Amongst the majority of fashion month show-goers I half-heartedly follow on social media, an epidemic: one which infects attendees with a sickeningly radiant positivity on even the most banal of stale collections. A petty complaint- indubitably, Mr. Watson- or a symptom emblematic of our generation’s Mean Girls mentality, natch, but beyond this seemingly cynical deficiency, let us consider the figurative zombie takeover, wherein the large majority of our fashion gurus and tastemakers nod a collective acquiescent approval, clapping their hands together like that skirt length is the rebirth of the Macarena, and toasting mediocrity like a 7 AM raspberry Toaster Streudel.
Deducing said plague from mere fashion week madness, however, requires:
1) a distinct nose for detecting bullshit.
2) x-ray vision, for seeing through fake ass bitches.
The most commonly observed indicators of said illness: Shouting “Brava!” to the tax-evading Italians- the ones who seasonally recycle their script, posting blurry snaps of “next season’s uniform! genius @[European heritage brand that thinks “Picasso Baby” is edgy, urban], xx.”
Note: sufferers will insist that everything is good, or great, or bananas, but nothing is ever publicly a train wreck or even a semi-mild disappointment, because there shall be no disgracing the advertisers or the boss- who’s currently gossiping over cocktails with downhill-designer’s head of PR- or betraying that comfortable spot just across from Carine (and back a row).
Warning signs also include: demonization of critical debate, breaking into cold sweats at the loss of followers, staring blankly at scenes that seem familiar in that, yes, this designer’s offering does look startlingly similar to that seminal [OG] Margiela collection, all sidled with the chronic recurrence of thoughts like, ughhh, why can’t everyone like me, followed with massive hashtag sprees.
Before we diagnose you, me, and everyone we know, let us consider the cause of these troubling effects. Could it be the happy pills our nation swallows en masse, or perhaps the escape from a world in which Capitol Hill peaces out on a whim, like they just put in their two weeks for a midnight drive-thru shift at Burger King? More stereotypically, could it be that we are all a bunch of fashion airheads, for whom the mustering up of an eligible critique takes brain cells we fried eons ago at the blow dry bar?
Arguably more frightening, however, is a bogus positivity spawned by scare tactics and Big Brother-style control of sensitive designers, the ones who handle bad press by issuing bans and threatening the blacklist of naysayers. Treating press and buyers as if they’ve only been so lucky as to be the guests of the storied house of [mispronounced nasal-sounding French designer], when they, in fact, the trusted liason between the house and the shopper, should be the ones holding the fates, dealing the cards? In what is perhaps the most flabbergasting incident of such a case: the Hedi Slimane versus World saga, a series in which a recluse design star is hired to revamp the legendary Yves Saint Laurent, only to reduce the name to a shadow of its founder/spew out the trust fund baby equivalent of diamanté thrift shop grunge, all for the sake of rock ‘n’ roll, and then cry like a baby when critics spurn said lousiness/demand sites retract negative charged articles on the designer/pull entire collection from boutiques that also carry “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves”-emblazoned t-shirts, all whilst accusing one of the last remaining true fashion critics of our time, the New York Times’ Cathy Horyn, of being “a publicist in disguise” and “a schoolyard bully”- and for extra affect: with “a sense of style [that] is seriously challenged,” because this is Generation Me and “I am a God.”
Slimane is not alone, though his tale is easily the most melodramatic- when Horyn, who is banned from Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, and Carolina Herrera for supposed name-calling, described Oscar de la Renta as “far more a hot dog than an éminence grise of American fashion” in a review of his Spring 2013 collection, the designer wrote an eloquent response to the critic and published it as a full-page ad in WWD. It read: “I respect and accept criticism because in many ways it does help us develop; I try to make my work better each time. What I do not accept is when criticism is personal. If you have the right to call me a hot dog why do I not have the right to call you a stale 3-day old hamburger? My advice to you is to abstain from personal criticism. Professionals criticize the clothes, not the people.”
In fashion, where the personalities (and the accompanying egos) are often just as big as the runway spectaculars, it becomes a scapegoat for critics to make unnecessary jabs at the heads of house. But, to paraphrase de la Renta, what goes down the catwalk is really not about them (except at Versace, where if Donatella had her way, every model would be her tanned, peroxide clone), it’s about the handiwork that they’ve put on display. So how does a dose of respect and a whack of tact- qualities Horyn clearly has in spades- provide for a more runway-centric review? See Robin Givhan’s current critique of last week’s Saint Laurent show. Without any polarizing points on that divisive Slimane- only two mentions of his name in the entire piece, to be precise- the review refrains from finger-pointing, and instead slams the collection as “a sucker punch to sophistication; a jab at the very meaning of luxury, a humorless impersonation of cool,” before proclaiming, simply, “it was ugly.” Juxtaposed with such [honest] brutality, she gave the incentives behind Saint Laurent-branded “costuming for Rock of Ages” the benefit of the doubt, with an introduction and conclusion expressing the motives of the collections’ shenanigans- which, let’s be honest, are hopelessly lucrative. And though it’s not quite as entertaining as Horyn’s biting- and often belittling- sarcasm, it provides a background for, and slight counters to, the criticism that they offer, with or without invitation, every season.
But these clever, often feisty reviewers are few and far between at more glossy publications, where advertising dollars are funneled in and spewed right back out via half-hearted hyperboles and overactive hype. It’s an equation that’s worked for ages, until the internet gave us all agendas and [mostly untrained] bloggers became their own deities, marketing themselves and product in an online format, just as their print predecessors. Do you follow Suzy Menkes on Instagram? Does she even have an account? And more importantly, when will @suzymenkeshairpouf be available in my newsfeed? Lil Bub, the internet cat phenom who’s place in my heart (and as my screensaver) rivals only my love for chocolate and Comme des Garcons, may have no authority in fashion, but if she’s at a fashion show, I’ll see it on my little screen within the hour. Menkes has decades of fashion journalism under that brunette bouffant, but for a generation that lives online, browsing Valencia-filtered photos and 140-character memos, her sincerity and brilliance as a wordsmith goes largely unnoticed in favor of more trivial- often sponsored- posts by @bryanboycom and @chiaraferragni, brushed under the rug by a meme of Miley Cyrus backed up by Beetlejuice and/or those aforementioned overly complimentary captions regarding less-than-stellar catwalk charades.
Have we entered an era when the professional critic is reduced to a hack, and our trust is instead in the hands of self-appointed authorities on niche fashion sub-categories? And if we have, is that a bad thing? More importantly, can the critics’ respect be preserved when they don’t gloss over faulty collections and bow down to the corporate thrones, and at peace with the varying genres of online specialists and fan favorites, the ones who, in stark contrast, make careers out of bias for the sake of the audience? Will honesty’s value return when numbers of fashion’s players continue to over-saturate the media with pea-brained compliments and unnecessary back-scratching, and so help me, when will the community recognize designers’ fear-mongering for just what it is: desperation?
Fashion is objective, and like one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one Russian oil magnate trophy wife’s consideration of Glad bag style Ann Demeulemeester polyurethane as “ugly garbage bag dress” is my [freakish] subversive dream shift. The trouble, however, lies not in the dissonance of opinions, but rather in the “kissing of the ring” mentality, because without a figurative Switzerland, how are we to be peacefully untamed? If we are silenced before we can even speak, have we not lost all the freedom we seek in fashion? Visionaries, revolutionaries- if they don’t have anything nice to say, they say it anyway, because sticks and stones may break bones, but words mean what you make of them.