Change is a’comin’. In the last six months, The New York Times’ key fashion critics and journalists—Eric Wilson, Cathy Horyn, and, most recently, Suzy Menkes—have departed the publication. (Wilson decamped to InStyle, Menkes is headed to International Vogue, and Horyn left for personal reasons.) But that’s not to say that the paper—which, thanks to Wilson’s wit, Horyn’s rapier pen, and Menkes’ learned insights, has offered up some of the most entertaining and informed fashion reporting of the last two decades—is losing its clout. Yesterday, the Times confirmed industry suspicions when it appointed Vanessa Friedman, formerly of the Financial Times, as its chief fashion critic and fashion director. Like her NYT predecessors, Friedman, who became the FT‘s first fashion editor in 2002, has a knack for not only critiquing fashion, but for helping us to understand it in a broader historical and cultural context. All one needs to do is read her recent takedown of Jeremy Scott’s first Moschino outing—which opened with the line, “Kiev was burning and in Milan, Jeremy Scott made his debut at Moschino with a series of bad jokes”—to understand what I’m talking about.
Friedman insists, however, that she is her own journalist—not Cathy Horyn, not Suzy Menkes—and when she dives into her new post next month, she plans to stick to her guns and honor her own voice, rather than focus on living up to the reputations of those who came before her. Here, Friedman speaks to Style.com about her new gig; the state of fashion criticism; and why, despite all the Internet’s white noise, readers still crave an expert opinion.
You were just hired for one of fashion journalism’s most prestigious positions. But why, in this day and age, is fashion criticism so important?
I think any kind of criticism is important, whether it’s fashion or another form of cultural analysis. And I think it always has been. There is a lot of talk about the rise of the blogger and social media and how everyone’s ability to become a critic has made formal critics less important. But I think what everyone is finding is that there is room for all sorts of opinions, some of them educated and some of them just literal. And I think the Times is an incredible platform to bring an educated, contextual, impersonal, analytical, historical, multicultural analysis to a forum, whether that’s books or music or movies or fashion.
Some say fashion critics aren’t always treated with the same respect as other reporters. Have you found that to be the case? Does fashion criticism deserve the same amount of respect as other forms of reporting?
Honestly, I haven’t found that to be the case. You know, I currently work at a highly financial-oriented newspaper, and I feel as legitimate and respected here as anybody. I think that if you treat your subject with seriousness and respect, other people tend to treat it the same way. The Times has a history of treating it that way, and I think that’s terrific. What’s interesting about fashion at the moment is that it has become a pervasive element in the general pop cultural conversation because of social media and the rise of visuals as a primary communication device. The first thing everyone talks about, whether they’re talking about film or music or presidents, is what they’re wearing. And that makes fashion a really interesting subject to look at, and one that’s relevant in a very broad context.
Given the power of advertisers these days, do you think it’s possible to be an unfettered critic? Do you feel you’re able to say what you want to say?
I’ve never, ever had an issue with this. It’s never crossed my mind and it’s never been something that’s been brought up to me. My feeling is that if you are a critic, what’s important is to be fair, and people respect that. They may not like it, but they are fine with it. And if you’re not willing to say when something is bad or a mistake, then when you say it’s good it means nothing.
What is your vision for the Times? Are you planning on changing anything?
I think it’s too early to say. I’m really excited to get to the newspaper—which isn’t going to happen for a couple of weeks—and meet everyone. Clearly, I’m a different person, a different writer than Cathy or Suzie or anyone else, so whatever I bring to the table is a specific point of view. But I think I’ll see when I get there.
In that same vein, how do you see yourself fitting into the team and the history of the New York Times in respect to Cathy? She had a reputation for being a spectacular—but often ruthless—critic. Do you aim to be the same?
No. I aim to be me. I would never aim to be the same as Cathy. She was terrific, and I have enormous respect for her and read everything she wrote. I loved sitting next to her at shows, I loved talking to her about lots of things—fashion and beyond. But we’re different people and we’re different writers. What I do will be different.
