Chief fashion critic and fashion director for The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman has a voice that reverberates through – and often influences – the industry. Her analysis of fashion’s significance and impact spans major subjects to quirky minutiae. Whether her angle is designer appointments or political showmanship; the economy or the environment; runway, red carpet, or retail; global crisis or global trend, she is renowned for being whip-smart, cogent and skilled in contextualizing just about anything. Her coverage is not only instantaneous, it is indispensable.
Friedman already had a loyal following before joining one of the world’s most-respected newspapers. She was the inaugural fashion editor of the Financial Times, beginning in 2003. Along with editing the Style pages and the Luxury360 vertical, she penned a weekly column for the Saturday FT and launched the FT’s annual Business of Luxury conference.
Based in New York, Friedman continues to report on fashion weeks despite travel restrictions, consistently focusing on what matters in these ever-changing times.
In what ways can Haute Couture reflect the times — broadly speaking but also this moment?
Fashion, to me, is defined as an expression of social/cultural/political identity at a specific moment in time. So the job of a designer or a brand is to reflect the times and then give that literal shape with their creations. I think that is true for both couture and ready-to-wear. Fashion’s job is not simply to make someone look good, or keep them warm, or allow them to go from home to office to party, but to help them express who they are in all those situations. That way, when a woman sees a dress or suit or whatever, her reaction would be (ideally): oh yes, that’s who I am now. Or even better: that’s who I need to be next. For a couturier that means being acutely sensitive to what is going on in the world, and the prevailing emotions — fear, stress, courage, optimism, rebellion, what have you — and then addressing that in texture and silhouette. Though couture has traditionally been a fashion form that has spoken only to a very few, I think it is important that as the world is ever-more connected, it widen its lens to encompass the broader picture.
How does the current crisis impact people’s relationship with clothing and fashion?
I think it has made us all think more deeply about what we wear, and how deeply what we wear connects to our own sense of well-being. Many people have been excavating their own wardrobes over the last several months, discovering in them history, morality, comfort, and even joy. As well as just how many clothes they own. When we come out of this, hopefully we will come out with a much more considered relationship with our clothes and a deeper understanding of value, so that we both appreciate what we have and take of it, and think more deliberately about what we buy: who made it, how it was made, and just how long it can last.