It’s not too hard to find celebrities, editors, buyers and bloggers at Fashion Week, but there is a group of people markedly absent from the shows these days: Fashion critics. Where are they? Ten years ago, when we would do seating charts, we’d have actual critics and reporters to accommodate. Robin Givhan, Hilary Alexander, etc. People from even smaller publications like Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, the Boston Herald, papers from Dallas — there were just a lot more reviewers. But after the economy flipped in 2008, you started to see a lot of newspapers cutting staff from their fashion and lifestyle sections, or eliminating them altogether. Today, it’s really slim pickings when it comes to reviewers.
Back in the day, Women’s Wear Daily used to review pretty much everybody. But then after a while, there were too many shows and they couldn’t possibly review everyone. They cut down on the reviews and instead do little thumbnails of the show with short blurbs. But even those people, like People’s Revolution clients who are getting reviewed by WWD, have to remember, it’s still a trade publication, so only a certain number of people can access the content. In New York, the places that do a lot of reviews usually do just photo coverage. The Times only has a couple reviewers. There’s just a whole cross-section of missing reviewers, or sections of the papers altogether. Instead, we have a whole bunch of blogs, many staffed by people who think they are reviewers.
Is the slideshow the new review? Is it better to not have a point of view and just post front row gossip and show pictures? A lot of people are focusing more on their Internet coverage because face it: Print takes longer, it’s just not as fast as the web. But you think about all these seats and you wonder, “Who are you going to seat?” There’s market editors, but they’re not going to be doing anything with the clothes for at least three weeks, if not longer, because they have to plan out the next issue. In a world of instant gratification, it does have an effect on the designers. It’s also tricky because some of the bloggers are actually real writers.
I remember doing a Costello Tagliapietra show at the beginning of their career and a reporter for a Chicago-based magazine, who had his own blog under another name, attended the show. His blog was basically about how much he hates fashion people and it was just like, “Who is this person and how did he get in here?” That was when we realized the blogosphere is the Wild West. Zach Eichman (now at Tommy Hilfiger) and Fern Mallis organized a meeting at IMG about what to do about these new people called the bloggers. I was there and all the big PR companies turned out. Everyone was like, “We have this issue going on with these people called bloggers. We don’t know what to do because a lot of them have jobs as editors and they’re working on the side under other names for their own blogs.” That’s when everything really changed. This was before the birth of Tavi, but when she did emerge on the scene, seeing a 14-year-old blogger at a fashion show sitting next to Teri Agins, that was kind of shocking. Since then, there have been personalities like Bryanboy (who I love), but back in the day, it was unheard of.
But now you have all these bloggers who are happy to come, but a lot of them are just shooting in the dark. They don’t really have any fashion training. Is that a good thing? Maybe. Is their point of view more relevant? Maybe. Less relevant? Maybe.
That brings up another issue: Before, the shows were for the reviewers and the buyers, and very few collections are bought off the runway. Not to be a party pooper, but why are the designers giving away all their content for free? You have all these people on the media riser — they’re not paying to be there. The designers are paying $300,000, $500,000 to a million for those 13-minute shows and what are they doing? They’re giving away free content. It’s a dream for anyone in the content-creating community. Why not have just one photographer shoot your show and license out your rights? You don’t think some of these photographers aren’t taking these images and selling them for a billboard in Ginza or Tokyo? They must be, there’s fashion images all over the world! The designers aren’t getting any of that revenue.
The music industry has publishing people who look out for the artists. If One Republic or Katy Perry has something playing on the radio, you bet they’re getting paid. No one is doing that for fashion designers. Why don’t fashion designers say, “OK, my front row I’m going to give away, but everyone else can buy tickets?”
Personally, I think the shows should be smaller — why are we doing shows for 400 people? Or, at the very least, start charging folks to attend. For someone like Ralph Lauren, sure, he probably has 400 people that need to be at his show from a press standpoint. But for younger designers who aren’t doing that kind of volume, who are these 400 people? To me, once you’ve got a third row, why bother with four, five and six?
Besides, people are already selling their fashion show tickets on eBay and Craigslist. In London, you have to get a signature from where you work because mail people and concierge people are stealing the tickets and putting them up on Craigslist to turn a profit.
Where else but the fashion industry can you go for free and get free content of beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes? The bottom line is, Fashion Week needs some reform and most importantly — we need to bring the reviewers back.