Panel session on uncovering the missing links of fashion: The role of media ‘old’ and ‘new’

10:30-12:00 a.m.

With fashion becoming more political, so does fashion journalism. But does it really uncover the ‘missing links’? How can the stories of garments be told and the true value of fashion be appraised in a world of clickbaiting, commercial influence and short attention cycles?


Ingeborg Harms | UdK Berlin

Ane Lynge-Jorlén | Lund University, Sweden

Aya Noël | Independent Journalist, Brussels

Laura Paddison | The Guardian, London

Katharina Pfannkuch | independent journalist

When Robin Givhan, fashion critic for the Washington Post, received a Pulitzer Prize in 2006, it was the first (and so far only) such reward for a fashion journalist. Her essays and specifically her pointed critiques of leading political figures’ fashion choices, the committee found, had transformed fashion criticism into cultural criticism. Fashion conveys meaning. Reporting on fashion is engaging with society’s dynamic cultural divides and self-perceptions. Fashion and the media are intricately intertwined. Fashion brands and designers depend on the media to create awareness. Fashion shows are media events as much as they are fashion events. Yet, fashion criticism can move beyond scrutinizing the aesthetic choices of designers and consumers and address the wider implications of the fashion system; that is: the social and environmental impacts of fashion production, trade, consumption and re-valorisation. Such an endeavour, however, goes beyond the exclusive domain of fashion journalism and involves the media more fundamentally. In this panel session we seek to explore the role of the media in changing the fashion system. We propose three questions for discussion:

Should matters of responsibility be a part of the aesthetic appreciation of fashion by fashion journalists?

Aesthetic judgements are the bread and butter of fashion journalists. Uncovering grievances, illustrating the bigger picture, holding business and political leaders accountable – these responsibilities define the media more broadly as the fourth power in a democracy. Can and should the professional appreciation of fashion include aspects which are not in the strictest sense aesthetic, symbolic or style-related, but refer to the societal implications of fashion? Notions of ethics or sustainability tend to appear in the fashion media when they are part of a brand’s or designer’s positioning strategy. Some topics, such as fur fashion, are repeatedly made out as controversial and receive enhanced attention. Alternative or ‘ethical’ fashion is framed within a specific niche and associated aesthetic codes, which may not be translatable to other niches. Thus, do matters of responsibility beyond the aesthetic and symbolic have a place in fashion reporting? Or, is the purpose, meaning and value of fashion best served if it is appreciated purely on the grounds of what it signifies when worn?

Can the media escape the powers of marketing, short awareness cycles and hegemonic discourses in fashion?

When Naomi Campbell famously switched sides, from rather going naked in the name of animal rights to being the face and body of Dennis Basso’s fur fashion, critics argued that such moves were more a matter of PR than of actual changes in one’s conviction. Fashion thrives on scandal. Scandals, while damaging the reputation of fashion brands in the short term, have often provided opportunities for a successful repositioning on the longer term. Media reporting responds to, but also co-creates awareness cycles. Just as time, topics are structured and embedded in specific frames of reference. When activists or industry lobbyists launch campaigns attacking or defending specific practices, they draw on widely shared norms, images and ideas to contextualize their messages. Media messages, too, tend to follow established narrative structures. In addition, both traditional and new fashion media business models (such as peer to peer online ‘influencing’) are highly amenable to open and concealed commercial influence. Can media professionals escape these pressures in their reporting?

How does the changing nature of media business models and journalistic occupations relate to critical reporting on the fashion industry?

Fashion trends have always known two directions of emergence: New styles trickle down from the realms of haute couture, while at the same time street styles are adopted by high fashion designers. However, opinion leadership in fashion used to be solely with the editors of prestigious fashion magazines. But the media world has been in upheaval for a considerable time and conventional media outlets are still struggling to re-define their business models. New models and opinion leaders have emerged in the form of blogs, vlogs, influencers and social media channels, capitalizing on the fact that fashion is a practice, made to a considerable extent in consumption and peer-to-peer exchange. All media, new and old, depend on advertising. Fashion in particular is prone to a blurring of boundaries between advertising and journalistic content. Which models, then, are adequate to report on the fashion industry and to engage with fashion consumers? Which formats, presentation techniques and modes of investigation are appropriate for reporting on bigger and more complex interrelations surrounding fashion?

Panel session on uncovering the missing links of fashion: The role of media ‘old’ and ‘new’