10 questions you always wanted to ask a… fashion critic

“I only regret reviews where I wasn't absolutely honest… "

by Steve Salter
12 September 2017, 4:44pm

Maison Margiela Sfilata Haute Couture Primavera/Estate 2015

"The title "fashion critic" seems to create all kinds of tension, paranoia, and concern among people," The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Robin Givhan explained in an interview with Digiday earlier this year. As ever, she has a point. Now, of course the utterance of these words might not strike fear into the hearts of people working outside the industry, but there can be little doubt that fashion critics still wield great power and posses the ability to make insiders sweat. The role itself may have shape-shifted since the industry's digital revolution as more of us are let inside the fashion circus, but a select few voices still cut through the noise and demand to be heard. London-based journalist, author, critic, and Inaugural Editorial Intelligence Fashion Commentator of the Year award winner, Alexander Fury, is one of these voices.

For the recent Chief Fashion Correspondent at T: The New York Times Style Magazine and freshly made editor at AnOther, it's immaterial if his words boost or bruise the egos of creative directors, heal or break the hearts of PRs, help or hinder sales, he merely tells us how he sees it. "Fashion asks for criticism, but it really only wants praise," Fury mused in a column for The Independent during his stint as fashion editor for the paper. Fury doesn't pander. From his early reviews to SHOWstudio to his latest for T, he has never shied away from sharing his true opinion and isn't afraid of polarizing the opinion of others. Of course, it helps that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and a way with witty one-liners.

Keen to put him to the test and begin to understand what type of person is happy striking fear into the fashion industry, we caught up with Alex inbetween spring/summer 18 shows to ask him ten questions.

What drove you to become a fashion critic?
I originally wanted to be a fashion designer -- which is what I pursued through high school and the early years of college. But even then, I would write: I'd write an elaborate description of an outfit — like the kind of credit a magazine would run with a couture shoot in the eighties -- and then make it, rather than sketching. Writing came much more easily to me than design, and I'd always been a voracious reader of anything to do with clothes, fashion, and culture. The greatest influence when I was growing up was probably Colin McDowell, who was then writing for The Sunday Times Style. His mixing of incredible historical knowledge, cultural referencing, and a brutally honest point of view is everything I love in fashion criticism to this day.

What was the first thing you ever wrote and how do you feel about it now?
I remember that back in high school, when I was working towards being a fashion designer, I actually reviewed some of my own collections! I didn't always give myself good reviews, either. I remember saying that I was too focused on evening wear and my tailoring was overworked. Quite funny. Also definitely true.

What's in your pencil case?
I'm old-school. I write on a pad of paper and type on a laptop (a small, incredibly light one that I love). I don't enjoy writing on iPhones. I have tried it and I think for long-form text it invites error. I like to see the flow of the words on the page.

Have you ever looked back on a review and regreted writing it or wished it had been different somehow?
I only regret reviews where I wasn't absolutely honest. So, generally, I regret reviews that were nicer than they should have been.

Have you ever lost sleep over a show review? Could you tell us about one of the best and worst reactions to a review you've ever received?
I always lose sleep over them — you end up writing into the night. And you do fret over whether or not you've communicated your thoughts directly. The best reaction I had was when Miuccia Prada sent me a note to say that I'd made her think about her collection in a different fashion. It's precisely what I hope to do when I write. The worst was, possibly, when an unnamed person sent me a two-word text after a critical review of a show: "Fuck you."

What would you say is the show that has affected you most?
John Galliano's first couture show for Maison Margiela. Believe it or not, I actually never attended any of Galliano's couture shows for Dior; and when he was dismissed from the house I thought I may never get the chance to see a couture show by him, ever. He is the reason I even work in the industry — to me, as a child growing up in the northern English countryside in the nineties, Galliano's catwalk shows were these incredible feats of fantasy. They made me dream. I thought I'd missed my only opportunities to see that — so when he debuted at Margiela, it really was like I'd been given a second chance. It was tremendously significant. And I cried like a child. The whole experience taught me never to be laissez-faire, never to take anything for granted. These incredible creatives won't be here forever. Take every opportunity to enjoy what they do.

How has being a critic affected your view of your own style?
I'm mostly sweaty and running around, so I generally wear the dullest and most uniform clothes during fashion month. I always feel like we audience members are not — or, rather, should not be — the focus of anyone's attention. It's about the designers' clothes, not mine.

If you weren't a critic what would you be? Can you do anything besides write about clothes?
I have always been fascinated by archaeology, so perhaps I would have pursued that route. I think there's some kind of connection between that and my style of writing.

What advice would you give the next generation who daydreams about following in your footsteps? What are your hopes, dreams, and fears about the future of fashion criticism?
Honestly? I fear that it's a dying trade — perhaps that criticism in general is, maybe even journalism. There is a mood of dumbing-down in culture at the moment, and the idea that knowledge is something pejorative. "Intellectual Elitism" and aligned phrases scare me, and not just because of the distinct echoes of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. But I wonder if people really care what other people have to say about anything — in fashion, in films, in music, even in politics. So many people are questioning basic truths, challenging deep-seated beliefs. Maybe the internet's democratization of everything — giving everyone a voice, and implying that all voices and opinions are equally valid — will render criticism obsolete. I think plenty of people are debating those notions right now. However, in my somewhat contrarian view, having an informed, critical point of view and voicing it through the correct channels is exactly what we needed in the cacophonous hubbub of opinions right now. You need people whose outlook and knowledge you can trust, to guide the way.

That's a wider diatribe about the state of media today, but it rings true with fashion. My advice to anyone is to be honest, figure out your point of view, and express it in an original way, avoiding all those tired, trite tropes of language we read way too much of.

Oh, and read. Well. You can't write well unless you read well.

Finally, what would you say is the biggest misconception about fashion week? And the strongest truth?
The biggest misconception is that fashion week is glamorous. It's not — for most of us, at least. It's long days and short sleeps and not an awful lot to eat, and by the end of it you look and feel (and sometimes smell) as if you've contracted some medieval venereal disease.

The strongest truth? That none of that really matters. When you see great fashion, the stuff that really takes your breath away, that feels like it's changing something and making a difference to the way we view clothes, and ourselves, and the times in which we live (all of which really brilliant fashion does, brilliantly), you feel like the luckiest person in the world, doing the best job. At least, I do.

fashion industry
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