IMAGE by KATY SMAIL
WORDS BY SIGRID (SIGGI) MCCARTHY.
As someone striving to become a professional writer, I find myself thinking more and more about the type of writer I hope to be. There are various avenues that I could potentially explore, but it is fashion journalism that appeals to me most. With this in mind, I have started to wonder what it means to be a fashion journalist…
What exactly is a fashion journalist, and how is the role of fashion journalism changing?
Over the past few years, I have noticed a considerable change in the way information relating to fashion is being distributed and received. The shift towards digital media has meant that the value one places on content is waning. Often what you find online are mere regurgitations of press releases, and the promptness of updates means they lack analysis, depth, imagination and original point of view. Digital blogs and magazines often get caught up in being first and so there is ultimately less attention paid to detail. It’s more about publishing something before everyone else does than publishing something of a higher quality. Fashion writers, critics and reporters all fall under the umbrella of fashion journalism, but I worry that the development of technology will potentially harm the quality of fashion journalism going forward.
Each season, the four fashion capitals of the world - New York City, London, Milan, and Paris - serve a decadent platter of new runway looks, inviting only the most influential people to attend the feast. For many years fashion journalists have been our portals into the latest collections, giving us access to the exclusive runway shows and quenching our thirst for beauty. As each season passes however, the role of the fashion journalist becomes increasingly unclear and their relationship to those in the industry steadily changes.
For years, designers relied heavily on fashion journalists to accurately report on their shows and to praise their body of work, because fashion publications filtered what was released to the general public. It was a fashion publication's responsibility to cover the international fashion weeks and to give the general public an insight into the latest collections, but the rise of the Internet has changed this and we are now seeing a shift in the relationship between a journalist and a designer. Nowadays, there is a much larger media circus that designers have to cater to, and it is no longer just the Vogues and Harpers Bazaars and Elles that matter. Blogs, digital magazines and social media are now creating new platforms for self-proclaimed ‘journalists’ to express themselves and designers are being exposed to a much larger audience – an audience that wants an all-access pass.
Thanks to the digital age, we can now see the clothing better than those sitting almost at arm’s length from the models. Professional photographs are being uploaded online only minutes after the final model has left the catwalk, and live streaming of fashion shows are now available to anyone with an internet connection or smart phone. All from the comfort of our own homes, we can zoom in on the finer details of the clothing and we can click pause on the high-resolution video footage available. With this in mind, is the role of a fashion journalist redundant? We no longer need to wait for fashion publications to showcase the highlights of international fashion weeks, because we have almost instant access ourselves. The Internet has ultimately given birth to a whole new way of distributing and receiving information.
One could argue that anyone with a way with words has the potential to be a fashion journalist, but surely there is more to it than having a broad vocabulary and understanding the meanings of the words ‘whimsical’ and ‘couture’? In order for fashion journalism to remain valuable to its readers and relevant to the industry as a whole, I argue that journalists need to provide more than mere descriptions of fashion. A deeper level of critique is necessary, yet very few journalists write candidly. What we often find in fashion journalism today is writing that lacks any real critique or judgements, and this is due in part to the fact that those willing to criticise designers are often publicly ostracized and punished for their outspoken views. Cathy Horyn, the notorious fashion reporter for The New York Times, is not unfamiliar with being on the ‘bad side’ of prominent designers. Her writing is unapologetic and she isn’t afraid to scrutinize and call people out on their shit. For many seasons now, Cathy Horyn has been banned from various designers’ shows, including Armani and Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent. This doesn’t stop her from giving her two cents however, as she takes advantage of digital media and accesses shows via online streaming and photographs.
The relationship between a designer / fashion house and the media is undoubtedly a complicated one. Fashion publications potentially hold back from making scathing remarks in the fear of losing advertising and money, and this makes me question the validity of reviews. Money from advertising plays such a huge part in the success of a fashion publication, so there is significant pressure for journalists to keep fashion houses happy. If you are to flip through a Vogue magazine for example, you’ll notice just how many pages are in fact advertising. Without it, in this unstable market, there is little hope that print magazines can continue to exist. So is it possible for a successful fashion journalist to report and analyse freely, or does one automatically need to filter his/her voice?
I often wonder what distinguishes a good/relevant fashion journalist from a poor/irrelevant one, but maybe there is no simple answer. It is obviously easier for someone like myself to speak and write freely because I am not currently employed by a fashion publication. I am not bound by business partnerships and financial restraints, and so I can stay true to my own voice. Going forward, I hope that fashion journalism finds a way to stay relevant and it is not replaced by visual aids. I hope it remains insightful and that people take chances. I hope that 'ethics' and 'sustainability' become words used as often as ‘whimsical’ and ‘couture’ and readers expect more from fashion journalists than mere descriptions of clothing. As readers, we should be demanding a certain level of intellect in fashion journalism because as I’ve mentioned in many of my posts before, style and substance should co-exist.