LONDON, United Kingdom — Earlier this week, BoF published the highlights of an exclusive video interview with intrepid fashion critic Suzy Menkes, who described her new digitally-focused role at Condé Nast International, where she has begun by penning a column, several times a week, published on the websites of Vogue titles around the world.
Over the years, Suzy Menkes has also been witness to thousands of fashion shows, seen the rise and fall of countless hot designers, and met with the CEOs of fashion businesses around the world. And as she said in our wide-ranging video interview, “I would say that one of the things I did was that I actually took interest in who the CEOs of the companies were and what they had to say; and to try to understand ‘What was this?’ What was the process between me seeing something [on the runway] and saying ‘Darling, you were wonderful’ and actually getting [the product] into the stores, or now it would be online. I think that is very interesting.”
Reflecting back on more than 30 years in the industry, Menkes went on to make several key observations on the fashion business. “I think there’s a kind of magic that has to be involved in the fashion business,” she said, “a sense of something original, a sense of something interesting. You can’t just sit down and draw out a plan.”
Citing Giancarlo Giammetti and Pierre Bergé, friends and one-time partners to the designers Valentino Garavani and Yves Saint Laurent, respectively, Menkes said the long-standing model of couples mounting major fashion businesses is disappearing. “This doesn’t happen anymore. Designers are reliant on somebody who is a business person, who has a business mind. But I think that although this works tremendously well when you have [someone like] a Sidney Toledano at Dior, who is an exceptional person, I think that the pressures put on the designers now is really unbelievable — more and more collections spewed out, resort and all the other things… It’s too much and I worry about that.”
“You know, some are very good at handling their own businesses,” she continued. “Christopher Bailey does seem to really understand; he’s even taken over the role of [CEO]. Others are dreamers and they don’t want to be bothered by all these things. So I don’t think you can make one plan for everybody.”
Menkes has also been a personal witness to the kind of fashion moments that many of us can only read about in books and magazines. “When that emotion that rises, you can’t fake it,” she said. “I have a picture that was done, a cartoon, of people who cry at fashion shows. Hamish [Bowles] was one of them. I was one of them. I won’t go through the list. But all of us who love fashion know that moment.”
So what were some of Suzy Menkes’ most memorable fashion moments?
Speaking of Yves Saint Laurent’s famous Russia-themed haute couture collection for Autumn-Winter 1976, she said, “You’re talking about a designer who had done all these tailored clothes and things inspired by the 1940s, and then suddenly we had this Russian collection with all these incredible colours and textures and fabrics. And you just stood there, not really being able to believe it. It was really exciting and moving. Of course it was part of his persona, but a part we hadn’t seen before.”
Looking at the crop of young designers rising up the ranks of the industry today, Menkes invoked wunderkind designer Christopher Kane. “[His first show] was an extraordinary moment. You just felt this person had all these ideas. And when he did his brain scan collection, I just sat there and thought, ‘How can one person have so many ideas and put so much out there?’”
She also credits Mary Katrantzou with advancing her fashion signature while moving on from her trademark digital prints. “I’m really an admirer of hers and the things she can create. Digitally, she’s one of the rare people who really knows what she’s doing. But having gone to the farthest reaches of what can be done and putting a plate or cup on your bosoms, she sort of then calmed that down and did something different. The same spirit, but it was different. That is the kind of moment you wait for.”
Watch our full exclusive video interview with Suzy Menkes above.