In the 1970s, the New Yorker’s fashion critic, Kennedy Fraser, wrote about clothes nearly every week. Yes, she reported on the collections. And industry personalities. But she also wrote about fashion’s role in the greater culture, whether discussing hemline lengths or blue jeans. In a New York Times review of A Fashionable Mind, Fraser’s collection of those essays published in 1981, writer Maureen Howard puts it pretty succinctly: “The book is about clothes - the wearing, buying, making, selling, discarding of clothes - and so, of course, it is about us and our society.”
Fraser is undoubtedly a rare writer: one who has the ability to take an arguably shallow topic and give it the kind of depth even a serious New Yorker reader could appreciate. But lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the fashion critic in general, and how that role has changed, and sometimes disappeared altogether—for no good reason.
Sure, there are plenty of fashion critics on the web. As in, plenty of writers critiquing collections. And there are the stalwarts: Suzy Menkes, Cathy Horyn, Booth Moore, Robin Givhan. But what none of these women do on a weekly basis is talk about clothes. And the way real women dress. And how what is in the stores plays a role in how we live our lives. Salon, Slate, New York, Time, and The New Yorker all have writers who cover fashion. But despite keeping tv, film, art and oftentimes theater critics on staff, they don’t employ fashion critics. As in, a person who comments on fashion and style on a weekly or biweekly basis. Where is fashion’s Emily Nussbaum? Or David Denby? Or Jerry Saltz? I want to hear from her.
It’s strange, really, that the fashion critic has all-but disappeared in an era when fashion is so important to so many people. Straight men happily admit to Project Runway addictions. Mass market retailers including Target and H&M have made designer collaborations a major pillar of their businesses, and an even bigger part of their marketing plans. And fashion bloggers—Style Bubble’s Susie Lau, Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine, and on the menswear front, A Continuous Lean’s Michael Williams—have inspired both women and men to care more about their appearance. Fashion is a bigger part of the culture than ever—so why aren’t the few influential publications we have left paying attention to it?
One could argue that the aforementioned bloggers have replaced the critics. And in a way, they have. But again, they’re typically speaking to a niche audience—a group of people who deliberately visit their sites on a daily basis. I’m talking more about the writer who reaches the less-determined reader. I’m not going to visit Deadline Hollywood on a daily basis, or Artnet.com, for that matter. But I will spend 15 minutes reading Emily Nussbaum’s essay on the virtues of Law and Order: SVU. Fashion deserves to be examined in the same way.
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