Monday, 16 January 2012

Fashion Blogger Photography in Shops - What are the Rules?

Yesterday I was up in London for some family time and managed to squeeze in a bit of shopping (well, ok, I deliberately scheduled some in). Was happily browsing through the rails of H&M in Oxford Circus and managed to find a totally amazing collection hidden downstairs in the main womenswear section. Of course, I automatically reached for my camera, as there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to document this - the range was basically a mash-up of fetish and sportswear, which somehow worked brilliantly. I was lusting after most of the items and was merrily snapping away, when a slightly blunt shop assistant interjected with, "Excuse me, NO PHOTOS,". Naturally I stopped and apologised, but then I thought about the situation afterwards and couldn't work out why it was such a negative thing for a mainstream high street fashion brand not to have people talking about them on a grass-roots level. I didn't want to hassle the assistant by asking specifically why I couldn't take more photos (okay, she scared me), so I've worked through a few thoughts around her comment, and why I don't agree with the no photos policy.

1. Fear of Copyright Infringement - "What if that woman steals our designs?"
This is a valid question, really. Brands are always going to be afraid of copycats and people who will rip off their products at a cut rate - I get that. What I don't understand is why a massive fashion chain that can afford to sell at brilliant prices would ever think that a lowly average Joe could compete with them? How could I produce a top for £7.99 with such a quick turnaround and a certain standard of sewing? What's more, if I was a fashion design student, why would I want to reference a high street store and not a legendary designer or fashion house? It's also slightly futile for H&M to be worried about copies of their designs when they already base large amounts of their collections on Couture and Ready-to-Wear pieces from Fashion Weeks around the world. They do not pay the designers that they have imitated, or acknowledge the link between the original and the H&M version. How exactly could they challenge me morally, even if I was planning on churning out copies of their clothing?

2. The H&M Website Has Hardly Any Stock
One of the reasons why I was so desperate to get out my camera was that there is too much disparity between the range of clothing on offer in stores and online. The website always seems to have a pitifully small selection of items and it's very rare for me to find one that I liked in store and can share with my friends via the internet. Basically I want to have a record of the pieces I covet if I can't afford them, so that I can start saving now, or send an image to my friends asking for their opinions. If I am not allowed to take photos then I will just have to end up mumbling vaguely about 'that top with the peplum thing and the sort of weird sleeves'. If the brand took a leaf out of its sister company COS' book, it would constantly update the site with lookbook images, visual inspiration and examples of as many key styles as possible. It's really not that hard to give your customers what they want.

3. Social Sharing Benefits the Brand
If I did want to rave about a particular object from the collection then I don't see how that can be a negative thing. What's more, being a fashion blogger, I am essentially giving H&M free publicity by telling everyone to go and buy into their new line, without any inkling of corporate sponsorship (rest assured, if I was paid by a brand to publicise something, you'd know). H&M must get this kind of thing all the time, especially in the Oxford Circus store, as it's a stone's throw away from the main campus of the London College of Fashion, my alma mater. I find it hard to believe that they would consistently discourage bloggers or members of the public who love fashion from taking photos. It's not like I was messing around in a silly hat with a group of mates - I was genuinely excited about this collection and I wanted to spread the word. What's more, not all of the pieces were suitable for my body shape, so I never could have bought them, but I was still keen to show people how great they were.

4. If I'd Had a Sketchbook I'd Be a Bloody Nuisance
Let's say I didn't use my camera. Instead I produced my trusty sketchbook and pens and proceeded to set up camp in the middle of an aisle to draw a certain dress in detail. Arguably this would be more disruptive to the running of the store (blocking everyone else from getting to the stock) and it could be quite messy - let's say my artist's permanent marker pen falls onto a top or a pair of shoes. Product ruined. In this situation, a quick photo is surely the better option.

Basically I've felt a bit flat after yesterday's trip to H&M, but I do have some nice photos of the collection which I would like to share with you, unless another shop assistant would like to accost me. Stay tuned for the images, and let me know if you have any thoughts on the issue.

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