“It isn’t good because you like it; you like it because it’s good.”
A few days ahead of the British Fashion Awards 2013 due to take place at The London Coliseum on December 2, the BFC announced that fashion journalist Suzy Menkes was to receive a Special Recognition Award for her remarkable 25 year-long career at the International Herald Tribune – now The International New York Times.
In an excellent video interview recorded for Showstudio on September 2, 2011, Alexandre Fury asks Menkes how she feels to be called “fashion’s authority.” She replies with a very British sense of humour that this expression is “a very polite way to say she has been around so long I can’t believe it!”
What makes for such success and longevity in fashion journalism?
Suzy Menkes, OBE was born in the UK on December 24, 1943. She lives in Paris and in addition to her OBE, was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur. Like many people in fashion she has a trademark: a pompadour hairstyle. Menkes was educated at Brighton and Hove High School and graduated from Cambridge wher she became the first female editor of Varsity, the university’s newspaper. In the 80’s she worked for The Times, the London Evening Standard and The Independent newspapers in London. In 1988, Menkes joined the International Herald Tribune as style editor and has worked there ever since.
In the 2011 Showstudio interview she says: “I have been interested in fashion as long as I can remember” but also adds “I wanted to be a journalist before I wanted to write about fashion.” In the 1960s, still a teenager, Menkes went to Paris to study dressmaking. She confirms: “I actually do know how to make clothes.”
The interview addresses what makes good fashion and how Menkes own sense of style matters to her work. When Fury asks her how she knows when she likes a fashion show, she answers: “When you keep asking ‘do I like it?’. It’s not exactly my judgement because I think you can dislike something very much … but still think it’s brilliant … fresh, new, powerful ….” Latter on Fury asks: “What for you makes good fashion?” She answers: “I think what you want is something that’s got a powerful message, that’s what you are looking for. It’s also a message that’s telling you about what’s going on in the world.”
These ideas are echoed in an article entitled “The Circus of Fashion” Menkes published on February 10, 2013. As its title indicates, this article caused a stir in the industry, causing a lot of virtual ink to run. It was in fact, one of the subjects addressed by Gladys Perint Palmer when she was interviewed for Modeconnect by Bethany Mullinix in September 2013, during New-York Fashion Week. An attack on the blogosphere, “The Circus of Fashion” highlights some of the perverse effect of digital media on the fashion industry. “Fashion has to some extent become mob rule — or, at least, a survival of the most popular in a melee of crowdsourcing.”
>Menkes explains: “I was taught in my earliest days as a fashion journalist: “It isn’t good because you like it; you like it because it’s good.”, Slim chance of that idea catching on among the fashion bloggers. Whether it is the sharp Susie Bubble or the bright Tavi Gevinson, judging fashion has become all about me: Look at me wearing the dress! Look at these shoes I have found! Look at me loving this outfit in 15 different images!”
These comments should be taken seriously; Colin McDowell, Diane Pernet and many more respected commentators are calling for a return to considered fashion criticism. Menkes admits: “Playing King Canute and trying to hold back the wave of digital fashion stuff is doomed for failure.” Considering her success however, Menkes can hardly be dismissed as out of touch; after all she is herself an excellent communicator able to go viral.