Fashion Business Journalism: A Golden Age

From Vogue Business and Business of Fashion to the veteran WWD, the fashion industry is exceptionally well reported. Roger Tredre, editor-in-chief of WGSN from 1999 to 2006, is enjoying it while it lasts.

Last year, the founder of got herself a great new job. Katharine Zarrella landed the plum role of fashion editor on the Off Duty section of The Wall Street Journal. Much as we’ve missed her, we knew it was only a matter of time before Katharine, an exceptional fashion writer and journalist, moved on.

It’s fascinating that she has gone into business media. Some of the best fashion journalism of recent years has been published in the financial press, from the Wall Street Journal (which hired Tina Gaudoin in 2008 to launch its WSJ. Magazine) to the Financial Times (its former editor, Vanessa Friedman, was poached to become fashion director and chief fashion critic of The New York Times).

These titles are read by people who can actually afford designer clothes, so they’ve long been important media for fashion PRs to court. Something else is happening: there’s a growing and widespread interest in the business of fashion – from the luxury conglomerates’ latest acquisitions to the influencers’ advertising deals, from the industry’s increasingly urgent focus on sustainable issues to the shifts in global sourcing patterns.

What’s more, the fashion business media, led by a new generation of B2B titles, are now banging the drum effectively for change in an industry that, as insiders well know, can be surprisingly resistant to innovation. From diversity to sustainability, fashion business journalists are behaving more like traditional journalists and asking awkward questions. A golden age of fashion business media is upon us.

This huge interest is a 21st century phenomenon, fuelled by the internet. On the B2B media front, WWD used to have a clear run of things in the latter half of the 20th century. Most countries had a trade paper, such as Drapers in the UK or TextilWirtschaft in Germany, but their readerships outside their own countries were miniscule.

Back in the 1980s, I started my own career on a short-lived London-based trade title called Fashion Weekly, working with Roy Kent and Eric Musgrave. We sought to make the business of fashion more exciting. We added a gossip column, hyped news stories with splash headlines, and spent money on expensive fashion shoots. I travelled widely, including many unlikely fashion destinations (Karachi, Pakistan and Thessaloniki, Greece, come to mind), learning step by step as much as I could. Our icon – my icon – was WWD, the once fusty American trade title that had been transformed by John Fairchild in the 1960s and 70s into a captivating mix of hard news, nonstop scoops, gossip and excellent analysis.

In 1989, working on the UK’s Independent newspaper, I finally met my hero. John Fairchild held a launch event for his second book of memoirs, the brilliantly titled Chic Savages, and I was by good fortune in New York for the shows, hyperventilating in the Pierre on East 61st Street as I waited to interview the great man. In 2021, the best journalists at Penske Media-owned WWD are lifers who knew Fairchild, including Jim Fallon, editorial director; Miles Socha, editor in chief; Samantha Conti, London bureau chief; and Bridget Foley, who stepped down as executive editor recently.

A decade on, in 1999, I moved from the Observer newspaper to front the editorial operation of web-based fashion trends startup WGSN. We decided we couldn’t remotely compete with WWD for quality of news, so we chose to take the aggregation route. Every morning, our team of three, led by the very experienced Sandra Halliday, would scour the world online and rewrite 30-plus stories for our subscribers. We recycled WWD’s best stories the moment they were published (credited, of course – we weren’t that bad) and created a daily email with plenty of gossip in the mix. Quality it was not, but then WGSN was never about news – it was (and is) a trends forecasting business, with the news service simply providing some froth on top.

Through all this time, my admiration for WWD was undimmed. Which made me puzzled that this beacon of outstanding fashion business journalism allowed Imran Amed, a Canadian-British interloper with no journalistic background, to set up Business of Fashion (BoF) and knock WWD off its position of dominance (Don’t believe me? Here’s a sample newspaper headline from among many: “Imran Amed – the most influential man in fashion”).

WWD lost out not because the quality of its journalism had dimmed. It simply didn’t know how to market itself globally. By contrast, Amed, starting in 2007 operating part-time out of his flat in London’s Notting Hill, cleverly aggregated the global fashion news from his laptop, adding enough new comment and analysis to make his take sound fresh and relevant and emailing it to the world for free. WWD stagnated and failed to respond.

