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Grace Bonney; Photography by Jason Tanaka Blaney

Dot-Com Influencers

by Michael B. Dougherty | Manhattan magazine | April 3, 2012

Grace Bonney, 30

Among the first to capture New York’s burgeoning design zeitgeist in the early 2000s, Grace Bonney transformed her longtime interests—she studied fine art in college and later worked in design PR—into one of the Internet’s most popular destinations for the armchair decorator. Bonney launched Design*Sponge in 2004 as a way to break into print writing and talk about the things she loves, but by 2010 she’d grown it into a lifestyle brand with a staff of 15. “I became the magazine I always wanted to write for,” she says. 

Today Bonney’s site draws 6.5 million page views a month and almost 390,000 Twitter followers. Numbers like that have allowed her to publish a book, Design*Sponge at Home, last year, and to fund a scholarship for young designers. “New York is very encouraging of designers who choose to create outside of mainstream, corporate support,” Bonney says. “That independent spirit has always informed everything we do.”

Michael Williams, 33

“I have this sort of curious outsider perspective, having grown up in Cleveland,” Michael Williams says. “It makes me appreciate living in New York.” Williams became a leading online authority for men’s fashion after creating A Continuous Lean in 2007, because, as he puts it, “There wasn’t a lot of menswear-focused content on the Internet, and there definitely wasn’t anything that completely fit what I wanted to read, so I just figured I’d do it myself.”

Now about 350,000 unique visitors head to ACL each month to soak up Williams’ opinions on up-and-coming designers and vintage finds, as well as product endorsements. ACL also partners with a few of his favorite brands, like Cole Haan, on collaborations. “I’ve been doing ACL for more than four years,” Williams says. “And I still love it.”

Joanna Goddard, 33

When Joanna Goddard started blogging as a distraction from a breakup five years ago, she had two readers: her mom and her sister. “It was never supposed to be a job,” she maintains. Now her readership has swelled to 1 million unique visitors and more than 4 million page views a month, making A Cup of Jo a go-to source for everything from lust-worthy shoes to motherhood tips. But, she says, “I still think about writing to my mom and my sister, because I want the tone to feel really true to my voice.”

A Cup of Jo’s success has made Goddard an in-demand presence for brands hoping to harness that unique voice, like YSL, which asked her to do a series of posts on stateside Parisian style for the 2009 launch of its Parisienne fragrance. As for NYC’s influence, she says, “I’ve lived in New York for 11 years. It naturally becomes a character in the blog.”

Deb Perelman, 35

Prior to Smitten Kitchen, Deb Perelman launched The Smitten in 2003 to discuss dating and living in NYC. One commenter caught her eye, they met for a drink… and tied the knot two years later. “It was fun, and it’s where I developed my writing voice,” she says. “But it’s kind of boring when you’re married, and I wanted to focus more on cooking.” So she started Smitten Kitchen in 2006.

Known for its delicious, accessible recipes, top-notch photography and microscopic test kitchen (42 square feet!), the site has made Perelman a doyenne of the food-blogging craze. “I never thought anyone would consider me a cooking expert,” she says. “I’ve learned most things by teaching myself, then telling people what I’ve learned.” But with 8 million monthly page views and appearances on The Martha Stewart Show, radio programs and at food conferences—plus a cookbook due out this fall—there’s no denying her culinary clout.

Mary Tomer Byun, 31

Snail mail is rare these days. Even more unusual? Receiving a personal thank-you note from the first lady. But for Mary Tomer Byun, it’s just a perk of the job. She’s the mind behind Mrs. O, a site chronicling the fashion adventures of Michelle Obama. It was Tomer Byun who landed the scoop that Mrs. Obama wore a sleeveless H&M dress at a 2008 campaign stop in Detroit, a choice that won her points for style and thrift. “That was the first time other media outlets took notice of the blog,” Tomer Byun says, “and a turning point in building a bigger audience.”

Today that audience includes 300,000 monthly visitors, and fans clamoring for her book, Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy. (Obama sent the note after a copy reached the White House.) “I’ve never met the first lady,” she says. “But that is, of course, the dream!”