New York Fashion Week, which kicks off Wednesday night, is the big game for style magazines and fashion critics. As part of pregame festivities, here’s a peek into the latest issue of Fashion Projects, a magazine that covers the discipline, accessibly, from an academic perspective. The issue, “On Fashion Criticism,” features thoughtful interviews with today’s most prominent fashion writers, including Robin Givhan, Suzy Menkes, and Judith Thurman. Interviewees speak of what draws them to fashion coverage, their thoughts on its evolution within journalism from trivial to respected, and the idea of fashion writing as a gendered pursuit.

This edition’s focus on fashion criticism stemmed from conversations between editor Francesca Granata and her husband, humor writer Jay Ruttenberg, about how some pop-culture criticism has long been respected but coverage of fashion wasn’t recognized as “criticism” in The New York Times until the 1990s, she said.

“It seemed to me that, in the last decade, fashion criticism has been going through a phase of legitimization that other realms of popular culture criticism, such as rock and film criticism, had undergone decades earlier,” Granata wrote in the issue introduction.

Perusing the issue’s spare, bright pages (designed by a student at Parson’s, where Granata teaches) serves as an interesting peek into the psyches behind the bylines that will proliferate during Fashion Week. Here’s one excerpt I enjoyed, by The New York Times’s Guy Trebay:

I was talking about this [idea of fashion as “trivial”] with Judith Thurman. We were pissing and moaning, as people do who have an interest in these degraded subject matters and culturally disfavored subjects. She was talking about a certain correspondent for the New Yorker who writes about child soldiers in wherever. She was saying that that kind of thing—if you have the skills, the stomach for the work, and can stand all the risk—is like taking gold out of streams with your hand. It’s all there. There is something slightly perverse and masochistic about applying yourself to [fashion] and having to rehabilitate things that are considered culturally beneath regard. That’s been the most challenging part of this for me. Because it isn’t taken seriously, and never has been taken seriously. I hope to live to see the day when it is. Which can be done without sacrificing what’s beautiful and delightful about the ephemeral and frivolous part of it. Those are not opposing ideas.
Fashion Projects has published four print issues since its 2004 debut—“We decide to do an issue whenever we have a critical mass and whenever we have a subject that’s quite interesting to us,” Granata said. She and her contributors post sporadic Web features in between. For thoughtful context behind the hype, Fashion Projects is worth checking out.
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Kira Goldenberg
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