Thursday, December 17, 2009

No Holds Barred

by Blair Sabol

Blame it on the recession or technology but I know I am not alone when I say I haven’t read or bought a fashion magazine in ten years. I prefer to get my retail/couture news and "health tips" from the Wall Street Journal. Besides I live in a town where "W" still means a member of the Bush family and "Lucky" is the name of a supermarket.  

But I do know that readership is down with all magazines cross the board. Last weekend the New York Times announced their style magazine "T" had  a "new look." But I couldn’t find anything new about it. The art direction was still impossible to read and what was "new" about putting Taylor Swift on yet another cover.

Lately I don’t get or relate to any cover girls be it Nicole Kidman (who has no face at this point) or Kate Hudson (what's that message?).
When I was a Vogue contributor (over 30 years ago) Alexander Liberman bravely brought me in from The Village Voice as the new "anti fashion" point of view. They ended up making me write tedious interviews with Farrah Fawcett and her Nike sneakers; and one boring "payback" piece on the history of Saks department store.  

I remember being sent to cover the "fall collections" in Paris and I returned with an amazing report and pictures of the notorious "student demonstrators" and what they were wearing as they threw excrement at  all the people outside the fashion shows. (Six months later YSL used that very look in his collection of "militant chic.")

At the sight of all this editor (and mentor) Leo Lerman suggest I return to The Village Voice. Agreed. So much for for Vogue's "uptown" attempt at going "downtown."

This past falll I took one of my local young "fashion fanatics" to see the movie “The September Issue” (which opened and closed here in a record five days). Mid-movie she turned to me in shock and awe that THIS was the actual scene at any magazine let alone Vogue. I was shocked to actually hear Anna Wintour's voice. At the sight of Andre Leon Talley my young friend leaned over and innocently asked "Who and what is HE?" I couldn’t explain.

We were both horrified at the look of the ravaged staff (I don’t remember them looking like that years ago) and we both agreed that Meryl Streep’s characterization and The Devil Wears Prada's entire interpretation was far superior.  But the movie made me wonder about Anna Wintour ... I never met her but what is that deep freeze persona about? Did her stint at yucking it up on David Letterman (movie promotion) help soften her image and sell mags? Is her "fear and loathing" style still a powerful aspect to her current reign?

I remember when fashion magazines used to be "art books" ... and truly the last word on style. Now I think they have all gone into serious disconnect. We don’t need editors from "on high" telling us anything anymore. Fashion has always originated in "the streets" not on the collection runways.

On the Street with Bill Cunningham.
Tiny 13-year-old dork that sits inside all day wearing awkward jackets and pretty hats. Scatters black petals on Rei Kawakubo's doorsteps and serenades her in rap. I have no where near 4 million readers. Rather cynical and cute as a drained rat. In a sewer. Farting. And spitting out guts. -- The Style Rookie
Which is why Bill Cunningham's On the Street photos in the New York Times are still so important. To me ... HE is THE fashion reporter of record. Long may he reign!!! By the way the only fashion magazines I do hear mentioned occasionally are French or Italian Vogue and Elle.  Apparently nobody can relate to the current flock of Russian and Eastern European models. Do models matter anymore?  As for new photographers ... I only hear Platon's name as the new Avedon but he is working for The New Yorker.  

Face it ... Diana Vreeland gave us fantasy straight up at a time when we needed it and wanted it. Grace Mirabella gave us a wholesome American reflection (honest however dull). So what is Anna Wintour giving us? No doubt it is a tough time to be a fashion head of state with the immediacy of technology breathing down your back. You cant be "new and improved" about anything these days. The truth is that most of us no longer "dress for success" or care about "FASHION" anymore. We are too busy dressing for doctor appointments and supermarket runs.  

ENTER the power of independent Fashion blogs: Like Mighty Mouse they are here to save the day. All the energy and fun and inventiveness is now bubbling over on sites like The Sartorialist, Fashionaire and the current big star ... 13-year-old Tavi Gevinson who calls her site The Style Rookie. And no doubt there are hundreds more.  

But my fashion addict friends tell me these are the sites they watch and read HOURLY not monthly. I believe it since last week I went to two waiting rooms and checked out the "literature." At Mayo Clinic there was nothing but Sunset magazine, AARP mag and The Traveler ... not even an In Style was visible on any table.  At my hairdresser everyone was on their Kindles or Blackberries not even a finger worn stack of Bazaars could be spotted. I kept thinking of that sad refrain in Paul Simon's "Mrs. Robinson ..."

"Where have you gone, fashion magazines (Not Joe Dimaggio)?"

"Our nation is NOT turning its lonely eyes to you."


Instead  we are reading our thousands of store catalogues (JCrew is still one of the best in teaching style composition) and clicking onto "The Purse" or "Shoe Forum" sites not to mention remoting into TV's QVC and Home Shopping networks. Talk about a new rendition of  "tune in, turn on and drop out!"
 

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