Last month I completed a quiz titled “What is your fashion IQ?” on Vogue Australia’s website. It started off simply enough: I was shown a picture of a colorful shoe and successfully identified Christian Dior as its maker. Later, I was asked to name Karl Lagerfeld’s cat and match six “It” bags to the celebrity who inspired the design. Question twelve was an easy, albeit bizarre, one: “What is the correct spelling of Cara and Poppy’s surname?” I was asked to choose from a list that included “delicatessen.” The next question was even stranger: “What are the names of Stella McCartney’s children?” All four options included unusual names, all of which seemed equally correct. I chose the option that included “Juniper” and got it wrong. Oops.
I won’t reveal my score, but it was abysmal. I was mortified, not because my ego had been bruised (although I am obnoxiously competitive by nature) but because I had willfully spent almost 20 minutes attempting—and failing—a “fashion quiz” that had very little to do with fashion at all. I began to ask a few questions of my own: In what universe is knowing how to spell “Delevingne” indicative of intelligence? Vogue Australia is arguably the most under-appreciated and underfunded among its siblings, despite being a solid member of fashion’s most prominent media group since 1959. I have trouble believing that a Vogue editor not only commissioned but also paid for the creation of such a ridiculous quiz in the first place.
Is this really what qualifies as “knowledge” these days? It’s rather odd, given recent events that have underscored the urgent need for fresh, talented thinkers in fashion. Cathy Horyn’s sudden departure from The New York Times sent waves of shock and grief across the fashion media landscape, both old and new. On this side of the fence, we were bombarded with dozens of articles that seemed to mourn the end of honest fashion journalism itself. These effusive elegies could be found in all corners of the Internet, written by professional journalists and recreational bloggers alike. Imran Amed, founder of The Business of Fashion, lamented “the now sorrier state of fashion criticism” in his tribute to Horyn. Three weeks later, London-based writer Jason Dike, whose article was also published on The Business of Fashion, contended that “the real problem isn’t that there’s no one with an honest opinion anymore. It’s that there are very few places left to publish that opinion.” Like these writers, I worry that the future of fashion journalism looks bleak. My concern, however, is in regard to the depth of content.
Fashion tends to reward superficiality, a skimming of the surface without encouraging a deeper understanding of the how and why. The Vogue Australia quiz may seem innocuous, but it implies that name-dropping and meaningless trivia now pass as legitimate knowledge. The evidence is in every street- and personal-style blog that gets glorified in the press for being “unique,” while those with something interesting to say—whether in prose or in photography—are finding themselves increasingly ostracized from the very industry where their work matters most.
In most other industries, sharing knowledge is encouraged to promote awareness and accessibility. In fashion, however, knowledge is akin to currency. The optimistic interpretation is that knowledge builds power and resource—the more you know, the more powerful you become. That’s a sound and healthy approach to learning. The far more cynical, but far more realistic interpretation is that once knowledge is shared, the knowledge-provider loses a little bit of what they once had. Self-preservation exists on every level. There are so many people who would rather scatter names and dates here and there to reaffirm their “knowledge,” yet, when the opportunity arises to educate someone else, they back away. Somebody once said that knowledge is like a candle: the flame can be shared without diminishing the power of the source. Knowledge means nothing if it is not shared.
That’s my main objection to this so-called “Fashion IQ” test. It doesn’t test or encourage knowledge of any kind. The insipid questions were designed to keep eager writers and thinkers complacent and quiet, satisfied with what they have learned despite there being a whole world behind closed doors that, each and every year, recedes further into the distance, away from our grasp. Nobody cares about trivia, not when there are already so few opportunities for us to really learn about fashion. Condé Nast recently abolished its (unpaid) internship program after years of legal controversy, a strategic business move that will no doubt make the super-expensive Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design in London look like a reasonable alternative. For Vogue Australia, which is owned in partnership with NewsLifeMedia, to publish a “Fashion IQ” quiz at a time when the chance to gain real, practical knowledge of fashion is so scarce seems like nothing but a slap in the face.
Do the quiz for fun, but don’t take it seriously as any indication of your intelligence. Knowledge is not about accruing a bank of scattered, isolated facts about so-and-so in the fashion industry. It really happens when we are able to place these discrete bits of information into wider contexts, to inform bigger and bolder ideas. Anybody can do a quick Google search to find the answers to the quiz. It takes another kind of person to be able to pursue knowledge beyond just trivia, and, by sharing it with others, make that knowledge valuable to the community as a whole.