension of her wryly irreverent posts on Man Repeller.

It's not by chance that Medine has secured coveted front-row seats at shows like Phillip Lim, Thakoon and Reed Krakoff. The industry, she wrote on her blog this week, "has made room for amateur groupies to carve out their own stud-laden paths." Her own style is not so much a bid for attention as the untrammeled expression of her personality, she said in an interview.

''In the beginning, I was very strategic about the way I dressed," she said. "I thought to be noticed that I needed to wear a million bracelets and hold the coolest clutch that I own."

Now she is more casual, but her style tends to echo an online voice she describes as "a little bit raw, new and unedited."

''I'm all about the disconnect," she said. "If I'm wearing a plaid shirt and ripped jeans, I will wear a satin stiletto."


A more recent fixture on fashion's front lines is Andy Torres, who has parlayed her blog, Style Scrapbook, into a flourishing television career as a judge on "Elle Mexico Disena," a fashion competition broadcast on E! Entertainment. Her blog, a hit with Latinas, began attracting serious notice only after she started posting her own image, said Torres, who has carved out a profile by assembling clashing patterns and eye-searing graphic accents.

''Nothing I wear ever matches," she said, "but that's what works for me."

Mary Alice Haney, a celebrity stylist, often counsels clients (who have included Jennifer Garner, Kate Bosworth and Jessica Biel) that putting together a red-carpet-worthy look is not just about throwing on an outfit. "It's about deciding on an image that you want to convey," she said. Her own look is calculatedly steamy, said Haney, who makes a near fetish of wearing plunging necklines and provocative slits, though she tones down the fireworks for Fashion Week.

"I'm on the higher end of sexy," she said. "I wear YSL, Gucci and Tom Ford. When you see Mary Alice, you know you will be getting something high-quality and luxurious but still fun."

A visually distinctive look, she knows, can lead to a potentially lucrative sideline most recently, in her case, as the producer and host of the Style Network show "Celebrity Closet Confidential."


Front-row fixtures like Roitfeld and, more recently, Medine (who through her blog has created a direct line to consumers) are among the most hotly courted, said Gregory Littley, the director of strategy at Iced Media, a youth-oriented branding company in New York. Last year Roitfeld added to her proliferating fashion credits a deal with MAC cosmetics to introduce a limited-edition makeup line, a palette of the tawny colors like those she wears. Around the same time, Medine agreed to appear in a fall ad campaign for Uniqlo.

Littley is also keeping his eye on Chiara Ferragni, known for her bilingual blog, the Blonde Salad, but more remarked on for her look, a striking composite of swingy blond hair, painted-on cat eyes and, almost invariably, a leopard-print frock. Like many of her peers in the blogosphere, Ferragni has become a master of visually conspicuous self-marketing. Only last week her finely calibrated feline look prompted the hair-care brand Redken to name her its global ambassador.

All good. But flamboyance in this industry goes only so far. Long-established editors, as the Vogue editor Hamish Bowles once noted, have grown more self-effacing, the best-known among them dispensing with frippery. Sometimes, insiders will tell you, less says more.

For Burstell, the Liberty managing director, close-cropped hair and pastel scarves are more than enough to set him apart from the herd.

''A reporter once told me, 'Ed, you really know how to work a scarf,' and for me that was it," Burstell recalled with a laugh. "I haven't taken a scarf off in years."