Monday, March 18, 2013
Suzy Menkes' article, "The Circus of Fashion" has upset me way more than it should. Really, her disdain for those she perceives as un-and-under qualified fashion bloggers is far away from my realm of concern. Her influence on me is from such a rarefied distance that I might never have noticed it at all if I had not seen it's negative effect, directly and indirectly, on two of my favorite women, both bloggers, whose opinions I value and whose happiness does concern me.
One of the women I mention will remain anonymous in my discussion. Without breaking her confidence to me, I can say she has lately questioned whether her ideas have a legitimate place in fashion blogging. This is, in part, because there are so many younger, more conventionally beautiful women, with more resources to spend, and therefore, in my friend's perception, seen as more interesting and valid. It is fair to mention her worries because I'd bet a lot that there are few of you who are reading this that have not fretted about something similar, at least once.
Veshoevius, the creator of her blog "The Taxonomy of My Wardrobe" has recently been public in her response to Ms. Menkes' commentary. And she is the other person I reference, but she has different reasons for her response. She doesn't need my defense, or even my support as a sister style enthusiast. But because I just really like and respect what I know of her, I hate it that even for a moment, in her own words, she felt "kind of ashamed to be a blogger." I'm relieved that she wrote us around to her intelligent conclusions about Menkes' complaints. And I was relieved to see her subsequent post showing her back in all her lovely fighting form. But I hope so much that she will not take that first initial jolt very seriously or for any length of time at all.
There seems to be a consensus that much of what Ms. Menkes said is true. She was certainly factual in many of her comments, but the meaning that fact holds is still subject to interpretation. The fashion industry created the crashers, the photo-op chasers, the over-the-toppers and is responsible for their flourishing. Ms. Menkes is an important cog in that great big, hard grinding wheel of fashion commerce. Since, as Veshoevius points out, the entire goal is to sell as many of us as possible the most possible product, it seems particularly counterproductive to slap around those who are your best customers! Fashion victims, indeed. It seems outrageous to me that the very people you want to convince to buy your product should be told outright that their opinion of the product is without merit.
In any art or design education worth a bit of salt, the artist learns the value of critique. In school, it is done by peers and instructors. And in the best of all worlds the student gets better as the result of appropriate critique and the process should be welcomed. Out in the world, when the artist (or designer) puts their work out for all to see, that critique does not and should not stop. When buying an artistic product, the customer's subjective, taste-based opinion may not be the only one of value, but it is the only opinion that counts ultimately in terms of the sale. And my sense is that those who sneer at the participation of the hoi-polloi don't really want to sell a lot of garments.
Additionally, Ms Menkes asks, "Who needs to graduate from Central Saint Martins in London or New York's Fashion Institute of Technology when a homemade outfit can go viral on YouTube with millions of hits?" Good question, but the answer lies dead center within her question itself. If these graduates are not realistic enough to understand that they will indeed compete with the merit that exists beyond the scope of academia, then these venerable institutions fail their students in fundamental ways. Our own academically-accomplished Veshoevius was too polite to say that these graduates often cannot hold their own with rocket scientists and brain surgeons, but I'm not. My own education comes from another similar (but not so tony) fine arts college. I can say with certainty, our graduating institutions don't guarantee talent and taste.
All of you who are reading this are aware that there are growing numbers of women, younger and maturing, fully mature, and some of us downright aged, who are no longer content to sit down, shut up and gently fade away as the end of life approaches. Women like Patti (at Not Dead Yet Style) host women like me and my silent friend and Veshoevius at cyber-gatherings like her Visible Monday project where style blogging women ( sometimes triple digits in number !) show up to show out just a little. The process is gentle, and the point is to assert our visibility in a safe place where all are encouraged. Critique is not the point here. Encouragement is. We are not professionals, for the most part, nor are most of us selling much of anything. There is some light commercial activity, but it is usually geared to our niche audience and presented by members from our own ranks. It's a movement, I tell you, and it's growing. It is a good, kind thing to happen within the often callously and deliberately unkind fashion world.
Establishing an office space in an ivory tower often leads to an inability to see what's happening on the ground. It follows that it's not surprising that Ms. Menkes can't see us at all. So I shouldn't take her comments very seriously, and I hope my anonymous friend and Veshoevius will join me in carrying on without Suzy's approval.