London, United Kingdom – Not too long ago I hosted a dinner at the London College of Fashion focused on fashion writing. The journalists, editors, bloggers and academics gathered spent the evening discussing what makes a good fashion writer, the meaning of integrity, why criticism of brands is not encouraged in the mainstream fashion press and whether it is realistic to expect an unbiased view of the fashion industry from publications dependent on fashion advertising for their survival.
Getting members of the fashion industry to speak candidly and publicly about the often strained relationship between journalists and brands is no easy task, and the ambivalent relationship that many writers have with the so-called system of mode was evident in some of the responses. I received my dinner invitation. “Will we be registered? was a question asked more than once. A well-known fashion journalist declined the invitation, saying, “I feel like we’re just a trim for PRs and fashion designers now. Few people read what we say; we are no longer the keepers, and none of that matters. So I feel sad and I don’t want to talk about it.
It’s an open secret in the fashion industry that advertisers dictate editorial content, often tacitly, sometimes explicitly. Stories of journalists banned from shows after unfavorable reviews are part of fashion folklore, but tales of designers and their PR managers demanding final approval of stories, cutting short interviews after an uncomfortable question was asked and bringing their own recording devices to interactions with reporters is surprisingly common. Indeed, the very idea of PRs attending interviews in the first place is, today, considered so normal that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.
What journalists tend to talk much less about are the generous gifts we are sometimes given after a favorable article (returning it would be rude, keeping it like an implicit understanding that other good reviews will follow) or the difficulty that many of us find it when it comes to writing critically about someone you know and love (and will meet shortly at the next industry event).
In the current issue of Vestoj (the magazine I edit) which looks at power dynamics in the fashion industry, American vogueHamish Bowles, European Editor of , comments: “Fashion advertising and editorial complement each other. While it is undoubtedly true that the purpose of most fashion editorials is inextricably linked to the interests of advertisers, fashion is not the only industry where the machinations of advertising and public relations have an ever-increasing influence. on how journalists operate. It should however be emphasized that unlike a film or music critic (who cannot be prohibited from watching a film or listening to a title), a fashion journalist or publisher is prohibited from taking part in business of the industry is, in fact, prevented from doing his job. Being blacklisted by a specific brand often means not only being banned from fashion shows, but also being barred from conducting interviews and borrowing clothes for fashion photo shoots. Some of these types of embargoes and a publication can very quickly become irrelevant to its fashion capital.
Realistically, to write to the mod system, you have to operate within its settings. Fashion values exclusivity. It is hegemonic and self-reinforcing. As the editor-in-chief of a well-respected fashion magazine recently wrote to me when declining an invitation to participate in Vestoj“On fashion and power”: “You surely realize that people in the industry are there not only because they understand these power structures, but also because they like to know about them (but not necessarily approve of them, as you say).Why on earth would they jeopardize that view then? Surely they enjoy participating in it (whether subversively or not) more than communicating about them and thus excluding themselves ?”
In other words, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
In this climate, magazines like Self-centered and The nice woman are often listed when insiders are asked to cite examples of good fashion publications. Sophisticated and full of long articles, these are magazines that appeal to our urban side and flatter our vision of ourselves as savvy fashion consumers as well as participants. But what distinguishes a gushing profile of Prada’s Verde Visconti, which appears in the latest issue of The nice woman (not far from an advert from the same label) an obsequious review of the brand on Style.com or an editorial full of “total looks” in any current fashion glossary?
To paraphrase Hamish Bowles, today’s fashion publications are all about appealing to the consumer (and selling the product). And whether through the simple vehicle of advertising or the more insidious approach described above, the result remains the same: publisher freedom is nominal and big brands rule the roost.
The fashion industry today is a place where most insiders are acutely aware of the lack of autonomy granted to journalists and critics, and the neutralizing influence that status and prestige have on critical thinking. Like a legion of Janus-faced cohorts, we use our professional face when needed and switch to our private face when the proverbial tape recorder is finally turned off. While fashion is clearly not the only industry where professionals find it very difficult to see their own role in something they may not like, it is an industry where we are not often held accountable. . Instead, we make concessions, find excuses, and when that doesn’t work, we just learn to live with the discrepancies.
So while I’m tempted to make this article a rallying cry for disgruntled fashion editors, I’ll stop there. Fighting the system, after all, isn’t for everyone. What we can all do, however, is look for the cracks. The flaws and cracks in any system are where the most intriguing stories are often found and the fashion system is no different.
So scratch the surface, question accepted wisdom and bring a critical eye to those who are admired without criticism. Only then can our work really start to count.
Anja Aronowsky Cronberg is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vestoj and senior researcher in fashion theory and practice at the London College of Fashion.
Opinions expressed in opinion pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Business of Fashion.
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