Does it matter that fashion critique/writing/journalism has moved from long-form to short tidbits?

That is the question (as I understand it) that Janice Breen Burns posed at last Fridays 13 March Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Forum Fashion Critique: Fact of Fiction? held at The Wheeler Centre.

The forum's panel was made up of writers: Janice Breen Burns (Voxfrock), Paris-based journalist Dana Thomas (Harpers Bazaar, Paris), Briony Wright (i-D) and moderator Danielle Whitfield (Curator, Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria). With such a diverse fashion knowledge base there was a great breakdown of the topic.

  • Consideration of whether fashion writing is even about fashion, or is it business, sociology and culture. 
  • Has digital formats and quick turn arounds exponentially increased writers workloads while limiting their time for lengthy and considered critical reflection?
  • And finally, given that all this is true to varying degrees, does it matter that the fashion critique has changed?

Ironically the forum ran out of time for the audience to ask the panel questions! Perhaps the first way to address critical discussion is to consider time and space. In a physical sense this could be time for discussion, retail space, advertising space, for a variety of fashion industry stakeholders; from emerging designers or fashion zine writers to book writers. All too often space is considered the realm of the manufacturing side of fashion business not the contemplative side. There needs to be physical space for both.

Had I my chance on the mic this is what I would have said.

Fashion was something from a young age that I desired to be involved with. Ever since my granny taught me to sew doll pillows, mum how to crotchet, and my dad how to draft patterns on newspaper and use a sewing machine, fashion was something I aspired to, but felt far from.

When uni course selection time came up, I put the TAFE fashion course last. Firstly I had a chance to go to uni and get a degree, so thats what I aimed for... if only there'd been fashion degrees available in Brisbane at that time. And secondly fashion was the stuff of magazines, movies, Paris and New York, I could not conceive what a fashion designer in Queensland looked like.

So it was the democratisation of fashion, that is, the proliferation of blogs and everyday people fashion commentary, that made it seem accessible. 

I was sceptical of these new formats from the beginning, they challenged my ideas of glamour and who purports to disseminate it. I also saw a dichotomy of 'look at them' and 'look at me' style blogs, and in my analytical OCD mind I had to draw a line. What did I like about fashion? Now that I had access to so much, what did I want to see? I was discovering what inspires me. 

I moved from magazines to blogs, and back again. All the while refining and deciding what aspects of media I liked. I felt at first that blogs had a sense of authenticity because of their immediacy, they didn't have weeks between editions to do exotic photoshoots to sculpt an image... and the images weren't just an extension of some commercial interest.

However in time blogs and magazines seemed to start to resemble each other - it was like the McDonaldisation of fashion media. I couldn't be lazy anymore I had to apply critical thinking to both formats and search further for content that inspired; or create it myself - that's right I started a street style blog!

CAPITAL THREAD was my platform to present my own little corner of the world in a way I wanted to. With the tag line 'CAPITAL THREAD is not concerned with price, power or prowess...' I had defined what I stood for. In-fact I chose photos over writing, the whole 'a picture tells a thousand words...', and I became hesitant to describe anything, I feared advertorial style writing.

However the more popular the blog got the more information was asked of me, and the more uncomfortable I felt asking my subjects, I felt like an intruder and worried that they thought I would judge or rank the information in importance - which I do not! I had developed my own paradox. I did not like the questions I was told to ask: where do you work, where do you live, who are you wearing? On one hand I had my own need for information: how things were made, what they meant to the creator, the wearer and the audience, but I did not want to define or be defined by this.

In painting a picture of Canberra style I had established a need to design.  

I became a fashion designer. I stopped the blog and retreated into myself. I wanted to create without censoring myself first, which is a hard enough task in itself, let alone when you are a constant observer!

It was not till I presented my own collection that I came to truly value considered critical reflection. Of course there is the instant satisfaction of Instagram and Facebook 'likes', however it is the articles that emerge days and weeks after a show that provide a designer with depth of perception. After all when you spend 6 months working on a collection for a 3 minute show, more than 400 words can sooth your soul that someone was paying attention. 

So Ms Breen Burns it does matter!

I now wonder whether fast-fashion is a reflection of short text? Maybe if companies thought that it took more than 'likes' to support new work, then designers could put more thought and time into each collection, it seems text and product go hand in hand.


[Previous posts on the topic include: Take My Picture and Street Style Bloggers and the Race for Comments]