To Blog or not to Blog? On the “Circus”of Fashion

By all rights, fashion bloggers are interlopers—we have no journalistic pedigree, no experience under the stern wings of an Anna Wintour, no vetted eyes or taste. To paraphrase the vitriolic tone of Suzy Menkes’s now infamous New York Times Magazine article, “The Circus of Fashion” (here), fashion bloggers are peacocks, free-loaders, fakes, amateurs and poseurs. Published in the middle of New York Fashion Week for maximum effect,  Suzy Menkes caused an uproar when she denounced the self-promoting, narcissistic, take-anything-you’ll-give-me attitude of the fashion blogeratti–those people “famous just for being famous.”   

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Accusing fashion bloggers of dismissing the cultivated tastes of the authentically dedicated—those perpetually black-clad followers of the fashion vanguard—Menkes skewered the blogging world for having no journalistic standards (free gifts = bribery) and for turning the walk to the fashion tent into a rabid spectacle of bodies, tulle and flashbulbs. The problem isn’t necessarily with spectacle– nobody in their right mind would argue that high fashion has been anything else–-but with a world where bloggers are taken as seriously as a respected international fashion critic.

In the plea for constant attention, Menkes argues, the celebrity fashion blogger forgets entirely to ask questions. She “loves” everything and cares little to “be a critic in its original meaning of a visual and cultural arbiter”—and settles instead for sticking out her hand for free couture, elbowing past the anonymous–if adoring–crowds for her first row seat at Hugo Boss. If she’s not lucky enough to be granted that golden invitation, the ubiquity of instant runway photos encourages amateurs to pass judgment on flat renderings of living textiles, the fashion equivalent of commenting on an Italian renaissance masterpiece based only on a viewing of a poorly-pixellated online duplicate.

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It seems that no one needs the critic anymore. Unceremoniously replaced with the blogger “brand” and the living-room “expert,” the trained fashion critic has gone the way of the dinosaur. And because branding–if done well (i.e., if you have the money)–might one day lead to an unending stream of designers all salivating to capitalize on your power over the unfashionable masses, fashion blogs pop up everyday, like invasive and unsightly weeds in an otherwise impeccable garden. Good critics come along once, maybe twice, in a generation. Unsightly or not, the successful fashion blog is like a personal corporation–as recognizable as Coca-Cola and almost as influential. The critic, on the other hand, seems shrill and resentful, old-fashioned at best, elitist at worst.

It’s easy to see Menkes’s piece as a cruel dressing-down of the fashion blog world with all its supposed superficialities, narcissism and fluff. Or even as a snobbish shaming of the ordinary when they dare to venture into extraordinary spaces–audaciously touching the cloth of geniuses without the proper reverence expected of acolytes: Pay your dues. Train your eyes. And above all, respect the work. But it’s in this fictive commandment–train your eyes, respect the work— that something of Menkes’s protestations comes through as legitimately authentic.

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After all, millions and millions of women subscribe to Vogue, the epitome of style and fashion, for more than just the free perfume samples and glossy advertisements. We do it because we trust that Anna Wintour knows something we don’t. This is the woman who sits front row at every major fashion show wearing sunglasses–the worst possible accessory for discerning color, shape and texture–and everyone still believes her when she says that Alexander Wang’s goth-inspired collection was a work of brilliant genius. Sunglasses or not, Anna Wintour has vision.

And if fashion judgment was up to the masses or even to the trendy blogging rich, surely the virtuosic talent of an Alexander McQueen (who was the recent subject of a Met exhibit) would never had made it past his first boundary-pushing show. The typical refrain–who on earth would ever wear that?? It costs how much??– from the uninitiated usually leads to snappish retorts from those of us who pride ourselves on knowing how to read a fashion show and why that absolutely unwearable avant-garde sculpture dress matters. If fashion was only driven by the homespun conservatism of “everyday” women or the undiscerning tastes of brand bloggers, the world of textile and craft would perhaps come to sudden and crashing end.

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Regardless of whether or not one believes that the world of high fashion is ultimately defensible, (I am likewise reticent to leave fashion to those who only pound their fists on the table of politics), we do need critics. Where other eyes see ugly colors, dated styles, and ridiculous excess, those “visual and cultural arbiters of style” have trained instincts for the new and the different, the old and the tired. Those vetted eyes deserve sincere recognition for seeing what others don’t. After all, when Amazon reviewers declare that a literary masterpiece is “boring,” we know better than to believe them. Critics are also stalwart, brave characters. They are often the only ones with the guts to tell an iconic designer that their designs fell seriously short while the rest of us are just trying to capture a shaky camera phone picture of a fashion legend.

Fashion blogging is not as far from deserving that recognition as Menkes thinks. Those who start blogs–myself included–start them out of the knowledge, often granted by others, that their sense of style is worth displaying. We’ve honed our eyes, tastes and instincts on our own bodies and closets, mistakes and all, and while we may not possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of French couture, we do know something about what looks good. Perhaps no one deserves to be famous for something so idiosyncratic and personal, but if style is more than what one wears in the morning, if it is about creation, interpretation and above all, dedication, then the fashion blog can be (and deserves to be) at the front lines of fashion, even if it means high fashion might be on the road to becoming very unfashionably democratic.

So…to blog or not to blog? If there’s one thing to take away from Menkes’s criticism, it’s that fashion blogging needs to evolve or at least get back something of its original spirit: a passion for cloth. This Is Six believes that we need something between the stern high-browed fashion critic and the branding that defines the modern style blog. This Is Six hopes to hit that fine balance–between good fashion writing and creative personal style– and it takes Menkes’s point to be an important one: high-definition photographs and perfect outfits, fashion show invites and free clothes, do not a critic make.

photo credit: Michael Kors ss14-10 via photopin (license) photo credit: Alexander Wang FW10 via photopin (license) photo credit: Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2001 via photopin (license) photo credit: Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2001 via photopin (license)

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