Bliss Foster, the fashion commentator and vlogger best known for his ongoing video series exploring Martin Margiela's runway shows, didn't exactly set out to build a YouTube following. Actually, he says, he just wanted to explain to his parents why he was so excited about the pair of "very unusual pants" he spent his holiday gift money on.
"I'd seen them on Instagram, and I asked the person wearing them to identify them a couple of different times. They never responded," he tells Fashionista over the phone of the "very deep blue, very high-waisted trousers" by Engineered Garments that are the subject of his very first YouTube video, uploaded in September 2018. "I walked into a store in New York and I saw these pants in the sale section. I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. These are the pants.' It was very surprising. I hadn't intended to buy anything in there originally, but I had to get them because I discovered them very serendipitously."
He recorded a video for his parents about them, and the exercise ended up inspiring him to take his love of talking about fashion — which mostly happened in online forums and Facebook groups, at that point — to a new medium. Fast-forward almost two years later, and he has over 17,500 subscribers on YouTube.
The 30-year-old maintains a day job outside of the fashion industry (though, he has worked as a stylist and at Helmut Lang) completely separate from his channel. So, for the time being, these videos are a sort of side-hustle. However, there are hopes to eventually make it his full-time gig — and to make the move to New York City.
Fashionista caught up with Foster over the phone to talk his love of fashion, his research process and his most famous fan Virgil Abloh. Read on.
How did you get into fashion in the first place?
I had no one in my life that was into clothes, even peripherally. I remember in college, I got into Supreme pretty heavily, because it was so interesting that there seemed to be this huge subculture around a brand that grew around just T-shirts and hoodies, which was such a foreign concept to me. Then Riccardo Tisci's work at Givenchy was the first thing that sparked the interest [in this idea] that there's narrative and there's real storytelling with clothes. I was studying literature in college, and I was picking up on the same sorts of notes that you see in really great poems and really great pieces of literature. I could kind of see some similarities, but I could see that they were being communicated in a different way. That was what fascinated me.
When did you start creating this kind of content?
I started up with the educational videos about a year ago. Before that, it was mostly being in forums and in comment sections for things, just participating in online fashion communities. I used to be on a lot of the older fashion forums that were mostly focused on menswear, but it kind of spread out, as all those tend to do — I was on CareTags and StyleZeitgeist.
My parents gave me some Christmas money and I ended up buying a pair of Engineered Garments pants. I was super excited about them and wanted to relay the importance of these pants to my parents, who are not super into fashion. I knew that if I just told them about the pants next time we were around each other, their eyes would glaze over, so I made a short video detailing all of the cool features and all of the things I loved about the pants. The making of the video was really fun, so I decided to post it to High Fashion Talk on Facebook. One of the group's moderators said, "I can't approve this post, but are you sure you don't want to post it up to a YouTube channel or something? Because this is really funny, and I feel like this could be something that you actually get real internet points for." I was like, "Oh, that's actually kind of an interesting idea."
I did post it to YouTube and decided to start making other stuff. As time kept going, my partner pointed out to me that I always loved literary theory and culture analysis and that I'd been looking for people who connected that to fashion, so this would be a cool segue for me to do that myself.
Originally, the videos were kind of goofy — closet tour kind of things, just me being funny with clothes. I slowly started moving that more toward educational, researched things and toward looking deeper into all of this stuff.
How do you go about your research for your videos?
There's not a distinct, singular process, just because it's so hard to get information about runway shows. Show notes are the big element of it — they're given out to all attendees, and they're usually a pamphlet that's sitting on their chairs. But it's very strange, fashion houses don't like to make that publicly available, so a lot of my time is finding ways to get someone to send those to me. I'll give a quick hint to anybody who's really interested in show notes. It's hard to do this for huge brands, but for shows like Vetements that are big but not huge, you can usually find the show notes by searching the hashtag for the brand on Instagram and then taking 20 minutes to scroll down to when the show actually happened. Usually somebody at the show took a picture and posted them to their profile.
Then, I usually find all of the articles and reviews that were published around that show and try to kind of piece together what the inspirations were. From there, it's sort of like reading a poem, where you go through the show very slowly, watch the video footage — if there is video footage — then go back, start over and take notes, just going through it and letting it sink in, three or four or five or ten times. Because of my schedule, it tends to be sort of spread out, but I would say all together, it's maybe seven hours [of work.]
The process is not so much me bestowing knowledge on people. It's more me sharing things that I've noticed, things that other people have said and bringing that all together into a, "This is the way that this fashion show is trying to communicate, and this is what it's communicating."
When did you realize your videos were getting attention?
The center series of the videos that I make explores all of the runway shows that Martin Margiela produced. I take one runway show at a time, starting with Spring 1989. Each video dives very deeply — as deeply as I'm able to go — into the themes, what he was doing and what makes those shows so special. It's been going for about six months at this point, and will continue for the next couple years, because I've got to move very slowly with it.
