Thursday, 7 January 2010

More Bad Press

Here we go again!

The beginning of the new fashion year and it already looks as if fashion is going to be treated as cluelessly in the newspapers as it was last year and for many before that, at least at the level most women can afford. Advice from a journalist about what to buy now, which I read today, made my heart sink as I asked myself, for the trillionth time, why fill pages with stuff that means so little to anyone (not least, I suspect, to the poor hack who writes it) when there is so much glorious fashion, even at high street level, that would lift the spirits of any reader?

These were the suggestions for the 'essentials' for the coming season: a white shirt, a blazer, a sweatshirt, a denim shirt … at this point I checked the newspaper's date, suspecting that somebody had slipped in a journalistic Mickey Finn and I was actually reading a page from the seventies … chinos, a slim belt – apparently 'nothing says you "get it" like wearing a basic belt in the "right" way' – a printed scarf.… No, I can't go on. It's just too sad. The pictures were equally uninspired. And yet these were not clothes chosen for suburban mums or provincial dentists' receptionists but the serious choices of a young (I assume) urban woman for other young urban women.

I happen to believe that being able to share what you believe in with an audience is one of the greatest privileges of journalism. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to share a passion with the world? But this pallid stuff is so far removed from passion that it really is a betrayal of what newspapers are for. No wonder they are on the danger list. This is writing by somebody who couldn't care less about fashion, edited by somebody who couldn't care less about journalism. Talk about a suicide pact. And I suspect it is the result of the increasingly common problem in newspapers: the people who care – and know – about subjects that are still seen by proprietors and editors as 'peripheral' cannot get jobs because newspapers can't afford them. You can hear the boardroom conversation with the money men: 'Its only fashion, we can make some savings there, surely?'

The economics of newspapers make it increasingly necessary for editors to get as much content as possible written in house by people already on the pay roll. You can imagine the conference in the boardroom. 'We need an upbeat, new season fashion piece for tomorrow. Any volunteers, ladies?' So, somebody employed to cover dance or family affairs finds herself frantically ringing PRs to see what is in the shops now. They, of course, spot an amateur immediately and, quietly singing Hallelujah under their breath, thankfully offload the dodgy stuff that has End of Season sales written all over it and wait for a pat on the back from their clients.

And it is as sad as it is unnecessary. Colleges around the world are creating seriously demanding course in fashion journalism and their graduates – smart, savvy and passionately in love with their field – can't get jobs because editors have opted to save money on fashion ('It's easy stuff. Not exactly brain surgery! Ha,ha.') One can imagine how happily they would take that attitude to the financial or political pages. But, apart from the reader, the real loser is fashion. Last season, as in most seasons, the great designers from Milan and Paris created marvellous clothes, as directional as they were beautiful. Many have already begun to filter through, in watered-down versions, to the high street. There are great clothes full of new ideas to be found in all price ranges. So why do newspaper readers have to be so shockingly short-changed simply because of laziness or lack of interest in fashion? If I were a designer or the CEO of a top high-street company, I would be very unhappy. And if I were a woman I would be furious.


  1. Dear Mr. McDowell:

    You put your finger on the fundamental problem with the way fashion is perceived by society in general. To most people (men especially), fashion is nothing more than a frivolous pursuit. If one is interested in fashion, one is therefore also frivolous.

    I will never forget walking into my constitutional law class one day with a copy of Paris Vogue under my arm and being subjected to the mockery of several of my male classmates. Never mind that my GPA was far superior to theirs and that I had already landed a position with a top-tier law firm that awaited me after graduation whilst they were "still looking". As far as they were concerned, my interest in fashion marked me as intellectually inferior and therefore a perfectly valid target for their mockery. I would love to think that their attitudes towards fashion were simply the product of their mediocre minds but I'm afraid their views remain all too common.

    Moreover, the gradual "dumbing down" of the content of most fashion publications is not helping that perception. When formerly serious publications such as US Harper's Bazaar start portraying Victoria Beckham as a serious "designer", why should the men in suits who allocate dwindling budgets assign serious journalists to cover fashion? Why would a self-respecting journalist want to cover fashion if they're likely to be trivialized by being assigned to hype up Victoria Beckham as a "designer"? Fashion as an industry needs to start respecting itself before they can expect to gain respect in turn.


    The Luxe Chronicles

  2. Dear Mr. Mc Dowell,

    So very true.

    Dining last year with one of the Antwerp six Communications Director, he said ‘the bigger the goodie bag the bigger the chance one has for stylists and press to go to your show’...

    It is very sad to think that one has to resort to this to lure those who are calling themselves professional. It is just another example of how this industry has been plagued by the superficial and uninterested …

    It is part of the reason why this industry seems to be in the middle of a self imposed euthanasia.

    Thank you for such great debates.


  3. I'm sure it actually said "crisp white shirt." You ALWAYS have to use "crisp."

  4. I couldn't agree more. The current Beauty section of the Guardian newspaper website has a video tutorial on applying red lipstick, hardly groundbreaking and most certainly patronising to any woman interested enough to be reading the Beauty section in the first place.