There was a time in my life when I’d gladly have wasted four or five hours a day sitting in front of my computer, ogling every personal style blog imaginable—from Adam Gallagher’s I Am Galla to Aimee Song’s Song of Style to Bryanboy to Garance Doré to Hanneli Mustaparta’s Hanneli to Jordan Reid’s Ramshackle Glam to Leandra Medine’s Man Repeller to Rumi Neely’s Fashiontoast to Susanna Lau’s Style Bubble. Every single day, I would put rest or sleep aside, put my chores on hold, shut the people around me out, just so I could escape into the worlds of these impeccably dressed, gloriously accessorized, and enviably well-traveled young men and women! It was an obsession that bordered on addiction. Well, I am happy to announce that’s all a thing of the past now. As I’ve grown older, and my life busier, I’ve come to realize that spending hours on end sitting in front of my computer is a criminal waste of time. There’s nothing wrong with being on the lookout for inspiration, sure, but if this leaves you with very little time for the execution of your own creativity, then that’s totally missing the point, right? I see you nodding. Of course, I haven’t sworn off bloghopping completely, but I have made it an occassional ceremony/treat now instead of a daily habit. And the number of blogs I frequent have been narrowed down from, like, fifty to just six or seven. In the top-three spots of my Bookmarks: Quan Mai’s Genetic Boi, Nicole Warne’s Gary Pepper Girl, and Tavi Gevinson’s The Style Rookie. There’s a common denominator here: these bloggers are not just all about showcasing what’s in their closets; they are on a mission to lay bare their other talents, too. In Mai’s case, it’s his infallible graphic design and photography skills (yes, he turns the camera on other people, too), and in enfant terrible Gevinson’s case (she’s 17, having launched her blog when she was only 11), it’s her mad editorial acumen (as of this writing she has taken a break from her blog in order to run the online magazine Rookie). This has become my major criterion for deliberation: show us what you’re made of, and not just the clothes (or labels) that you wear! Because isn’t that what personal style is really all about?
Meanwhile, in the local front, I have recently developed a soft spot Liz Dumdum’s The Style Diplomat. Liz is one of the very few local (and by local I mean Filipino/Cebuano) bloggers that I follow. And for the exact same reason that I just mentioned above: she doesn’t make it all about what she’s wearing; she talks about other stuff that’s going on in her life, too, like her career aspirations—that have nothing to do with clothes, by the way. How she baptized her blog is testament to this. A European Studies graduate (with a major in International Relations), Liz is an aspiring ambassador, and her blog posts (as well as her Twitter and Instagram pages) are peppered with accounts of the baby steps she’s taking to get to her end goal (most recently she has been talking about preparing, with all-nighter zeal, for a stint at the Department of Foreign Affairs to help smooth the way for an upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Conference). Another thing that makes her blog thriumph over the others is that it doesn’t over-rely on pictures—this girl actually makes it a point to sit down and really write, too! Whereas her contemporaries type up nothing more than the unimaginative blahs (like, “This is me wearing this, period”) that are only capable of wresting heavy sighs, Liz makes an effort to tell a story or two. From the start, she knew that what she wanted were readers, and not just mere viewers—she knows the big difference between the two. In an interview with Chicago-based online magazine Circus (click here to read the feature), she shared that one of the reasons that had pushed her to start a blog was a dearth in personal style bloggers who were invested in communicating via the written word as they were in putting outfits together. So she’d wanted to see bloggers “who put their soul into…writing,” and since she couldn’t find a lot of them, eventually she’d decided to take matters into her own hands. And put soul into her writing was what she did! I can tell you now that more than her covetable collection of snapbacks and moto jackets (where does she get those?), it’s her clever, startling wisecracks and wordplays that keep me glued—some of them hit you as you’re reading, while others dawn on you a little later, when you realize that something that just rolled out of your tongue was a line you subconsciously borrowed from her (my favorite is “fluoro and flora,” a play on the phrase “flora and fauna,” which she once used to describe a Day-Glo yellow tropical-print minidress, and which I now use whenever I see items of the same palette and print). She’s got a good thing going on in here, I tell you.
