Dear Suzy Menkes,………Have A Seat (And Not In The Front Row)



Seaki Ashe‘, noted international freelance fashion designer, joins the debate concerning the blog that was made by Suzy Menkes on the ‘circus’ outside the shows, personal branding and the politics of preening for the cameras.

Now before I began my diatribe of of angst’Suzy Menkes, you are a crown jewel of the international fashion industry. Unlike the delicate relationship often shared between fashion houses and designers, with the fashion media and journalists. Menkes has a reputation within the fashion industry for being much loved by all for both her personality and her reviews of fashion shows, considered to be fair and balanced. A designer once refused to invite her to his show due to taking offense at some negative comments she had made in a previous collection review (though she did give positive comments as well). Many people in the industry rallied behind her and boycotted the designer’s show as a result until the situation was resolved. She is responsible for launching several careers in fashion, including successful handbag designer Pauric Sweeney. As a designer I have followed for career with a almost zealous interest, as you are one of the MOST sought after opinions that ACTUALLY matter in our ever versatile, beautiful industry, basically, WE as designer HEART you Suzy, we simply adore you. THAT being said,….have a seat in the dunce chair, as you are now on a 30 minute time out for being ‘self inflated’ and forgetting your ‘roots’ in this industry.

Writing in The International Herald Tribune last week, in a piece entitled “The Circus of Fashion,” respected fashion critic Suzy Menkes laments “the celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous. They are known mainly by their Facebook pages, their blogs and the fact that the street photographer Scott Schuman has immortalised them on his Sartorialist web site.”

Menkes goes on to criticise bloggers, many of whom, she charged, accept “trophy gifts and paid-for trips” from brands, ignoring established journalistic ethics, and court the spotlight of Internet celebrity, while styling themselves as fashion critics. “There is something ridiculous about the self-aggrandisement of some online arbiters who go against the mantra that I was taught in my earliest days as a fashion journalist: “It isn’t good because you like it; you like it because it’s good.”

I have been in this industry for over 20+ years, working hard, ‘burning the midnight oil’ while maintaining my career in corporate fashion america. I am a ‘worker bee’ and I am very proud to hold that title, as I was called many years ago at a parisian fashion show gathering, ( I think the young man  was trying to insult me, he clearly did not understand americans, and the pride that we have for our work ethic). I UNDERSTAND Suzy’s frustration, as she is watching young  fashion ‘movers and shakers’ gather authority and power in an industry that is infamous for making one pay their dues. I stopped going to New York Fashion Week some years ago, not because the invites were not abundant, or the drinks were watered down, or the fashions marching down the runway did not sometimes move me to  standing ovations,…….I stopped going because it became TOO MUCH to deal with! The media circus outside the tents, the preening celebs and their ever growing entourages, the fickle, shallow attitudes that had NOTHING to do with the product being presented, it just became very wrong, and I silently excused myself from this important aspect of fashion networking. I instead would gather at after-parties or small,intimate cocktail parties held by designers to show my support and love for their hard work. That was my attitude for some time, and I carried this ‘fashion is shallow’ chip on my shoulder for a while, daring ANYONE to knock it off, as I would issue my opinions courtesy of a blistering tongue-lashing that would make a drunken sailor blush. Until last year, I was under the impression that fashion was ‘drowning in its own self delusions’ and I became a bitter creative in the industry. I was invited to a london show, everything was paid for, my sponsor was a design client and I was obliged, as I felt this was an aspect of trend forecasting. I walked up to the studio, where the show was to take place, and who stood before me, preening ‘un-knowns’ and annoying photogs that seem to accelerate an all ready  disfunctional show of improvised styles, looks, accessories,etc. Then suddenly, I tucked in my Louis man bag, sat down near a fountain, and began to watch this ‘dance of intentional,hopeful notoriety’.

Slowly, gently, I smile crept to my lips, as I eyed these impromptu style mavens. And then magic happened, one tear fell from my eye. I did not know it, but my heart, my spirit, the reason why I love and adore fashion,..was right there in front of me. Images of a young scared teen in  New York City, struggling through Parsons and holding a full time job. Midnights up sewing and preparing for my senior show, pounding the pavement for my first job, it all came flowing back to me, like a dam that had been blocked because of bitterness, self indulgence and self importance. Right before me, these young kids were reminding me WHY the love affair that I have with fashion will be a lifelong courtship, fashion is my ONLY TRUE love, and will be for the rest of my days.

Those moments, siting there, by that fountain, witnessing the emergence of new ‘style stars’,  I was born anew from that moment forward. In a generation where Youtube can make instant celebs that garner millions of views a day, we all live in a day and age where one can be a true overnight success just by uploading a video, why would fashion not follow this trend concerning instant stardom? I understand the frustration, as I too once felt the same way, but these kids are making our industry more inclusive. These days you are likely to see top bloggers, hob-nobbing with celebs of screen and publication on the front row of these shows, and in my opinion, thats the way it should be. These bloggers, with their infectious bylines and angled trend directions based on their personal likes and dislikes, have made fashion what it should have been a long time ago.

Fashion does not just belong to the wealthy hedge-fund babies, or the uber rich,cosmopolitan divorcees with huge amounts of disposable income, nor the snotty, fickle fashion periodical maven with her pursed lips, and ice cold demeanor,…..fashion belongs to ALL of us. These kids, posing in front of photographers, hoping to become the next big ‘style maestro’, with their imaginative, wonderfully inspired looks are what this industry is all about. I, for one, are now glad to see them as they remind me how precious this career choice is to me. So instead of glaring at our future fashion stars, offer support, sweep one up and let them sit with you on the front row or attend a RSVP private cocktail party. Watch the amazement in their eyes as they ‘soak it all in’, and as fashion veterans, let us find our youthful enthusiasm once again through them. We were once who they are, young, beautiful and very hopeful, and they will one day be who we are, wise and seasoned, but let neither cynicism nor self entitlement find any of us, its just not a good look.