BoF began to generate more of its own news and analysis. Amed and his tough-minded editorial director Vikram Alexei Kansara showed smart journalistic instincts, particularly in agenda setting, defining what the issue or story of the day was, all the while assembling a strong editorial team. Raising investment for his company, Amed finally began charging a subscription fee for BoF in 2016 and the operation moved into overdrive.

At the International Herald Tribune in the 1990s, legendary fashion editor Suzy Menkes had already proven that reporting the business of fashion could be seriously lucrative. Her seasonal fashion week multi-page special reports attracted huge advertising revenues for the international newspaper, while her luxury conferences – organised by the brilliant Brenda Hagerty – were even more important sources of income for the newspaper, which was otherwise struggling to justify its existence. When the IHT finally expired, becoming the International New York Times in 2013, Menkes moved on to Condé Nast and promptly launched a globe-trotting luxury conference for them (she stepped down from the role in mid-2020). BoF and the Financial Times also have their own events, although the pandemic has put all real-life versions of these on hold for the time being (and the events business may take years to recover).

Thus we move to the near-present and the launch of Condé Nast’s Vogue Business in January 2019, which has overcome initial industry doubts about its plausibility (could Condé Nast really offer criticism of an industry in which it is so deeply embedded?). It will be interesting to see how its recent move to a subscription model works out, but the anecdotal feedback so far is promising, and it is already editorially an impressive product, standing up well in many aspects alongside BoF – arguably better, in some respects, with strong technology and sustainability coverage and high-grade analysis for its Data & Insights members. Vogue Business is edited from London but has a very strong team on the other side of the Atlantic too, including Hilary Milnes, Christina Binkley, Maghan McDowell and Rachel Cernansky. It’s impressive that the launch editor, Lauren Indvik, has already been poached – by the Financial Times – with Sarah Shannon, an experienced and energetic Australian journalist, formerly at BoF and Bloomberg, now editorial director.

Both Vogue Business and BoF are now offering more in-depth content including case studies and premium content for subscribers willing to pay more, and they are competing to deliver ever-better coverage of the all-important Chinese market. The growth of fashion business journalism has not been restricted to the English language, with BoF, Vogue Business and WWD all delivering Chinese language content. China also has its own fashion business titles, led by LadyMax, established in 2010 and distributed across multiple media platforms with monthly readership figures in excess of 1 million (senior editor Xiaoyu Zuo was a clever hire, direct from Central Saint Martins’ MA Fashion Communication course; Tian Wei Zhang, also a CSM alumnus, is the very accomplished China Market Editor of WWD, operating out of its London office). In addition, I admit to a long admiration for the thoroughness of France’s Journal du Textile, while the English language editions of Japan’s The Senken (particularly their Creative Designer Rankings, “as chosen by Japan’s leading boutiques”) that reach me are a rare cult treat.

What’s missing? Maybe some of the sense of fun and mischievousness that the late John Fairchild and Patrick McCarthy in full pomp injected into WWD in the late 20th century. But fun and mischievousness might seem a bit of a luxury in the current world. Furthermore, none of the plaudits detailed above should obscure the fact that fashion business media are struggling as much as anyone in the current pandemic, despite adapting rapidly to lockdowns with online seminars, events and discussions. Some consolidation in this specialist market is to be expected sooner rather than later (Condé Nast to buy BoF or WWD? Who knows?).

In the meantime, fashion business obsessives like me are enjoying this wealth of options. Every day, I can peruse the global fashion scene from my laptop and mobile, reading a cornucopia of well-researched and informed copy, questioning and challenging the fashion industry as well as reporting it brilliantly. Now, with the transfer of Katharine Zarrella from to the Wall Street Journal, I’ve yet another resource to add to my list. Happy days indeed.


Roger Tredre is Senior Commissioning Editor of and Course Leader in MA Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins. Full disclosure: he has consulted for Condé Nast.

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