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Video presentation, panelists discuss fashion criticism at Stephens

November 8, 2013

Love it or hate it, fashion is becoming more accessible to the masses, and that’s turning anyone with a blog into a fashion critic.
That was one take-away from a special presentation at Stephens College last night that featured a video address by New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn and a panel of local fashion experts.
The standing room-only event attracted mostly students, and also several alumnae and Board of Trustees members. The program aimed to educate the public about the intersection of what people wear and the culture they live in.
In her video presentation, made exclusively for Stephens' Fashion Program and The Kansas City Fashion Group International, Horyn lamented the corporatizing of fashion houses, but expressed optimism that—just like the local food movement and the rising demand for handcrafted goods—original fashion by independent designers will make a comeback.
And people will base decisions on serious criticism, not those with blogs looking for free samples.
That’s where serious fashion journalists come in, Caroline Dohack, lifestyle editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune, and Lisa Lenoir, former fashion editor at the Chicago Sun-Times who is now an assistant fashion communications professor at Stephens, agreed.
“Fashion is a reflection of culture, and that is just as important as art or real estate or the economy,” Dohack said.
With so much information available, “we’re trying to make sense of it,” Lenoir added.
And the public at large is interested. Dohack pointed to her popular “Love It or Hate It” feature on the Tribune website that allows voters to weigh in on specific styles.
“People really want to talk about it,” she said, pointing to the high numbers of votes cast in the weekly polls.
While blogs and the ability to self-publish have given underrepresented groups in fashion—namely plus-sized and ethnic women—a voice they historically haven’t had in fashion, Dohack said, panelists urged students to be smart fashion media consumers. Make sure the person or company behind the blog or website promoting products is legitimate, they advised, noting that not all sites follow journalistic ethics.
Lenoir knows first hand the temptation to weigh in on fashion even when one isn’t a reporter.
“When I left fashion reporting for non-profit work, it didn’t stop me from doing my own commentary on Facebook,” she said. “But I still held the same standards because people still know me…. Be classy, be smart, use great words and you can say things that have impact.”
In her video, Horyn also discussed specific shows, including Alexander McQueen’s historic—and final—Spring 2010 show, which she dubbed the ultimate example of the intersection of what is historically informed while also using the latest technology. Panelist 
Bradley Meinke, a former stylist and current adjunct instructor at Stephens, attended the show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
“It still gives me chills,” he said
The Costume Museum and Research Library sponsored yesterday’s program. The library is a collection of roughly 13,000 garments and accessories that are selected for exhibits each semester.
The Historic Costume Gallery is current featuring “BohemianRhapsody: Dressed in Floral, Paisley and Lace,” and showcases garments on the fringe of society.
Unlike most fashion exhibits, the pieces are not enclosed behind glass. That’s intentional, said Monica McMurry, Dean of the School of Fashion and Design. She told attendees yesterday that she fears society has lost the sense of touch in fashion.
“It is like the difference between touching or hugging a photo or a person.  Which would you rather do?” she said. “Today’s museum installations of fashion or designer clothing provide a chance to ‘almost’ touch the clothing, to see the garments on a ‘body,’ to experience the creation in a more intimate way.  Clothing is a second skin and it is imbued with lifelike qualities and aspects of the person – it requires touch.”

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