A Critical World

New York Fashion Week has finally sprung upon us and as designers send their collections down the seemingly endless runways hour by hour, thoughtful, honest and substantial fashion reviews simultaneously formulate in the minds of critics scattered around the city.

Or, at least that’s how it should be. 

Instead of lengthy reviews full of well-informed and credible opinions covering the pages of fashion magazine’s across the globe, trend reports, styling advice, beauty products and advertisements take place of historical expert critique.

This is not to say, however, that reviews are non-existent in today’s fashion day and age. In fact, there are thousands of “reviews” of the latest fashion shows circulating the web at this very moment, as editors, critics, bloggers and general consumers largely praise designers, with what many call journalism “fluff”; positive comments, admiring words and an undeniable enthusiasm that simply pleases their advertisers.

On the contrary, the majority of these critiques lack the very foundation that serves as the core of critiques; criticism.

“Negative criticism is largely non-existent,” Kristie T. La of The Harvard Crimson said. “I’m not talking about the criticism that stems from outsider media grumbling about high fashion’s extravagant prices and outrageous antics, but constructive and substantiated criticism as discussed by an informed critic.”

However, the state of fashion criticism has not always been this way.

According to writer, Diane Pernet of Byronesque, there was once a time when fashion critics like Diana Vreelands, Anna Piaggis, Polly Mellons and Isabella Bows actually said what they thought.

So, why did fashion criticism change from opinion-based to largely occupied by fashion fluff throughout the years?

According to Pernet, the drastic change in fashion criticism is heavily considered as a result of the rise of businessmen and advertising ruling the fashion industry.

Much of the creativity that once reigned over the artistic industry has fallen victim to the power of advertising, as magazines rely on the money of such endorsements to stay afloat. Because of this, editors place more of an emphasis on fitting ads into their editorials and manipulating their content in ways that satisfy their major endorsers.

“You place an ad, you get an editorial page, and if the advertiser does not get proper coverage, they pick up the phone and demand editorial coverage or they will pull their money,” Pernet added. “So, can you really expect a critic for a publication that thrives on that ad money to say that the Chanel or the Louis Vuitton show was crap? Not likely.”

Which leads to the transformation of criticism and the voice of the majority of fashion reviews in an industry run by advertising rather than the art of fashion.

Courtesy of Fashionmagazine.com

Technology has also attributed to the lack of critical judgement and therefore, the displacement of fashion critics in the industry. With the rise of the Internet and social media virtually anyone can become a “critic”, as represented by the explosion of fashion bloggers creating their loyal fan bases with their coveted style, industry access and witty commentary.

In more recent years, the introduction of web sites like NowFashion.com, which provide live access to the once exclusive fashion shows to consumers as they happen in real time, has only accelerating this phenomena. The most recent designer to open his show to the public via live streaming was Tommy Hilfiger, who presented his collaboration with Gigi Hadid at New York Fashion Week on Friday evening.

Courtesy of Twitter

In a realm governed by millions of diverse opinions, the question of who a fashion critic is today can certainly be raised.

At the very core of fashion criticism is the right to judge and criticize fashion as it exists as an art.

After all, as rich and seemingly boundless as the creative arts may seem, each is filtered through narrow channels of human cognition, which provides us with the power of abstract thought, according to A. O. Scott, writer of “Better Living Through Criticism”.

“When we became conscious of our enormous power and also of our limitations,” Scott said. “We found ourselves able to make things and also, as a consequence, to judge them.”

The question then becomes, “Whose opinion can we trust?”

Certainly, in today’s fashion scene governed by the reliance on ad revenue, lines are blurred between expert critics and inexperienced critics.

However, amidst the reviews focusing more on the front row attendees rather than the actual clothing walking down the runway, there remains several writers challenging the industry and pushing the boundaries that are slowly dictating the role of critics in the fashion world. Among the fearless critics who not only share their opinions on the latest fashion news but place fashion in the larger context of society are Robin Givhan, Tim Blanks, Lynn Yaeger, Suzy Menkes and Vanessa Friedman.

Courtesy of Twitter

Such writers follow in the footsteps of former fashion critic of The New York Times, Cathy Horyn, who despite being banned from shows presented by major fashion houses like Herarra, Armani, Dolce & Gabbanna and Oscar de La Renta for her sharp tongue and brutally honest opinion, always took the title of a “critic” very seriously.

With such consequences for critical reviews such as being banned, prohibited or simply uninvited to future fashion shows due to negative critiques, it is safe to say that some designers fail to hold the opinions of those considered “fashion critics” in high regards. However, there are also many who are in accordance with Scott, in that criticism is not only essential for all arts but natural as well.

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