The vagaries of my day job — that is being immersed in technology and its business — means that I need to find things that are different and eclectic, both from a cultural and a sociological standpoint. And fashion (or style) often is my refuge from the banalities of dumb apps like Yo.
Wait a minute — but isn’t fashion banal? Of course it is. I am too old for most of it anyway. And too heavy to fit into anything made by the new designers. But that doest mean I can’t find joy and excitement in the creative expression. What makes it even more exciting is when someone really smart writes about fashion, design and style in an eloquent and intelligent manner.
Suzy Menkes was one of those writers and I read her for decades. Literally, she was the sole reason I would read the International Herald Tribune (later renamed The International New York Times.) Of course, there is blunt and bold Cathy Horn, who was with the New York Times. Horn has stepped out of the limelight due to personal reasons. Replacing Horn and Menkes is Vanessa Friedman, who joined The New York Times (as chief fashion critic and fashion director) from the Financial Times. She made an impression when I saw the video of her speaking at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit.
Today fashion is disposable – and it is supposed to be. And it seems to me that should be unsustainable. Because what the situation we are in now — more and more and faster and faster — sounds like, more than anything, is a runaway train. And you know what happens to runaway trains: they crash.
The manifesto resonated with me because I too worry about our culture’s incessant desire to own more and more. Only a few years ago I realized, more is just more and since then have been reshaping my life, trying to get over what is rampant materialism. And because of that shared sensibility, Friedman became someone to follow.
Later, in an interview with Style.com, she said, “if you’re not willing to say when something is bad or a mistake, then when you say it’s good it means nothing.” When I read that, I was filled with joy, because you know, honesty is rapidly diminishing commodity in this social media dominated world, where everyone is marketing something. As someone who has followed that mantra, I know it isn’t an easy path to follow. Companies don’t return your calls, you are locked out of news flow and you obviously hurt feelings. And if you think it is bad in technology industry, I can guarantee that fashion industry is full of more venal folks who often doubt their own shadow. In the very same Style.com interview she said,
Twitter to me is a conversation. If I want to write a 1,000-word review, I’m not going to do it on Twitter, and hopefully it can’t be condensed into 140 characters. If it can, then maybe I should think more about what I’m writing. The important thing is really to differentiate between a blog and a tweet and a column or review.
I wish many of the writers in the technology industry have that kind of clarity. Friedman (unlike that other Friedman at the Times) has turned out to be everything I had expected and more. In a world of vapid and somewhat frivolous writing and pretty photos, she provides a grown-up take on the business of fashion. She is a breath of fresh air, as she stays aways from platitudes and is as real as a fashion critic can get. She treats fashion business like a grown up (thanks to those years at the FT) and provides context that comes from being around for a while.
She even weighed in on Amazon’s new phone as a fashion accessory and frankly, she got it better than most of us in techlandia. Finally, someone at The New York Times understands SEO, trends and keywords and the importance of being au courant? She even wrote about Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s kurta and the fashion craze it has unleashed. For heavens sake, this is the Times and they are often the last ones to notice such things.
What makes her a must read for me is that she understands the growing importance of ecommerce, social media and how we are influenced in today’s hyperactive society. Her piece about selfies and commerce is a good example of her clue fulness. The intelligence she brings to the job makes are different from two other fashion writers I admire, Menkes and Horn. The Times scored a whole-in-one (pun intended) when they hired her. I am glad they did — I can’t wait to read what she writes next.
Update: Refinery 29 has published an interview Vanessa and here is this one comment from the interview which is something media folks covering all sectors need to remember.
This might seem like a weird question, but do you consider yourself an outsider when it comes to reporting in the fashion industry, or do you feel like you’re very much part of the club?
“I’m not part of the fashion industry; I’m part of the media industry. I’m a journalist; I’m not a fashion person. So, certainly by that definition, I am an outsider. And, I think that’s important, actually. I don’t think you can really see anything with clarity if you are part of it.”