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Each Sunday, screenshots from the latest edition of an invite-only newsletter called Opulent Tips begin to circulate across social media. While those lucky enough to receive it discuss the latest edition, those without a coveted spot on the list must piece together the week’s dispatch from a melange of sources. Enthusiasm for these missives is evident in tweets such as “Where is the opulent tips auto-forward black market,” and “Got dumped this week and still not getting opulent tips. When will the pain end.”
The newsletter inciting such aching desire is the “natural style newsletter” written by American GQ staff writer Rachel Seville Tashjian. Characterised by its prodigious use of caps lock and exclamation marks, Tashjian delivers weekly missives on everything from the gustatory pleasures of lunch to a screwball interview with a leather slipper fetishist. Thanks to its authoritative yet delightfully madcap sensibility, Opulent Tips has managed to capture a devoted following of downtown New York media power players and fashion glitterati. Lorde is a subscriber. So is actor Tavi Gevinson. Employees at indie film studio A24 have formed a group chat dedicated to deliberating each week’s offerings.
“It reminds me of when I first discovered my mom’s vintage Harper’s Bazaar collection,” says subscriber and editor at Vox Creative Cortne Bonilla. Fashion writer Liana Satenstein describes the tone as “unhinged elevation”. Each edition resembles a delightfully manic version of Diana Vreeland’s legendary ‘Why Don’t You’ column for Harper’s Bazaar, which began in 1936 and audaciously suggested readers wash their child’s blonde hair in dead champagne “as they do in France”, or order an elk-hide trunk from Hermès “for the back of your car”. Gone are the decadent pronouncements and in its place are less prescriptive bits of wisdom meant to encourage an exploration of personal taste. (“NOW IS THE TIME TO DEVELOP YOUR OWN INTERESTS! We are entering a period of BIG TASTE!” writes Tashjian.)
Opulent Tips initially began as a way for Tashjian to conveniently answer the advice requests that were clogging up her inbox. “I had people asking me all the time, ‘What’s the best dry cleaner in New York?’ to the point where I was copying and pasting the answers,” she says. “I realised I could just answer this once and never have to answer it again.”
The “invite-only” aspect of the newsletter was unintentional. Tashjian distributes the newsletter via her personal Gmail account, meaning there is no subscribe button — anyone who wants to receive it must contact her directly. Early on, she believed the niche newsletter would attract a limited audience — “maybe 50 people” — but interest quickly ballooned.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Opulent Tips is not just its perceived exclusivity or eccentric tone but its curation of fascinating nuggets of fashion history that make it both an educational and entertaining read, such as a digression on American fashion designer Mary McFadden’s “spiritual marriages”. You’re also as likely to stumble across a £400 pair of cashmere pants by austere luxury knitwear designer Lauren Manoogian as a breathless exaltation of the kooky patchwork dresses of forgotten San Francisco brand Jeanne-Marc from the 1970s.
“It’s all about the postmodern mix,” Tashjian says. “I think a lot about Nan Kempner hosting red sauce spaghetti dinners where she’s probably serving the food on Haviland china while wearing couture Saint Laurent. It’s part of this long tradition of unsnobby snobbishness.”
Opulent Tips is at the forefront of a wave of personality-driven fashion newsletters whose distinctive point-of-view runs counter to the impersonal, newsy tone of most legacy fashion publications and to the snackable, often superficial content transmitted on social media. Leandra Medine Cohen’s The Cereal Aisle offers stream-of-consciousness dispatches reminiscent of her early posts for her former blog, The Man Repeller. InStyle style director Laurel Pantin’s Earl Earl features curated market roundups alongside navel-gazey observations. Cintra Wilson Feels Your Pain, by the former New York Times writer Cintra Wilson, delivers riotously funny dispatches from her one-of-kind perspective.
“As digital publications started focusing on making money, they all have kind of blended together,” says Vox’s Bonilla. “Every fashion magazine website looks almost identical and they all have the same content.” Personality-driven newsletters offer a respite from this crushing sameness.
And by not having to appeal to millions, they can better cater to niche interests. In A Continuous Lean, fashion marketing consultant Michael Williams writes about everything from the challenges of clothing manufacturing in America, to watches, to personal insights on fatherhood. By writing a newsletter he describes as something he himself wants to read, he has managed to attract 10,000 subscribers (close to 10 per cent of whom pay the $7 monthly subscription fee.)
“It feels good to get off the open internet and slide into something more niche,” says Williams. “This to me feels like it did in 2010 for me writing a blog.”
For Williams, newsletters and their subscription-driven business models enable a purer space unsullied by commerce. “The problem with mainstream media is it has become very difficult to discern between what is real and what is sponsored,” he says. “I don’t have to write about a watch brand because I need them to buy advertising from me. I write about them because they’re a brand I want to focus on.”
Kitty Guo, a staff writer at New York Magazine’s shopping section The Strategist, says she has started receiving PR pitches for her newsletter Worn In, Worn Out, which focuses on her love of small brands, but has turned down every single one so far. “I write purely about what interests me,” she says. “No brand is giving me money for what I feature.”
Tashjian is committed to keeping the audience of Opulent Tips small. “When you start any project now there’s so much pressure to monetise it and make it really big and turn it into a TV show and create a merch line,” she says. “But I don’t think that’s the right impulse for this project.”
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