I sort of got my first indication that it was getting a lot of attention when Virgil Abloh took notice of it and mentioned it to W.
Did you find out he was a fan from that W article?
I noticed that Virgil commented on one of my Instagram posts, and I assumed that it was a fake account or something. I opened up the profile and saw that it was, in fact, him, and that he was, in fact, following me. I freaked out a little bit. I wanted to send him a direct message, to reach out in some capacity, and was very strategic about the first message. I was shocked because he immediately DM'd me back, and we started talking a little bit.
He was very kind. He had found the series kind of by accident: He was looking for original footage of the first Margiela show, and my video was the first thing to pop up. He watched through it and the rest of the series. He said, "This is what I hope fashion journalism can be in the future." That, of course, made me feel wonderful. From there, we've just kind of been talking every once in a while.
And he sent you a kite!
We were DM'ing a little bit about show notes in general, and he was talking about his method for show notes, which is really, really interesting. He has an Instagram that's connected with his work at Louis Vuitton that he described as living show notes. You can hold that feed side by side with the progression of shows and see where the influences come in and connect to specific clothes. That's just a brilliant use of technology for storytelling in fashion. I complimented him on that, and then he asked for my address so that he could send me all of the show notes that they put on the seats at the actual show. So I freaked out and gave him my address.
For his third show at Louis Vuitton, on each chair there were the packaged show notes as well as a custom Louis Vuitton kite for everyone. He was like, "I'm so glad that that makes you excited that I sent you that because I'll do something really special like that and put it on everyone's chairs, and then the fashion show's over and half of the people leave the kites on the chairs." He had some left over, so he sent it to me. It's really special. I love it.
Other than Virgil, obviously, what do you know about your audience?
I'm finding that a lot of it is kids, which I'm incredibly encouraged by. There's no shortage of people who are 30-year-olds talking about how kids don't get it and kids don't care about things that are really important and stuff. But I'm finding that most of these people that really support the channel and are really hungry to learn are kids. They seem to be the ones who are most trying to wrestle with really big ideas [in fashion].
I was having a great Instagram message conversation with someone who has the kind of excellent questions that, really, you only hear from someone who's very young — like, "I look at Jun Takahashi's work at Undercover, where he's mostly using images from movies and then putting them on to shirts. Then I look at Valentino, very meticulously hand-crafting each thing. I'm more drawn to Undercover, but I feel like that's lesser as far as art is concerned. How do I deal with these feelings?" The sort of questions that literature teachers, I imagine, are like, "We're spending the whole class talking about this."
The biggest way is that I have a community of supporters through Patreon. Any support that I'm getting around the YouTube channel is done through that. I have a Discord server that everyone is able to talk on. We're able to post memes and be goofy, too, and sort of hang out together. Then I'll periodically make trips up to New York to do meet-ups. My face hurts from smiling at the end of those because it's just everybody getting together excitedly, making trips to talk about clothes.
Who is inspiring you right now in the fashion industry?
I really love Kiko Kostadinov's work. He's really pushing the envelope on storytelling and finding new, interesting shapes for menswear, which is very much needed in that space right now.
There's a brand that just premiered at Paris Fashion Week, Hed Mayner. He's one where I don't know a whole lot about the storytelling — he's only done one show in Paris, so I think we're going to see a lot of growth in the narrative that he's spinning. But the shapes that he makes are really interesting.
Hamcus is maybe one of the most exciting brands I've found in the last few years. Basically, it's telling a sci-fi storyline through the brand. Every season, there's something that happens in the overarching storyline that the creator has started to tell, and the changes in that story are reflected in the clothes that it releases every season. The owner of the brand has his own factory, so he's able to do his day job making clothes for other companies and then at night take that same set of machines and work on samples for his own clothes.
There's another really great brand out of New York called Not — on Instagram, it's @not_aligne. She does really great experimental clothes. A lot of it is androgynous. She's one of the first designers that I've seen who's able to find ways of clothes fastening together that I'm just like, "I literally have not seen this done anywhere else." It's absolutely brilliant.
Travail en Famille makes really beautiful English gardening clothes that can be worn around. There's an enormous amount of personal storytelling about their neighborhood and things about this family's life. You can tell there's a lot of intimacy in the clothes.
I now get to discover this stuff because I message so many people on Instagram that know the channel. I have a policy with direct messages, where if somebody says even just "hi" to me, I'll do the heavy lifting and start a conversation with them. I really love talking to everybody. I end up learning the coolest stuff from all these people — everybody ends up sharing just stuff that they're passionate about. I end up getting this huge waterfall of cool stuff every day in my DMs.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.