Vestoj’s Editors Talk the Challenges Facing Fashion Journalism

“Why is it so hard for people in the fashion industry to be critical?”

On Sunday evening at McNally Jackson Books, Vestoj’s publisher and editor-in-chief, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, and online editor, Alice Hines, sat down to discuss the controversy that arose after the publication of Will I Get A Ticket?, the former’s interview with ousted British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers. The article, in which Chambers frankly discussed her firing, created industry-wide commotion. Chambers said the kinds of things insiders rant about at any given dinner (“Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years…The clothes are just irrelevant for most people—so ridiculously expensive,” was one memorable quote), but rarely mention in the public sphere.  

“Why is it so hard for people in the fashion industry to be critical?” asked Aronowsky Cronberg. Why did Chambers’ admissions—that a Michael Kors T-shirt placed on a cover was not selected for merit, but for advertising dollars; that not all the editors strive to be above mediocre; etc.—seem like such a sensation?

Hines and Aronowsky Cronberg suggested several factors.

“In fashion, there is such a strong divide between insiders and outsiders,” said Aronowsky Cronberg. Is it stronger than in other fields of journalism? Possibly. “That was when it got controversial,” Hines added. “That was the reason why people were shocked by those quotes. We all have to do things that we aren’t totally behind either aesthetically or ethically—that’s sort of part of the job. It was not really the content of it, but the fact that she was airing it publicly and breaching this gap between insider and outsider.”

“There is a difference between what you say in public and what you say in private,” said Aronowsky Cronberg. “How much can you transgress and how much can you negotiate those roles?”

The answer, it seems, is not by much. Hines dug into the history of fashion journalism—the profession was essentially created as a form of advertising, a means for Americans to learn about the Paris collections that would be adopted by U.S. retailers in the post-war ’50s. There has always been a close connection between the brands and the supposedly taste-making or more unbiased editorial voices. The power of advertisers is not a result of the digital era or the death of publishing at large.

Similarly, Hines and Aronowsky Cronberg drew attention to the personal relationships that we all rely upon as journalists and editors.

“One theory that we were passing around was: Are fashion journalists more likely to self-censor?” asked Aronowsky Cronberg. “What is the route of that? Is it just because of the sort of camaraderie that we have? The loyalty to the industry? Or is there something deeper to it? One idea that we had was: Is it because fashion isn’t taken seriously by [the world] at large? Maybe we internalize that as well. ‘It’s not a life-or-death situation, should I change the quote? Well, you know, who does it really affect? 

As a journalist, part of your ethics are Does the public need to know this? So, how do you argue Does the public need to know this? if the question at hand is [Is] the Michael Kors T-shirt I put on the cover crappy?”

The editors closed by allowing for another suggestion: “It may also have something to do with how fashion has traditionally been a women’s industry, and how women value themselves when working,” Aronowsky Cronberg remarked.

This can’t be disregarded. How can we have honest conversations in a space where we are financially, professionally, and perhaps even emotionally dependent on the groups and individuals that we are, in theory, critiquing? It would be naïve and disingenuous to suggest that the issues existing within fashion journalism are not gendered. Personally, I see this issue of public and private conversation—where we can have much more straightforward conversations over drinks than anyone would dare express in a review or editorial—to be a function of our own vanity as much as anything else. How would this industry exist without a devotion to certain brands of elitism and the insecurities that go hand in hand with maintaining a position within the fold? Perhaps that is too cynical. Hines and Aronowsky Cronberg pointed out that we’re all participating in the fashion dialogue whether we admit it or not. It’s hard to see an immediate solution—but there is something to be said for having a direct conversation.

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