September 27, 2011

The Editors Are Out to Lunch

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Something has happened in the last few years. It started with fashion blogs, with teenagers going online to comment on fashion shows and trends. Then it moved to photographers getting curious about the fashion crowd, hanging around hotspots in fashion capitals to snap “street style” photos and post them online.

Suddenly fashion shows were no longer about what happened on the runway, but what editors and fashion folk were wearing to see the shows. Whereas a show used to be about clothes, on models, presented to clients, press and store buyers, it is now a three-ring circus.

In ring one we have the fashionista photographed on the street, on her blackberry, en route to the show. In ring two we have the show itself, as if it even matters. And in ring three there is the costume change and the after-party.

This began as a hobby of the young fashion blogger armed with a fancy DSLR and the stance of a worshipful outsider. Contrasted with a 1990s teenage stance of anti-fashion mocking the likes of the snotty fashion elite, this breed of teenage outcasts were finding their kindred spirits in people like Anna Dello Russo, the generously outrageous editor-at-large of Vogue Japan, and Lady Gaga, outré style icon. As all cameras peered behind the scenes at the editors, stylists, and tastemakers, these creatures began to warm to the limelight.

This was the fatal step, because, as Foucault put it, “visibility is a trap”. Since the fashion curtain has become a scrim, the mystery is gone and everyone is scrambling to react. Suddenly the tastemakers aren’t the ones editing taste but a new breed of online insurgents are actually editing them.

The visibility trend has peaked and settled. Now it has become a cultural fact and thus a question of economic relevance to various businesses. Case in point, department store Barney’s New York’s fall advertising campaign features fashion-insider figures like former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld and sought-after stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé not as creative consultants but as the models themselves.

Furthermore, as magazines see stores creeping in on their insider territory, they are in turn getting in on the retail business. For example, this fall Vogue will launch a shopping feature on its website, capitalizing on the fluid relationship between retail and editorship while hedging against the demise of print media.

But this inevitable fusion does pose issues of editorial integrity, seeing as an editor-merchant is more concerned with sales than artistic merit or a critical eye. As the sectors of the industry merge, as the outsiders are let into the party while the editors pour out of the office, the question is: who is the influencer now?

We have reached a sad state of synergy where everyone in the room, from the top executive to the creative director to the street photographer, are nodding in unison. My hope is for the next generation of critics to move away from retail and media and delve back into the substance to maintain an outsider’s skepticism and become editors who are always at their desks.

Original Author: Amelia Brown