Now that the picture is coming into focus, it is clear we chose the wrong frame.
In the earlier days of fashion blogging (2005-2007) we chose media as our antecedent. We thought blogging was going to revolutionize the way fashion was covered. How? It could be faster. Or maybe more reflective of real people. Hopefully, it was going to be less beholden to corporate interests.
The fashion media itself reflected this naive narrative right back at us through a filter of cynicism. We were interlopers, seat-stealers. We were characterized as teenagers and wannabes, in breathless awe, incapable of critical thought, and too easily bought. The bloggers vs. critics narrative was born, and persists.
Everyone was wrong. The journalists were wrong – and so were we. Fashion criticism is under threat from the mismanaged collapse of an obsolete corporate business model combined with influence financial and otherwise from fashion’s heavyweights. Is it really endangered by a bunch of misunderstood kids? Come on.
It’s like comparing szezont a fazonnal. Fashion writers pride themselves in cultivating distance from their subject, gather vast amounts of experience and knowledge, and expressing their analysis through writing. Their role is, ideally, as objective as possible.
Opposite – fashion bloggers are subjective. In fact, they are often their own subjects, and as such are wholly inseparable from their subject of choice. Rather than analytical, they are expressive.
As individuals inextricable from their medium, fashion bloggers share much more in common with designers than most fashion writers. Designers and bloggers both tend to work under their own name, and often use their own image as muse. They both tend to be intensely visual, and rarely articulate with words. Some of the tropes of fashion blogging – like the mood board – are literally imitative of how designers work – assembling pictures rather than words to build a visual diagram of what they represent. The outfit post, the street style shot echo the visual standard of designer’s output – croquis, runway exit.
Great bloggers are brilliant at expressing themselves through images and words – just like the most successful designers are. Media is not used to translate reality in an informative way, instead it is used to bring their personality to life in the imaginations of an audience. For lack of a better phrase – brand building. A vivid ability to create an impression shows the individual has the raw material for making a creative career. As a blogger myself I find the entire process to be far more intuitive and artistic than it appears – it comes from inside you.
As such, many talented bloggers are using media in the same way designers do – to expressively establish a reputation for their work, whether the career is blogging itself or something else – photography, styling, illustration, modelling, editing and of course writing. This means both bloggers and designers are economically chained to their cultural contributions – a terrible environment for encouraging critical thought.
If designers and bloggers belong in the realm of fashion’s id, fashion criticism is the ego. Fashion goes on regardless of whether it gets analyzed or not. In fact, journalistic criticism is relatively new – Horyn herself dates her craft to 1993. So, it is a mature cultural development that requires a sophisticated audience and a handful of professionals with significant experience and a unique complement of skills. No wonder they’re so rare – and that’s also why few bloggers will ever play that field.
Fashion critics do understand the importance of putting a face to the words – there’s a reason why Suzy Menkes styles her hair that way. Still, Menkes uses her own image as a tool, not as a muse. Her focus is outward, and she has a major non-fashion-industry employer to bulwark against money pressure, and those distinctions are why her and her colleagues are cut from a different cloth than the fashion bloggers they’re often compared to.
The heirs for criticism are on their way, because Horyn, Givhan, Menkes and others established an audience for it. A few online voices are carrying on the tradition of covering the shows with candour, intelligence, spirit and wit, and their experience is building with time. Excellent fashion criticism may be as rare as ever, and the profession will be forced to adapt within a changing system, but it is not endangered.