Given the large amounts of blogs and fashion sites I visit daily, it has been hard not to come across various sides of the debate sparked by the article written by Suzy Menkes, entitled ‘The Circus of Fashion’. Menkes is a well respected fashion writer/editor for the International Herald Tribune and has an incredible wealth of fashion knowledge and history thanks to her being in the industry for almost 20 years. Her aforementioned article, outlines her concern for the ‘circus’ that is fashion week, more specifically the pre-show shenanigans. This has incited numerous of responses form all corners of the world of fashion, with bloggers and fashion sites all weighing in.
In her piece, Menkes quickly establishes herself as a part of the ‘real’ fashion crowd, opening with “We were once described as ‘black crows’ us fashion folk” quickly diminishing any doubt in the readers mind that her coming opinions are from anywhere but a worthy source. This statement in itself, sets the reader up for the tone of whats about to come. And boy does it come.
Menkes begins to point out that the shows these days, are more about whats happening on the outside than the designs being showcased on the inside. She laments those who pose for street shots, those who take the street shots and even those who blog, solidifying her idea that the opinions and mere presence of these people at the shows, is for nothing more than to be seen and therefore dubious.
‘Ah, fame! Or, more accurately in the fashion world, the celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous. They are known mainly by their Facebook pages, their blogs and the fact that the street photographer Scott Schuman has immortalized them on his Sartorialist Web site. This photographer of “real people” has spawned legions of imitators, just as the editors who dress for attention are now challenged by bloggers who dress for attention.
I find this particular paragraph perplexing, as Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist) is, in his own words, ‘a photographer of romance’, a concept seemingly lost on Menkes. Schuman rarely publishes his subjects names and is more concerned with the overall image and the feeling it evokes, rather than what designer they are wearing of whether or not they are considerable ‘stylish’. Consider this image Schuman took of Giovanna Battaglia. In 2006. Seven years ago.
On the flip side however, I can agree in part (a very small part) with the notion of dressing to be photographed. This is something that is born out of vanity, and as Giovanna Battaglia points out, actually works hand in hand with fashion. Everyone is considerate of what they choose to wear each day and to most, it can be their strongest form of self representation, while to others it can mean very little. Personally, I think dressing and choosing an outfit needs to be organic and I believe that it can be very visible when someone is wearing an outfit that is overly calculate, and this, I believe is what Menkes is referring to when she says “They pose and preen, in their multipatterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on club-sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats blooming with flat flowers”. While I believe this could have been articulated in a more effective way, I do concede that there are surely a few people who do deliberately dress in an inorganic way (for them personally) in order to draw some attention of the flood of photographers. But in saying this, why does it matter and who does it hurt? If you don’t like it, don’t look at it and most certainly don’t tarnish all people with the same brush.
I dislike the concept of separating the ‘real’ fashion folk, from the so called ‘intruders’ by means of colour and personal style. What gives the presence of a conservative, all black wearing, French attendee more merit than that of someone wearing colour, pattern and enormous shoes. And who is the so called ‘authority’ to police this. In my eyes, no one. Fashion is individuality and despite the role someone has at Vogue or any other reputable publication, they still boast simply, just another opinion.
Menkes goes on to raise the question of the integrity of the bloggers (a neat term she uses to pigeon hole a huge variety of different people with 1 very small thing in common) referring to the golden rules of journalism, ‘that reporters don’t take gifts (read: bribes)’. Again, this is a point that I can understand, but what actually bothers me is, for fashion bloggers, the idea of pushing or promoting something purely because you are being paid to do so and not because you actually use it, wear it or think it’s any good. In my mind, this transforms you from an independent blogger to a sales person. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, providing it isn’t dressed up in a ‘I’m not being paid for this but I just love love x,y,z’ kind of post. Leandra Medine and Natalie Joos both weigh in on this point citing their own experiences and views and I very much respect their honesty and candidness when doing so. As established people in the fashion world, both Medine and Joo’s rebut Menkes article with an enormous amount of thought and careful consideration, maintaining full integrity as they do so.
All in all, I believe Menkes is writing from a place of nostalgia, craving the days gone by of fashion, when it really was some form of an elitist club, accessible only to those exclusive enough to be invited, and in a way I can understand why. But I do not support this notion. It is important to acknowledge the change in not just the fashion world but in society, as for Menkes it will quickly become difficult for her to remain relevant in the eyes of the public, if it is that very public that she is trying to keep at bay, safely on the outside of her ‘velvet ropes’ a mere memory of days gone by. Digital technologies need to be embraced, as they will only continue to grow, so my suggestion would be to embrace the change, as many of them look up to you, don’t disappoint and disregard them, empower and support them. Embrace a new breed of colleagues, even if they don’t look and act the way they once did.
I write this all with an external view. Under no circumstances do I take myself for an authority on not only this issue, but the fashion world as a whole. I write this, as for some reason, this debate has sparked an interest for me. I only wish to express my personal opinions on what I imagine goes on at fashion week, as I have obviously never been to one myself, so please do not misconstrue my mere opinions as anything more than simply that, opinions. I have a high level of respect for everyone mentioned in this piece, and simply wanted to share my views.
And now, the other responses…
Now Fashion interviewed numerous industry peeps to get their take on Menkes article
Garage Magazine also put together this great little snapshot of the supposed ‘circus’
Check Leandra Medine’s response here
Check Natalie Joos response here
Check Susie Bubble’s response here
Check what Business of Fashion had to say here and lets also give BoF a massive shout out for sourcing their pics for this very article from me here
This one isn’t a response, but a great read, from a street photographer perspective, check it here
images from graygray.com, life.nationalpost.com, glamour.com, man repeller.com, tumblr, the sartorialist