Vanessa Friedman Talks Fashion Bloggers, Criticism, Misconceptions & More

Vanessa Friedman, the newly minted fashion director and chief fashion critic for the New York Times, sat down with our friends over at Racked to talk about her background (she went to Princeton, spent 11 years at the Financial Times as their fashion critic editor, before that, she had been at InStyle when it launched in the UK for two years, and magazines in New York), what she thinks about fashion bloggers, some of the biggest misconceptions about fashion and more. See a few of our favorite excepts below and read the interview in its entirety over at Racked.

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Were you always interested in fashion from a critical perspective? No, I liked fashion from the consumer perspective, as a fun thing to do. I used to read fashion magazines, but I never really thought I would have a life in fashion. When I was in school, I was much more interested in big cultural ideas and didn't really understand the connection between fashion and culture, which is something that I'm really interested in at the moment. I fell into it all by accident, luckily for me.

What is the responsibility of a fashion critic?  We're a middleman between the designer and the consumer. The critic's job is to explain to people who walk into a store and are faced with racks of clothes what those clothes may be about and what they may be responding to. People will say, "Hey, that looks like something I want to wear," and the job of the critic is to explain to them why—why they recognize themselves in that, why it seems relevant, why it's happening now, what it has to do with what came before, and where things are going.

Is it a struggle to be honest? Are you ever worried there will be backlash? No. It's my job, and I think brands know that if I was scared of writing about it, then I shouldn't be doing this stuff. Criticism given constructively is useful, and I think most designers can appreciate that. They may not like it, but they do appreciate it and given some time, you can have a really productive discussion about it. Being a critic is not about brutality. There's no point in slamming something just to slam it; that's not part of the job.

What do you think about fashion bloggers? Like with any writer, some of them are very good and some of them are less good. You find the ones that you respond to. It's nice to have more people expressing their opinions! I'm all for that. I think that blogging has a place in the world, and also that a lot people we refer to as bloggers are not really bloggers anymore. They have tiny media businesses and calling them bloggers is misleading. I'm all for evolution and change—I think it's kind of silly to be like, "No, you can't come in!" That would be super hypocritical of me.

What are misconceptions about fashion that you wish you could change? That fashion is silly, that it's superficial, that smart people don't think about it. In fact, that anybody doesn't think about it is just totally untrue! Whenever somebody says to me, "I never think about fashion," and I get that a fair amount, I say, well, "Did you dress yourself in the morning?" They say, "Yes," and I say, "Then you think about fashion." It is one of the few universal subjects. I'd like it to be part of the conversation, since it goes along with the whole question of public image, which I think is increasingly important. If a politician gets up there and says, "Will you stop asking me about my clothes?" I think the answer should be "No." The questions are not really about their clothing choices, they're about how they're trying to manipulate people's ideas and assumptions about them through how they look. That's a very important question.