Why is fashion writing so pretentious?*
'From pastels to patterns to pops of color, the pervasive message for spring is the power of positive dressing.' Vogue shoot from March, 2012. Photo: Craig McDean
I have a new game for you to play. It’s called The Fashion Writing Drinking Game (because I couldn’t think of a better name for it) and here are the rules.
-Go to your local shopping centre;
-Buy a fashion magazine - any fashion magazine will do, but the fancier the title the better for playing the game;
Naomi Campbell in a fashion shoot for W magazine, July 2012. Photo: Emma Summerton
-Buy a bottle or ten of your favourite alcoholic beverage;
-Call some friends and invite them over for some fun.
-When you are ready to play, line up a bunch of shot glasses filled with your poison of choice, and open the magazine;
Model Ieva Laguna in a shoot for Russh magazine, issue #34. Photo: Will Davidson
-Take turns reading aloud from the pages of the mag;
-Do a shot every time you hear the words “ethereal”, “whimsical”, “celestial”, “transcendental” and every other word described by the Oxford dictionary as meaning:
1) 'Extremely delicate and light in a way that seems to be not of this world.
- Her ethereal beauty.
2) Heavenly or spiritual.
- Ethereal, otherworldly visions.'
-Do two shots whenever you hear “”directional”, “brave”, “muse”, “to die”, “STRIPES” or “the new Kate Moss”;
- Do three shots every time the word “chic” or 'luxe" are shoved indelicately onto the end of any other word to herald the coming of a new trend/an intense lack of imagination on the part of the writer. For example "boho luxe", “boho chic”, "hippy luxe", “preppy chic”, “sporty chic” and – lest we forget – “heroin chic”;
- Slam four drinks down if “tribal”, “ethnic”, “oriental” or “exotic” are used to describe anything even vaguely non-Western;
-And just grab a bottle and gulp for England if and (more likely) when you hear “avant-garde”, “l’enfant terrible”, “bohemienne” or any other French phrases used to denote the writer’s bilingual acumen and/or inherent snootiness.
You’ll be drunk-texting your ex-boyfriend and telling everyone you love them before the centrefold. I promise.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love fashion magazines, I love them dearly. I can lose hours between the pages of the likes of Vogue, Russh and (my favourite) Lula, and if I added up all the money I have spent on local titles and international subscriptions over the years I’d probably have a panic attack. Fashion mags are my bible, my fetish, my porn. But – unlike the claims of every male ever caught with a Playboy stash - I don’t read them for the writing. Why? Well firstly because – like porn – fashion is all about the visual, and writing about it is somewhat akin to how Martin Mull described writing about music: “like dancing about architecture”. And secondly because, well, a great deal of contemporary fashion writing is too confusing, too pretentious, or just plain bad.
I am not here to name names nor by any means to imply that ALL fashion writers ought give up their day jobs. There are still several outstanding voices – Tim Blanks, Robin Givhan, Hamish Bowles, Cathy Horyn, and the remarkable Tavi Gevinson to name a few - keeping the fashion journalism talent pool from drying up completely. But I would like to call the global industry to task on letting things get this far down the rabbit hole. Seriously, when did sentences such as “the whimsical nature of the feminine tailoring clashed with the oh-so-now mystery of the exotic neo-temptress” become acceptable, let alone publishable? And what is the mystery of the exotic neo-temptress? It sounds intriguing, and more than a little racist.
Magazine sales are dropping and fashion lovers worldwide are turning to the Internet for their daily sartorial fixes. Note the meteoric rise of Instagram and Pinterest (on which the Fashion/Style category accounts for almost 12 per cent of the total images pinned); and the increasing popularity of personal style and street style blogs such as The Sartorialist, Style Bubble, Man Repeller, Jak & Jil, and 4TH AND BLEEKER I’d wager that all this has as much to do with readers tiring of humourless passages more befitting of first year philosophy essays as it does with the immediacy and availability of the Internet.
Which brings me to my next issue: Where is the fun? Where are the funnies? Why must everything be so serious and cerebral all the time? I’m not calling for knock-knock gags or limericks, just the occasional hint at a sense of humour amidst the pseudo-intellectual whimsy. Aforementioned writers such as Tim Blanks and Hamish Bowles make the odd amusing reference, and humour-based fashion blogs such as Fashematics, Unknowledgable Fashionista and my all time favourite Go Fug Yourself provide some much needed comic relief to the generally po-faced world of fashion prose, but it’s not enough. Seriously, if fashion designers can be hilarious – see Comme des Garcons, Marc Jacobs, and Vivienne Westwood for some - why can’t a great number of fashion writers get the joke?
Karl Lagerfeld himself said, “Fashion does not have to prove that it is serious” and nor should fashion writing. And perhaps therein lies the answer. Perhaps it’s in the self-perceived need for fashion journalists to prove their seriousness, their intelligence, which has led to the existence of sentences such as
“[She] ventures into the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dreams and the astral planes of [the designer’s] mind.”
Say what, now?
As a sometime sartorial commentator myself, I have heard the condescension in the voices of those that say, “Oh, you’re a fashion writer” as if fashion writing is akin to, well, something deserving of condescension. I know I have felt the need at times to prove my academic prowess while writing on the topic of pants, to demonstrate my above-average intelligence while waxing lyrical about Louboutins. I probably sounded like a snobby wanker, but hey, at least I didn’t sound unintelligent!
And so I say it is time for a shake up of the medium. It’s time for fashion writers to embrace the frivolity of fashion, to stop trying to impress and to instead start impressing. It’s time to revisit the works of the legendary Anna Piaggi, who Manohlo Blahnik called “the last great authority on frocks”, and rediscover the literary magic that can exist between the pages of a magazine. For, if people can read Playboy for the articles, surely they can read Elle for them too.