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.
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.
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.
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?