Man Repeller Fans Keep the Community Alive on Instagram
When Leandra Medine started blogging about her personal style in 2010, she probably didn’t imagine just how large and loyal a following Man Repeller would eventually find—or how dramatically it would all end starting last summer. First, former Black employees revealed the lack of diversity at the company and the mistreatment they had experienced there, even as it performatively posted black squares. Then Medine took a “step back” from the company, which rebranded as Repeller before finally shutting down a few weeks later. Still, “it isn’t an overstatement to say that Man Repeller changed the way that millennial women dress,” as GQ’s Rachel Tashjian has written.
Two such women, Grace Avery and Siân Samuel, set out to preserve the ethos of the site—it’s fun to wear fun clothes—that prevailed before an “attempt to spin every idea into a politically-charged movement” ultimately revealed the limits of the founder’s worldview, per Tashjian. Their tribute is an Instagram account, Old Man Repeller, that repackages what Medine and company did best.
Avery, a student at FBI Fashion College in Sydney, and Samuel, who graduated from Fashion Marketing at the University of Southampton, met on Bumble BFF during Samuel’s year abroad in Australia. Their ode to Man Repeller focuses on the quirkily extravagant, trend-led sartorialism the originally drew its devotees, not drama—unless it’s an Instagram Stories poll sharply divided on the matter of wearing button-down shirts backwards. Old Man Repeller is not officially sanctioned by the original brand, but Avery and Samuel say that Medine herself gave her blessing via DM.
We chatted on Zoom about the memeification of high fashion, the bleak future of blogging, and how to run a joint account with an 11-hour time difference.
You started @oldmanrepeller in early September, after Man Repeller rebranded as “Repeller” but before the site shuttered. Did you know the end was near?
SS: We kind of already said goodbye when the rebrand happened. That was the real “end of an era” feeling that prompted us to start the account. We had been posting Leandra’s old outfits for about a month when we got a tip about the closing from one of our followers, a friend of someone who worked at the site. At first I thought it wasn’t real, but another part of me was really worried that we were going to lose all these amazing articles and outfit pictures. We couldn’t just let it disappear, so I started downloading everything on my laptop in panic mode.
GA: We treated Repeller as a completely different company. We were really excited to see where it was going to go, but we didn’t think of it as a [continuation] of Man Repeller.
When did you become fans, and how did you decide to create a tribute account?
SS: I DMed Grace a picture of the new Repeller logo when that news came out. When she woke up a few hours later, she suggested that we do an @oldceline type of thing. [Snaps fingers.] Done.
GA: I found Man Repeller when I was about 16, and I loved fashion but in a very “Blair Waldorf of Gossip Girl,” preppy way. Then I found this thing that was the opposite of her and so much more interesting. I felt like most teenage girls feel: quite misunderstood. I was always way more into clothes than boys. I don’t know what that says about me, but when I found Man Repeller I found my people. I didn’t make any friends in the comments, though. I feel a little bit cheated.
SS: Grace, maybe we could’ve met in the comments if we’d actually tried!
GA: We’re making friends through @oldmanrepeller instead.
“Instagram would be such an awful place if Man Repeller didn’t exist and never existed. It would all be beige and white and bland and horrible.” —Samuel
You could argue that one issue with Man Repeller was that Leandra Medine wasn’t so different from Blair Waldorf; they both had wealthy white girl privilege. What do you think about the critiques of Man Repeller’s relevance?
GA: Obviously things had to change. We don’t want to ignore that fact or forget that what happened—between the multiple apology letters and general shift of the social narrative online and off in June—did happen. But the essence of Man Repeller was about completely disregarding the male gaze and dressing for yourself. That’s still an important message. Even though the editorial content went in another direction, that’s what drew people to the site. It was such an out-there notion when it came into the [public consciousness], and it was shocking in another way to see it get lost.
Tell me more about that sense of loss.
SS: We were also losing the community. Man Repeller was not just an online magazine; it had become a way of interacting with clothes and an ingrained idea that people lived their lives by. By taking away the site, we were like, Where is the act of “man repelling” going to go? Over 2 million followed @manrepeller on Instagram and you wonder where that energy goes, where do they discuss how they dress, where do they find other people who share the same attitude or aesthetic sensibility?
Instagram would be such an awful place if Man Repeller didn’t exist and never existed. It would all be beige and white and bland and horrible, and I’d really rather not think about it.
The Repeller rebrand was partly intended to address the gender binary implied by the original name—to make it clear that the site was not only for presumably straight women. How do you interpret the changes to digital spaces coded as feminine?
