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Friday, December 2, 2022

Developing a Whole New Vocabulary to Discuss Personal Taste

The readers of the weekly Blackbird Spyplane are the kind of people who will go down any shopping rabbit hole in pursuit of a rare collectible; they are the kind of people who will save really detailed searches on eBay like it’s a game. Only a deep admiration for the crunchy outdoor wear traditionally associated with calm and low-key individuals could possibly explain it.

There is honesty hidden under that hyperventilating voice. The newsletter that Mr. Weiner, who usually writes it, and Ms. Wylie, who edits it, started out as a place to share “unbeatable recon” (recommendations in the areas of fashion, culture, and interior design), as well as interviews with artists and other creative types discussing their own personal styles.

Mr. Weiner and Ms. Wylie of North Oakland, California have taken on the persona of zine authors in an effort to establish their independence from commercial pressures. Like zine authors, their following is relatively modest when compared to other forms of digital media, but nevertheless sizeable. Substack, Blackbird Spyplane’s host, does not disclose exact subscriber statistics but does indicate that “tens of thousands” of people get the newsletter for free and “thousands” pay at least $5 per month for access to premium features.

Substack doesn’t provide demographic data to anybody, not even email authors, yet Blackbird Spyplane has a significant media following, so it must have some sway. Getting my client in Blackbird is the finest way to mass email every fashion journalist in New York, men’s wear and women’s wear,” publicist Kaitlin Phillips said in an email.

Despite having female readers and Q. and A. subjects like Sandy Liang (who talked to Blackbird Spyplane about her eBay purchases of Polly Pocket toys and her desire for a pair of Skechers she was denied as a child) the newsletter’s content has long come across as “dude-leaning,” as Ms. Wylie put it, or “male-coded,” as Vox put it. Taking in the voice may make you feel like you’re seeing Dr. Jekyll (if he were a communist) defeat Mr. Hyde (if he were a hypebeast), with Dr. Jekyll wearing vintage L.L. Bean and Mr. Hyde wearing Homme Plissé Issey Miyake.

Plus, Ms. Wylie introduced a new fashion-oriented section for women to Blackbird Spyplane just last week, making the site a bit less male-centric. Ms. Wylie explained a few days before the first issue was issued to all subscribers that the magazine was named Concorde to go in with the idea of the supersonic plane and was written in her voice: informal and loose.

Blackbird Spyplane’s Ms. Wylie has always had an interest in women’s fashion, however, and this interest dates back to the show’s inception. She worked for a fashion forecasting firm for a while and then spent ten years editing and writing for publications.

That includes the methods they use to generate income. A French fashion company asked them to insert a video of the newest collection in the email, and an online store wanted to partner on a capsule collection dedicated to small producers, but they declined both proposals.

They also have a rather unusual approach in the fashion industry, where manufacturers often pay for vacations and give out designer bags to fashion journalists and editors in return for positive coverage. Subscriber fees, rare merchandise drops (they previously manufactured shoes with a Finnish shoe manufacturer named Tarvas), and a little amount of affiliate sales from eBay and Bookshop are all they claim to make from their email.

As simple as one might expect from a newsletter whose most recent issue included the terms “cerebellum-bussin quasi-paradox,” “slapping ‘plant-based’ fits,” “jawn-polytheistic spin,” and “roasted & toasted footwear.”

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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