how to become a fashion critic by... anders christian madsen
Before hopping on the conveyor belt of shows, presentations and showroom appointments to discover, discuss and disseminate spring/summer 17 womenswear, i-D Fashion Features Director explains why an interest in people is just as important as any...
At weddings and wakes, I like to tell people I write about "purple dresses, sock lengths and so on". It's much easier than having to defend the social and political influence that I've always believed fashion, quite innately, has—and which is what I write about. 'Critic' is a big title, and in this advertiser-fuelled age of fashion in which you can't simply critique as you please but have to adhere to certain rules of business, I rarely write about collections in terms of 'good' or 'bad'. If I critique, it's all about contextualisation: why did the designer create this, what does it say about society right now, and how relevant is that? I never ask designers about fabrication and technique. There's nothing worse than writing about clothes, except, perhaps, reading about them. I didn't become a fashion writer to write solely about fashion, and although I studied Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion, I never thought of myself as a 'fashion writer'.
I'm just a writer; a journalist, hopefully as capable of covering a natural disaster, should I ever find myself in one, as I am a fashion show. Ten years ago my friend Susie Babchick told me: "Always keep a blank business card. Just put your name and email on it, no profession. Then you can do anything you want." I still use blank business cards today. Slightly serial killer, I know. I don't live and breathe fashion, and I didn't pursue fashion writing because I felt some kind of calling. History is what I really love: kings and queens and conquests, and with its historical significance and escapist extravagance, fashion seemed like the perfect representation of history. "Some people count carats," the Queen of Denmark once said. "We count centuries." She was referring to her vast collection of jewels, passed down through generations of monarchies as the perfect reference point for history. This is what clothes do for me, in all their historical and cultural references.
I'm just a writer; a journalist, hopefully as capable of covering a natural disaster, should I ever find myself in one, as I am a fashion show.
I have enormous respect for fashion, but I'm not geeky about it. On a day off I'd much rather watch the Kardashians than a fashion documentary, but thanks to all the research I have to do I learn something new from work every day. Speaking of the Queen of Denmark, it's where I come from—more precisely a small coastal town called Rungsted north of Copenhagen, where I spent high school as a Dior Homme fashion goth and dreamed of moving to London, away from provincial small-mindedness. You've heard that story before, I'm sure. Why fashion writing? Because it was an easy escape. My older sister, Susanne Madsen, was already making a career of it in London, and I pretty much just copied her. I was spoiled to have her as my trailblazer, advising me what - and most importantly, what not - to do. After I graduated she got me a job at Dansk Magazine, where she was already working. We edited it together from our shared flat in London for nearly three years. When we quit, Susanne went to Dazed and I to i-D.
At Dansk, I had forced myself to get into as many shows and events as I could, which is how I knew members of the i-D team. They commissioned stories from me, and I was soon introduced to Holly Shackleton, who's still my Editor-in-Chief, and Terry and Tricia Jones, the magazine's founders, who hired me. In fashion, there is nothing more important than social skills. Loving to meet and talk to people is the most important thing you can ever teach yourself, and in the case of fashion writers it will empower you to become the storyteller you need to be. I love nothing more than interviewing designers in their homes and hearing their personal stories. These are skills they can never teach you at college, and while I'm sure a lot of people benefited from their efforts on my course, no teacher ever taught me how to write.
Speak to people older than you, who are doing the job you want to be doing. Don't be afraid to reach out to them. Ask them questions, listen to their advice, read their writing, ask them to read yours.
If anyone did, they were the people I met outside in the real world while I was studying, like the pioneering Sarah Mower, who was always willing to have a nerdy conversation about the dos and don'ts of writing with me. Now I'm fortunate to work under editors such as Holly, whose feedback provides an ongoing education in phrasing and self-editing. I never need those skills more than at the shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris, where I get up before dawn every day for weeks on end to write my daily coverage. Doing the show rounds as a writer is gruelling, and I do them all. I always say every season takes another five years off my total lifespan, but fashion week is the church of fashion writing and where it most counts. When I'm not at the shows, I spend most of my time transcribing and writing the interviews I've done from my garret in West London, or from my other home in Denmark. I can only write when I'm alone, in total silence. (…wrote the writer, on an extremely turbulent flight to New York.)
The last part of my brief for this story says: "What I wish I knew then that I know now," which makes me feel as ancient as the answer I'm going to give. Speak to people older than you, who are doing the job you want to be doing. Don't be afraid to reach out to them. Most are terrifying, but anyone is flattered you seek their counsel. Ask them questions, listen to their advice, read their writing, ask them to read yours. I'll try to refrain from sounding like an Oscars acceptance speech, but if it weren't for all the amazing and generous women I've endlessly troubled for tips and thoughts on writing over the years, I dread to think what advice I'd be giving the next generation right now.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams