Suzy Menkes Talks Blogger Backlash, the Perils of Fast Fashion, and Getting Flashed by Madonna

Last night, Fern Mallis sat down with Suzy Menkes for the latest installment of her "Fashion Icon" series at 92Y. The noted fashion critic candidly (and sometimes hilarious) addressed everything from catching an upskirt view of Madonna sans underwear at the Met Gala, why she didn't like Punk: Chaos to Couture, and why she was surprised by the negative response to her controversial "Circus of Fashion" piece.
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Last night, Fern Mallis sat down with Suzy Menkes for the latest installment of her "Fashion Icon" series at 92Y. The noted fashion critic candidly (and sometimes hilarious) addressed everything from catching an upskirt view of Madonna sans underwear at the Met Gala, why she didn't like Punk: Chaos to Couture, and why she was surprised by the negative response to her controversial "Circus of Fashion" piece.
Joyce Culver for 92Y

Joyce Culver for 92Y

Last night, Fern Mallis sat down with respected fashion critic Suzy Menkes for the latest installment of her "Fashion Icon" series at 92Y.

But there was one topic that had to be discussed before anything else could be addressed: The Met Gala and the Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibition that Menkes panned.

"Visually, you might feel punk, but the spirit's gone," she reiterated, before trailing off, "And then of course, there were all the people who came [to the Met Gala]...."

Though Menkes says she was raising her children during the punk era--"I have the feeling I missed it all," she admitted--she still took the Met Ball to task for missing the mark.

"I don't recall pink and roses being a very punk thing," she joked when asked about Anna Wintour's Chanel dress and the 5,000 pink roses that adorned the Met. Still, there was one guest who made quite the punk impression on Menkes.

"My lasting memory will be Madonna climbing up the Temple of Dendur to cheer on Kanye," she shared. "And from my privileged position, it was very clear she just had these fishnet hose on and nothing underneath. It was an incredible moment."

Another recent piece by Menkes that caused quite a stir was her "Circus of Fashion" op-ed, which many bloggers, like Susie Lau and Leandra Medine, took as a critique of their profession. Menkes said she was "very surprised" that people responded negatively.

"I was so not trying to be negative about blogging," she said, confessing that she didn't link bloggers with the "peacocks" outside the show. Menkes expressed a great admiration for bloggers, figuring that they would be too busy working during fashion week to truly be "peacocking."

"In general, I'm 100% in favor of anything to do with the Internet," she said. "It's quite exciting."

One thing Menkes isn't in favor of is fast fashion. When an audience member asked what she thought the industry should do to prevent future tragedies like the recent incidents in Bangledesh, Menkes challenged the audience by asking what they would do.

"There's something morally wrong with having a swimsuit or a dress that costs the same as a cappuccino," she said simply.

And Menkes is someone who sticks by her guns when it comes to doing the right thing--and upholding journalistic standards. She confessed to never getting friendly with designers (she joked that she'd never hung out on Roberto Cavalli's yacht) and never taking freebies.

She never begrudges a designer who bans her from their show after a bad review. But there are two circumstances in which Menkes finds it hard to be 100% truthful in her critiques. "The most difficult is when you know a designer you love is losing it, because that does happen," she admitted sadly, saying it would be "too cruel" to give an example of one such designer. "It's also very hard if you know they've suffered recently, as when someone loses a partner to AIDS, and I admit I soften the blow."

It's a task she's has been at for a long time--Mallis shared that Menkes writes an estimated 360,000 words per year. When asked if she planned to stay on when the International Herald Tribune becomes the International New York Times this September, Menkes seemed non-committal.

"Who knows?" she replied glibly. "I'll get a fabulous pay-out after 25 years though, won't I?"

Still, don't expect her to retire anytime soon. At 69 years old, Menkes--whose own mother is still alive at 95--feels better than ever.

"It makes me feel great because all these designers are still here," she said, ticking off a few designers who are older than her. "And there's Karl [Lagerfeld]--well we don't know how old he is but we think he's 78," she added jokingly. "I feel young."