Ask Jeanne

THE KIT Fashion criticism

Dear Jean:

The whole world of fashion has been turned on its ear in recent years, in terms of the way fashion is designed, made, marketed, sold, bought, worn—and indeed reported on. There was a time not that long ago when all our fashion analysis came only from savvy editors and astute critics. And some of those critics were often merciless in their reportage, readily attacking designers for everything from their silhouettes and sensibilities to their fabrications and detailing. But with the democratization of fashion and the advent of social media, more and more opinionated observers have gleefully jumped on the fashion reporting bandwagon—most of whom aren’t necessarily that well educated or informed. They have little or no frame of reference for what actually does constitute “good” or “bad” fashion (if there even is such a thing), and many aren’t necessarily effective writers or communicators. Still, most of these fashion enthusiasts do have definite points of view, and are eager to share them with others, usually in entertaining ways. And the public is only too happy to hear what these self-proclaimed pundits have to say, since, if nothing else, they provide entertaining fashion content, which may or may not be validly informative. These fashion arbiters, who have varying degrees of real authority, are, for the most part, only delivering their personal takes on designer offerings, and as we all know, these sorts of opinions are usually very subjective. Take from them what you please, but for the most part, I believe they’re intent on merely celebrating fashion, and not dissecting it in highly analytical ways. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Still, some people do crave intelligent, in-depth analysis and the kind of old-fashioned, hard-nosed critic who isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. If that’s the kind of fashion reporting you enjoy, I suggest you follow the brilliant Suzy Menkes, the Paris-based fashion editor for the International Herald Tribune. In my opinion—and that of most of the world’s designers–she’s the savviest fashion critic around, and though she’s tended to be a wee bit gentler in recent seasons, she’s about as honest as one can get, with no agenda of her own, other than to present an objective and articulate analysis. I find her descriptions of garments and insights into the whys and wherefores of design to be especially captivating, and I’ve learned so much from reading her reviews over the years. Certainly, there are others who are intrepid in their fashion reporting, though many do have to be careful. In the world of fashion, a reporter’s access to a designer and his or her shows is crucial and extremely coveted. If journalists are too harsh with their criticisms, they may be denied access—a very frustrating reality of the business. Certainly, even Suzy Menkes has been temporarily banned from shows in the past. But it’s a chance that the die-hard critic has to take. Interestingly, in Menkes case, she is so revered by designers that they usually hang off her every word, putting her front row centre for each and every show.

The delightful thing about fashion today is that much of the snob factor has dissipated, and there are so many disparate options out there, that just about anything goes. Fashion’s fun appeal lies in the fact that everybody has an opinion, and that there’s really no such thing as “right” or “wrong” anymore. Beyond analyzing the actual garments themselves, we’re gleaning much more joy from closely watching the way people put these garments together, creating personal style statements that often defy description, let alone criticism.