We Walk The Tight Rope On T Magazine’s Suzy Menkes Calling Fashion Week Street Style A Circus

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 Photo: Visual/WENN

The open discussion on fashion bloggers, their “formulas” for fame, code of ethics—or lack thereof, and contributions to journalism—or lack there of has leafed a new chapter.

The last we read, Fashionista.com was hanging out the newly coined ‘swag hags,’ (aka the fashion bloggers would have resorted to purchasing designer products and passing them off as gifts) in fashion’s front yard.

Now an article by legendary Fashion Editor Suzy Menkes on Tmagazine.com, titled “The Circus Of Fashion,” is criticizing bloggers and Fashion Week street style stars for ‘putting on a show,’ or “peacocking,” for photographers outside of show venues like New York’s Lincoln Center and the Tuileries Garden path in Paris for attention.

According to Menkes, it has resulted in a “celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous. They are known mainly by their Facebook pages, their blogs and the fact that the street photographer Scott Schuman has immortalized them on his Sartorialist Web site. This photographer of “real people” has spawned legions of imitators, just as the editors who dress for attention are now challenged by bloggers who dress for attention.”

Menkes also notes that there is a difference between people who are really stylish and those who are show-offs, but the gaggle of over-accessorized attention-seekers now pose the problem, “if fashion is for everyone, is it fashion?”—a problem she attributes to said show-offs and the brands soliciting and benefiting from their products on parade.

While we agree the digital age has a lot to with it, we think the problem stems beyond Bryanboy and the brands that endorse (or use) him, to visual media’s recent obsession with chronicling “real people.” Street style photographers, outside of recognized pioneers like Bill Cunningham, seem to have taken cues from reality shows like “The Real Housewives” and Kardashians, whose popularity once overshadowed scripted dramas, helped kill Soap Operas, and bore “icons” like Nene Leakes and Kim Kardashian because of their “accessibility.”

 

What a dslr and good focus can do. No pricy Mercedes-Benz registration to wait on. No disappointing inbox messages that start with “Thank you for your request, but unfortunately…” And no woeful looks from show-goers holding priority seating to remind you of your place in the fashion food chain. Outside of Lincoln, and along the  Tuileries Garden, the ability to garner the attention of onlookers and camera flashes is fair game. It’s a boost for bruised egos shoved aside by other eager show-goers on the way to the front of the standing line. While on the reverse, there are no credentials necessary or need to hustle your equipment into a prime spot in the pit for taking runway pictures—just quick-thinking and a good angle.

So we understand the street style culture and the good of it, for peacocking journalists and flash-happy photogs.

It’s a real show outside of show venues. And according to our interpretation of accounts from Suzy Menkes’ friend and fellow veteran fashion critic, Hilary Alexander, it might be one of the few spectacles left in fashion. A few months ago we cited a Dansk magazine article on Alexander in which the journalist affirmed, “Louis Vuitton and Chanel are the only true spectacles left.” (Might we throw in Alexander McQueen as well?) In the article Alexander reminisced on the early days of her show attendances when runways were grand and unpredictable.

Ironically enough, Menkes’ tales of the experience of attending shows in previous decades contrasts Hilary Alexander’s accounts of witnessing shows in those decades. Suzy Menkes recalls, “We were once described as ‘black crows’— us fashion folk gathered outside an abandoned, crumbling downtown building in a uniform of Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto. ‘Whose funeral is it?’ passers-by would whisper with a mix of hushed caring and ghoulish inquiry, as we lined up for the hip, underground presentations back in the 1990s.”

 

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According to both journalists’ accounts, it sounds like the fashion spectacles on the runways and understated fashion off have been swapped with the ushering in of the millennium  for understated presentations on the runway and spectacles off. Perhaps it’s a logical, if not fair, trade?

However, the T Magazine Editor makes very poignant and thought-provoking points and inquiries in her critique of Fashion Week street style as a circus. The over-dressed outsiders that litter Lincoln Center among journalists and buyers solely for the purpose of being photographed prove it a circus. So do the attendees who hire their own photographers to get Scott Schuman-style candids or wear masquerade masks to “make a statement.”

But besides the thirst for fame through photo, as an editor who’s covered and photographed editors while being photographed, the experience feels like being in a fun house or bad parody of Warhol’s ironic picture-taking of paparazzi. I’ve debated with being a “crow” versus a “peacock.” By nature I am private and have always enjoyed navigating the behind-the-scenes of fashion. But in the age of the celebrity editor and celebrity blogger, the benefits of the visibility that fashion’s current street style culture offers is tempting.

Ultimately, I think the culture needs peacocks to keep the sport of the spectacle alive in fashion. But it also needs its black crows, with the hope that journalists who are removed from the spectacle can report more objectively on the goings-on of the industry without being seduced, distracted, and finally discarded by the Fashion Week fame monster.

 

 

 

-Tameika Lawrence

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