Q & A: Vanessa Raphaely on blogging, fashion and 21st century media

Vanessa Raphaely, aka Hurricane Vanessa, is a force of nature in the local fashion and publishing worlds. Firing off humorous anecdotes, intelligent opinions and withering critiques at a rate of knots, she manages to hold a day job as editor of South African Cosmopolitan and editorial director of Associated Magazines, not to mention as publisher of Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine and House and Leisure, while also blogging as Hurricane Vanessa and raising three children.

On top of all that, she managed to answer our questions in record time.

MB: How has social media changed the fashion world?

VR: Blogging, particularly, has empowered the amateur and stripped away some of fashion’s mystique. It’s shooed sacred cows out into the open. It’s democratised the industry and created stars of bloggers like Tavi, BryanBoy and The Sartorialist. But it’s also re-inforced the power of the big brands – it’s enabled more and more consumption of product – online sales of fashion items are eye-watering.

MB: Do SA fashion shows and events make the best of social media integration?

VR: I couldn’t really say. I haven’t been to a fashion show in years. I am a bit grumpy about fashion, to be honest. I’m not a fan.

MB: You’re from a traditional media background – what do blogs have that traditional media doesn’t?
VR: From my point of view? No infrastructure, no barrier to entry. Anyone can be a blogger. Contrary to what many of the people I go to dinner parties with seem to believe, not anyone can be an editor. Running a successful media brand (which is what editing is actually all about,) is a profession. If you have a good idea for a magazine, you have to co-opt distributors, printers, retailers, advertisers. If you have a good idea for a blog, you just press play. The process remains a crap shoot (Will anyone care? Will anyone come?) but the costs to get going and keep going are not at all comparable to trad media.

MB: Is there anything you miss from back before everyone was their own publishing house?

VR: No. I love the new world. I’m a vacuum cleaner / Kreepy-Krawly! I prowl around the universe sucking up information, stimulation, inspiration. So the more of all of those good things – the better, for me.

MB: Do you make revenue out of your blog?

VR: Yes, but certainly not enough. Not enough to pay for COSMO’s coffee /cake bill for one week! (COSMO is a very, very big, successful business. HV is just me, being me, making mischief.)

MB: What fashion blogs do you follow/recommend?

VR: Personally? Except for my friends Robyn and Robyn (Cooke and Kahn) – Cape Town Style Guide and Your Fashion Friend, I only follow fashion blogs when I’m mining for content. I like to take the piss out of the fashion industry. It begs for it.

MB: What is the most important feature of a successful blog?

VR: You might be better off asking Will Mellor [ who runs successful blog 2OceansVibe ] that question, than asking me!

But from my POV, I think content is everything. The same magic that makes readers read books, magazines, watch TV shows and films is what will drive people to engage with blogs and sites. People respond to relevance, originality, integrity, good stories, I think. They also like to be members of tribes – so if you create a space which reflects their aspirations and passions, they’ll come and play.

MB: What’s the first thing you check in the morning: e-mail, facebook, twitter, TV, radio, websites?

VR: Twitter. Email. Blog stats. The Guardian. The Daily What. Jezebel. The Daily Mail (grudge check) the M&G, Daily Maverick etc. etc. — I have a very bad relationship with Facebook. I have over a thousand friends, who aren’t really my friends. It’s a bit of a runaway train for me. I need to commit FB suicide and resurrect myself, but don’t really know how.

Facebook is my online dentist/gynaecological appointment – I know I should deal with it, but I ignore it. I listen to 702 in the car – but as my commute to work is 10 minutes, of which 5 is getting the children to their schools (and they like Eminem,) I only listen for 5 minutes twice a day.

MB: You have a very distinctive style online – bold, funny, minimalist.
What’s your secret?

VR: I have a secret? Don’t be ridiculous! I am not a writer, at all. I’m a disgrace! I just post, as I speak. I make sub-editors weep.

