The Dying Journalistic Practice of Objectivity in Mainstream Fashion Reporting
In December of 2013 there was a stir of controversy as news made it down the pipeline that the guest list for New York Fashion Week would be cut by 20%. It was reported that Fern Mallis, former head of IMG, creator of New York Fashion Week, and intermittent fashion contributor to Hearst magazines “bemoaned” the overwhelming presence of bloggers and intended to cut the bulk of them from the guest lists. The following weeks saw a rush of articles ether praising this decision or criticizing it.
As I read the alarmist headlines pop up and read words about elitism in the fashion world I started to reflect on old fashioned notions of journalistic standards of objectivity. One thing has become readily apparent to me through my research on this topic. Fashion designers have no problem revoking invitations to journalists who attend their shows and write critical reviews. This first became apparent in 2008 when Cathryn Horyn wrote about how Giorgio Armani had banned her from his shows:
“In a letter to my editor earlier this month, he cites my “unnecessarily sarcastic comments” about his friends and family in a review of his last couture show and notes that I have “rarely found positive remarks” to make about his ready-to-wear collections, and then surmises that I have “an embedded preconception.” He concludes: “Going forward therefore, I see no real merit in inviting Cathy Horyn to my women’s shows.”
When this incident occurred, Horyn was at the top of her game and considered to be a very respected fashion journalist by industry insiders and the public. Cathryn Horyn had previously been banned from Dolce & Gabbana, Helmut Lang, and Caroline Herrera. Ms Horyn is far from the only fashion industry insider to be banned from a show for expressing a dissenting and sometimes even critical professional opinion. In 2010 Balenciaga then headed by Nicholas Guesquiere banned French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld. In addition to banning Roitfeld Balenciaga also stopped lending clothing to French Vogue for editorial work. Vogue stylists reported that working with the house was becoming increasingly difficult as they were being micro managed by Balenciaga executives on how to use the clothing in photo shoots and ordered to not mix any other designers clothing in the same frame.
This would appear to be an Orwellian climate, where press invites are only being issued to ‘well behaved media’. Well behaved media, being defined as those who only write positive reviews. The integrity of the mainstream fashion press has become seriously compromised as a result. Moreover, it is clear that the traditional fashion press is threatened by the rise of fashion bloggers, some of which have huge and growing audiences of loyal followers that are eating away at their readership. In late January of 2013 David Carey, the president of Hearst Magazines reported that sales had taken a dramatic decrease
“Among the top 25 magazines according to newsstand sales, women’s titles and celebrity glossies took the deepest dives — Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, the highest-selling magazine, was down 18.5 percent to 1.2 million copies, while competitor Glamour declined 14.5 percent to 402,000 copies. People, Time Inc.’s biggest cash cow, lost 12.2 percent over the same period last year, dropping from 1.1 million to 972,000; sister magazine People StyleWatch lost 8.2 percent. Us Weekly, from Wenner, and American Media’s Star were down 15 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Also seeing drops: Elle, down 11.8 percent to 213,000; Harper’s Bazaar, 7.8 percent to 136,000; Vogue, down 4 percent to 335,000; Vanity Fair, 4.3 percent to 310,000, and InStyle, 6 percent to 528,000”.
Is this dip in NYC-based Hearst Magazine sales and the banning of bloggers from attending New York Fashion Week shows just a co-incidence? Or are the two industries working in collusion in a misguided attempt to preserve the diminishing market share of the traditional printed fashion press? One thing is certain though. The unintended effect of an environment where fashion designers endeavor to ban critical reporters from attending their shows has served to strengthen the journalistic legitimacy of fashion bloggers. Simply put, because I have no fear of being uninvited to a fashion show, I am free to write whatever I want, positive or critical. That is hugely empowering to a journalist committed to ‘old fashioned standards’ of objectivity.
As some of my peers excitedly prepare to spend their own money flying to New York to hang outside of the tents with the hope of being invited into the odd show, I sit at home comfortably watching videos of the collections and clicking on the readily available images uploaded instantly onto the internet. I have arguably one of the best seats in the house. I am able to see all of the clothes up close. I am not squished up in the front-row and I am not forced to peer around someone to get a good view of the clothing from the sidelines. I am comfortably sitting at home and able to write objectively about fashion, which is what all respectable journalists once not long ago aspired to do. That is – before they were censored by a short sighted system that issues fashion show invites like merit points on a report card for good behavior.
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