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What is the Future of Fashion Criticism?
FSW talks with two industry veterans about the changing times for fashion media.
Grace Coddington is not a fan of computers. During her days as creative director at Vogue, she was known for her visionary creativity but also her shy distaste for the business side of the job.
In her memoir “Grace: A Life,” she recounts that since she “categorically refuse[d] to stare at a screen all day at a computer screen, a snowdrift of printed emails [had] buried [her] desk.” She also was dismayed at all the grunt work:
‘Multitasking,’ I think they call it. Whatever, it’s a far cry from the carefree fashion career I envisioned as a coming-of-age teenager praising Vogue’s photographs of girls draped across country gates gazing dreamily at the cows.
While Coddington’s role was on the creative direction side, rather than the editorial, her sentiments likely would resonate with the editors and writers on the other side of the publishing house.
In the early 2000s, TV shows like “Sex and the City” and films like “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) and “The September Issue” (2009) glamorized the life of a fashion magazine editor or critic as a covetable career path. This spawned an entire generation of fashion editors, writers, and journalists to enter the fashion industry or, in some cases, to create it from scratch as independent bloggers with their own digital platforms or at the very least as freelancers with a bevy of publications to which to contribute.
To make a long story short, the landscape of fashion publishing and, in turn, the role of the fashion critic, have greatly shifted over the last two decades. As Alexandra Ilyashov reported for Fashionista in an article entitled “Where Does Fashion Media Go From Here?”,
[A]nyone with a fashion media job … knows what the temperature is in the industry right now. Many titles are closing (some partially, others fully), and layoffs seem to be announced more frequently. Teams are getting slimmer, with responsibilities that once spanned multiple roles now falling on a single person. The once-storied editor-in-chief role isn't necessarily a holy-grail gig these days — and publications are more than happy to tap younger, cheaper talent for leadership-level roles at discount salaries.
The shift to cheaper writers isn’t new as many publications since the early days of digital and social media have tried to use the novelty of the platforms as an excuse to hire interns or younger writers to produce content for free. What is new is that the locus of fashion content has switched from publishing houses to brands and from fashion editors, journalists, and independent bloggers to a morass of everyday content creators and brand marketers smart enough to try to keep up.
In the age of TikTok, branded content, and micro-communities, what is the role of fashion criticism and what does its future hold? Is fashion criticism still relevant in 2023? If the age of the fashion editor is over, are content creators the new critics?
To explore these questions, FSW turned to two fashion writers, Tyler McCall, a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief of Fashionista, and Sasha Charnin Morrison, an industry veteran turned content creator and author of Secrets of Stylists, to get their opinions on the current state of fashion criticism.
Tyler McCall, freelance writer and former editor-in-chief of Fashionista
Good fashion criticism helps center the fashion industry in the broader cultural moment. It helps translate what happens on the runways for those disinterested in capital-F Fashion; it connects the broader world of fashion with the individual. I also think fashion criticism should serve as an important feedback channel for creatives in the industry, not just in terms of what clothes should look like or what will sell, but in what kind of messaging they're creating around the industry.
In terms of how we got here, the world of fashion publishing has shrunk tremendously, even in the last few years. There are fewer and fewer outlets producing harder-hitting fashion reporting because it doesn't translate into high traffic numbers—the number one metric for how publications will spend time and money. And, of course, there are the increased ties between publishers and advertisers, who don't want to see their brands criticized at all. The rise of social media has meant that brands have more control over their messaging than ever before, and it's hard to give that up to independent critics and reporters.
I think we'll continue to see fashion critics emerge on new platforms, as has been happening on YouTube and TikTok. More traditional fashion critics will continue to exist, but I only see maybe three or four real outlets existing for them. And of course, there are newsletters, which is where a lot of people are finding success as independent observers.
Like publishers, brands are more motivated by what will make them money than what might potentially garner more respect or prestige. There definitely are still brands who care deeply about fashion criticism, for sure, and then there are others who can't be bothered anymore. I don't think that means fashion criticism will die out, though. It will just look different than it has.
Sasha Charnin Morrison, content creator and author of Secrets of Stylists
I am always an optimist. We have to do better. For the audiences. We must evolve and change. Adapt. Become the magicians we once were. Regarding content, I think we were much more inventive with less and mediocre with more. I hope fashion magazines make a giant return like LPs have. We could do with an edit of multiple titles and ones that have creative directors or editorial directors (or whatever they're called now) who have more than one point of view. And we have to stop with leaning on numbers—who has this many hits, and followers...who cares?!? If they're chic, have something interesting to offer, and are unique and talented, why aren't we lifting these designers and creators up?
I miss paper with printing on it. Not everyone can navigate the internet for everything. I think I'm also thirsty for groundbreaking content which is absent. Everywhere. The magazines feel empty on the pages. As for the metaverse, I think it's also the same. Why am I constantly reading about latte, tiramisu, and milky-fed nails on Vogue.com? I looked like a glazed donut last month. It's the SAME models, the SAME stories keep popping up. Now I'm just hungry for a frosted donut that I can't have because my Thursday at 7:00 pm Mounjaro injection won't take. That all has to change. And it can.
Fashion and trends should always be about change. Glamour will always be there. We just have to do better.
Can I also add that there are so many wonderfully talented people out there who are older, bring something solid and more concrete to the table, and speak in full sentences who aren't being utilized? Me included. We were all properly trained and could be used to further the content that I think is lacking. Across the board.
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