Is the Fashion Critic Dead?

What is the place of the fashion critic in an increasingly democratic, social media-driven industry?  Are they obsolete?  The conversation between Susie Lau and Alexander Fury at the LV series 3 exhibition on Friday night made me ponder this very question.

IMG_5800Susie Lau in conversation with Alexander Fury at Louis Vuitton’s LV Series 3 Exhibition, London

If fashion is being captured and disseminated by the public, who are shaping their personal style according to online influencers (celebrities/bloggers) rather than looking to fashion critics for direction on what to buy, then what purpose do the critics serve? To propagate the agenda of the publication for which they write?  Do they influence buyers?  Consider a buyer seeing a blogger with half a million followers wearing an item of clothing or a fashion critic writing a favourable review about that item.  Which one would have a greater influence on the buyer, whose main aim is to purchase products and sell them to a social media-obsessed public?  Are they there for industry insiders to read what amount to peer reviews?

Marketing and PR have always been an important support mechanism for selling fashion products – I know this from experience selling my own collections to boutiques – but now online influencers appears to have transcended traditional marketing and PR strategies.  Traditional PR involved stylists and shopping editors calling in items to photograph and publish at the time the product came into store – i.e. six months after the product was initially presented at London Fashion Week, for example.  This has been totally usurped by immediate (and ideally sustained) social media promotion of product, although the lag until the product is available is a problem.  Selling fashion has become more about authentic portrayal/endorsement of products on social media than fashion critics and editors telling the public what to wear each season, months after the products have been shown.

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Poppy Delevingne’s Instagram 

It was interesting to see the level of engagement with Susie Lau after her conversation with Alexander Fury, which was broadcast on Twitter’s real time platform Periscope.  Alexander is a seasoned critic with an encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion history who writes for the well established and respected broadsheet, The Independent. Susie is an indie blogger who covers fashion from a personal perspective and illuminates the work of designers with a refreshingly thoughtful slant.  She is as much a supportive and grass-roots champion for emerging designers as she is a front row stalwart.  While Alexander dismissed ethical fashion as not important to designers because they are too busy and over-worked, Susie is a vocal campaigner for Fashion Revolution Day and has oversight of ethical advances being made within the industry, including supporting the recent launch of Katie Jones sustainable knitwear in Selfridges.

Considering the impact of social media, on Instagram Susie has considerably more followers than Alexander.  Any idea who people were queueing up to chat to afterwards and have a photo taken with?  This is by no means a slight on Alexander, simply a reflection of how the public engages with and consumes fashion in a digital, authenticity-driven age.  In mentioning Alexander and Susie’s position on ethical fashion I hope to illustrate that a fashion commentator with oversight of the industry as a whole and who explores fashion’s wider context is surely better placed to provide critique than one who does not, and perhaps that means the role of the fashion critic in today’s industry needs to expand.

Reading Alexander’s show reviews in the Independent last week I discovered he had written a critique on a show he didn’t attend – he used the online show images from which to form his opinion.  We can all access these images in a matter of minutes and in some cases in real time, so theoretically, any person can form an objective review of a fashion show.  I found this interesting because it throws the purpose of the fashion critic further into question, especially as we’re all increasingly taking on the role of curators of our own (and other people’s) style and members of the public have been invited to industry runway shows for the first time this season at Givenchy.

unnamedMembers of the public at the Givenchy show. Image: Business of Fashion

Conversation amongst my lecturing colleagues includes discussion of critics’ reviews and there’s a definite reverence for critics’ (including Alexander’s) opinion,  but to the fashion consuming public, who brands are putting more and more central to their marketing and PR strategies, is the era of the fashion critic dead?

Perhaps fashion critics need to evolve their reviews to include fashion’s impact and involvement with society, culture, technology and the environment, putting fashion in a broader, more accessible and arguably more interesting (and powerfully relevant) context?

Want to explore the debate further? >> Fashionista: Where Have all the Fashion Critics Gone?

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McQueen and a Bee Named Beyoncé

Bees have been featuring greatly in my life lately. From blogpost one featuring Bastian Broecker’s robot swarm algorithms based on the behaviour of bees, to a wonderful gift of bee pollen and propolis-laden honey from Pablo Villasenin of Toca honey in Galicia, which threw me back into rude health after a hectic time at London Fashion Week, to a very special Pearly Queen beekeeping session this morning at Stepney City Farm in East London. It was special because I learnt more about how bees communicate via a waggle dance that is fundamentally based on physics and also managed to spot the Queen Bee amongst a hive of around 8,000 bees. Well, she is called Beyoncé so it’s not surprising she was dominating the crowd and making her presence felt. I also got to wear a Beekeeping suit (I am an ardent onesie fan – usually of the pilot suit variety) so stylistically, I felt right at home.

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The Queen bee rules the hive for her lifetime of (up to five years), long outliving the worker bees (other female bees) and drones (male bees) whose lifespan is around 6 weeks. The Queen bee mates once, one mile in the air about the hive (mile high club, anyone?) with up to 20 drones. She stores the semen in her bountiful “hips” for her lifetime, fertilising her eggs according to how/when she wishes to populate the hive. She can lay up to 2000 fertilised eggs per day. Interestingly, John from Pearly Queen tells us that there are a group of French bees located near an M&M factory in Alsace have been making coloured honey after visiting waste sites containing the coloured shells. M&M flavoured honey, anyone?

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The fascinating bee behaviour and the protective suits, mesh hats and long gloves got me thinking about beekeeping-inspired fashion. My research led me to Alexander McQueen SS13 and Jean Paul Gaultier’s SS15 collections.

Understanding the powerful pheromone-driven sexuality of the Queen bee and devastating and sudden demise of all drones who mate with her, the premise for Sarah Burton’s dark sexually charged bee-inspired SS13 collection for Alexander McQueen is clear and potent.  The collection featured a metamorphosing hexagonal digital backdrop, honeycomb jacquards and tortoiseshell accessories and cage-like bodices with ornamental bees, reminding me of the wooden frames of the hive I saw today and adding a rich, glossy, amber quality like the nectar and pollen inside the honeycomb.

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Images: Style.com

If I was developing a collection inspired by beekeeping I’d consider the corruption of honey by artificial colours from the M&M factory and take it to a more techno place. I’d draw influence from beekeeping suits and all-over protective clothing including NASA space suits, as well as functional fastenings, including zips. I’m also a fan of the gauzey drapery around the neck and in the mesh of vintage beekeeping attire. I’d also develop knitted structures to mimic hexagonal shapes and create a honeycomb dimension. Here are my beekeeping/spacesuit/functional outerwear mood boards.mood board 1

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Mood board credits: Givenchy Haute Couture, Toogood Outwear, Noemi Anna Tina Ceresola, Nasa Space Suits.

Header Image: Raquel Zimmerman by David Sims. 

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