Why Fashion Matters

The World According to Vanessa Friedman

Do you want to understand the world – and fashion – a little better? Whether you’re a billionaire, politician, teacher, student, journalist and/or mum, fashion director and chief fashion critic for The New York Times Vanessa Friedman’s thoughts are a brilliant guide to why fashion is so essential to 21st-century commerce, politics and culture.

 

Read an extract from the interview below and buy the new issue of ELLE collections for more.

 

 


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

 

 

When it was announced in March that Vanessa Friedman would take over the combined roles of Cathy Horyn at The New York Times and Suzy Menkes at The International New York Times, its global edition, nobody was surprised. Friedman, whose pen had been sharpened for more than a decade as the Fashion Editor of the Financial Times, was seen as the ideal – if not only – candidate to fill fashion criticism’s biggest shoes. Why is she such an easy fit? Because for her, fashion is ‘identity politics’, clothes are ‘communication devices’, bloggers are ‘little media businesses’ and an interview is a ‘business transaction’. Hers is a fresh perspective from a forensically ordered mind…

RL: So tell us, why does fashion matter?

VF: I really do believe it is the front line of identity politics. We’ve become such a visual world with the rise of Instagram and Pinterest – communication has become so much about pictures. How people look and how they use their image to communicate something about themselves has become incredibly important; and [it’s] something that people have to overtly think about and deal with in a way that maybe 30 years ago they didn’t, or could pretend that they didn’t. So that, combined with the growth of the fashion business. If you think about it, in the past 
30 years, some of the biggest wealth creation has come out of fashion – the richest man in Spain, the richest man in France, [one of] the richest men in Denmark, Japan, you know, Uniqlo. It’s all fashion. 
To have both sides of that coin, it’s an incredibly vibrant area for any journalist to look at.

RL: Can you pinpoint the most exciting changes in fashion you’ve written about over the past decade?

VF: Certainly the public life front, watching public figures use and manipulate clothes, be it the Obamas, François Hollande or Putin – just watching them learn this vernacular and employ it has been really interesting to think about. Also the rise of the red carpet and fashion as part of that business; the way actors, singers or even authors are using image to build their careers in a very conscious way; it’s become a revenue stream for them as much as or beyond their actual work. And in terms of the business side, watching the big groups evolve as they wrestle with the questions: how do you maintain your identity as a giant national corporation? What do consumers want? How fast are consumers learning? And what does that mean for your communications? It’s been extraordinary to watch the rise of contemporary high-street fashion, too, and the lessons people are taking away from that.

RL: What about the rise of social media and the fashion blogger?

VF: I don’t even think calling them bloggers is accurate any more – they’re like little media businesses. What I’m waiting to see is how that evolves, because the big names that people know about are no longer men or women sitting in their rooms typing thoughts into their computer; they have companies, they have multiple revenue streams. That’s really changing the relationship with their readers and the business itself. I think we’re wrong to think of them as bloggers any more.

RL: Do bloggers make good fashion critics?

VF: I don’t know if they were ever critics… they’re almost enthusiasts. I think what they bring to the 
table is a totally visceral reaction to what they’re seeing. It’s very personal and that’s part of their 
appeal. I don’t look at clothing in the same way. 
I don’t think: ‘Do I like that? Do I want to wear it?’ I think: ‘What are they trying to say here? What is it saying about women?’

RL: So what makes a good fashion critic?

VF: That ability to be a bit removed. To look at it in the context of its own conversation and then a global conversation; to not take it quite so personally. To really think about what the designer or brand is trying to do, as opposed to what I want.

RL: How do you feel about Twitter?

VF: What I like about it is having the ability to have conversations with people and to be able to make a comment on something that doesn’t deserve 500 words of a blog or 1,000 words of a column. But 
I use it as another avenue for comment on fashion, as opposed to funnelling information about my life.

 

Read Next: