Fashion is vastly changing in furtherance of becoming increasingly direct, quicker, far less grounded in tradition. Social media and livestream functionalities make runway shows available in real time to those that are not in attendance. The result is more egalitarian, as fashion is no longer limited to editors, buyers, and clients. Simultaneously, there has been a rise in direct to consumer shopping, and a move to speed up the cycle from the runway-to-retail, all with the aim of better connecting with consumers.
As digital media cements itself as the center of the universe, the industry’s influencers have become vastly different than they used to be. Nowadays, some of the most influential individuals are not necessarily editors or critics; they come in the form of celebrities, bloggers, and Instagram stars. In this same vein, also proving to be immensely influential: the unnamed masses of individuals – most likely Gen-Zers and millennials – who make the aforementioned influencers famous by way of social media follows, app downloads and other purchases.
Are Fashion Critics Being Obsolete?
If sites like NowFashion are providing us with real time images and brands are offering us the opportunity to livestream fashion shows, we do not need publications –whether it be a newspaper, magazine or their website equivalent – to translate the collections for us. With influencers selecting the best of the collections for us and curating the looks accordingly – by way of blogs, but maybe more importantly, by way of Instagram and Snapchat – there is an argument that fashion critics are becoming obsolete both to brands and to fashion fans.
(When considering the value of critics to brands, it is worth noting that the old school critics amongst us may – at times – provide little value, as they cannot be bought off with a free bag or a check in exchange for a tweet or Instagram photo (or more appropriately, a good review) like many influencers can. The unfortunate result of this may be the banning of critics from shows when angst creative directors feel slighted).
However, dead, they are not. The New York Times, New York Magazine’s the Cut blog, the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and the Washington Post are home to some of the industry’s most respected critics. They are in attendance at shows, taking in the collections, making notes, and drafting articles, which are rife with context and industry-specific wisdom.
But wait for and/or rely on a critic’s review? Does anyone under the age of 30 (or anyone that is not a die hard fashion fan) actually do that anymore? The results seem to be somewhat evenly split. While many people appear to identify the inherent value of such thoughtful and objective reviews, that does not mean that there is not a larger shift underway: One that favors speed and ease. We are collectively far too used to the rapid dissemination of information that the thought of waiting to see a collection until it becomes available for purchase or until it appears in Vogue’s actual magazine (as was customary years ago) is completely unheard of at this point.
Moreover, the average person would arguably rather just look at photos of a collection than read about why that specific collection matters, why the designs are technically impressive and/or why last season’s collection was more appealing, for instance. It seems extremely convenient for Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat, an app based entirely on photo and video, to say that millennials and Gen-Zers do not want to read, they want to watch (which he said in an interview earlier this month) and there is likely some truth in this.
With this in mind, relying on critics to tell us what garments and accessories are standout pieces in any given collection is a bit outdated when young fashion fans can simply look at photos or videos posted by influencers.
So, as fashion becomes quicker and more accessible to the public and as former industry outsiders are increasingly influencing fashion fans’ personal style, what purpose do fashion critics and their reviews actually serve? A very real one. Fashion critics – real critics, like Robin Givhan, Cathy Horyn and Vanessa Friedman – possess a wealth of knowledge, which adds value and legitimacy to the industry. And with this in mind, the art of criticism is likely not going away. Like the failing fashion system, it will probably be subject to updates and innovation but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.