Critics vs. designers: Why can’t we all just get along?

With the so called ‘democratisation of fashion’ the role of the fashion journalist has become murky. While once reporters and buyers were the only ones privy to international fashion weeks, today’s live streams and instant image uploads mean everyone now has the opportunity to view the shows as they happen, and, naturally, many iconic print journalists have moved their coverage online. Cathy Horyn blogs her show reviews for the New York Times as does Suzy Menkes at the IHT, while Tim Blanks is the celebrated voice at Style.com and Colin McDowell regularly writes forBusiness of Fashion. But adapting doesn’t always guarantee survival.

It seems with the increasing accessibility of the industry, designers and their PR departments have become the Noahs of the fashion arc, given the ability, two by two, to decide who gets a seat at the shows. Increasingly, this means bloggers and personalities over critics. Banning journalists from shows is nothing new – Colin McDowell will happily and proudly tell you that (see video below) – but social media awarded fashion houses a booming voice, as we witnessed recently via the open letters to Cathy Horyn.

The power once held in the strong grips of steely editors and influential newspaper columnists has shifted to the designers, giving PR teams the ability to drown out criticism in a calm sea of fawning positivity.

Perhaps this is just a reality we all have to get used too. And, as most people in the industry will tell you, it’s been happening for a while. Very rarely will you hear an honest argument in a magazine due to the foreboding fear of stepping on the financial toes of advertisers, and though writers in the online realm do enjoy significantly more freedom, they’re faced with more voices to compete with and live with the same fear of losing advertising dollars.

If designers are selling out critics and controlling the media is our reality, then the democratisation of fashion is all but a myth (much like so called ‘street style‘ – a once pure concept that has become a heavily contrived industry). And why so sensitive? Other cultural forms have grown to accept criticism as part of the system. Movies, restaurants and hotels are all subject to a star rating system and polarising music reviews are published daily. Yet, for some reason, the fashion industry is pressed to say an honest word, let alone a bad one. Artists – the sort of people designers claim to be – often face the harshest critics of all.

While I’m sure ego plays a huge part in a designer’s dismissal of critics, their choices ultimately come across as incredibly insecure. Because, after all, it’s just opinion. As much as I love Wednesday nights with Margaret and David, it won’t stop me from enjoying The Hunger Games, which they gave only one and half stars. Similarly, while I enjoyed reading Cathy Horyn’s honest – albeit lukewarm – review of the Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane show, given the chance, I would stamp all over Tim Blanks’ beautiful face to get my hands on the collection’s shimmering gold floor length number – and I wouldn’t be alone. It is misguided to think criticism equals failure – more often than not it leads to progress, and progression is what fashion is all about.

 

Published on The Vine