It was definitely a surreal weekend. After the Friday shows at OFW, I switched gears from production to blogging. I was asked by the Ottawa Citizen Style magazine to provide some of my own insight and opinions about the runways (and you can read them here, here and here) for the Saturday and Sunday shows, and not every review was flattering. Fashion is such a funny thing. We all have an opinion, but few dare to really express their (honest) opinion (and in Ottawa, that goes beyond fashion). We can critique film, music, books, we can rate them according to stars and thumbs up or down, but dare someone critique the ‘creative geniuses’ of the fashion world, and that will get you no further than a prompt un-invitation. For a city with so many “fashionistas”, “stylists”, and general fashion wannabes, you’d be hard pressed to find someone with a real point of view. Everyone wants to be a “fashion editor”, but no one wants TO BE a fashion editor.
No one goes to these events to tear down. And few go to really give an honest opinion to those that didn’t a chance to see it from their point of view. After all, isn’t a blog post or Facebook or Twitter update written from your point of view? A specific way to look at a collection which is neither right or wrong? Having lived in this city for 10 years now, I know this community has many positives. SO many positives, but there are two over-riding negatives: Ottawa The Land of Grandiose Delusions and Ottawa: Vanilla Coma. Over-hyping things/people/shows/etc. that would better be served with an honest critique as opposed to hot air and empty flattery is certainly not welcome. I suppose if you’re used to constantly reading only a very biased positive selection (“critique” if you will, and I use that term VERY loosely in this case), it is difficult to hear/read that your current collection wasn’t an overall success. Is that a bad thing? Don’t we all learn from our mistakes?
I read a great book last year entitled It’s not always about you, a case study in grandiose narcissism. One of the examples cited was a woman who every year hosted the most decadent of holiday parties in her neighborhood. She invited 300 of her “closest and most famous” friends, wore obnoxious clothes, laughed at her own jokes, made everyone gather around her as she played piano for her guests, even calling her voice a special Christmas gift to her friends and family. She was so sure she was the most charming, amazing, fantastic, envy-inducing person in the room. Yet, everyone around her, including her husband, suffered through this annual performance, telling her what she wanted to hear, as she paid for the booze and food. If she ever heard anything negative, she’d chock it up to Oh they’re just jealous! How dare they! They don’t know me! They don’t know anything! I’m great! A great example of how a lack of honest criticism can cause one to live in a land of delusions and unreality. This is not to say that you need to hear the negative all the time. But if one doesn’t even acknowledge that there might be slight truth in an honest opinion, and worse yet, try to censor it by banning those that might not only say 100% good things, then dare I make the connection to grandiose narcissism?
Getting a negative review can be a good thing. Personally, I’d rather hear Hey, that wasn’t so great, this is where you could have done better, this was lacking, and this didn’t make sense to me, than a constant verbal rampage of insincere: That WAS SO AMAZING! while I continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Because let’s be frank, while insincere praise can be good for the ego, after years of not improving on anything just becomes embarrassing. If all you hear is good things, you grow up entitled to feel that only good things should come to you – and we all know that life just doesn’t work that way. We’re so quick to tell designers they’re SO AMAZING and granted, some collections this weekend were shockingly good (might I cite Y!DNA and !Nui), but if everything we ever saw at OFW was SO FANTASTIC, how on earth could anyone even begin to describe the top designers at NYFW or LFW or any other major fashion week? As a writer and critic, I use discernment. It certainly isn’t popular, nor am I making too many friends. As a writer and critic, it IS NOT your job to be everyone’s friend. That’s what PR is for. In fact, I find it difficult to believe that one can write honestly about friends, it seems borderline unethical to pass a critique of a friend’s work off as journalism. (You can write an article about a friend, a press release, a profile but a critique? That would have to be taken with a huge lump of salt).
Banning people from shows because you don’t like what they have to say won’t stop anyone from talking. You can just as easily look at digital runway pictures and write a critique that way, or read live stream twitter feeds with pictures attached and form an opinion that way. After being banned by one designer after another for providing honest fashion critique, Cathy Horyn (American fashion journalist and critic for The New York Times)wrote, “it seems to be the practice of an aging generation of designers with egos that take reviews personally” (CITE). It is very difficult to stand up for what you believe in, sadly, even if that belief is I’m not a fan of this tee-shirt fabric or That finale feels gimmicky.
Recently a journalist I had the opportunity to talk to, lectured me how to write for and about fashion. She cited the example of a hotel patron calling the front desk and complaining about the heat in his room not working. Upon inspection, the front desk discovered their luggage was piled up on the vent. How does one respond? Sir, your luggage is piled up on the vent and its blocking the hot air from coming in. or Sir, perhaps your luggage would be more comfortable on this side of the room, we’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience and temperature, I trust it will be to your satisfaction after the luggage is moved. I found this example strange, because aren’t journalism and customer service two separate and totally different entities? In one, your aim is to make a friend (Customer Service), in the other, your responsibility lies within truth (Journalism and Journalistic integrity). If your piece is an opinion piece, isn’t the “truth” your integrity, and your duty as a journalist to write things as YOU see them, not as your subject would want you to see them?
If fashion weeks and designers don’t care for honest opinions, they should ban social media use altogether and instead of inviting journalists and bloggers, hire PR companies to write ego-stroking fluff and pay for advertorials in the local paper. That is what seems to be desirable, no?