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Fashion July, 9 2014

Second Look | The Problem with Fashion Reviews

Fashion has never been more important. But the way fashion is talked about and reviewed is, at best, several steps behind how the menswear world operates. At worst, it’s disconnected, sitting inside a dream world where there’s legions of men who watch the seasonal shows before deciding what to wear.

And nowhere is this more apparent than during the reviews of Milan’s menswear week. It’s no secret that Milan is one of the more commercial Fashion Weeks, less an art showcase and more what Fashion Week was intended to be originally: a showcase of goods designed to please a range of customers. But fashion coverage and, by extension, reviews, have long been about whether fashion is or isn’t art and the designer’s inspirations, rather than how the clothes fit in to the contemporary landscape. Take the coverage of Spring/Summer 2015, for instance.

The current trends taken from this season include: denim, stripes, red, beach bodies and white trainers. Other trends from recent seasons have been everyday elegance (read: expensive knitwear), scarves, coats, blue and sweatshirts. Noting these trends in itself isn’t what makes most fashion coverage disconnected. What makes it disconnected is that coverage often talks trends with little or no reference to what men wear every day.

Most fashion coverage builds a moat around itself, acting as if they’re separate from the world as a whole. While in-depth knowledge of fashion history is needed, so is a connection to where trends are actually coming from today. Otherwise you end up with with reviews and coverage that can instantly be dismissed with a “People never stopped wearing that.” In an interview with Hiroshi Fujiwara and Fraser Cooke in Interview Magazine, Fujiwara notes that:

“I think we’re at the end of all the revivals. Punk revivals used to happen maybe every 10 years. People would forget about punk for a while, and then a magazine would do a special issue on the 10th anniversary of punk, for example, and bring it back. But now you can find collectors or friends with the same interest through the Internet at any time, so nothing is ever really gone. Everything is always there.”

This should be the founding basis of all fashion coverage. If we wanted to go all ‘80s New Wave tomorrow, we could easily find a group of people who wanted to do a similar thing and join their little community. Nothing goes away, so the idea of anything making a comeback becomes ridiculous if not given the proper context. This is why most coverage is easily dismissed. Take — and it pains us to say this — the denim trend. Most coverage of it has stated that denim is back next summer, while ignoring or paying little mind to the obvious fact that no one ever stopped wearing denim. At most, people stopped rolling their turn-ups so high. Maybe they’ve given up on raw denim for a season or two. But stopped completely? Don’t be absurd. Tom Ford is making denim because his customer wants him to make denim, not because he thought, “Let’s bring denim back!” Same with Prada and any other designer who makes money from their clothing. It’s much more supply and demand than the assumed “command them and they will follow” ideology that most coverage leans on.

The reason why this matters is that, more so than film, TV, music and art, fashion is necessary in everyday life. We all know that Oscar Wilde quote about naked people having no influence on society. Coverage should reflect this, rather than ignore it.

The “command and follow” ideology is also known as the trickle down effect. While the trickle down effect does affect fashion, especially womenswear fast fashion, it’s less pervasive in menswear. That’s not to say that the trickle down effect doesn’t happen; there’s a reason the cardigan got its name from the 7th Earl. But, in today’s landscape, it’s fairly commonplace to see something being trussed up as well as dressed down. But the trickle up effect is rarely mentioned when talking about the luxificiation of everyday items like white trainers, denim and parkas.

Even Lanvin’s use of the high-top from around 2007 could be linked to streetwear’s rising popularity at the time. The sweatshirt has gone from workwear staple to fashion staple. A review that managed to encapsulate this muddled, melting pot history rather than focusing on any one side of it would be appreciated. But this rarely happens, apart from on places like Showstudio’s panel and the reviews on the Financial Times.

That’s not to say that there’s no one writing reviews that have the world in mind, but the current default for fashion coverage seems to be to use a set of terms that the writer may or may not understand, speak in a language that only fashion writers speak and act like the outside world doesn’t influence designers in any way, shape or form. Until this changes, fashion reviews will remain irrelevant.

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