Okay, so I used to work for an industry-focused fashion publication (and have provided a few basic details about it). I've compared my former job to The Devil Wears Prada, although of course it wasn't nearly as dramatic (and I got to write); my boss wasn't actively abusive and rarely wore Prada. It was just a matter of long hours, big egos, other people's work, work that not just wasn't my own but wasn't even related to my job (planning a friend's birthday party? Really?), clothes I couldn't afford (but was still expected to wear), rampaging bulimia, and parades of skinny teenagers reminding me that I, at 25, was fat and over the hill.
One assignment that tickles me in retrospect (hey, assignment, get your hand off my retrospect!) involved 400 copies of our June regional issue, a Sharpie, an X-acto knife, and a very pissed-off advertiser. One article in the issue had included one sentence about the advertiser's competitor, and that was enough to get the issue banned from said advertiser's establishment--unless we removed the sentence. From all 400 of the already-printed issues. Using a Sharpie to cross the line out, or a knife to cut it out. This being a fairly serious situation--the establishment in question was a huge deal--we actually debated on whether to send a crew down with markers and knives to do the job. The final decision, though, was to leave the issue as it was and stare the advertiser down. He blinked first, and the the issues were placed in his establishment fully intact.
This is the Diet Coke version of what Jenna Sauers is writing about when she asks, "Why are fashion designers so ridiculously touchy about press?" She writes about the recent shitstorm as Yves Saint Laurent reorganizes and rebrands and handles it just about as poorly as one can, PR-wise. The brand name is going one way, the logo another, the accessories line the old way, the women's collection is taking the name of new creative director Hedi Slimane, and the headquarters are moving one ocean plus one continent away from Paris--and nobody really knows exactly why, and YSL(? Yves Saint Laurent? Saint Laurent Paris?) isn't telling.
Then, also without explanation, the label started dictating media coverage of their spring 2013 line at Paris Fashion Week in October. Some well-known fashion writers were banner entirely, including Cathy Horyn, who got the boot for a similarly throwaway line in a review eight years previous at which Slimane took umbrage (expressed in a bizarre and rambling "open letter," since deleted, on Twitter). And Business of Fashion, for their own line noting that not all of Slimane's work at Dior Homme was spectacular. (Much like my own experience, when Business of Fashion declined to change the line, YSL said, "Don't correct, fare [sic] enough, we won't collaborate on any kind of project in the future." Unlike my experience, YSL didn't back down.) Press lucky enough to be invited to the show received second- and third-row and even standing-room spots along with strict instructions as to how the show should be covered (and a press kit that included multiple Instagram-y photos of Slimane but still no clear explanation of the name of the brand).
There would be no backstage access before the show, they were told. Afterward, they were welcome to talk to Mr. Slimane, but they were not allowed to ask him questions, or use anything he might say in their coverage.Backin Myday, I was based in Atlanta, which, while being the fashion capital of the Southeast, isn't exactly the fashion capital of the country, so the industry scene is less pervasive and less dramatic. That said, some things are universal, and one of those things is that fashion shows are exciting and glamorous for everyone who doesn't have to attend them. Fashion shows are thumping music and extremely tall, extremely thin girls glaring and gangling fiercely down the runway; in reality, the most interesting parts of the shows are the parts that writers don't get to write about for fear of losing future access. (Which celebrity designer and entourage skipped out on a $9,000 tab at a trendy Atlanta lounge after celebrating her debut show? I'll never tell.)
Another universal is that designers, every one of them, are enormous drama queens (another fact that would be enough to get a writer cut off). This is not to say that a lot of them--a lot of them--aren't really nice--really, really nice--people. They just have a flair for the extreme and the artistic that carries over from their design to their everyday life, and the fashion world is so insular that they seldom if ever get any feedback indicating that they aren't actually the center of it. Again, let me repeat that many designers and PRs are really friendly and easy to work with, albeit often with charming quirks that are quick to become uncharming. But the ones that are difficult--f'rinstance, Mr. Slimane--are epically so.
This is because they can get away with it. Yves Saint Laurent doesn't need your help; nor does Armani, nor Marc Jacobs (shudder). As long as their clothes remain on the backs of the rich and beautiful and their names remain desired yet unattainable by the hoi polloi, their jobs are safe. (Don't believe them when they complain about the abundance of knock-offs of their signature handbags; they know that when cheap brown-and-gold logo bags and crappy vinyl belted totes with "Hermez" stamps disappear from mall kiosks, it's time to start scrambling.) They don't need your publicity nearly as much as Vogue needs their ad dollars. Covering brands like that is rather like covering George W. Bush; you ask the right questions and don't ask the wrong ones, because Scott McClellan has no compunction about booting you from the press corps.
That's why it's so interesting to me that reporters are actually talking about this. When you're dealing with a line like YSLt and/or a designer like Slimane, you're at a disadvantage--Slimane's PR flacks have a list of fashion writers who would love to take your spot against the back wall if you decided not to take it. They have room to blacklist a lot of writers, even high-profile ones, before it starts to hurt. Being willing to speak up anyway displays, among other qualities, a declining supply of give-a-fuck. And that represents a huge, huge failure for YSL's PR team, whose sole job is to cultivate and facilitate give-a-fuck among the brand's various publics.
Sauers astutely analyzes.
More than anything else, what YSL and Hedi Slimane's actions seem to betray is a fundamental insecurity about the quality of their work. What designer, artist, director, or musician who is confident in his or her gifts fears an honest, informed critic, or a reporter armed only with questions? Hedi Slimane should worry about doing good work. That's his job, and his responsibility to the global luxury conglomerate for which he works and its shareholders. And he should worry less about trying to prevent members of the press from doing theirs, so that we can meet our responsibilities to our readers.Also, in re: Slimane's spring 2013 collection: Throwback isn't the same as timeworn, evocative isn't the same as derivative, and your average Mountain Brook housewife knows that slapping a bunch of sequins or pussybows on a garment don't make it fashion. BOOM.