Fashion Criticism Education

The state of criticism fluctuates according to fashion – one season it’s in, the next season it’s out. In the circles where criticism remains a constant topic of discussion, the ‘death of criticism’ mantra remains a fashionable staple, just like the color black in fashion. Whilst for some industries this might be true, in our clothing obsessed world of pants, skirts and shoes, things are very different. In fashion, the critic ain’t dead – it’s only just starting to come alive.

Critical practices and thinking have long existed in the realms of fashion but the term ‘fashion critic’ and ‘fashion criticism’ have only recently entered into our vocabulary. English literary critic and professor Stefan Collini defines the label ‘critic’ as a term of convenience rather than defined professional identity[ref]Stefan Collini, Common Reading – Critics, Historians, Publics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 3[/ref]. Hence, we have journalists who title themselves ‘critic’ on certain occasions, whilst some academics and historians are happy to bolt it on when required.

However, I feel that the tide has finally turned in favor of fashion criticism and the fashion critic. For one, new platforms for criticism are being launched. Address feels akin to Tack magazine[ref]Tack Magazine[/ref] founded by Caroline Hartmann and new fashion activist NOT VOGUE[ref]NOT VOGUE[/ref] who we recently interviewed for our next print issue (due out next month). These guys are really bringing criticism on top of the agenda, experimenting with their voices and finding new grounds for critical discussions. Whilst I feel that a new generation of critical mass emerging, particularly in the media front, there is another force that will aid the forming of the discipline: education.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to complete my masters’ degree in Design Writing Criticism in London College of Communication with the lead of Professor Teal Triggs, Anna Gerber and Dr. Ian Horton. This groundbreaking degree was one of the first of its kind amongst D-Crit in New York to address the need for education in the area of design and criticism. Having had some years of working in the fashion design and publishing industry, my intention for joining the course was to get away from fashion and direct my work towards thinking about product design where I saw more room for critical debates to be had. “Write about what you know” instucted Anna Gerber during one of the first seminars which boomeranged me back to fashion as my knowledge of product didn’t extend beyond Aalto, Castiglioni and Sottsass.

Studying criticism allowed me to revaluate my journey in relation to fashion. It was during my time in London College of Communication that Address was born as well, mainly from my frustration of lack of outlets for critical fashion writing. The opportunity to think about fashion criticism in a group of architects, graphic and product designers allowed me the space I needed to critically reflect on what fashion criticism is and what it could be. So it comes as a no surprise that I feel education is vital in ensuring that the discipline remains robust in preparing, challenging and allowing the space for the next generation of influencers, thinkers, practitioners, writers: critics.

MA Design Writing Criticism course was unfortunately closed in 2012, as part of institutional cut backs in London College of Communication (a shortsighted move if you ask me). The course was ahead of its time and its legacy lives in the dialogues around design criticism education. Whilst short lived, it was like a submarine earthquake in that its presence was only briefly felt during the time of its existence but the leading critical tsunami is only starting to emerge. Particularly in fashion, a new critical consciousness is gaining momentum. Alongside new voices in the field, evidence of this is that two new university courses dedicated for criticism are being launched at the start of this academic year[ref]though in full disclosure, I am involved with one of them[/ref].

Over the coming months, I will be investigating 5 university courses, the two new and three recently established, that address this emerging discipline of fashion criticism. I’m sure there are plenty more that integrate aspects of criticism but these are the ones I think put criticism at the forefront of enquiry. I want to celebrate these groundbreaking courses, to promote the education of critical thinking, critical practices and criticism to aspiring students, share good practice and new ideas with colleagues in education, to help the wave build momentum. My hope is that we are moving towards an era where ‘fashion critic’ will shift from being  a ‘term of convenience’ to a celebrated, recognized cog integral to the fashion industry machine.