#929 On honest fashion reporting

Those writers who’ve been banned from numerous fashion shows have been playing on my mind a lot this week – anybody who’ll willingly put their necks on the line to give an often unpopular opinion is a-ok in my books. Overseas it’s a fairly regular occurrence – people like Suzy Menkes, Cathy Horyn and Colin McDowell have all been refused admission to big name designers’ shows (Armani, Balenciaga, Carolina Herrera to name a few), simply for doing their jobs – giving their honest (and educated) opinions. In New Zealand, the idea of honest and educated opinions when reviewing our local designers’ work seems oxymoronic. Actually not even oxymoronic, overtly non existent. Every season a new set of collections comes out, and unfailingly, every season it’s the same – Zambesi, incredible! Karen Walker, stupendous! Kate Sylvester, a dream! Nom*D, to die for! Who does it help? Nobody as far as I can see.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking our local talent – we have a pool of great designers in New Zealand. But that said, even the greatest designers in the world have their off seasons. Not in New Zealand, it would seem (if you believe the media).

I’m a firm believer that if you’re willing to put your creative work out there for the world to see, then you have to be equally willing and able to accept criticism. But I’m not going to blame the problem on the designers, the onus for this one lies firmly in the hands of the media.

It’s a funny thing. Look at any other field in NZ – art, film, fiction, sport – all have their experts, and all receive honest reviews. If an All Black plays badly, all the sports writers will be talking about it for weeks on end. If an author writes a bad book, he or she will be crucified. For some reason, fashion doesn’t get that same treatment. It’s like honest opinion flies out the door the moment a journalist is invited to a show.

I interviewed Dick Frizzell recently for Pilot Magazine. One of the questions I asked him was about how he deals with negative criticism. His response – he takes it on the chin, looks at the work again then tries to take it on board… ie he hopes that his next exhibition will be stronger for it.

So what’s the problem here? Is it that our journalists just don’t know enough to be able to give an honest review? Are they scared of the repercussions of being honest or negative? Or do they really just LOVE every collection more than the last?

The longer this goes on, the less chance there’ll be of it ever changing. Who’s willing to stand up and tell the truth?

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  1. Anonymous says

    Oh my God this is so true.

    I have friends in fashion reporting (which is why I’m posting this as anonymous) and they are just pathetic, they seem to be physically incapable of making any comment that isn’t glowing praise.

    They just end up looking sycophantic.

    And let’s be honest, some of the stuff at ANZFW was revolting.

  2. says

    Good topic. I’m no expert but I honestly think those who review fashion in NZ are probably a little too close to the designers.

    And possibly the real reason, as sad as it may sound, god forbid they might not get invited to a party or free drinks for a year or two by a particular designer. Damn your cred, why miss out on some bubbles?

    The sad thing is, good criticism is incredibly useful in whatever field you are in. Sycophantic backslapping is absolutely detrimental to becoming better at what you do.

    If everything is brilliant then what context are you working in?

    Time for the smoke and mirrors to be junked and some insightful commentary to step up. In the past the few who have been honest have become the ‘voice’ in their field.

    The others are just adding to the inane chatter.

  3. Anonymous says

    Maybe there’s no decent criticism because those journalists who are smart enough to form robust critical opinions would rather report on things that (they feel) matter more than fashion.

  4. says

    Yep I agree, with the comments made.

    I am a designer and as hard as it is to receive criticism, you have to have it. Its such a scary thing to put yourself and your work out there but if your constantly told your/its wonderful, its hard to discern if you are doing a good job or not.

    Naturally its got to be constructive too and not bitchy or greasy….like the free drinks comment! I have read some posts/articles on some designers and its just seems like a personal attack. No one needs that!

    Good constructive feedback enables creative minds to be brilliant!

  5. Gen says

    Let me be the first to say…Tall poppy syndrome Isaac! Kidding.

    You’re absolutely right, there’s very little critique by local fashion journalists of local designers. I don’t see you leading the way though! Constructive criticism is the only way to improve. If I had been told everything I did in my job was awesoem from the time I left uni I was be absolutely incompetent. Many posters here seem to think designers should be congratulated for getting out of bed.

    NZ produces some great designers who create lovely wearable clothes and innovative designs (Kate Sylvester) but some very feeble ones (Trelise for example), and some who trade on their big name status and seem to feel they can re hash the same item time and time again (Helen Cherry and to a certain extent Karen Walker, though I like the look of AW 2010) – obvisusly they can, as punters keep buying it.

