“So do you want to talk about this?” asks Leah.
This being Suzy Menkes’ “Circus of Fashion” article from T, which turned into this “Blog is a Dirty Word” manifesto from Leandra Medine, which rolled into this “Sad Clown” response from Susie Lau. (A Times story called “My Look, My Ego, My Brand” snuck in there, as well, as did a piece questioning whether fashion bloggers have gone “too far” on The Daily Beast.)
So what do I think about this? I think I need some whiskey.
But first, okay. Let’s start with the topsoil of Menkes’ argument: Bloggers don’t belong inside the fashion conversation, at least not when an invitation is required. According to her piece, fashion isn’t about you, fashion is about what’s objectively good. To which I say, huh?
As far as I understand it–and I may be a style mongrel, but I think I do understand it–fashion is the seaming together of art and commerce. Just as fabric and thread have to coexist in a garment, a piece of clothing has to coexist with its wearer. Otherwise, put the clothes in a frame and hang them in the Guggenheim. Yes, dresses are part of many museum collections. They are usually shown on mannequins, as if to say, “This is how it’s worn,” not “This is how it looks on the wall.”
(Now comes the part where some sharp reader goes, “Oh, but what about Alexander McQueen? Those clothes are art!” They are, but unless you’re a Russian oligarch, you’re probably not buying the art–you’re buying the skull scarves.)
Bottom line: There can be no fashion without… well, without a bottom line. And when people buy clothes, they wear them. That’s when the fun starts–because what you wear influences how you act, how other people act, and eventually, how other people choose their clothes. Witness the ’20s, when women discarded their corsets and found new ways to breathe, move, and eventually–gasp!–vote. Witness the ’60s, when birth control pills and mini skirts invaded America simultaneously. Fashion reflects social movements and helps create them, too. (Hello, Sex Pistols/Vivienne Westwood…)
Fashion can only exist when visible people choose to wear something, and magically, that choice collides with street culture and becomes a tipping point for purchases. (Kurt Cobain on MTV in his plaid? Kate Moss at Glastonbury in her Wellies?) So if fashion isn’t ultimately about you, and what you wear, and most importantly, what you buy… then how can it truly exist, and serve its function? Apologies to The Costume Institute, but you can’t rock the world from inside a museum.
So if Susie/Leandra/Chiara choose to muse about their own outfits, isn’t that ground zero for fashion criticism? Not “This represents a new era of shoulders” but, more plainly, “I can wear this, and here’s how I feel–and how I act–when I do. Want to give it a try?”
Does this mean objective “fashion criticism” is dying? No. (Readers, meet Brittany Adams at Style.com and Jessica Michault at NowFashion.com. Both are fantastic.) But if Karlie Kloss’ haircut can make women call Bumble + bumble, it seems reasonable to expect that a few cool bloggers can make shoppers want a neon cross-body bag. It’s a different kind of “criticism” – one that’s more gut-based – but I’m not sure it’s any less relevant to fashion, which is constantly dependent on audience participation.
Now comes the hard stuff:
1. It’s dreamy to wish, as Menkes and many others do, that talent alone creates success. But like in any industry–except maybe Olympic luging?–that’s just not true. There are many undeserved coronations, both on the runways and on mastheads. But there are also brilliant, vibrant voices, and hopefully, those are the ones who succeed in the long run.
2. Menkes mentions that “things are good because they’re good, and not because you like them.” Sure. But unless we’re talking about the quadratic formula, there’s got to be some wiggle room on what’s “good.” Fashion is a visual medium, not absolute zero.
3. This doesn’t excuse kids in Balenciaga knockoffs, calling everyone “Ho-ho-honey” and waiting–like Lana Turner at the soda fountain–to “get discovered” by the fashion crowd. It’s great to love fashion, but Rachel Zoe isn’t going to say, “Hey, you in the neon Jeffrey Campbell booties!” and adopt you en route to Michael Kors. Quit telling your friends “you better werk” and start, you know, working. Get an internship, get a sales assistant position, or at least get your own point of view — supplemented with lots of research — before blogging your heart out. In the beginning, your library card is way more valuable than your AmEx card. And actually, nobody’s started a Library Street Style blog yet… just think of the potential for a Warby Parker collaboration!
4. Just because bloggers get photographed by Tommy Ton doesn’t necessarily mean they influence purchases the way bigger media brands can. It’s up to brand strategists to hedge their bets on whether a street style movement creates an an actual fashion craze, and profits. Sometimes, like with the Cambridge Satchel Company and Rebecca Minkoff, it seems to really work. But those are contemporary lines. Would the Alexa Bag–which costs over $1000–be a hit if Mulberry paired with an Internet queen instead of Alexa Chung? Discuss.