Fashion guru revels in Web catwalk

William Sledd of Paducah, Ky., found Internet fame for his colorful--and sometimes harsh--videos lauding "man bags" and decrying toe rings and "mom jeans." Reporter models for Web fashionista

Long before William Sledd found Internet fame for his colorful videos lauding "man bags" and decrying "mom jeans," he was an everyday gadget geek working at The Gap in Paducah, Ky.

"I am such a nerd, it's ridiculous. I have to have the newest and the best," said Sledd, 23, whose "Ask a Gay Man" videos make up one of the all-time most-subscribed YouTube channels. "Like my favorite thing to do is get a new piece of technology and read the manual cover to cover."

Little did Sledd know that he'd one day be crediting such technology--an iMac, the Internet and a wildly popular video streaming site--for his rise to fame as the cyberworld's style maven.

Sledd's flamboyant, witty and brutally honest videos about everything from the evils of toe rings to the virtues of purses for men have attracted 66,836 YouTube subscribers.

His weekly installments--most of which are self-filmed and edited in his bedroom--are also now featured as part of Bravo's OutZoneTV.com site. And the YouTube video that got him noticed--Denim Edition--has been viewed more than 3 million times.

Sporting a distinctive hairstyle, Sledd starts each video with his friendly signature greeting, "Hey bitches!" but he doesn't hold back and his opinions are strong, if not occasionally harsh. Among his fashion pet peeves are overalls and skinny jeans (unless you're "a skinny bitch"), wearing socks with sandals, and showing your "muffin top" (i.e., the bulge that oozes out over low-rise jeans).

William Sledd
Credit: William Sledd
William Sledd, 23, doles out popular
fashion counsel online.

Explaining Sledd's Web appeal, Jason Klarman, Bravo's executive vice president for marketing and digital, said Sledd is funny, colorful, relatable, entertaining, educational and "has a real point of view. That's a great combination. You never walk away from one of his videos without having learned something...I never knew what a muffin top was."

He's also an example of a relatively new type of celebrity--a la Lonelygirl15--born on the Internet into a community that feels like it knows him intimately, said Larry Weintraub, CEO of Los Angeles-based Fanscape, a new-media marketing agency.

"We like him because he's saying what we're thinking," Weintraub said, adding that Hollywood needs to recognize consumer demand for such homegrown Web content or it will miss out. "The Internet has made a platform where anyone can become a star."

Growing up in Paducah, a one-mall western Kentucky town of about 26,000 people, Sledd said consumer electronics always played a big role in his life. He was the second person in his eighth-grade class to sport a cell phone and the first on the block to enter AOL chat rooms via dial-up.

It wasn't until middle school that he discovered The Gap, "and that's when my passion for fashion began," said Sledd, who last month left his job as a manager of the Gap in the Kentucky Oaks Mall to clear his plate for video making (not to mention travel, agents, publicists, reporters, e-mail and the like).

A recent Macintosh convert and subsequent Apple evangelist, Sledd described the purchase of his iMac--after years on a PC--as another pivotal milestone.

"I hate black electronics. Isn't that funny? I absolutely refuse to buy black electronics," Sledd said, explaining one factor in his decision to buy a . "I spent the next four days reading every tutorial that was ever made about a Mac before it even got here."

That's when Sledd's two worlds collided. After his sister tipped him off to YouTube in June 2006, he decided to take the fashion advice he was giving customers by day and put it up in a video blog. He'd work on his footage by night using nothing but the camera and editing tools on his iMac, he said.

Commitment Cake Edition
Credit: Bravo
"Ask a Gay Man: The Wedding/
Commitment Cake Edition" was the first
Sledd video up on OutZoneTV.com.

"I usually make videos at night, like the middle of the night. I don't ever sleep," he said, adding that the famed Denim Edition was shot at 4 a.m.

When he first started posting videos to YouTube, Sledd said he set a goal of 5,000 subscribers, a number he wrote on a Post-It note and stuck on the wall by his computer. In just a couple of months he had far surpassed his goal.

"Sometimes I ask myself, 'Why did this happen to me?'" he said. Sledd doesn't know the answer, exactly, but thinks it has something to do with his entertaining format and his "control freak" and perfectionist tendencies.

"I was never was like, 'Oooh, I want to be on TV one day.' I live in Kentucky and I was bored and I thought, I'll start making videos and it got so fun," he said.

With the Bravo partnership, "Ask a Gay Man" is a full-time gig, rather than an evening whim, he said, noting that has also signed a development deal with Bravo parent company NBC Universal. "It's the best thing to ever happen to an Internet blogger."

Of course, not everyone is a Sledd fan--something he had to learn quickly given that his medium of choice is one that encourages viewer feedback.

"At first (the comments) almost got to me...It took a lot of letting go," he said, adding that on the Web feedback is more personal. "It's just like in life, people are going to hate you and online they're going to hate you, too...Sometimes (the comments) are so ridiculous they make me laugh."

Sledd's fashion advice goes far beyond clothing the body. He's got his still-evolving take on how and when to accessorize cell phones, laptops, MP3 players and the like.

Proud to be what he called the first Paducah resident to walk out of the checkout line with an iPhone (he waited for nine hours), this prized gadget, he said, "is a statement piece" and should stand on its own, sans a case. "Don't cover your iPhone up, for real," he said. (It should be noted, in a subsequent interview, he plugged the Louis Vuitton iPhone case.) Other phones he can see covering, but "it depends."

"My friend, she has a Motorola Razr and she has like a little wristlet thing for it and I think it's the cutest thing in the world," he said.

Sledd can surely see the need for sleek and clean cases when it comes to protecting gadgets--he has cases for his MacBook and iPod. But when it comes to gadget accessories, he draws the line at embellishments like encrusted jewels and skins.

"I'm definitely not going to bling out my iPhone. I would cry," Sledd said, later adding, "When you start putting on the skin tattoos, and it starts looking like a dragon with flames, you have a whole other issue to deal with." (Click here to hear an audio clip of Sledd's take on accessorizing gadgets.)

And as for clothing customized for MP3 player listening, he thinks the iPod underwear is going too far. "They're scary. Why do you need your iPod in your underwear. I'm just trying to figure that out."

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