    I’m v excited by what I see of Ingrid Starnes new collection and will be ordering up large.

    @anon 11.48, it’s ridiculous to say that fashion journos are somehow dimmer than their more heavyweight counterparts – Hadley Freeman , Jess Carter-Morley, Harriet Quick are all fantastic writers. Locally Zoe Walker is also excellent.

  6. says

    i wonder if this inability to criticise comes from a carrying-on of the idea that clothing is inherently female, flimsy and shallow? and journalists and designers are sort of play-acting at roles that they think are correct?
    it is a shame tbh that people like anon at 11:48 choose to continue holding on to the idea of those roles. yes clothing has an element of vanity. but aren’t a large amount of humans vain? it’s good to be honest with ourselves about these things i think…

    there is nothing more boring than receiving feedback which is uninspired but not critical. and it’s super average when you know that a writer is making up some pretend positivity.
    i imagine though as a writer it would be nerve wracking giving negative criticism as it leaves them wide open for major criticism in return. that annoying creative reaction to bad feedback – “#swearword# you, you can’t do any better…blah blah”.

    i am a designer and if someone genuinely didn’t like what i was doing i absolutely would be interested to know why. it helps me grow creatively! for it to be most useful, the opinion should be objective and takes into consideration who the product is designed for. i recall stacy gregg doing this well.


  7. says

    I think you are in a great position to comment here about your own personal reasons Isaac! I rarely see much of a critique of anything other than broad topics on your site, yet I know from our conversations there is plenty more you dissaprove of!!

  8. Anonymous says

    Comes down to advertising and relationships with designers that the fashion media here rely on. There are too few designers to piss one or more of them off. And from experience, some of our big names dont take ‘constructive’ criticsm from educated media well AT ALL.

    Would love to see you walk the talk Issac, but as someone else said, even you might be too close to the designers to manage it.

  9. Anonymous says

    I think there is also an element of ‘gate keepering’ by the pr companies too. They choose who they want there and weed out those who they think will give a less than glowign review – even if what is ‘deserved’. Anyone in a creative field is putting themselves on the line and it is always hard taking criticism, but constructive criticism is somethign that designers (and in fact anyone) can grow from if they see it as a potential positive. We operate too much in a microcosm of arse licking (I hope that is not so offensive that it gets censored) and back patting which ultimately can lead to complacency and int he case of the pr companies it’s the easy option to just take people off lists, but really let’s face it – it’s not doing the job they were hired to do.

  10. Anonymous says

    Perhaps we need to bring a respected overseas fashion journalist next fashion week to get a bit more perspective on the NZ industry? Isaac-maybe in a few years you could be our new journalist-tell it straight though. Could you do it?!

  11. gen's rival says

    @ Gen, I don’t know about Ingrid Starnes.. maybe you are besties or that designer.. i don’t know. This is why NZ journo is bit blah. friend of friend who’s friend with designer?

  12. oldgirl says

    I see lots of collections each season,some are great, a lot of the newer designers need told about the overall look and the finish and I am hard on them. So I am called a bitch some times I know, but in the end they learn and I do give them a chance if they get their act to-gether .But the fashion media here is so young and want to go to the parties and have their photo in the paper etc they will not give a bad report. The truth is good and can only help a designer for the next season. So media need some balls and say what the think they would get more respect, and who cares about the next party .I do not think it is something people like suzy Menkes and Colin McDowell worry about.They tell the truth So maybe it is up to you Issac be brave. You can tell the truth but also be kind.

  13. says

    This is exactly what I’m talking about. Constructive criticism helps. I appreciate all your comments and I will endeavour to be more honest in my reviewing from now on.

  14. Anonymous says

    Whats amusing and apparently completely foreign to nearly every fashion writer in NZ, is that if you write well and honestly, you will become respected in the field.

    Once respected, a power shift eventually occurs and instead of being concerned about whether some raw hipster invites you their party, they will HAVE to invite you or risk their range not being written about by YOU.

    That logical pattern won’t happen because the gutless journos care more about perks and being friendly to designers operating in a critical vacuum. Many of which produced lacklustre and sometimes downright fugly ranges at FW.

