Gone are the days when college students rolled out of bed in sweatpants and Patagonia fleeces, slipped into flip-flops, and ran across campus to early-morning classes. Now they can’t leave their dorms without knowing a fashion blogger might photograph them in their fetching outfits—even if that blogger is a fellow student.
Meet Robert Wainblat—Duke University’s very own Bill Cunningham—whose blog, Campus Sartorialist, has recently garnered buzz for its artful snaps of style-savvy college kids, like the “dapper hipster” who pairs skinny jeans and high tops with a Herringbone blazer and sweater vest combo. Wainblat, 24, saw an opening in a street style–saturated blogosphere for a site dedicated solely to campus fashion. He culled together a network of photographers and bloggers from around the world to contribute to the site, which now features 42 universities, from Harvard to Nangyang Technological University in Singapore.
“Every school has its own fashion code,” Wainblat tells The Daily Beast. “The purpose of the site is to reward students who take a little time in the morning to think about how they present themselves and to have a visual repository of style as it evolves on campuses.”
Wainblat had never seen boat shoes—let alone metallic Sperrys—before he moved from Romania in 2007 to Duke University, where he became infatuated with Ivy League style. Now preppy footwear is part of his daily uniform (“chinos and L.L.Bean boots during the winter, shorts and tassel loafers in the summer”). Somewhat surprisingly, Wainblat chose to major in chemistry and Chinese. “It’s not the usual fashionisto path,” he says. “But blogging and photography have always been passions of mine on the side.”
He’s not the exception. Most blogs begin as hobbies and often remain that way, with a small fan base and 100 hits on a good day. “The trick is to narrow the interest and focus as much as possible,” said Lizzie Garrett, creator of the popular blog-turned-book Tomboy Style. “Obviously Campus Sartorialist is somewhat derivative,” she added, referring to photographer Scott Schuman’s The Sartorialist, the progenitor of street-style blogging.
Schuman did not respond to our request for comment. But Wainblat said he received an email from The Sartorialist on Tuesday, claiming trademark infringement on the word “Sartorialist” and requesting that the site’s name be changed. (UPDATE: On Wednesday Schuman called The Daily Beast with the following comment: "I commend their entrepreneurial spirit and think the idea is great, but they don’t need my name to continue to be successful. If the site keeps growing it’s going to create a lot of confusion down the road. People might think The Sartorialist sponsors their site. They have to be prepared for success and using an already established, trademarked name will just make that more difficult.")
“People weren’t as self-aware when I was in college as they are now,” said Garrett, 29. “Students now are not only so informed about fashion because they’re reading these blogs, but they kind of dress up a bit in the hope that someone might take their picture and they’ll wind up on the Internet. Style has evolved around the idea that it’s being captured.”
With his penchant for prep, Wainblat has recently been posting vintage photos of Ivy League style to the site as a testament to its enduring appeal. To wit: Ivy Style, an esoteric design book that examines the influence of University prepdom on fashion today, will hit shelves on Sept. 14 in conjunction with an exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
The upcoming book is a throwback to the celebrated Take Ivy by Japanese photographer Teruyoshi Hayashida. Originally published in Japan in 1965 and hailed “a treasure of fashion insiders” by The New York Times, the cult style manual was a rare commodity until it was reprinted in the U.S. in 2010. Wainblat’s similarly idealized vision of Ivy League style from a foreign perspective may work in his favor.
Perhaps unfortunately, the blog has reached success just as its creator graduates from Duke. But armed with a degree in chemistry and Chinese, Wainblat says he won’t go into fashion. Instead, he has applied for a job at a biomedical consulting firm in Boston, but has plans to further develop Campus Sartorialist in his downtime. For her part, Garrett says it could work if Wainblat edited the blog from afar. “It’s such an aspirational culture,” said Garrett. “I think if you can see it from the outside and you’re not stuck in it, you can really cover it as a journalist or a blogger in a more singular way.”