Editorial: Is Fashion Journalism Dead?

Informed vs Uninformed Criticism: Who Needs It?

Do designers care or even want anyone reporting on their shows who has an experienced & educated eye that really looks at the clothes, how they are made, fitted and presented? Sure, there are plenty who write about the shows – the Internet is awash with these so-called journalists expressing their opinions about this designer or that one. But what of all these opinions? Is everyone an expert who has an opinion? What is the difference between informed and uninformed criticism? Should someone with 20 years experience covering the shows be of equal weight with someone whose only experience in fashion is viewing collections on the Internet? If the editor with 20 years experience gets a 1000 readers a day and the 16 year old blogger gets 10,000 a day is the blogger’s content better informed or more valuable?

“Unfortunately, due to the very high volume of requests we received this year, we will be unable to accommodate you this season for the shows you requested.” -KCD

Critical review of collections is an essential. Good criticism helps point out the areas of strength and the areas of weakness in a given collection. This feedback helps the designer grow and develop. But, these days, everyone is an expert. Informed opinion is lost in a sea of uninformed opinion that permeates magazines and the Internet disguised in clever graphics, snarky tweets and celebrity worship.

Frankly, most designers are not interested in someone who is in a position to really judge the quality of their designs. What good does it do them? It is just another opinion among so many. Just look at any major NY show and you will see who is considered of real importance. The front rows are filled with celebs, socialites, family, close friends and those editors of status deemed friendly to the designer. Hardly a critical audience. The designer is preaching to the choir.

There was a time when the out-of-town press would come in to cover and review the shows for their readers. These full-time paid fashion writers took their jobs seriously and expressed their approval or dismay over what they saw on the runway. They also provided serious feedback to the designer. But, over the past 10 years, most of them are gone now. They do not come in because they are not invited. Why, because their opinion is no longer wanted. Why should a designer risk negative press? No press is better than negative press.

So, in their place, the rooms are now filling with 20-something year old fashion bloggers (and even younger) with mostly dubious credentials and questionable taste, junior staff members of major magazines (how many depending upon how much the designer spent on advertising in the magazine), pr firm “favorites” with no direct relationship to fashion other than they are well connected, sponsors’ friends, and more and more these days paying ticket holders who have deep pockets.

Besides Cathy Horyn, and maybe Robin Givhan, in New York where is the cadre of “informed” independent writers who cover the designer collections? Even WWD, being owned by Conde Nast, is alway suspect of playing up those designers who advertise the most in their other fashion books. Who dares speak for fear of not being invited next season? Designers and their publicists have to put up with some of the big national press, but for the rest of us it is: “we will be unable to accommodate you this season for the shows you requested”.

– Ernest Schmatolla



Ernest Schmatolla is publisher of Lookonline since 1994. It is the longest running fashion site on the Internet.

  1. I am so conflicted on this. Ms. Horyn writes deliciously wicked reviews from a personal point of view, not the old Hebe Dorsey reporting but somewhere between critique and personal experience.

    It's about audience, I think. A blogger with a large audience is included and should be: demographics have always mattered and a small shift (at the moment) from print media to online everything is, as Suzy Menkes said in October '10, the way it is and no going back.

    It will sort out to quality at some point .. and some of the early bloggeratti are refining their views with a more educated and slightly less starstruck ideology. As designers bypass shops to reach the customer, all of this transition is killing off print media and, sigh, boutiques. Profits are up for the finest designers and products, truth be said .. and the struggling mediocrity still struggles.

    I love Tavi uniquely and with the greatest respect and admiration for her steeping herself in what was and her very good writing. She has been given opportunities that few of any age have: that's life.

    I love that traditional Vogue etc are serious about developing blogs and a significant online presence. In the case of Carla Sozzani, it is working well.

    Silly pr's, not the design house, will say yeah or naye to requests besotted with the inane until they too become educated. Santo Versace blocked me from entering a Versace show when we were dropping 100large a season first cost. Nothing about me but about his bovine sense of the business. Gianni was glam and sweet and a genius and I do not think that of his siblings.

    Oh well. Next will be challenging, whatever it is.

  2. Mr. Schmatolla,

    I totally agree with you on your standpoint. Whenever I hear about Fashion Week in NYC,I hear more and more about who's going to be there rather than what was the inspiration for so-and-so's collection and if it's really that good or bad. And I think you're right about the whole "invitation only" thing. Why bother risking everything you worked on and invite someone you know has the 50/50 chance of saying your stuff sucks when all you need are friends, family and celebs you pay off (money, clothes, etc.) to tell you everything is all good? I've stopped subscribing to a lot of publications because some seem to share the same info but print it differently as far as spreads go. All I was left with was a stack of ads and maybe a few good interviews from Vogue. Now a days, I look to that email I get from DFR. I was even at an event this blog covered and it was straight reporting. No opinions that play in the favor of the designer, no "oh this is so fresh it has to be the in" type comments. So yes, you're right. Where have all the independent thinkers gone? Where will the fashion world be in the next 5, 10, 15 years when all we have to dictate what we wear are celebs who have money to burn and the so-called "in crowd" of youngsters that write blogs with their opinions in it?

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