Your Moschino review was pretty sharp-tongued. What kind of response did you get to that piece?
Some people liked it, people agreed or disagreed. It was mostly via Twitter. I think Jeremy [Scott] tweeted his Facebook likes. But no one said anything, no one called me from Moschino and said, “How could you do that?” There was a reason I said what I said, it wasn’t just gratuitous, and hopefully I expressed that. I really look forward to seeing what he does next. Continue Reading “A Sign of the Times: Vanessa Friedman on the State of Fashion Criticism and Her New Gig” »
Clad in his signature blazer, light blue shirt, dark jeans, and black sneakers embellished with gleaming white swooshes, Nike CEO Mark Parker took the stage in Barcelona last week like the Steve Jobs of sports gear. A crowd including just about every soccer journalist in the world, along with a smattering of international fashion and lifestyle media, had gathered in the Spanish city, where football is worshiped with religious fanaticism, to see Parker introduce Nike’s latest project: the Magista football boot. (That’s a soccer cleat to you, Yankees.) The new shoes will be worn by more than seventy players during the World Cup in Brazil this June.
The Magista’s radical design features a knit upper with a collar that covers the ankle. Not the most exciting footwear development for those who aren’t concerned with ball control, but as with any Nike announcement, it offered an occasion to consider how the sportswear giant will continue to keep a foothold in style.
Many Nike innovations—Free, Flyknit, Lunar—find a second life in the fashion world. For Parker, who got his start at Nike in 1979 working as a footwear designer, that’s an unintended side effect of the process. Even so, it was impossible to escape the swoosh during the Fall ’14 shows, as everyone from Susie Bubble to My Theresa’s Veronika Heilbrunner mixed Nikes with their high-styled fashion week looks. And then, of course, there’s Riccardo Tisci, whose admiration for the brand has manifested in a much-buzzed-about range of collaborative kicks. Here, Parker talks to Style.com about authenticity, the sport-fashion crossover, and what it means to be an innovator.
“Innovation” is a word that gets thrown around a lot when you talk to people at Nike. From a design perspective, what does the word mean to you?
Well, it is a word that I think, just in the general vernacular, gets thrown around too much and abused. I’m not speaking about Nike necessarily—just in general.
For us it actually means creating a product that is truly new and better, so it’s about improving. We’re a performance-based company; we strive to help athletes get better and realize their potential. But “better” is a key word.
We take input from everyone, so the innovation process at Nike is driven by being incredibly observant; by the relationship we have with athletes; and by the deep, personal connections we have. We don’t just think about what athletes need to perform but what they need as individuals, as people with opinions. It’s not just about performance but aesthetics, too. So all of that gets factored in along with the latest in technologies, materials, components, and processes to improve.
You mentioned aesthetics. Often the big Nike innovations trickle down into the Nike Sportswear line, or they wind up being used by people who aren’t just concerned about performance but about fashion and style. At what point does that enter the equation?
Along the way. In many cases, after the fact. We don’t set out to try to be fashionable. That’s a by-product or a result. That’s fine. But we’re driven by trying to solve problems, and those problems are primarily functional problems.
We do, as I said, take into account the aesthetic, because that’s really important as an athlete—how do you look? When you look at yourself in the mirror, you want to look like you’re fast, you want to look like you’re strong, you want to look like you’re expressive, you have your own personal style. That’s part of the process, but it’s not like we’re sitting there saying, “We need to create something that is driven by trying to be fashionable.”
I think the authenticity and the uniqueness that comes from solving problems—the form that follows the function—is what makes us interesting from a fashion standpoint. Continue Reading “Can’t Kick the Swoosh: A One-on-One With Nike CEO Mark Parker” »
Today, with the opening of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which runs through May 25, an era will end. The show marks the last staging of one of the art world’s most famously forward-looking events in the Marcel Breuer monolith at Madison Avenue and 75th Street before the museum decamps to its new Meatpacking District digs in the spring of 2015. This year’s BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP-sponsored show boasts works by 103 artists—both emerging, like duo Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst (below), and established, like Sterling Ruby and Gary Indiana (above)—and comprises a dizzying array of mediums and vernaculars. Three curators (Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner) brought in from outside the organization were each tasked with filling one floor of the museum. Style.com sat down with director Adam Weinberg to talk moving, the future, and why three heads are better than one.
