Booth Moore is a stellar journalist and fashion commentator affiliated with the Los Angeles Times. She is one of the few to use the title fashion critic and she carries it proudly. In the pink glow cast over by the striking façade of the Beverly Hills hotel, she reflected on the state of criticism, her role as a critic and how it has evolved over the years. This is an extract from an interview published in Address – journal for fashion criticism issue two.
Source: Robert Downs for the Los Angeles Times
Johannes Reponen: I wanted start off by asking about your background. Could you talk me through where and what you studied and what you have done up to the point you became the fashion critic for the Los Angeles Times?
Booth Moore: I grew up in New York City. I fell in love with writing in high school and I started writing for the school newspaper Limelight. It was unique because we really tackled serious topics, for example I wrote about Vaclav Havel’s visit to New York and about the displacement of the Kurds, the ethnic group in the Middle East, after visiting the Kurdish Heritage Foundation in Brooklyn and interviewing its director. It was really serious journalism at a younger age, which was cool. I have always had a parallel interest in fashion and in writing and when I was in high school I interned at a fashion magazine called YM, which is not around anymore. I was the assistant to the fashion editor and I really did not enjoy the experience. I got to do practically no writing. That turned me off from magazines but I still had a really strong interest in fashion. I went to college in Duke University in North Carolina where I studied History. After graduating, I lived in Washington DC where I worked in politics briefly and then I started in journalism working as a research assistant for a columnist at the Washington Post for a year. After that I moved to Vermont where my parents had a house. I started freelancing for the local weekly newspaper on a whim. I was writing about everything from kids’ soccer games, school board meetings to town hall meetings and then eventually covering the stage legislator in Vermont. I met my husband, who was the editor, whilst working at the paper. I had always wanted to move out to Los Angeles. I had idealized the lifestyle out here. The palm trees, the ocean, the convertible and all that. We moved here in 1996 and I had a connection at the Los Angeles Times through the columnist I worked for at the Washington Post, so I was interviewed for a very low level job. To start with I was doing listings and the entertainment section but I started freelancing immediately for the fashion section. I just eventually worked my way over to writing about fashion full time. As the years went on, I became more and more senior and was named fashion critic in 2004. It was the first time they’d had that position at the Los Angeles Times.
JR: How would you describe your role as the fashion critic for the Los Angeles Times?
BM: I have to say that the past ten years have been exciting at times, but also discouraging. When I was named the fashion critic, I think it really signaled a seriousness that the Los Angeles Times had about fashion coverage. But the whole publishing industry, and the Los Angeles Times in particular, has gone through a lot of turmoil in the past decade. Our paper has been in bankruptcy, and ownership has changed. As a consequence, I think the role has really diminished in importance and that has been disappointing to see. When I was named fashion critic, obviously it was giving me a platform to express my opinions about fashion. It was an acknowledgement that fashion is an art form and a form of popular culture on a par with film and music and art, which are all taken really seriously at the paper. Because of demands for more content and online, as well as layoffs, staffing and budget constraints, I have been asked to do a lot more. Subsequently that original mission has diminished in importance.
JR: So do you think that there is a difference between being a journalist and critic?
BM: Less and less. I have been at the Los Angeles Times long enough to remember when you really couldn’t express your opinion in writing unless you were a critic. For a journalist, it was very important, when you were writing stories, that you were balanced. If you were lucky enough to be a critic then you could express your opinion. Now, with pressures to tweet, blog and get it done faster, everyone is encouraged to express their opinions.
JR: I suppose that’s part of the culture that internet has created.
BM: Yes, completely. Internet has turned everyone into a fashion critic.
JR: And how do you view that?
BM: It’s hard. In some ways it’s exciting because it opens up the world of fashion to a lot more people. It should make fashion criticism more important. Fashion used to be the realm of very few. The runway shows were only seen by a small group of people and the clothes were worn by an even smaller group of people. So now that it has been opened up and really become a part of pop culture, it should mean that critics are all the more important or as important as film, music and art critics. But for some reason it seems to have become the opposite. The role of a fashion critic has really been marginalized, at least by large publications. I’m really good friends with Robin Givhan and we hang out together at all the shows. To see that her position was pretty much eliminated when she left the Washington Post is very sad. I think that if I left the Los Angeles Times, my position would probably be eliminated too.
JR: You talked a little bit about how, particularly with online, everyone can voice their opinions. I actually don’t think there is any shortage of opinions. But what do you think is the difference between opinion and criticism then?
BM: Opinion is something that is immediate and not as well considered perhaps. Criticism should put whatever you are looking at, whether fashion collection or runway, in greater context and that does take time, thought and space to write about. And that’s one of the other big differences between when I started this job and how things are now. I would file three to four long stories from Paris for the paper and I would be up until 4 am in the morning writing. Now I’m covering the collections in a few paragraphs that usually run online. The Los Angeles Times doesn’t really have an interest in publishing long stories about several collections woven together and putting in context. The way that I cover things has completely changed. And that’s unfortunate too I think.
JR: You also have a blog titled ‘All the Rage’ for The Los Angeles Times. Is that part of you expanding your voice and perhaps finding alternative ways to discuss things that would not fit into the print newspaper?
BM: Obviously the blog is an opportunity to write anything at any time. The blog is an open forum, which is a positive thing. On the other hand, it’s a beast that needs to be fed constantly. Often I wish I would have longer time to spend with a topic, to consider it, to talk to other people and to do interviews but the pressure is really just to produce more and more and more. Unfortunately sometimes it feels like the pressure is to produce more quantity than quality so whereas I can bring up a thought, sometimes I don’t feel like I have the time to explore it in the way that I maybe did when I had more space to fill in the paper.
JR: And is your Twitter affiliated to the paper or is it personal?
BM: It’s part of the paper. I signed up for it personally but now I’m a verified Los Angeles Times journalist on Twitter. It’s expected that I’ll tweet from wherever I am. That’s another thing I think that has changed fashion criticism because you are expected to give a reaction immediately to something rather than being able to sit back and take time, look up something in history or think about the political implications. That immediacy is expected in fashion but not really from other disciplines. Our food critic is not expected to go to a restaurant and immediately tweet a reaction. They are allowed the time to revisit a restaurant several times and figure out whether or not they like it and what they want to say.
The full interview can be found in Address – journal for fashion criticism issue two. You can buy issue two from our online magazine shop.
Front page image source: Kirk McKoy for the Los Angeles Times