But don’t just take my word for it. Take it from the hundreds of other people who follow and leave comments on her blog, or the thousands who follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Ask.fm! Yes, for someone who has been around for only less than a year (she inaugurated her blog June of 2013), she has certainly found a way to move past newbie status fairly quickly, and managed to build the kind of cult following that would take others 5-10 years to score! Unassuming as she is, Liz would probably attribute all that to the luck of the draw, but I’d like to believe it really is her unique and uncontrived approach to blogging that has gotten her to where she is now. Her readers hang on to every word, and this is very easy to tell because it’s more than just bravos that they’re forking over—you can see them asking follow-up questions, and some even beg her for style advice! And Liz, ever-effervescent, is always champing at the bit to answer their questions. And that’s another thing that makes her click: she connects with her fans, and she relishes these connections. As one fangirl posted on Liz’s Ask.fm page: “I have to say, you inspire me a lot. [Your] fashion sense is super rad, awesome, and original. I don’t want to sound like a fangirl, but you’re gorgeous, genuine and charismatic. [And] you’re [very] down-to-earth despite all the fame…” And that’s just one of the dozens of comments lauding her for how approachable she is. Just a few of months back (early this year) she was asked to guest-lecture at St. Theresa’s College (STC) where she got to share with the students how she managed to suceed in the blogosphere, her social media marketing tricks, etc., and that session had such an incredible turnout, and was actually more well-received than the Wonggoys playing on stage for the same school’s Family Day—you won’t believe the number of notes she got from her attendees (or, should we call them her groupies?), thanking her for being congenial, asking for a chance to be her best friend! Well, I can’t really blame them, can I? Especially since the girl had the exact same effect on me when I first met her in person, to carry out this shoot right here.
It was already mind-blowing for me that I was given this opportunity to take photos of Liz for her blog—as a general rule, you see, personal style bloggers don’t collaborate with different photographers, sticking to just one or two of their favorites (or “exclusives”), oftentimes those they’re really close with, probably to give off an elitist vibe (but more likely to preserve their angles), so I think it’s really cool that this girl right here has chosen to represent a departure from that agenda! And then the day of the shoot came, and Liz did something crazy: she brought the kind of clothes that she’d thought I would like or that best suited my aesthetic/style—touch of grunge here (Doc Martens!), hints of punk there (assymetrical hemlines!), a dash of boho somewhere! She even picked locations that she’d imagined I would work well with (gritty streets, etc.)! She’d done her research, learned of the stuff that I loved to photograph, and prepared her outfits and backdrops accordingly! I mean, who does that? What kind of personal style blogger doesn’t make everything all about them, and goes out of their way to make sufficient room for their collaborators’ vision so the project becomes a two-way street? Only those whose creativity is mature enough, that’s for sure!
But nothing thrilled me more than when she got some dirt/mud on her brand new peekabo/cutout booties (from Topshop), and when I handed her a wet towel so she could wipe it off, she politely declined, saying that she’d rather keep the dirt on than clean it off, because that was the message she wanted to convey to her readers/fans: the stuff she wears in her photos are actually the exact same stuff that she lives in, and they aren’t purely for show. Can it get any more real than this girl? (Cue that song by Mutya Buena that goes: “I never pretend to be something I’m not/ You get what you see when you see what I’ve got…”) It was at that very moment that I decided I wanted to be more than just her collaborator—I wanted to be her friend, too!
And friends were what we became during the course of the next few hours, and all of a sudden what we were doing started to not feel like work at all! We exchanged stories about our favorite shoes (we have grunge-style boots in common), our favorite magazines (we have Nylon in common), our favorite books, our favorite bloggers, our favorite big city (New York/L.A.) moments… She also let loose on her goals, for her blog and for her non-fashion career path, and why it’s important to strike a healthy balance between these two worlds. She also dished out some tips on how to attract an audience, as well as how to effectively manage an ever-growing fanbase. We talked about a lot of things, and I got some pretty good insight from her—so good that to keep it to myself would be selfish! Below are some snippets from our conversation. Read on and be ready to be blown away by her realness!
AK: What’s your story? Why/how did you start your blog? And why the name The Style Diplomat?
LD: During my last year of college, my close friends kept on pushing me to put up a blog—they would bug me everyday about it! But I just didn’t have the time and energy to start one yet, since graduation was approaching, and I wanted to focus on my academics first. As soon as I got out of college, though, I started to get bored, so I asked my best friend, who is really into writing just like me, to help me brainstorm for material for my blog. I also had this other friend who came by and gave me a lot of essential blogging tips, which really helped me set a clear path. As for the name The Style Diplomat—well, a lightbulb moment struck me, and I thought, What if I named my blog after my two passions: fashion and diplomacy? For me, fashion is the simplest form of diplomacy. It’s not just about the glitz and glamour of international relations, but it’s more about the individual’s opportunity to represent himself or herself to the world using the universal language of fashion. I believe that clothes tell a story and are always your reflection to the world, thus, everyone is a “style diplomat” in his or her own way. I created this blog because it was clear to me that it wasn’t just going to be an outlet for me to showcase my styling abilities, but to also actually go back to my first love, which is writing. Lastly, I noticed that a lot of bloggers did not put much importance on their content, just as long as they post their outfits out there. I wanted to do something different and actually tell stories—not just through photographs, but through words as well.