GA: There’s so much room on the internet for incredibly serious discussions that need to be had. That doesn’t mean that frivolity can’t exist sometimes. You can still look at pictures of clothes and think, “That’s so fun, I want to try that.” I think it’s okay, and even special, for dedicated spaces to serve that purpose. There are less and less of them.
You’ve chosen Instagram for your ode to a website. How do you translate one to the other?
SS: The outfit posts are easy because that’s what Instagram is for. But we’re trying to preserve the articles, too. Copy-and-pasting text into a carousel of images takes ages and is not easily shareable or easily readable. I’m actually seeing a trend towards long form [in the media], and hopefully Instagram will respond to that. I don’t think many people click through to blogs anymore; they want it all on one platform. That’s why Instagram keeps introducing new features like reels and guides to keep us there. They’re going to have to make it easier for us!
GA: Another challenge is the fine line between archive posts and ensuring there’s something original and new to the person reading it. We obviously don’t claim to own any of the content, and we don’t want to be just reposting photos and that’s the end of it. So we put a lot of time into our captions and, as silly as they are, making relevant memes.
SS: We want to be clear that we’re for the community, making content that they respond to uniquely rather than just making another Man Repeller.
“Instagram can be a competitive place where you feel like I’m not at Fashion Week and they are. I think that will become less and less important.” —Avery
Has there been any confusion for your followers thinking that you are Man Repeller resurrected?
SS: We think we’re so obviously not Leandra, so we wonder why we get messages from designers asking to send us stuff. At first I was excited, then when [the brands] were like, “We’re also in New York, we’ll drop it right off,” I was like, “Oh no, this is not for us. What a shame.”
You mentioned meme-making. How do you use that format to talk about personal style?
GA: People say fashion is a humorless place; [it’s] stereotyped as incredibly cold and like The Devil Wears Prada, when in reality it’s really funny. The other day I was looking at Viktor & Rolf’s slogan gowns from SS19, which were ridiculous and became memed themselves. We can take ourselves seriously or we can embrace it. Like looking down at your outfit and realizing, “Today I am dressed like Abraham Lincoln.” You need to be able to laugh at yourself and at silly catwalk shows because otherwise, what’s the point?
That’s the tone Man Repeller strived for, I think. You use a similar voice to Medine’s early posts—“look” is spelled “lewk”; exclamation points are abundant. How did you develop the caption-writing style?
SS: We talk like that anyway! It’s never forced, we’re enthusiastic and random in our texts to each other too.
GA: We’re lucky that we share the same style of writing and sense of humor. Which we do need to think about because our audience is predominantly American, plus a randomly huge Italian following. Our British and Australian phrases are sometimes going to miss the mark. And people do get annoyed when I post summer things in January.
SS: It’s gotten easier since, in the last month, we put our names on the account, and last week we shared a photo of us for the first time. Before we were kind of masked, but now people can click over to our personal Instagram pages and see who we are, where we come from.
You’re in the UK and Sydney, which aren’t necessarily fashion capitals. Do you think the pandemic and resulting digital shift are dissolving barriers to entry in the field?
GA: It took me a pandemic to realize that I don’t want to live anywhere else permanently other than Australia.
SS: Grace, you’re breaking my heart.
GA: A lot of great things come from unexpected places. People everywhere are thinking, “Why not just start something of my own?” and are able to share it widely. Instagram can be a competitive place where you feel like I’m not at Fashion Week and they are. I think that will become less and less important.
You’re working with 10 years of content and an 11-hour time difference. Run me through the logistics of posting.
GA: It’s intuitive, whatever we’re feeling in the moment while catering to calendar events like Christmas. We just try not to double up on trends. No double-denim back to back, or too many shoe close-ups. We also mix up the time periods, so we don’t have balaclava Leandra, which existed more in the last two years, clumped together with other recent trends. It’s more interesting to show the balaclavas next to Leandra as “a Barbie whose owner forgot to dress her in pants.” That sounds like she’s a game character or something…
SS: We’re not a business trying to make money so there’s no reason for us to be strategic about when we’re posting and what hashtags we’re using. When we started, we were doing four posts a day. That went down to two, and eventually we decided to take the pressure off and post when we feel like it. There’s nothing else tying us to the account other than it being enjoyable. We want to keep it that way, like a fun side project. A content calendar is a bit too much.
But you’re not planning to go anytime soon, are you?
SS: There is so much Man Repeller content, the possibilities are endless. If we wanted to, we could post forever.