A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it. —Danielle Steel
In case you’ve not been reading very long or don’t know me very well, for the past five seasons I’ve written reviews of women’s ready-to-wear fashion shows for Pattern. Prior to that, I would write similar reviews and either publish them here or on Facebook, depending on what seemed to make the most sense at the time. Beyond that, I spent many years at the end of those runways in the photographer’s pit and backstage capturing images for agency clients. My relationship with and understanding of the world of fashion is long and probably deeper than the average photographer.
Against that background, perhaps you can understand my interest when an article crossed my path this past week with the headline, The Extinction of the Fashion Critic. Fashion critics? Extinct? Last I checked, we hadn’t lost anyone. I know most the major magazine’s fashion reviewers and they’ve all been in reasonably good health, other than the perpetual jet lag and never seeming to get quite enough sleep. Everyone’s Twitter account is still active, so I don’t think we’re dying off just yet.
I do understand the premise of the article, though. With everything changing in the world of fashion, one might wonder exactly how fashion review and criticism is going to adapt. The article overstates some aspects, though, and I want to take a moment to clarify those.
- Fashion is not seasonless. I find the very notion that seasons have come to an end to be utter bullshit. If you believe such tripe, you’re not paying attention. If anything, seasons are more important than ever and statements this past February from both the Paris and Milan governing fashion bodies solidified that fact. Despite what a few designers are doing in terms of “see now, buy now,” fashion seasons don’t go away, they merely catch up to real time.
- Designers have always moved around. The fact that Ms. Michault seems to think that this is detrimental to fashion in any way demonstrates either her lack of understanding of the industry, her naivete about designers, or possibly both. As designers grow, change interest, or want to explore new opportunities, they change houses and the competition for the best designers is as high as it has ever been. Designers are going to move.
- Gender ambiguity does not dilute fashion review in any way. If anything, as more designers blur gender lines or completely remove any gender identity, the need to carefully review and critique those collections becomes all the more important. Genderless fashion has an extra burden to remain interesting and attractive while omitting the lines and silhouettes to which we are most accustomed.
- Only a small handful of critics receive any form of compensation or indulgences from fashion labels. Sure, there may be a gift bag on your seat when you arrive, but everyone present gets the same gift bag. Even more important, as bloggers have become a stronger presence at fashion shows, many indulgences have diminished. Bloggers are not given the same consideration as print critics and are frequently traveling on their own dime.
All that being said, however, as the fashion world slowly changes, so will the how, when, and why of fashion reviews and criticism. While I don’t expect a lot to change this season, and probably not the one after that, that we would need to adapt to those changes just makes sense. Here are some of the adjustments I expect us to be making in the next few seasons:
- Critics will be more picky about which labels they review. The number of designers showing at the four major fashion weeks continues to grow, making it impossible to even given a glancing nod to most. My most ambitious season saw us covering over 200 shows over the four weeks, and that left me thoroughly exhausted. As fashion changes, we are going to more carefully consider which shows are of greatest interest to our readers and limit our coverage accordingly.
- Labels that do “See now, buy now” options are likely to become a priority. When the fashion on a runway isn’t going to be available for six months, if at all, it becomes less important to readers than what is available to them right now. If a piece can be purchased immediately, it matters more whether that piece matches trends, works with other things you have in your closet, or has a severely limited life span. So, it makes sense to put more time and effort behind these collections.
- Pre-season and capsule collections will get more attention. Note: not every designer does pre-season collections and more than a few designers have listed that additional work as a substantive factor in their creative fatigue and burnout. That being the case, we may eventually see a reduction in the number of pre-season collections. Where they exist, though, and especially with designer-retailer capsule collections, reviews that relate those clothes to the main collection become more important. If there is significant difference between the two, we may be seeing signs of a shift in trends that could affect one’s purchasing decision.
- Critics may begin to consider cross-label pairings more frequently. As things in the fashion industry change, the relationship between critics and consumers is likely to become tighter. With so many different labels hitting stores, shoppers want help in knowing what matches. Rarely does anyone actually wear an ensemble as it is shown on the runway. Rather, they match Armani slacks with a Chanel jacket over a Dior blouse. Reviews that help aid those decisions will become increasingly important.
- Reviews may be adapted for different social media platforms. We’ve seen a bit of this already as critics frequently live tweet from fashion shows and some even provide brief video clips when they’re seated in a position that makes such possible. Instagram reviews have been a thing for four seasons now and don’t show any signs of letting up. Don’t be surprised when reviews start popping up as ads or publish directly to a magazine’s Facebook page.
Guessing at all the changes yet to come to the fashion industry is impossible, and it’s certain that none of that change is likely to happen quickly. Through all this change, consumers need a consistent and reliable voice to guide them through all the turmoil. Fashion critics are far from extinct. Our reviews are more important than ever. And, as always, we’ll be right there with a look at trends and quality and a sense of what works for you.
Thank you for reading.