On the eve of the last Biennial in the current space, what is the mood? Excitement? Nostalgia?
It’s forward-looking. I think the great thing about the Whitney is while we have a great history, it’s always about looking forward, and it’s an understanding that you always have to embrace where you are now. To keep your eyes on the horizon but not lose track of where you’ve come from. It doesn’t feel nostalgic to me—it feels right.
Did the upcoming relocation lead you to take a different approach to curating this year’s show?
It did. We brought in three outside curators, and each curator was given a floor of the museum. So it’s basically three exhibitions in one that complement one another and connect to one another but are distinct shows.
Was there any interaction between the curators to ensure a somewhat unified final product?
They met with each other; they got to know each other; they talked about artists together. There were some artists whom they all three agreed they were interested in having, and then they would decide who would best belong where. But otherwise, they did it independently.
How much does the space influence the show’s curation?
Quite a bit because it becomes the frame for the show. If you took the same group of artists and installed it in the new space downtown, it would be a different show. It doesn’t mean it’s not similar, but it would feel different. The concept of physical space changes how you experience it.
What is the new downtown location going to afford you for the next Biennial?
A lot of outdoor space. We have 14,000 square feet of it at the new building. And then we have dedicated performing arts space, which could be used for performance or installation or video. It’ll feel very different.
How do you think that the Whitney is going to fit into the largely gallery-driven downtown art dynamic?
I think it will offer a good contrast because the galleries are not primarily devoted to providing a context of work, and they’re not primarily devoted to scholarship. They pick their artists they believe in and they support them, but their primary role in the end is to support their artists and sell their work. We’re not selling the work. Not directly, anyway.
Does public reaction to past Biennials play into your approach to curating?
Never. No. You can’t curate through marketing. We care about the audience, but you have to start with the art, start with the artist. Our job is to get a sense of what’s really happening. And I truly believe that the real audience is people who want to know what’s going on. The audience is determined by the content and character and quality of the work and not by going out and asking people what they want. I mean, there are a lot of museums that now go out and they have all these voting things. That’s fine; that’s their approach. But my approach is what is our mission, what is our history, what is our connection, what drives us? And that is being active, and the visions of artists working in a particular moment. And it brings people out.
Instagram Fears the Nipple: An Exclusive Interview with Anja Rubik About Getting Kicked Off the Social Platform, and Celebrating the Naked Body
Instagram doesn’t just fear the nipple—it’s terrified of it. This morning, Anja Rubik’s erotic magazine, 25, was kicked off the social media platform without warning. Why, you ask? 25 had posted an image or two that included partial female nudity. (One of said images may or may not have been a screen shot of yesterday’s Style.com homepage, which featured Rubik in Anthony Vaccarello’s transparent Fall ’14 finale look.) And that, apparently, was just not acceptable. “I think this whole thing is ridiculous,” Rubik told us by phone from Paris fashion week. “It’s like saying to the world that a woman’s body is offensive. You can’t show a nipple behind a sheer shirt?”
Yesterday, Style.com reported on Fall ’14′s nipple trend (which continued at Gareth Pugh). And while the judges are still out on whether this catwalk craze is a vehicle for female empowerment or objectification, we agree with Rubik that social media shouldn’t censor pictures that celebrate the body. “Like all forms of social media, Instagram is a form of a self-expression,” said Style.com social media editor Rachel Walgrove. “The digitally-driven have grown to accept it as an art form and prefer that companies not stifle their messages with their terms or censorship.”
What’s more is that there’s so much clothed vulgarity allowed on Instagram. Miley Cyrus can post a close-up of her derriere in a pair of white panties printed with a wagging tongue that reads “Bangers,” but Rubik can’t share a runway snap of her barely visible breasts? Pish posh. Here, in an exclusive interview, Rubik talks to Style.com about getting kicked off (and immediately relaunching on) Instagram, the dangers of censorship, and why there is no need to fear the nipple.