  15. says

    “The fashion media here is so young and want to go to the parties and have their photo in the paper etc”
    I completely agree that the fashion media here is very young, with A LOT to learn (myself included). There was a huge gap between Stacy Gregg and Cathrin Schaer (who left the industry at pretty much the same time), and the “new guard”. But, for the record, I kind of hate going to fashion parties and would much rather be hanging out at home with my nephews than getting my photo taken by social photographers. The end, please don’t rip me to shreds..

  16. Anonymous says

    maybe the designers could make something that’s worth critiquing. no one here is doing anything ground breaking. its not bad. its not good. its safe teetering on boring. so what do you expect journo’s to say? the same people that critique fashion writers are the same people on here annonomously criticising people who have to work hard at staying employed.Fashion writers get bored too.

    it’s New Zealand. it’s small. plenty of big egos, and plenty of random people desperately wanting to be in fashion.I’d be nice to hear who these journo’s are that you guys are criticising for not giving ‘honest’ reviews…

  17. Anonymous says

    While I’m very interested in fashion, and love clothes, I never read fashion journalists reviews of a show or a collection. There’s a reason for that: I don’t care what someone else thinks about it. Either I like it myself or I don’t.

    As far as Stacy Gregg’s and Cathrin Schaer’s reporting went, the majority of it just came across as bitchy posturing to me. And, I would have preferred that they had adopted American Vogue’s approach to fashion journalism: Vogue doesn’t criticize if they don’t like something; they just don’t mention it. Death through anonymity is Vogue’s approach to designers and collections they feel have missed the mark.

    As for fashion journalism itself, that particular endeavour has about as much gravitas as writing gossip columns. And, no one really cares about it except fashion journalists. Fashion journalists do not held as much sway with the buying public as they imagine themselves to.

  18. Anonymous says

    The NZ fashion media are like an exclusive club – you are either in or out. However, i think that fashion media in nz are much more accessible than say media overseas. Fashion media are like most media in nz – under resourced and need stories that will help “sell” their publications – so controversy and sensationalism tend to hit the mark. Satire would be the closest way a fashion journo could position their personal view?

  19. Anonymous says

    you need to understand that some of the fashion media here also have to take into account advertisers and sub editors. When they write something honest and constructive, it ends up being edited out, leaving the review to be something that isn’t a true reflection of what they want to say. Not everyone has the luxury of editing their own blog or being their own editors.

  20. Anonymous says

    The big media players (APN, ACP, Fairfax, etc.) aren’t interested in any honest reporting – fashion or otherwise. Their sole purpose now is to pander to advertisers in order to increase revenue and profits.

    Reporters who understand this and provide “appropriate” content are therefore promoted – while troublesome journalists who provide honest criticism are left out in the cold.

    I believe the term for this is “Manufacturing Consent” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Political_Economy_of_the_Mass_Media

  21. says

    I think the lack of honest fashion reporting is a significant issue in New Zealand. But it also joins a lack of good, strong magazines, fashion industry leaders and good design. The media focus too much on the ‘titilating’ gossip and behind the scenes drama and not on the clothes. They reserve judgement and hide behind the pithy excuse of New Zealand being small and “in it’s growth period.” This shows a lack of redness of the blood and the only way for something to prosper is through, yes nurture, but also through criticism to keep designers challenged.

  22. says

    Just got this comment from Kelly T, here it is without the swear words:

    Isaac, im pumped,yes pumped that you have been thinking about this. Im sorry to say that in general ( in general i know not everyone) AKL fashion crew are pretty damn clicky and sometimes it appears that it doesnt matter what someone pulls out if they are part of the crew it is “Amazing”. I have a Canadian friend who is the best and only person who will give you a straight up opinion, good or bad. Since knowing her I have really realised how evasive NZrs are in general when it comes to delivering the tough truth. I guess its a confidence thing, there is a risk of backlash, can you take it? As a creative it kills me sometimes how hard it is to get someone to constructively criticise work how can you progress if you’re in a constant praise bubble? Im really happy that someone mentioned Helen Cherry above. I know Fashion Quarterly loves her and yes workshop put young hot models on their posters, but seriously i dont know any young people who would shop there…well maybe for the imports..Despite the advice of their staff they are determined to die with their original customers and recycle the same cuts and sometimes fabric every year. I think that it is cases such as Helens that perhaps a bit of media attention of the negative kind could really put a bomb under her to spice up the game….ah im ranting.. Thanks Isaac

  23. gen says

    Interesting Isaac and I agree with Kelly on HC. However – she’s one of the few designers in Auckland doing pretty clothes that you can wear to the office (my usual catchcry). Boring and repetitive, yes. But cleverly targeted at a cashed up demographic? Yes as well.(which is probably why they consistently get covered in FQ as well).

