PART FIVE: Goth Ninjas and the Future of Forums
The term “goth ninja” is another example of slang that originated on forums. It refers to a dark aesthetic that mixes drapey silhouettes with washed lambskin leather jackets and designers like Rick Owens, Boris Bidjan Saberi, and Siki Im. These high-end designers were often talked about on forums like TheFashionSpot and also Superfuture—which is how Eugene Rabkin discovered Supertalk.
"I stumbled upon Superfuture through TheFashionSpot. I think it was on the Dior Homme section of the forum back in 2005 or 2006,” he says. “I was dissatisfied with the way that TheFashionSpot was run. I didn't want to read about models and celebrities. I just wanted to see the clothes and know about the designers and their philosophies. That was all.”
A fan of metal and industrial music, Rabkin credits Nine Inch Nails’ music video for “March Of The Pigs” as inspiring his style. In the video, the band thrashes about in a flesh-like, cavernous setting, dressed in all manner of sleeveless shirts, leather pants, and drapey v-neck shirts. All of it is black.
“I wanted to live in the clothes,” says Rabkin. “I view style as being an outward expression of who we are internally. Those guys spoke to me through their designs.”
And what exactly does dark designer clothing have to say?
“That the world is not this cute, optimistic place,” Rabkin explains. “It’s not a ‘Barbie’ world. There are problems we have to face. The world is not always sunny, but still a beautiful place.”
Rabkin’s forum, StyleZeitgeist, was established in 2006. Its dark aesthetic catered to fans of brands like Julius, Yohji Yamamoto, and Cloak. Carol Christian Poell was revered highly. Whereas Self Edge became the go-to store for a standard Superfuture uniform, StyleZeitgeist’s members patronized Atelier New York. Both forums place an emphasis on craftsmanship, but for the SZ member, the artisan nature of the goods must also be reflected in the aesthetic. Whereas a modern-day menswear enthusiast would love details like functional button holes at the cuff, the average SZ member appreciates clever design nods like asymmetrical zippers and seams that are literally taped together.
They are the geeks — but the fact of the matter is when these geeks get together and they share in these passions a lot of people listen. - Dan Gill, CEO of Huddler
“Fashion, at its best, is a creative discipline alongside art, music, literature, and architecture,” Rabkin says. Like Inventory before it, StyleZeitgeist recently made the jump into print. Rabkin is no stranger to writing, he’s contributed articles to Vogue Russia and other publications, and held down some teaching gigs at Parsons, where he taught critical and fashion writing. StyleZeitgeist recently dropped its second issue in April, featuring a story about the friendship between noted Antwerp Six designer Ann Demeulemeester and musician P.J. Harvey, photographed by the designer’s husband, Patrick Robyn.
Despite launching the magazine, he still maintains a very active presence on the forum. “Forums will be here forever. They draw people from everywhere.”
According to Kiya Babzani, clothing forums’ influence is behooved by software companies that are helping them become more popular. “Forum culture is thriving and with a company like Huddler behind a lot of the most successful forums, it's not a surprise that more people are turning to forums for information. They're the brains behind some of the top forums in the world.”
Dan Gill, the CEO of Huddler, does not consider himself a style guy in the least. Founded in 2007, Huddler makes software that allows forums to run more smoothly or gives them a much-needed facelift. Huddler’s software made over the front ends of both StyleForum and NikeTalk. Currently, StyleForum nets about 10 million pageviews a month. For NikeTalk, it’s closer to 7. Gill thinks both of these forums exemplify market leaders in their respective fields: clothing and sneakers.
“I do think they are the early adopters,” he says. “They are the geeks—but the fact of the matter is when these geeks get together and they share in these passions a lot of people listen.” One of StyleForum’s most popular threads—The Allen Edmonds Appreciation Thread—might only have one or two thousand responses in it, but can generate over 250,000 pageviews. A lot of that traffic is due to optimal search results, which Huddler helps perfect.
“A lot of people come in from search engines, and a lot of lurkers on the site read this content and are influenced by it, and that’s where we see them to be so powerful in terms of being an opportunity for savvy marketers to build relationships with these communities,” says Gill.
As far as social media is concerned, Gill says forums offer more in-depth conversation than Twitter or Facebook ever could—even more than most popular blogs. “Blogs are still one-to-many communication, whereas forums are many-to-many communication, and I really love that aspect,” he said. Huddler’s strategy to capitalize on the wealth of content stored on StyleForum? Condensing threads like the Allen Edmonds Appreciation Thread into an easily digestible read, curating the truly informative posts, while leaving some of the snarky humor intact. Of course, Gill isn’t going to do this himself, rather, the forum’s members help determine the usefulness of certain posts.
“That’s the great thing about forums: they do self regulate in that way,” he says. “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’ll get sniffed out in that way and pushed out very quickly and I think that’s a good thing in terms of keeping the caliber of opinion high.”
With the advent of Tumblr and Twitter, many of the trends and brands that are currently given shine on blogs and magazines have been seen in forums months, if not years ago. If fashion is cyclical, then the types of people that populate these forums are like a chalk mark at the very beginning of the wheel’s next rotation—fairly close to the ground so it won’t get noticed yet, but ultimately destined to be at the forefront.
“Award Tour, Street Etiquette, all those guys were just kids on forums plugging their shit constantly. Now they're writing and being written about in the feature articles, working with and advising the huge companies because they got such a global, rounded education on these forums,” says Heins.
Mejia has a more aggrandizing outlook: “I think if you've opened a menswear-related business sometime within the last five years, you owe a huge debt to forum culture.”
It would seem that in the increasingly faster-paced world of men’s clothing, your rep just might precede you.