For a rather long while, editors of fashion magazines are not expected to toil silently, unseen behind the scenes. They are now mostly adopting the modus operandi of influencers, and, for some, acquiring the following that befits opinion leaders who are considered key
Musingmutley’s last post, dated 30 March, showing Norman Tan in sea-side holiday splendour. Photo: musingmutley/Instagram
The recent controversial posts of Vogue Singapore’s editor-in-chief Norman Tan has trained the spotlight on high-profile editors and their glamourous digital presence. Mr Tan, who also identifies as Musingmutley, assembles a carefully curated Insta-self-promotion as a peek into his enchanting material life and world travels rather than enervating editorial work that others might consider hard. His braggy photographs show a world that many people might find aspirational: in the latest fashion, keenly styled, in locations that, minus the subject, could be sold as postcards at hotel lobby gift shops. In that respect, Mr Tan has perched himself alongside the countless influencers followed by those with a predilection for composed and enhanced fabulousness.
Three of those four photos, featuring him and his staff, of which two showed off their recent booty of Apple gifts on IG Stories, were talking points among members of the press corp last week, leading to a report in The New Paper today. Despite the unfavourable optics, some thought the posts—already deleted—were a shrewd move as it concurrently raised the visibility of the yet-to-publish Vogue SG. However, it isn’t certain if Mr Tan could capitalise on his 14,900 followers to draw readers to Vogue SG (or had, before this, to Esquire SG), but he has used social media well to augment his style cred and to appeal to those who reads by looking at tiles of people and their adventures. An ardent Instagrammer since December 2011 (his first post was a photo of lavender fields), with 2,211 posts to date, he has been able to highlight his editorial hand as well as his love for djellabas and hats, many hats—trilbies, fedoras, Pananamas, and boaters.
Like many influencers, Mr Tan is not opposed to posting videos of himself shirtless. One recently circulating—captioned “What did you learn? Tropical sun is no joke”—showed him, bare-chested, in what could be a shower room, saying to viewers, “Guys, look at how burnt I am. I went for a run during lunch, and now I am a freakin’ lobster.” Those who know him say that he is proud of his toned body, enough, in fact, to write a fitness article for sibling publication Buro, titled “How to look good naked and other fitness goals”, and set himself up as model for the photo-illustration. This is admirable multi-hyphenate flair that many influencer adore, but few are blessed with. Yet, some do wonder: among the 27 Vogue EICs throughout the world, including Anna Wintour, how many would go topless before a smartphone camera?
Kennieboy’s last travel photo, dated 30 March, showing Kenneth Goh in sea-side holiday splendour. Photo: kennieboy/Instagram
Norman Tan is considered one of Singapore’s most social-media active magazine editors with compelling content on IG. The other is Kenneth Goh (aka Kennieboy), EIC of Harper’s Bazaar SG. Like his counterpart at Vogue SG, Mr Goh is known for what he has on his head. In his case, a mop of hair that is frequently styled like an inverted bowl. In one video that was posted last January, shortly before Chinese New Year, Mr Goh took his mother to Goh Lai Chan’s boutique in Paragon Shopping Centre to shop. Mother and son have uncannily identical hairstyles. It is not unreasonable to assume that Mr Goh puts tremendous effort into how he looks in the 1,848 posts he has put out so far; his extraordinary fashion matched only by his intense chumminess.
He has taken to IG Live and video posts like the proverbial fish to water. In almost all his interviews (including and especially those on his Bazaar TV show Café a la Mode), he approaches his subjects, from Asia’s Next Top Model judge/photographer Yu Tsai (who is, technically, Mr Goh’s colleague since both were on ANTM) to Nga Nguyen (one of the first two Vietnamese socialite-sisters to have contracted COVID-19 from Europe and brought it back home), with palpable pleasure, so heightened the I’m-so-happy-to-see-yous, and so energetic the exchanges that transpired, the high degree of enjoyment might just seep through your Samsung Galaxy screen.
Unlike Norman Tan, Kenneth Goh does not seem partial to posting Edwin Hung-style topless photos of himself. But both do have a weakness for travel shots, with many depicting impossibly beautiful backdrops. Mr Goh even has a hashtag #kennieboytravels to enchant his 33,700 followers. What stands out is their compositional similarity. In front of a body of water with an infinity edge, for example. If the subjects are swopped, we’d be none the wiser as to who was where, when. In fact, if we transpose their bodies with any other KOL pix, the photos would be a droplet in the azure sea of influencer brilliance.