I used to die a million deaths at the thought that my typos and eccentric grammar would deter traffic – but no-one seems to care. The stats just keep on growing upwards – the site is apparently doing quite well – people who know say so, 87 000 + page impressions in November.

I haven’t got the time to edit myself – and I’m usually completely cross-eyed when I’m posting, (I do it after my many children are sorted at night, and from 5am, every bloody morning, before I start my actual working day,) so I just do the best I can and don’t spend to much time looking back. I would NEVER allow me to write for COSMO without severe and expert editing!

MB: Do you think Twitter will last for ever?

VR: Nothing does. But it’s excellent and useful fun, for now.

MB: Apple, Blackberry or Android for you?

VR: I don’t know what an Android is, I’m afraid. Technologically I am hopeless – I rely on the kindness of friends and Twitter to help me find my way. But I’m a BlackBerry Ambassador and I have an old Nokia, and I’m getting an iPhone too.

The other soccer moms laugh at me, because I post with my MacBook on my lap, from the side of the Camps Bay Soccer Club field.

MB: How do you find the time to blog so consistently?

VR: I haven’t got a social life, and I have a supportive husband. Mostly, all I do is children and work. My friends are all long-suffering and know they have to bully me to come out during the week.

MB: Do you think social media will replace traditional PR?

VR: Yes. The world is constantly changing – no news there.

MB: Any tips for women bloggers?

VR: Um. Speak up? My friends who have radio shows always lament the fact that women are so much more timid about speaking up and I think that blogging platforms offer the less mouthy a brilliant opportunity to put their thoughts out there.

MB: Anyone you would recommend following on Twitter?

VR: @MandyWiener, @Gussilber, @StephenGrootes, @ChrisRoperZA, @comradesipho, @phillipdewet, @AdviceToWriters and naturally @AspasiaKarras, @Oprahm, @COSMOCathy

MB: Do you own an iPad?

VR: My husband NEVER lets me buy first generation anything. So I must wait. He is also very pissed with it because it doesn’t have a USB. He bought himself a Kindle, had a fit that I bought The Finkler Question in book form, made me send it back and then wouldn’t let me take it on the Kindle to the beach. The subject is a vexed one in our house.

MB: Who are your favourite bloggers?

VR: My professional husband, Seth, I’m afraid. He is totally 100% obnoxious, but has a fantastic sense of humour, is more than a tiny bit mad, fearless, and is building a media empire, himself. I salute that.

India Knight, when she blogs. She seems to have lost the will, recently.
My Bestie in Australia, Mia Freeman, who has grown her blog to the size and power of a political party.
I loved Jezebel, but they’ve gone off recently.
I like to dream on IMG Fave.

The NOMU team are almost marketing geniuses. Okay, they’re not strictly bloggers, but they support bloggers and they’ve got a site, but they’re my brother and sister-in-law, so ignore my recommendation, if you like.

My darker side loves Cakehead loves Evil, although she can be too black for me.

I like the Daily Maverick.

I think CapeTown Girl is occasionally wonderful. Have you read her Kate Middleton post? You should.


MB: Has there been a time when you thought “I shouldn’t have blogged about that”?

VR: Yes. I am quite accustomed to driving back from dinner parties with bruises on my ankles from where my husband has resorted to kicking me under the table. I cringe and he says, “What were you thinking, Sue-Ellen?”

Once or twice, (because I blog so quickly and I often post when I’m tired/exhausted), I have been quite surprised to read what I have written and to discover just how wrong (yet momentarily convinced) I can be. But that’s what “delete post” is for, isn’t it?

MB: Do you think digital will ever completely replace print?

VR: Oh, print will be like jazz, it will have a space in the world. But I’m not a printer, I’m a brand custodian. I’m not perturbed by what happens to print, in the long term. I don’t think young women will ever tire of discussing why men didn’t ask them for a second date. And couples will always want to look at other people’s houses for inspiration. It doesn’t matter to me whether they find the answers on paper, on an iPad or through a chip inserted into their foreheads. There will still be a need for the COSMO and H&Leisure brands.

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