Instagram is obviously fearing the nipple, and they canceled your magazine’s account today because of it. How did you find out?
Well, [my colleague] who runs 25 magazine’s account called me and told me that it was down. We didn’t even get a warning. We know Instagram’s restrictions, and we’ve been very careful. So we started to think, What image could have triggered this? And actually, we think it was a screen shot of the Style.com homepage, where I’m wearing Anthony Vaccarello.
Stop. Are you serious?
Yes! And we loved [the image] because underneath, you guys wrote, “Don’t Fear the Nipple,” which is our slogan that originally came from an interview I did with Style.com, and it became our thing, and we did T-shirts around it. It’s all about empowering women and being comfortable with your body and your sexuality. Anyway, I guess that image triggered a lot of reports, which is why the account was closed.
Have you posted any other images that people might report?
Well, there was also an image I posted from French Vogue of a naked girl standing backward. You couldn’t see anything, but they took that down. And actually, this is the second time I’ve been thrown off Instagram. The first time was because a photographer friend of mine sent me a print with a beautiful note on it, and I posted a picture of it to say thank you, and they kicked me off for that without warning. It’s quite frustrating, especially because, when you look through Instagram, there are so many crude, vulgar images, which are apparently fine. But when you post a beautiful body of a naked woman, which is the most natural thing that can exist, then we have a problem. What’s the worst thing that will happen? Even if it’s children flipping through, why should they be offended by a breast? Especially if it’s photographed or shown in a very natural way that’s not vulgar.
It’s not like you’re posting porn.
No! Not at all!
So Instagram allows crass, clothed images but censors photographs that celebrate a woman’s nude body. What kind of message do you think that’s sending to the public?
I think it’s very strange. It makes us think that we should have some kind of complex about our bodies. It sends the message that our bodies are unnatural and not beautiful, and I think women need to fight this. Talking about sex and the naked body has become such a taboo, and that’s when people start having problems—when they can’t be open about it. We need to be proud of our bodies. We create all these really fake ideals of beauty nowadays with images of women that are physically altered, and women are trying to attain these insane, unrealistic ideals. But we show a natural woman naked and that’s an issue? I don’t understand it.
Do you hope that 25 can help make issues and discussions surrounding sex and the naked body less of a taboo?
Yes. I hope that is something that we’re doing through the magazine. We shoot all different women for 25—models and real women. Women shouldn’t feel like they need to hide their bodies. If you look at the sixties or the seventies, women were free and comfortable in their bodies. All this censorship can start to make women feel uncomfortable, and that’s a very big problem
Do you think that this fear of the female body is inherently American, or is it an international sentiment?
I feel that we see it much more in the States. In general, people in America tend to be a little bit more prude than in Europe. But I think it’s spreading, unfortunately. Europe is becoming more and more prude. And it’s ridiculous because when you turn on the TV—a reality show—you’re faced with so many vulgar images. That’s what should be censored and not allowed, in my opinion.
I see that 25 has relaunched with another Instagram account. Will you continue to try and push the envelope with the images you post?
We will. And if they kick us off, we’ll open another account. We’re here at fashion week [in Paris] and it’s an important event for fashion and women. So we thought we should open a new account to keep our readers updated going forward. But after fashion week, we’re going to have to decide how we approach this issue. I’m considering opening a private account so only our users can see the photos. Maybe that will solve the problem. I don’t know.
More generally, we have seen a lot of bare breasts on the runway for Fall ’14. Do you think this is a positive thing? And would you walk around in the Anthony Vaccarello finale look that you wore down the runway?
Yes! Of course. In the right place, why not? I would feel comfortable. I mean, I wouldn’t wear it on the street, but this whole nipple thing is insane. Didn’t people want Anne Hathaway to apologize because you could see the outline of her nipples in her Oscars dress? That’s crazy. That’s like apologizing for having a leg. Honestly. She wasn’t even showing the nipple! It was just peeking through the dress. Obviously there’s a nipple in there! Why do we care? That’s really awkward! We should be apologizing to her. There was nothing vulgar about that dress.
