Suzy Menkes is all over the map
When you spot her in the front row at a fashion show - whether in New York, London, Paris or Milan, what you notice about Suzy Menkes, fashion editor for the International Herald Tribune - are two things. First, her famous flip hairdo, and second, that she is typing furiously on a laptop.
This is a woman who can cover 180 shows in 29 days as if it were child"s play, which of course it isn"t. Fashion critics wield power - over readers of the fashion press, over store buyers attending the shows, and over the fashion houses themselves that hope the opinion-makers will find favor with the direction their designers are going. The responsibility is large, and critics don"t take it lightly. As a result, Menkes come across as rather serious when she"s at work.
Recently, Menkes was in San Francisco for the Academy of Art University"s 14th annual Graduation Fashion Show, where she was guest of honor and awarded an honorary doctorate. At the student show on May 6, she took time to mingle with students before taking in the runway show - a high-energy, high-production value experience similar to what is seen at the world"s larger ready-to-wear shows. Beforehand, Menkes chatted with The Chronicle about herself and the industry.
Q: What lies ahead for students trying to make it in fashion today, compared to 10 or 20 years ago?
A: There"s so much more fashion around, so much more design and style around. Fast-fashion companies are aware they need much more than just stuff. The difference between what you got when prints were last seen in fashion in the 1970s is today"s computer manipulation. Patterns now have a 3-D quality that comes from cyberspace. It"s the "Avatar" phenomenon. Prints can leap out at you more. There"s more awareness of the importance of design in stores. There"s been a downtick. But still there are openings in the fashion industry. You just have to fight your way to the door.
Q: You have an Order of the British Empire and the Chevalier de la Légion d"honneur. How does this honorary doctorate stack up?
A: My feeling is the French gave me the first award, so the British had to give me one. It"s nice to have these honors, particularly from one"s peers. I don"t give them any more significance than that.
Q: But aren"t you a fashion expert?
A: I don"t know that I think of myself as an expert. Journalists have to see themselves as what they are, a conduit between the creative people and the general public.
Q: How does the academy"s show compare to others?
A: I saw one of their student shows in New York. The show was very strong. It put a lot of the professional shows to shame.
Q: What are the main principles you keep in mind when reviewing a collection?
A: Cut, color, accessorizing. At this point in my career, those things are more intuitive.
Q: The academy"s fashion school executive director, Gladys Perint Palmer, led a symposium with you and asked, "If everyone"s wearing it, is it fashion?" What is the answer?
A: You have to take into account how much the world has changed, due to the use of the Internet and social networking. A student in the audience stood up to talk. She was a blogger from Mongolia, where Louis Vuitton has opened.
There are a tremendous number of plus points (to the Internet), but with the speed of fashion going into the world, if you"re a fresh designer, the ideas are out there from the moment someone takes a picture with their iPhone. That"s a minus. Blogging has brought a tremendous freshness to journalism.
It"s terrific that there"s a new stream of people who are connecting on fashion, but they"re also being manipulated by brands. Haul videos are an example.
(Haul videos are a YouTube phenomenon; shoppers make a video about their purchases, opining about products and often receiving sponsorships, product deals, magazine spreads or some ad revenue when videos are seen by millions of viewers.)
Menkes then politely bowed out, citing her duty to speak to the students. "I"ve got to get back to the show, or I"m afraid there will be trouble," she said. And then she darted out, much like she bolts from one auditorium to another during Paris fashion week, to keep to her timetable.
Brisk, efficient, punctual, professional. What else would you expect?
E-mail Carolyne Zinko at firstname.lastname@example.org.