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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Owens

Whatever Happened to the Fashion Critic?

The Fashion Police have been defunded.

 


I came of age during the Fashion Police era. So, when I think of fashion criticism, I think of catty presenters on TV tearing apart red carpet looks, “Who Wore it Better?” spreads in Us Weekly, and the idea of dressing for your body type.


But these days, the world of fashion criticism looks wildly different. Now everyone is a “Fashion Historian” — not a critic. You’re more likely to see Rian Phin dissecting the History of Margiela on TikTok than you are a Toot or Boot-style video tearing apart an actress’ Rodarte dress. 


On the surface, this is a positive change. The old ways of doing things often led to, shall we say, problematic moments… Giuliana Rancic on Fashion Police saying that Zendaya’s dreads must’ve “smelled like patchouli and weed,” Karl Lagerfeld writing in his book that "no one wants to see curvy women on the catwalk,” Kim Kardashian being called “Shamu” by tabloids throughout her first pregnancy. 


We just grew tired of it. We were tired of judging the “success” of a look based on the body wearing it. Eventually, that exhaustion grew strong enough to form the capital-BPM Body Positivity Movement, which turned the fashion industry upside down and shook it out like an old handbag. Soon after, we saw tentpole brands like Victoria’s Secret and Chanel strong-armed into more Body-Posi PR moves to stay relevant.



However, the overall shift from catty criticism to this overtly intellectualized consumption of fashion is more than just people eschewing the judgemental, body-shaming nature of the industry. These TikToks and livestreams and YouTube videos reflect a deeper appreciation of fashion than their early-aughts counterparts. They’re appreciating the artistry, the designers, the fantasy — it’s not just surface-level tooting and booting.


I spoke with noted stylist to the stars, Timothy Chernyaev, about this development. He had an interesting perspective. He explained that “...people these days want longer, more researched, more informative or at least very unique pieces […] I think magazines want to be contemporary and urgent, but actually, people want to sit and have a moment of thoughtfulness.”


Chernyaev continued: “The prices of fashion have also become so inflated over the years […] so when you’re talking to your reader, it’s very hard to be like, “Go buy this!” because we know that’s not exactly realistic, so [fashion history deep dives are] another way to engage with it. It’s another way to talk about and enjoy fashion without being prompted to go buy it.”


This points to an interesting evolution over the last couple of years that has run parallel to the way we talk about fashion — and that’s the way we buy fashion. Everything used to be sold out of a magazine: a glossy photo of Kate Moss holding a Balenciaga city bag or Alexa Chung in a Miu Miu bomber. The appeal was a flat image — insert “it girl” + “it product” here, press “publish,” generate “sales revenue.” Continue ad nauseam.


But now, customers require a little bit more in-depth justification of an item’s “specialness” before they feel comfortable buying it. I reached out to fashion writer Alexandra Hildreth to pick her brain on the subject. 


During our conversation, she noted that “...the rise of commentary goes hand in hand with the death of the static influencer. Visuals are out and intellectuals are in. It’s not enough to be aspirational anymore, you have to be dynamic, but most importantly smart (or at least appear to be).” Basically, if you want to be successful in the current fashion climate, you better start cranking out some video essays.


This is synonymous with the waning relevancy of the written fashion review. Everything these days is visual, but fashion lovers still have an appetite for in-depth and well-researched thoughts on fashion.


Luke Meagher of HauteLeMode said in his Vogue Profile by André-Naquian Wheeler, “There are more eyes on the videos… I think that’s a factor that makes people sit up and look at it. I think with [traditional reviews] — there are maybe one or two thousand people reading [it in] a paper or an article online? It’s very in industry.”


Luke Meagher is actually, in my opinion, a modern commentator who is the most representative of the Fashion Critics of Yore. He doesn’t pull punches when reviewing red carpet looks and he has maintained a sense of playfulness that is often lost when people transition towards more serious “historianism.”


Because that’s truthfully what’s at stake here: the lightheartedness with which we talk about fashion. While fashion historians offer a more thoughtful approach to the art form, it could be argued that a constantly stiff, pseudo-intellectual interpretation of clothing is what contributes to the “snobby” reputation of its lovers.


As Timothy Chernyaev’s Instagram handle reminds us: Relax, It’s only Fashion…


 

Kaitlin Owens is a vintage fashion writer, movie buff, lover of good eats, and a women’s size 7.5 (if any shoe brands are reading). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Dilettante Magazine. You can find her on socials @magdilettante.



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