Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Good, clean, honest fashion writing

If you follow me on Twitter, you might know I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. My current favourite is a show called Longform. If you haven't heard it, each episode is an interview with a writer, journalist, editor or someone else involved with the media. What I love about it is that each person makes me think a little differently about their sector, whether that's podcasting, investigative journalism, or fashion writing. When I was listening to the Molly Young episode, she said something about fashion journalism which resonated with me a lot:

Molly: "It's an industry that is only interesting from an outside perspective, which is one reason why there's just no good fashion writing out there. Anyone who's involved in the fashion industry who writes for a fashion magazine, their paycheck is directly tied to their..."
Presenter: "Right, that story is sitting next to a giant ad."
Molly: "Exactly."

This was always something of which I had been peripherally aware, but not something with which I was willing to fully engage or accept. I have several memories of hearing people say "fashion magazines are all just advertising" when I would list examples of in-depth and interesting features from the latest Vogue to defend the form. But when I look back, I realise those features which I was namedropping were rarely directly to do with fashion, they were the profiles of high-flying career women, or investigations into new health treatments. And when they were about fashion, they were flattering interviews with designers or write-ups of shows which lacked any real criticism or, perhaps more importantly, honesty.

What's the point in this kind of journalism? I, along with many others, will champion the analysis of fashion as something which reflects on our economy, political and social changes, and the progression of modern art. Yet fashion is not being approached in the way any of these other fields are. Can you imagine if political journalism was written like this? We would have a 10-page edit of the best policies from George Osborne's latest budget, followed by an overly-flaterring interview with Donald Trump, then an exclusive tour around the headquarters of the Assad regime.

I recognise I'm being somewhat unfair in this analogy, but the point is that good journalism requires more than just an expertise in the subject. It needs strong voices to criticise when things are flawed, and it needs fresh perspectives from people who don't feel obliged to flatter every big brand. It is remarkable that for an industry with such a bitchy reputation, very little actual criticism is ever published.

There are a lot of attempts to achieve this kind of writing out there, especially in blogging. Yet even bloggers often feel that if they want to monetise their blog or work their way into a job in the industry then they can't fully say what they think. Perhaps an even bigger problem is that, when you've been reading the same sycophantic media all your life, it's difficult to strike out from that. I know that for a long time all of my fashion writing was an echo of what I read in Vogue, InStyle, Miss Vogue, and the weekend supplements of newspapers. That's fine, all writers tend to go through a period of imitation. But fashion journalism could be so much more.

The only way to break this habit is to make a conscious effort to look at your'e writing and say "what do I really think"? If you think that Raf Simmons is actually the wrong choice for Dior, say so. If you think this year's September issue doesn't live up to expectations, talk about what's wrong with it and how it could be improved. I guess what I'm saying is that we have critics for restaurants, theatre and film who aren't afraid to speak their minds; the same should be true of fashion.

Of course there's always room for the articles and posts which are purely about how much you love a new collection, or which brands you find the best deals from. Fashion is, and always will be, a different beast altogether. Whatsmore, it's fun, so there should certainly be fun ways of talking about it. But it's time those of us who have written about it for a while took a step back to re-evaluate. On top of that, I'd love to see more writers from other sectors trying their hand at fashion reporting.

To this end, I'm adding a quick link on this blog to any pieces tagged 'opinion', and I'm also putting out a call: come guest-post for me. I'll do a proper post about this soon, but if you're reading this and you think you have something to say about fashion - whether or not you've ever tried writing on fashion before - get in touch. Tell me your ideas. They don't have to be radically opinionated, they just need to be your honest take. Find me on Twitter to let me know you're interested.

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