Valentine Uhovski is a former fashion journalist who has been quietly helping brands and young creatives make the most of Tumblr since he joined in 2012 as “fashion evangelist” (yes, his real title at the time). “Back [then], it was a different landscape — not as many brands were using Tumblr or other social platforms, so we tried to help them creatively,” he said.
Obviously, times have changed. Since its launch in 2007, newer applications like Instagram and Snapchat have overshadowed the platform with their immediacy and mobile-first models, and companies rely heavily on their respective influencer pools to promote their brands. Tumblr, which is owned by the unstable Yahoo, is much less sought-out.
However, as the head of fashion and art partnerships, Uhovski does roughly the same thing he’s always done: He helps brands from Dior to Vans curate unique Tumblr pages that are in line with their larger ethos, fosters lucrative relationships between those brands and untapped creatives, and brings together like-minded artists like Julia Chesky and Hannah Sider to spark future collaborations.
Every brand’s Tumblr is (and should be) different, according to Uhovski. Tom Ford uses the platform to post “luscious, high-resolution images,” in keeping with the brand’s indulgent and glamorous DNA. Marc Jacobs, on the other hand, speaks to a younger, quirkier audience with an assortment of original gifs and influencer-styled snapshots created just for Tumblr. Other brands treat Tumblr like an archive of sorts: Calvin Klein has been using the site to document Raf Simons’ transformation of the brand, showcasing all the latest campaigns and artist collaborations as they’re announced.
“Our job is also to connect [brands] to the artists and content creators who make up our vast community — for collaborations, events, [and more],” said Uhovski.
Brands regularly reach out to him in search of these influencers, he said, but he recommends people unprompted when they seem like the right fit, too. “I will e-mail Nicola Formichetti that I’ve [discovered] an incredible artist he should collaborate with, like, tomorrow and he always responds,” said Uhovski. “He treats Tumblr as this canvas where you can find amazing talent.”
To foster these relationships, the company hosts regular meet-ups, large and small, that rarely include press. It has taken young creatives to the Stella McCartney headquarters to explore the inner workings of the business and, most recently, invited brands to a presentation and panel by Ykone (a French influencer marketing agency) that had young fashion photographers like Julia Chesky and Hannah Sider discussing their work as micro-influencers.
The crown jewel, however, is its New York Fashion Week program, now 13 seasons in (not including the 4 seasons it has run the program at NYFW Men’s since its launch there two years ago). Working closely with the CFDA and various organizers of fashion week, like MILK, Tumblr takes a select group (usually 10-12 people) of influencer-creatives to numerous runway shows and events where they’re given the opportunity to both network and create original content.
This past fashion week, for example, the company sent a few dozen Tumblr photographers to upstart brand Chromat’s show, where they all shot a range of photos, gifs and cinemagraphs from different perspectives. “The hope is that these [initiatives] will turn into larger collaborations and lasting relationships,” said Uhovski.
That’s not unlikely. Uhovski says the team is out every day of the week, working 12-14 hour days. It would be hard not to make new contacts during that industry-saturated period. “I’m sort of like a camp counselor–slash-mentor-slash–seventh-wave blogger,” jokes Uhovski of his role in the program. “Everyone gets very emotional when it ends.”
As for how he selects the lucky creatives who attend, he claims to ignore number of followers, preferring to judge on pure talent instead. Influencers who are too strategic probably won’t do it, either — it’s those who do the work because they love it that Tumblr courts.
They’ve had over 140 artists (including designers, photographers and art directors) take part in their fashion program so far, many of whom they called in to help launch the Tumblr fashion collection, which was created to celebrate the platform’s 10th anniversary two seasons ago. “I think the coolest stuff these influencers do, to be honest, is not with brands but with each other,” said Uhovski, “Because the Tumblr community is extremely open and collaborative.”
In that same vein, he keeps an open-door policy with the community, inviting them to stop by his office (or shoot him an e-mail) whenever they’re in need of advice, be it life- or art-related. “It’s my mission to be as available to them as possible, so it isn’t just a seasonal fashion week thing,” he said.
As the only person overseeing fashion partnerships at Tumblr (he also focuses on the art world), it’s an impressive goal and one that seems borne out of his own affinity for the platform. He currently has 9 Tumblrs to his name.
Instagram and Snapchat may make more noise these days, but he believes passionately — if quietly — in the platform. “Tumblr offers an opportunity for artists to actually be artists, to be themselves, to create content that isn’t necessarily attached to numbers,” he said.