At the very end of the last ready-to-wear season, there was a tectonic shift in fashion criticism. Suzy Menkes, we learned amid a sudden crescendo of front-row whispers, was leaving the International New York Times (formerly and still better known as the International Herald Tribune), where for 26 years she had served as style editor and chief reviewer. Her destination was perhaps even more of a surprise: Condé Nast International. Her columns will now appear on all of the global Vogue websites, with the exception of the American edition. What I admire most about Menkes is that she never seems to play favorites or approach a story with preconceived notions. In her case, the cliché is true: She calls it as she sees it – and because, at 70, she still makes a point of attending every fashion event, from the most obscure presentation to the grandest gala, she sees everything. I called her up in Paris (nominally her home, though she was quick to say she’s “based somewhere in the middle of the sky”) to discuss her new role, the changing tides of fashion, and how her no-nonsense facade hides the heart of a doting grandmother.
Congratulations on your new role. How’s it going so far?
Well, I’m finding it very exciting. It makes me full of energy, and I’ve always wanted to be part of the digital world, and that’s the big change for me. I think I’m known for my writing, but I want more people out there to know how I write. I think social media is giving me an opportunity already, even in my second week, of reaching out, particularly via all the different Vogues.
I’ve heard that Condé Nast International will be publishing a print newspaper to be given out during the ready-to-wear shows featuring your writing. Care to comment?
I would love to see a ‘teaser’ in print to draw people to my online presence. But the logistics would have to work – let’s see how it goes.
In your first column you came out and decried the bitchery that is the lingua franca of the Web and said you’re more interested in constructive criticism. Do you think that’s a winnable battle?
I’m not looking to ‘win’ or ‘lose’ on this one. I’m just trying to put my thoughts forward. And I’ve never tried to destroy people, whether they’re designers or artists, and I’m going to go on that way. You know, I do appreciate that a lot of people are using a tremendously loud voice – mean comments – in order to get noticed. It’s one thing when you’re working for Condé Nast and quite another when you’re a blogger at home trying just to get out there, so I sort of understand why it’s done. I also think it has given an opportunity to people who are perhaps very sort of mean in spirit, to have the kind of voice and place to be seen and read and heard where they wouldn’t have had it in the past. I mean, everyone has the right to say what they want, but on the whole I think criticism should always be constructive. Otherwise, why are we destroying people?
You’ve been quite outspoken about bloggers and the circus of fashion in the past, and I know some bloggers got upset about that.
I’d like to put the record straight on that. I was never against bloggers and I’m not against bloggers now. What I was really talking about is just the whole idea that fashion now is for everybody and written about by everybody. It’s become an absolutely global thing, and instead of having particular people whose specialty was writing about fashion and judging it and getting interviews and so on, fashion has become something for everybody. And in a lot of ways I think that is terrific. What an opportunity it gives to somebody who is living in the farthest reaches of wherever – Zagreb – that they can actually join the part of the world that fascinates them. And maybe they can build a career because they can do it via the Internet, so in that way I think it’s very good. But the idea that everybody has the right to make a judgment and also that everybody has a right to parade around in their clothes in order to be photographed sort of has moved fashion away from being something where the focus was on the few who were tremendously interested and involved in fashion or had tremendous personal style to the great, big world of the Internet. But that piece was not against bloggers – really, it wasn’t.
Do you think that writing for Vogue now there might be more pressure for you to ‘play nice’ with advertisers?
I really don’t think that. I don’t think that Jonathan Newhouse has hired me in order that I sort of take the tone down and just say that everything’s lovely. I don’t see what would be the point of that. And anyway, I wouldn’t be capable of doing it. It’s just I’m trained as a journalist and that’s how I’m going to be. I think that there is pressure from corporate people, but I’m much more concerned, not about journalists – journalists, editors, should be able to look after themselves – I’m much more concerned for the designers themselves. I think they’re being asked to do an awful lot and a lot more than in previous generations. I am so concerned for some of them that they just will find the pace is overwhelming. But, you know, if journalists can’t stand the pace, then that’s just another thing and that’s just too bad.
What do you think of the New York scene in terms of designers these days?
Well, in New York, there again Anna has made a tremendous effort, and all of the people involved in the whole CFDA have made a tremendous effort to support young talent, and I admire them for that. I’d like to see a little bit more daring, a little bit more shock waves going through me. I think you get it from Alexander Wang, or did get it, not much from anybody else.
In general, is fashion too expensive now?
I don’t think fashion is too expensive. I think fashion is far, far too cheap. I am disgusted about people running in to buy dresses that cost the same as a cappuccino and a croissant. It’s not right. We know it’s not right. The terrible things that have come out and shown us that these people are working like slaves. It’s wrong. Of course it’s good that people with low incomes can dress fashionably, but it’s not good that people who have got enough money to pay double what they’re paying – I’m talking about the $10 dress here…People have got into a state of mind that the cheaper it is, the better it is, and they don’t want to think beyond that. So, yes, fashion is “too expensive” if you’re talking about couture that the majority of people never think of buying in a million years, but to me the ‘too-cheap’ fashion is far worse for the world.
Where do you get the energy from, Suzy?
I don’t know where I get the energy from. I’m just a curious person. I always want to see new things and hear new things. That’s what it is. It’s the energy of curiosity.
(This is an excerpt from the original interview on Style.com)