You said that you wouldn’t go braless in a completely sheer top when just walking down the street. Why not?
I think because the world, unfortunately, is not quite prepared for that. In Europe, I’d probably do it—in Italy or the south of France. But in other places, I think it would cause too much trouble.
Is there anything you’d like to say to Instagram or to members of the general public who fear the nipple?
They should wake up. We’re going backward—way backward. Instead of celebrating our bodies and moving forward and exploring our sensuality, we’re blocking all these things and making them shameful. And to the people who don’t like these images and report them on Instagram, just don’t follow us. It’s very simple. I don’t understand why they’re following us in the first place if they find our images so offensive. I’m not putting a gun to their heads.
It’s been a decade since the ladies of Sex and the City last kicked off their stilettos. But even after all these years; a pair of blockbuster films; and a very real re-examination of what it means to live, date, and shop in New York, few women define our relationship with shoes like Sarah Jessica Parker’s Manolo-sporting Carrie Bradshaw. This week, the actress will launch a line of her very own with (who else?) Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus. The wares are simple, single-soled, everyday pumps, flats, and sandals that will retail in the $300 range at Nordstrom starting February 28. No sky-high spikes or flame-embellished mules here. Just Italian-crafted (save the Spanish-made espadrilles), warm-hued basics meant for the women looking for a taste of Carrie’s sartorial adventures. We sat down with Parker and Malkemus to talk about why color is the new neutral, what it takes to design the perfect—and not too cheap, not too pricey—heel, and how the SJP shoe philosophy has evolved over the years.
How did the collection come about?
Sarah Jessica Parker: The opportunities had been orbiting and I kept having a hard time saying yes—and that puzzled me. I would honestly lay in bed at night and think to myself, “What is the problem?” And I went to lunch one day with a group of successful women, and they were encouraging me to do a shoe line. They said, “Well, what’s the problem? You have all this money and all these opportunities.” And I said, “It’s just not about that, obviously. Do you know what? To be honest, what I would really love is to be a partner with George.” I didn’t know him super well, but we had spent the past twelve years working together on Sex and the City and I certainly admired his business and the way he conducted his relationship with Pat Field and me. And they said, “Why don’t you call him?” And I said, “You know what? Screw it. I’m just going to be brave. Because the worst he can say is ‘no.’”
George Malkemus: Which I didn’t!
SJP: And so began this thrilling conversation.
Can you tell me a bit about the concept behind the collection?
SJP: We wanted to revisit the single sole—where did it go? We found, much to our delight, that our reference points are the same, and we had an idea of this particular woman in our head. She wears color as a neutral and doesn’t think black totally is necessary. “Appropriate” footwear was not something that we were interested in. And we thought of all those great shoemakers from the late seventies, all those wonderful shoe stores…that’s how it all began. George found us a great shoemaker in Tuscany.
GM: Third generation.
SJP: We found a great person in Spain to make our espadrilles—to really make the shoes the way we wanted at a price point I felt comfortable with.
The shoes are an investment, but they’re not unobtainable.
GM: That’s the key word! Investment. That’s the thing we want to have. If you have a pump from Sarah Jessica’s collection, five years from now that pump will still be in our collection in many different colorways.
SJP: You shouldn’t feel regretful when you look in your closet and think, “Boy, that feels out of fashion.”
Well, these shoes are simple. There’s nothing super-trendy about them.
SJP: That wouldn’t be something I would do well.
GM: And I don’t think that’s what I would want us to do. I take personal offense when a woman spends huge amounts of money, and then after a certain amount of time, feels like she can’t wear it. Or, if she walks into a party and someone says, “Oh, my God! You wore those last wedding when so-and-so got married for the first time! And now they’re getting married for the second time and you’re still wearing the same shoes…and you’re still not married! Because you bought those shoes!”
SJP: Wow! What an amazing leap to those connections!