Image by Craig Arend of altimiranyc
This post is woefully belated I know but since initially reading Suzy Menkes’ article The Circus of Fashion a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been debating whether or not to post a response. Leandra Medine of the Manrepeller and Suzie Lau of Style Bubble have already published fantastic ones and I don’t want it to seem like I’m just jumping on the rebuttal bandwagon. Plus, anything I write is going to look a bit crap in comparison. But then, this is a subject that I really do feel strongly about and ultimately I didn’t think I could just pretend I hadn’t seen it and go on posting pictures of myself prancing around wearing various blouses and sharing my sartorial musings without aknowledging The Circus of Fashion at all.
When I first read the article amused, embarassed and outraged me in equal measure. Obviously Suzy is an incredibly clever, witty and perceptive journalist, after all you don’t get to become Editor of the International Herald Tribune for nothing. Circus of Fashion is an undeniably brilliant piece of writing and despite the fact that it touched a nerve or three I very much enjoyed reading it. To be honest Menkes’ vivid and merciless description of the “spider legged, multi patterned dress wearing poseurs” made me feel rather shamefaced. As you’ve no doubt realised, I’m as guilty of posing for the hoards of street style snappers as anyone and she would no doubt accuse me of “peacocking”. But while I do stop and throw a shape for a photographer when asked, at the end of the day I’m there to see and more importantly, write about the shows. And yes I do make an extra effort with my outfits but it’s fashion week for God’s sake, why wouldn’t you want to look your best?! I’m not going to lie and say I don’t like seeing myself pop up on Vogue.com now and again, of course I do. Being papped for a street style site is also beneficial to me because ultimately, the more “out there” I am the more people are likely to come across my blog. While I do love blogging for its own sake, when you spend virtually every waking hour working on something you do want people other than your mum to see it.
I agree with Menkes that the scene in the courtyard at Somerset House or the steps at Lincoln Centre appears fairly ridiculous and indeed, “circus” like. But what is the alternative? Ban street style photographers and stop every major fash mag under the sun from running street style pieces during fashion week? Prohibit anyone extravagantly dressed or without a show ticket from going within half a mile of the venue? Maybe some people do come along purely to “peacock” in the hope of getting their picture on The Sartorialist but so what? Is it really doing anyone any harm? Most of all, I don’t think you can blame the bloggers for this situation. Virtually all the bloggers I know, be they the internationally renowned likes of Leandra Medine and Susie Bubble or relative newbies, attend fashion week with the same intention as Menkes, to write about the shows. Those who do go with the sole intention of getting papped will be unlikely to last more than a couple of seasons because, as Menkes rightly states, it is no easier to get in than it was back in the 1980s. You don’t just start a blog and overnight find yourself showered with international fashion week invites and free designer bags. I can say from experience that it takes time and a hell of a lot of hard graft to prove your worth to PRs and brands who, with God knows how many thousands of fashion bloggers out there, have to be extremely selective in which ones they work with and invite to their shows. A few months ago I interviewed Paula Reed, Harvey Nichols Fashion Director (formerly of Grazia) and a woman who’s career I admire enormously. When I asked Paula about her view on bloggers at fashion week she replied that “if you have an opinion, a passion for the industry, staying power and a way to prove that you can communicate with your audience… I think you absolutely legitimately belong there”. I certainly couldn’t put it any better myself to I’m just going to defer to Paula on this point.
Menkes also slates the cult of bloggers accepting and publishing gifts from brands. I understand where she’s coming from and admit reading posts that are all “Gucci gave me this” can be extremely trying. In future I will endeavour to mention my gifted pieces in the least irritatingly smug way possible. But while accepting gifts from brands brings ethical complications that every individual blogger has to work out for themselves, the very essence of blogging is that it’s about YOU and your taste (more on this later) therefore wearing or promoting something you don’t actually like makes absolutely no sense and it’s pretty obvious when it does happen. Unlike magazine journalists, the majority of bloggers aren’t restricted by advertisers in terms of what brands they choose to write about. Most of us – and I stress the word “most” – post about labels we really, really love and if they want to show their thanks with a little sartorial something it would take a far stronger person than me to refuse. As a perenially broke fashion student (who, I hasten to add, doesn’t get a whopping great allowance from her parents) there really is no way in hell I could afford the clothes I covet so if a designer gifts or offers to lend me something that they know I’ll adore for fashion week, surely it would be mad to say no?
Putting the gifting issue aside, the point I really take issue with is Menkes’ criticism of the fact that blogging isn’t about saying “I like it because its good”. She’s right of course, it’s not. But nor is it about decreeing that something’s unequivocally good because YOU like it. When I write a celebratory post about a collection or garment I’m simply telling my readers that I think it’s good and why, not trying to dictate what is and isn’t fashionable. The point of blogging is being able to voice your personal opinion and enter into the wider fashion conversation, something that before we all got online was infinitely more difficult to do. Readers and colleagues are welcome to agree or disagree. Cliched though it is to say, it seems to me that since the dawn of blogging the fashion world has become a far more accessible and democratic place than it was during the days of Menkes’ “black crows”.
The only people to escape criticism in The Circus of Fashion are exquisitely understated French editors like Emmanuelle Alt and Virginie Mouzat. I wholeheartedly agree that Alt and her fellow Parisiennes are wonderfully chic but why should we all have to dress like that? Doesn’t the excitement of fashion lie in its diversity? The world and, dare I say it, the fashion week tents would be an infinitely more boring place if we all had to adopt a uniform of head to toe black. Fashion Week may be a bit of a circus now but I imagine this makes things rather more fun than they were during the days of uniformly clad journalists attending the shows under a veil of secrecy and exclusion. And isn’t fashion meant to be fun after all? We’re not curing cancer or ending world hunger. Ultimately it’s about enjoyment and self expression and perhaps we shouldn’t forget that.
Love Ella. X