AK: You obviously are good with clothes and styling. Why not consider pursuing a career in the fashion industry?
LD: At the moment, I feel like the only way for a person to be really successful in the fashion industry is for that person to have all the luck in the world. A lot of talented people do not get their shot because they are not presented with the right opportunities, etc. I do not want to gamble my future with something that is as shaky, that is why I’m sticking with my goals of becoming an ambassador one day. At least, in the Foreign Affairs [department], there is a stable career ladder. But while international relations will always be my first passion, The Style Diplomat is something that I would like to keep for a long time. Aside from being my second passion, blogging is something that feels like home to me, something that I don’t need to try so hard at. You do not need to be a fashion expert or an insider to start a personal style blog , so long as you have a passion for clothes and dressing up. Honestly, I was not very confident about this blogging thing at first because I wasn’t as “techie” as all the other bloggers out there, and plus the thought of having to stage photo shoots every week seemed like a lot of effort, but I just went out there and gave it a try—and now I’m loving everything about it!
AK: Has the success of The Style Diplomat—or the number of followers/fans you got because of it—ever made you rethink your goals?
LD: Sometimes, the idea of “what if” occurs to me, but at the end of the day, I always find myself firm with my decision that whatever success my blog will bring, it will always just be my go-to whenever my real work gets too stressful. I cannot picture myself being a style blogger without being a foreign diplomat, but I can picture myself being the latter and not being the former.
AK: What is your advice for aspiring personal style bloggers? Especially those who don’t have connections in the fashion industry, or those who are busy with their non-fashion lives, but love clothes nonetheless?
LD: For those who want to venture in personal style blogging, be the one with unpredictable taste. Go for something that you think people won’t expect a blogger to wear. Wear whatever reflects your personality. You have to keep in mind that style is a way to show people who you are. It also allows you to feel good about yourself. Just as the old saying goes, “When you look good, you feel good.” Ignoring your passion is slow suicide, so never ignore what your heart beats for. For those who are busy with their non-fashion lives but love clothes nonetheless, incorporate your love for fashion into the work that you do in your own little way.
AK: It seems to me you like to travel a lot. What are your top three favorite cities, and why?
LD: Oh, yes, definitely! One of the reasons why my blog’s banner has a little doodle of a plane at the bottom of it is because of my love for traveling. My top three favorite cities are New York (you don’t say), Los Angeles, and Madrid. If given the chance to move to or live in one of them, I won’t be able to chose easily! I’m probably gonna choose all three of them! I’d choose New York City for my age right now, then probably settle in L.A., then retire in Madrid!
AK: Why is it important for you to not stick to one or two photographers for your blog?
LD: Diversity is essential to me. I like meeting different kinds of photographers, seeing how they work, what makes each of them unique. Also, I like giving everyone a chance. The more people you collaborate with, the more stuff you learn, right?
AK: More and more your readers are asking you not just about clothes, but about makeup as well. As, more and more, you are trying to do your own makeup in your more recent shoots, are there plans for The Style Diplomat to expand to cover beauty and makeup tips, too?
LD: Actually, one of my best friends already suggested that I should post about beauty and makeup, too, but I just haven’t had the time to “organize” my makeup products and actually write about them. That’s the plan: show them what’s inside my makeup kit, and dish out a little of my favorite tips and tricks. Some people have been asking me to post video tutorials, but I’m not that good yet, so I’m sorry to say that that’s not happening in the near future!
AK: Who are your dream collaborators?
LD: Mark Nicdao, Nicco Santos, BJ Pascual, and Emman Montalvan. I would die if I got the chance to be photographed by one of these guys! I am a fan of Cebuano makeup artist Ramil Solis’s magic hands, but I would also love to try working with Jessie Glova, Jonas Borces, and Raisa Bercede.
AK: If we were allowed to take just one outfit with us to heaven, what outfit would you take with you?
LD: I would take a pair of black Birkenstock-inspired sandals, any white dress by Alexander Wang, and an Acne leather jacket. It’s heaven, so I assume that I’m gonna be an angel once I’m up there, so might as well look like one—but with a cool leather jacket, of course, so you’ll know which one is me!
Mary Elizabeth “Liz” T. Dumdum | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on December 28, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Maia V. Cabanes and Paige Jung | Special thanks to Yeni Dumdum, Monique Rosal and Shelly Therese Rodriguez