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Journalist Nancy Nall (who I added to my daily blog-reading list after her hilarious, insightful coverage of Bob Greene's sexual misconduct and fall from grace--too bad I can't find a link to those posts) lives in Detroit and doesn't write much about fashion. But in her post today she reveals that she was briefly a fashion reporter and touches on a common complaint about fashion and fashion writing--that it's out of touch with the reality of most people's lives.
Your average Jane and Joe, reading Cathy Horyn's coverage in the New York Times or the reviews of runway shows on Style.com, might very well roll their eyes at all the high-flown metaphors and intellectual references. And I'll be the first to admit that there's a lot of pretentious fashion writing out there. But these reviews aren't aimed at a wide mainstream audience. Nall's comparison to wine writing is apt, because wine writers have a certain vocabulary. They're not just spouting off about "noses" and "bouquets" to be pretentious--those are technical terms that serious wine-drinkers understand. Designer clothes are the Chateau d'Yquems of fashion. There's a reason people will pay that much money for them, as even the normally acerbic Cintra Wilson, one of the Times' Critical Shoppers, can attest. I'll agree that few people are in the market for thigh-high leather waders. But those waders were meant mainly to make a splash on the runway, not to be sold at Target or even Neiman Marcus. They're meant to be appreciated as art.
Plus, there are different levels of fashion writing for different readers. The Washington Post's Robin Givhan tends to offer straightforward, readable reviews of runway shows that still show her understanding of the subject. Fashionista is geared toward very young women with bite-size attention spans, but it's also willing to point out the absurdity of it all once in a while. Me, I try to walk the line between being direct and also acknowledging that fashion has some roots in art, which isn't always easy to understand or describe.