Her World’s Ng Yi Lian (left) and Female’s Noelle Loh (right). Photos: Yilianng/Instagram and Noelle.loh/Instagram respectively
In contrast, women EICs’ social-media entries tend to be less about self, even when they do not use handles other than their actual names. The Instagram pages of the EICs of Singapore’ top two women’s magazine Her World and Female, Ng Yi Lian and Noelle Loh respectively, tend to mostly tout the content of the publications they edit. There are, of course, photos of them out and about, but these infrequently punctuate (certainly the case with Ms Loh) the plethora of work-related travels, poses with designers, fashion shoots, their magazine covers and pages, and the odd stand on social activism. No mother of either is featured. Ms Ng, who’s also behind Yi Lian Ng Floral Atelier, appears to be the least of a clotheshorse among those reviewed for this post, perhaps reflecting Her World’s style-for-working women stance and selling point. Ms Loh, even with a spunky style that’s photogenic, infrequently relies on her clothes to make her IG pages quiver with modishness, yet, standing next to Kim Jones in river sandals in one photo, one senses that she transmits more fashion vibe than her IG tiles let on.
Among the most followable of the female EICs is Pin (品) magazine’s Grace Lee. Served a stay home notice in early March after returning from Milan and Paris fashion weeks, she spent part of her days in quarantine by blogging about it with considerable wit and humour, as well as posting photos of herself adopting fashion that was sometimes xiao-yuan (校园 or school yard) prim, sometimes housewife proud. Ms Lee appears rather frequently (at least for a Singaporean editor) on street style blogs since her previous tenure—also as EIC—at Nuyou (女友). Her IG posts comprise obligatory work- and fashion-related photos, as well as those of herself unbashfully goofing around or seriously checking proofs in the office, but they belie, according to friends, her not much known discomfort with the need to be so social-media-active.
EIC of Pin Grace Lee working from home. Photo: jiajinggrace/Instagram
It isn’t certain if these days an EIC’s personal social media account is part of the requirements related to their appointment and frequent updates showing a splendid life part of the job scope. If not, is an EIC obligated to maintain an active social media account? Is there pressure to post? Although there could be potential for conflict of interest, it seems many publishers now consider social-media savvy as skill that can go hand-in-hand with editorial finesse, both in glorious balance. If magazine readerships are less able to attract readers, as we’re repeatedly told, are editors now required to engage readers through their social media posts? According to a 2019 report by American creative agency We Are Social (with offices worldwide, including Singapore), “45% of the world’s population are now social media users: a whopping 3.5 billion people”. It also found that “86% of Singaporeans (are) now online, 76% active on social media and mobile subscriptions – amongst the world’s highest”. It is understandable why editors need to use their social media pages, in influencer fashion, to reach other social media users.
But how influential are our EICs? What they put on their magazine pages may be read as fact (admittedly increasingly redefined), but what they have on social media are not necessarily a reflection of reality. Are their posts then merely feeding social media users’ voyeuristic bent? Virtual images and real-world selves are, of course, not one and the same, and oftentimes, there is a lag between them. It isn’t known how many of the EICs’ followers prefer magazine content or social media posts. Norman Tan and Kenneth Goh have reached “micro influencer” status (thought to be between 10,000 and 200, 000 followers, which pales to the 179 million of billionaire-no-more Kylie Jenner’s IG page). With 33,700 followers, Mr Goh is currently at the top. The three women fall outside this marketable circle. Among the women, Ng Yi Lian has the highest number, with 9,783 followers, followed by Grace Lee with 2,085, and Noelle Loh with 1,975. But perhaps, as Mr Tan has shown, following is only one part of reach. Individually or collectively, do they have sufficient pull? Are hashtags more alluring than headlines?
Looking at that post again, an irony begins to appear. Back in 2016, four Vogue editors—Sally Singer, Sarah Mower, Nicole Phelps, and Alessandra Codinha—wrote a not-well received criticism of fashion bloggers, then beginning to appear in visible numbers at fashion shows and events, so much so that some members of the press consider them “irritating”. In their censure, the women did not mince words: “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.” Four years later, it’s difficult to tell the difference between editors and bloggers/influencers. That death hasn’t struck.
Note: all IG numbers quoted reflect what are indicated on 8 June 2020, 08:30
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