The Decline of Fashion Journalism

The Decline of Fashion Journalism

In a swamp filled with unboxers, influencers and bloggers, fashion journalism has become a complex pursuit. Well regarded yet conveniently evaded

In the Indian fashion pavilion of 2019, there is a media pit but there is no marked seat for the journalist. The seats are taken by the blogger, blubberer, bloomer, unboxer, influencer—a tribe resolute about itself as “fashion media”. As fashion relies more on noise, repetitive obeisance and a sea of photographs to be noticed in the mighty cycle of ‘spot and trash’ visual culture, it gets what it deserves. It becomes a swamp.

Welcome to the rut.

Cut for a moment to The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, by British novelist D.G Compton. First published as the Unsleeping Eye in 1973, the science fiction novel is about a woman dying from Gordon’s syndrome. A disease half caused by information overload, that includes “physical limits to the amounts and speeds of image processing in the human brain”. Among the numerous interpretations of the book by writers down the decades one is American writer Anne Boyer’s in her 2019 book The Undying. “A person suffering from Gordon’s syndrome isn’t only dying of information: she is dying of her outraged response to it,” writes Boyer.

The metaphor sticks when pounding the idea of fashion media today in India. Outrage (name calling or character calling on social media) is on a surge, but questioning is on a decline. The fashion media has grown in number, but there are fewer journalists. Some newspapers like The Indian Express, The Hindu, Mint and news magazines like India Today, Open, among a couple others give fashion writing fair space and play beyond the push and pull of advertiser wishlists, “media net”, Bollywood dressing, Taimur Ali Khan on Instagram and airport looks, yet no big breaking story this year told us anything that “information overload” did not. No report (including on this platform) went beyond a press release, designer party or event, fashion show or brand to shovel through reality and bring back some mud on the spade. This reflection does not include fashion glossies which are in the business of advertiser amplification and have traded the right to question.


Photo: Shutterstock

The Voice of Fashion’s year-end edition, The Year of Dissent.

For The Voice of Fashion’s year-end edition titled “The Year of Dissent”, that starts rolling out today for a week, we look at fashion’s now restive nature. The many accusations about cultural appropriation, the multiplying incidents of plagiarism, insensitivity, the controversies, and the khit-khit (disagreements) as we call it in India.

What we stumble into is that the paid fashion sycophancy by influencers and bloggers not only fascinates readers, consumers, Instagram front rowers but it also suits brands and most designers. PR professionals are obliged to recruit a small army of bloggers to descend on an event and put up “quick stories” on Instagram.

Designers and brands want attention, not dissection. They want show and sell. Not show and tell. They like red hearts and kissing Memojis. Fashion favours democracy only for itself not for those commenting on it. Indian fashion culture today is about an ever-strengthening nexus between Bollywood-stylist-fashion media-blogger-brand-designer and sponsor. The journalist must be nudged out to make space for those with a talent to agree, praise, photograph, pout and post. Not question.


Photo: Shutterstock

Stock image of a blogger creating video content.

Questioning though does happen and vociferously enough but on social media by those not recruited as journalists. Readers, consumers, followers attack and call out fashion designers or brands for being hypocritical or insensitive—as it happened this year. Sabyasachi Mukherjee was strongly attacked for interpreting women decorated with jewellery as “wounded” in one of his Instagram posts. While Sanjay Garg got considerable flak for his poor timing of his Kashmir campaign “Zooni”. Both withdrew their former stances in the High Court of Instagram but did not officially speak to journalists.

When I reached out to designers caught in the flames of controversy this year—among them Sabyasachi, Garg and Rohit Bal—none agreed to interviews that would have helped understand what they actually believed in as creators and their own responses to the critiques that had emerged. Garg declined our interview request in October when the Zooni issue was discussed saying it was “not the right time” and then again now for this edition. Rohit Bal replied during the Samant Chauhan plagiarism allegation controversy (Story on controversies here) saying he had apologised for his comments on social media and there was nothing more to say. There was no response however from Sabyasachi for an interview around his 20th anniversary show in Mumbai earlier this year, nor now for this edition on Dissent.

Hard talk does not suit a majority in the fashion industry. Its members may formally “admire” journalism but they do not want to engage with it. People who compliment writers on objectivity and freedom of speech are only saying that for effect. They would rather have it otherwise. Even the most powerful politicians in India are obliged to speak to the media when asked. But most fashion designers feel no such obligation. Even when the attempt is to understand their views.


Photo: Shutterstock

A representative image of fashion magazines.

Not surprisingly, fashion content across news magazines and newspapers reveals the few and diminishing uses of journalism. Pleasantly worded articles, supine reactions, “amazing” quotes. Or, “insanely awesome” as someone said when asked about a brand. Some journalists confess they are perennially confused when pitching an article as they are unsure how a critical writer is viewed inside an organisation.

Even before “fashion journalism” could fully flourish in India outside the grip of Page 3, entertainment supplements and media net, it has been hijacked by the hallucinogen bulbs of “influencers” from the new, entitled fashion media.

So if Bollywood is the Fashion Establishment in India and large sections of designers and stylists its campaign machinery, the Fashion Left is sadly missing or vanishing slowly.

Fashion journalism, thus eclipsed now piggy banks on “sustainability” (fast becoming another swamp) or laments about the low entry barrier for a writing job in fashion and the resulting fragility of views.

In the Indian fashion pavilion of 2020, expectedly more chairs will be required for the front row as numbers of fashion media inflate.

But the journalist must remember to stand up.