Monday, 11 January 2010

Getting Technical

Responding to my blog about fashion bloggers, SilentStoryteller brought up the problem of fashion writers - bloggers and journalists – not knowing enough about the skills of fashion to be able to assess what comes down the runway (read the blog and the comments here). The comment begs the question of how many fashion writers know anything at all about the technical side of the clothes they are paid to assess. I'll stake thirty years in the fashion business on the fact that virtually no fashion journalists could pass Eilis' test of telling the difference between a French seam and one that is overlocked (or even define either). Imagine a ballet critic not knowing the meaning or difference between a pas de deux and a pas de chat, or a cricket commentator not knowing his maiden over from his silly mid-on.

I do know what a French seam is and why it is different from an overlocked one, but that is because I came to journalism obliquely, after several years working as a designer in Italy. I wasn't any good at all, but I did spend hours helping designers chase the Holy Grail of the 'perfectly set-in sleeve' à la Balenciaga. The failures were ripped out and discarded. Highest score? Nine rejects, the final one biting the dust some time after 2:00 AM, as I remember. But that is how I learned about technical perfection and the absolute necessity for a designer to always pursue it, at no matter what cost, if he is to keep his integrity. In Hardy Amies' classic phrase, a designer only fulfils his role by 'doing honour to the cloth'. It is a very serious business, which is why I worry a little when I come out of a show where the clothes have been cobbled together and hear fans talk about the fabulous cut.

As Giles Deacon told me in an interview last year apropos fashion journalists, they are mainly so ignorant of the technical and taste aspects of the business that in his opinion a designer today can learn virtually nothing from reading them. It is a sad outlook for fashion if he is right.


  1. I would very much agree (however I did check beforehand that I passed the French seam test - which thankfully I did). I only passed due to my love of fashion and lack of fashion formal education. The best Fashion journalists that I have met seem to be fashion historians first, fashion journalists a distant second. However they are very much a minority.

  2. Interesting about lack of formal fashion education in first post here-same applies here for Maria-so construction and working with the cloth is so very important-rather than producing a garment that is swishy-but doesn't last- physically and style wise.
    Sometimes this doesn't fit in with the kind of images that the publications and the writers are looking for.

  3. Dear Mr. McDowell,

    Thank you for raising the issue mentioned in my previous comment.

    I couldn't agree more with Giles Deacon's opinion about the terrible effect the current press feed will have on new generations.

    The whole value system of this industry has vanished and with it, the fundamentals of thoughtful design and quality execution.

    Despite this, I am intrigued about the future. And as an eternal optimist I hope that intellectual appreciation for our industry will resurrect….even though it will be no time soon.

    Endlessly enjoying your blog

    Eilis Boyle

  4. Hi Eilis,
    I laughed when I saw your comments about technical knowledge about fashion ....I thought it was just me who was obsessed at how everyone and anyone seems to be a designer these days and have absolutely no knowledge of how a garment goes together and the journalists don't seem to comment one way or the other...Colin is one of the rare breed though, I met him during fashion fringe and I can tell you from experience he has a hawk eye and knows his stuff!!!!! I think it is a love and respect for the industry and an enquiring mind that many of the new wave of journalists have not yet fostered....Hope all is going well with you , x Mary Donoghue

  5. Frankly, at this point I'd be happy if fashion critics knew the nomenclature of design details. Nothing so "arcane" as the difference between a shawl collar vs a revere (or revers, as you prefer it) but a petal vs cap sleeve would be minimal.

  6. This is a sad truth about the level of interest and importance placed on cut, quality and finish. I am an emerging Designer, and worked with Giles for some time, and I agree with him entirely.

    I make my collections in a specialist factory in Italy, which costs a fortune but is critical to the integrity of my garments, and it saddens me that the finer details of cut, finish and quality are almost always overlooked in favour of 'impact'. This makes it difficult to explain to Buyers why the garments cost so much. If Journalists had the technical knowledge to review collections critically, perhaps the Buyers and Consumers would understand the value and importance of beautifully crafted garments.

  7. Dear Mr McDowell,

    I find your posts very interesting to read and I'm glad that you are so honest in your opinion.
    I'm a fashion journalism student, and the point you have made about not knowing the technical aspects struck a chord with me - this is not something that we even slightly touch upon on our course, so perhaps it should be a requirement in order to not waste the skill that goes into the designs when the new generation of journalists take hold?
    I was also hoping you would share your opinion on a feature topic I am currently researching for - the topic of press coverage on fashion shows revolving mainly around the celebrities who attended, how many models stumbled on the catwalk or the set design. The collections are often ignored, and I'm starting to question whether it is time for the industry to snap back to the way it was before celebrity culture took over, and for the industry to regain respect for one another's talents and efforts, making shows press/buyers only.

    Thank you for your time and insightful posts,

    Bryony Creed.

  8. 1. I can't believe I've only just discovered you have a blog.

    2. I couldn't agree more.

  9. Yes of course I agree. It takes me back to the difference between the exhibitions of Diana's clothes, and those of Barbara Cartland. Diana, who knew no better, had ravishingly stylish clothes none of which hung well on the body because the seams were not properly stitched, and the hems were all machined. Barbara's clothes, whilst outrageously OTT, were perfection in the quality and hang, as beautifully finished inside as out, and all the hems floating free and level. Was I the only one to notice and care? I was trained at the White House in lingerie. This background gave me further insights into the stunning clothes of Vionnet, currently on show in Paris.