    I’d never rush out to buy any HC items but I do pick up a few bits & pieces there (on sale usually – hard to justify top prices for a cut that’s 5 years old). That’s why I mentioned Ingrid Starnes (who I’ve never met in my life) – I was glad to see another designer do grown up fashion (most women over 23 won’t really be able to justify $400 shredded jeans).

    On this topic, I picked up the latest FQ on Sunday. The best bit was the chain store chic feature, which is sort of ironic.

  24. says

    Wow I’ve never thought about this, that is interesting. Personally, as a fashion lover, criticism on any designer or their season collection wouldn’t affect my own view on it – but I would hope what I AM reading are honest opinions of the person who wrote them. Otherwise it’s kinda scary, really! P.s. My latest post today is on a Fashionista — feel free to drop by :) http://chubbis-live-here.blogspot.com/

  25. Anonymous says

    Hey Isaac, hmmm… Am a bit late to this subject… but I have to say that I don’t think it is true that nobody ever gives local designers an honest review. Some reviews might not be one’s own opinion perhaps … as in, i hate that stuff and it’s a total rip off of Prada or whatever… but, in my opinion, that is not what reviewing of any kind is about. If that was the case it would be very egotistical, as in…”I don’t like this, therefore nor should anybody else” kinda thing. As I have written before in a few stories (because it’s something that gets even more important the more bloggers and what I would call non-professional reviewers there are commenting on clothing…and not being disparaging there, some are really good, its just that they don’t get paid) is that its a matter of opinion. It’s like reviewing a Britney Spears album. Sure, you could hassle the girl for being a bad (well, weird anyway) mother, for peaking too early in her pop career, for encouraging 10 year olds to dress like 30 year old nightclubbers… and for getting other people to write her songs. But hey, is that what the Britney fans want to hear? Nope. They don’t want the reviewer to compare her to Radiohead. They hate Radiohead. They just want to know what the new Britney album is like and whether they should buy it because they liked the last one too… so why would you compare a designer who is clearly “inspired” by overseas trends with the work of Nicolas Ghesquierre or John Galliano? It’s a different league with a different audience. There are commercial realities, relating to both what New Zealanders will wear and what they can afford, that come into play here… which means that within our market we have some brilliantly creative people who genuinely care about doing something original, or who just want to do what they have always done, and then we have some folks who may have run out of ideas, or who dont see anything wrong with making some pretty frocks that look like lots of other pretty frocks (and which will sell lots too) and covering their tracks with clever (or maybe just lots of) marketing. We also have some labels that concentrate solely on the domestic market and then we have some labels that want to make it big overseas… and in my opinion, they should be judged by the standards they have chosen for themselves.
    As a former fashion reviewer I tend to think our first duty is to the readers… designers will pick and choose as to whether they give a crap about what you are saying. And in fact, the best designers – like the best artists, writers or musicians – won’t care what anyone else thinks. They just do what they, and hopefully their customers, like.
    The other thing I think it is important to remember is that the New Zealand fashion industry is still a pretty young one. And that goes for both the labels and the journalists. Whereas people like Suzy Menkes have been writing about fashion (since the late 80s) for longer than most New Zealand labels have been making clothes.
    Fashion really only started getting regular front page-ish coverage about four or five years ago, thanks to people like Stacy at the Sunday Star and Janetta MacKay at the Herald. Before they proved to the mostly “serious” editors (who mostly liked rugby on the front page) that clothes could sell newspapers, we were lucky to even get one story on a fashion event into a section. And to make an informed comment you need to be informed…this comes with time and after seeing a fair few runway shows. After all, if you have only ever listened to one Britney Spears record how can you judge the artist’s work? You gotta listen to them all, or at least have some idea of her opus!

  26. RachelMW says

    Hi Isaac, I like you more!You raise such good points here that I must use this space to reiterate how pointless it is to ban a journalist from a show these days. Millions have a front row seat via webcast, collection are tweeted within minutes – really, designers should bite the bullet, show faith in their work and take the feedback. The good and the bad. Fashion can only benefit.

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