After ten years as fashion editor of the Financial Times, Vanessa Friedman is pretty used to recovering after Fashion Month. “You know, you spring back pretty quickly,” she told the Cut. “It’s like childbirth. You kind of forget after it happens.” She would know, after years spent working as fashion features director for InStyle U.K. and as the European editor of Elle, before decamping to newspaper-land. Of her role at the FT, the 44-year-old adds, “it was just an opportunity to speak to the most educated and most international audience in the world, which is the biggest luxury for a journalist.” She launched her blog, Material World, a little over a year ago, which gave her a space to be opinionated — something that hasn’t always pleased fashion brands. “Paul Deneuve of Saint Laurent is still very bothered about something I wrote about their name change. I compared it to New Coke. It was just my thought at that time. Opinion, not a news story.” Read on for more of her opinions, on street style photographers, the Hedi Slimane vs. Cathy Horyn feud, and that rumor she would be taking over WSJ.
So how was your fashion month?
“It’s the best Paris season I’ve seen in a long time. It just [made] you think about clothes and how they express something that’s going on in women’s lives. To me, clothes are about identity — sociopolitical identity — and fashion gives you a chance every six months to rethink what that means. There was a lot of that going on in Paris, so that was fun to see.”
Everyone was talking about the supposed rivalry between Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent and Raf Simons of Dior in Paris.
“That’s just because it’s interesting to see change at the top of any organization in any industry, and this one happened to be a particularly nice parallel because you have two guys who come from vaguely the same background, who both got their jobs after controversial circumstances. It’s a nice, kind of dramatic, gossipy story. What they did was good, [but] it wasn’t radical re-envisioning. I don’t think anyone really thought it would be, but it was very polished. Stores liked it because it was very commercial: It wasn’t particularly challenging, and that says something, too.”
Is ‘commercial’ a bad thing?
“No, why should it be? It’s clothes you want to buy, what’s wrong with that? Particularly what you see on the runway, and particularly what we were seeing on the runway at [John Galliano’s] Dior, would sometimes ricochet between things that were commercial in a boring sense — where you thought that Galliano was being told to make jackets that would sell — [followed by] things that were clearly done as dramatic gestures to create an image. You couldn’t imagine how anyone would ever produce any of those dresses. So what Raf did was a really nice compromise between something that was clearly designed—and beautifully designed—but also something you could imagine putting on your body.”
Your review of Saint Laurent was not quite as positive as your review of Dior.
“I did like Saint Laurent. It just felt more vintage-y than I would’ve liked. Now, whether you can actually take over a house that has a very clear signature and not do something that feels vintage is a different question. You know, it may not be possible anymore. But the challenge for anyone at Saint Laurent is that when it was created, it was created as a house that was always incredibly forward-thinking. When Saint Laurent made a safari suit, or he made a smoking [jacket], or he did the Mondrian collection, no one had done that stuff before. And it was really about liberating women in the sixties and the seventies, and the changing status of women in society. How do you pick up that banner of being very forward-thinking while also doing something that is clearly Saint Laurent? That may be an impossible compromise to make.”
What are your thoughts on the feud that developed between Hedi Slimane and Cathy Horyn?
“I think Cathy should’ve been invited to the show. Her job is to express opinion. I don’t think any of this is personal, and I don’t think it should be personal. Anyone has power because of the platform they have, so Cathy’s power is really the New York Times’ power. You know, whatever reach I have is really about the FT. In the same way designers without houses, there’s nowhere to show their stuff.”
What makes a good fashion critic?
“Being fair. Being able to take yourself out of it, and to judge people as much as possible on the merits of what they actually produce, and to try and ignore politics [of the fashion world].
How do you approach fashion, from the position of the Financial Times?
“I mean, everybody has to wear clothes. Everyone gets up in the morning and they make a decision about what they’re going to put on their bodies. Therefore, it is something that we should look at and think about. Increasingly as information gets conveyed visually, whether it’s by a picture on a phone or online, the choices you make about what you put on are more important. So our attitude is, ‘Let’s look at this, let’s think about why we’re making these choices, and what they mean, and what they can say to everybody else, and talk about it.’”
We especially like your contributions to ’Lunch with the FT.’ Is there anyone you’ve eaten with who had particularly weird eating habits?
“Denise Rich, [the singer-songwriter], was on a diet. It was called, like, ‘The Cookie Diet.’ She ate a cookie. I went to her house, because I guess it’s hard to go to a restaurant and bring a cookie, so we went to her house, she had her chef make me a three-course meal, and she ate a cookie. The entire time.”
Your blog is called Material World. Do you think we’ve become obsessed with clothes and appearance?
“No, I think that image has always mattered. Malcolm Gladwell talked about it in Blink. It’s human nature to make judgments about other people and things, and the first thing you react to is how someone looks. When you’re a child, you do it, when you don’t know anything about brands. We may change our judgments, but [evaluating appearances] is absolutely one of the first things everyone does, and they’ve been doing it forever, long before the Internet. I don’t think it’s new, I just think it’s because of how information is consumed now, it’s just become more obvious.”
How do you feel about street-style photographers?
“I don’t like them. It’s a strange, parallel reality that’s grown up around the shows, which is really a time when most people are there just to work, and not because they’re out there having a great time. It’s quite strange when you get up after four hours of sleep, and you have bags under your eyes, and to get out of a car and to have all these people be like, Aaah! trying to take your picture. I dress the way I dress every day, and I feel bad because with the Japanese photographers, once they know you, they take your picture all the time. And I had the same black, Alexander McQueen handbag the entire fashion season — it didn’t change — but everyday they took a picture of the same handbag and they would say, ‘What is it?’ And I’m like, ‘You know what it is. You saw it yesterday. You saw it two weeks ago.’ I feel like I’m disappointing them all the time.”
And what about the talk that you could be taking Deborah Needleman’s old job at WSJ?
“I’m very happy where I am.”