The other devil wears Prada?

Suzy Menkes – one of the most influential fashion critics. Since 1988, she has worked as fashion editor and reporter for newspaper International Herald Tribune.

Susie was born in 1943 in England. After graduating from high school in Brighton, she moved to Paris to study dressmaking at fashion school Esmod. “It was a very stuffy couture place, which is where I learned about bias cuts and how to make patterns out of paper. Everything was very proper ­– I was ‘Mademoiselle Menkes.“ (Seabrook 2003: 100). After seeing her first Nina Ricci show at a fairly young age, the future famous journalist decided that she wanted to devote her life to high fashion. At the time she often had to sneak her way to fashion shows because she was not famous yet and now the seat in a front row is always reserved for her.

After returning from Paris, she enrolled in the course of history and English literature at Cambridge University and got a scholarship. She has also studied about Italian fashion houses and build their calculations about their future. Her interest in history created an individual interest in the observation of changes of clothes in the context of the behaviour of social and political realities. “I’ve now lived through quite a lot of generations and I think that even I would have realised in the 1920s that, as women cut off their hair and wore short skirts for the first time in recorded history, something was happening in the world.” (Grau 2012) At the university she explored the phenomenon of working mothers and its impact on the market of children’s clothes.

Suzy Menkes also earned a living by giving lectures for the same course. She was writing a fashion column for university’s newspaper Varsity and in her last year became an editor-in-chief. “It was the mid-sixties, swinging London was the centre of the fashion world, and Menkes wore a miniskirt and white Courreges boots that she had saved up for. “ (Seabrook 2003: 100)

When Suzy Menkes decided to leave this job, she got her first proper job in fashion as a fashion reporter for The Times of London, which is mainly engaged in fashion shows and compiling reviews of the new collections of British designers. “Fashion coverage in newspapers was largely a post-war development, but even then it was largely limited to a weekly slot in the qualities” (McRobbie quoted in Bradford 2012: 82) Later she became the fashion editor of The Times in 1978. At the same time, she began writing books – most of her literary works are devoted to the style of the Royal Court.

In addition to clothing, she is interested in the jewellery industry and the British royal family. Menkes is the author of The Royal Jewels (1985), a study of personal jewelry collection of Queen Elizabeth, The Windsor Style (1987), in which she studied the style of life of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the Queen and Country (1992), a journey of personal farmland Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles’ environmental interests.

“According to government figures the periodicals and journals sector of the UK publishing industry provided employment for more than 53,400 people at the end of 1996 compared with the newspaper industry which employed around 47,000.” (McKay 2001:5). This is probably why, in 1988, Suzy Menkes came to work to another popular English edition of International Herald Tribune, which is a part of The New York Times Company and where she immediately became one of the most remarkable people and since that time, she attends about 600 shows a year.

During this period, Menkes has earned her reputation as a judge in the world fashion industry. Her value is for honesty and integrity – Suzy never avoids criticism only because of the status and popularity of the one of whom wrote, and writes everything she thinks. A distinctive feature of her journalistic work is honesty and integrity. She is respected, feared and appreciated. Suzy writes about what she thinks, doesn’t mince words but at the same time doesn’t forget the nice words and positive reviews for the really good collections. For example, Menkes was one of the first people who spotted Hedi Slimane eventually becoming one of the best designers with a really great future. (Seabrook 2003: 100)

Her importance can be illustrated by the following story. One day a young designer didn’t like that Suzy Menkes criticized him in on of her articles so he didn’t invite her to the show. After that, many important people from the fashion industry just boycotted his show, thus expressing solidarity with Menkes.

Futhermore, Suzy Menkes is known for always telling the truth. Jess Cartner-Morley says that newspapers can be independent because they “are not supported by their advertising. I can go to a show and write a review saying it’s rubbish – a magazine can’t do that.” (Turner; Orange 2012: 82)

On the pages of the newspaper she is free to express her thoughts on a particular fashion-show, as she pleases. According to Julia Day from The Guardian, “Suzy Menkes, the woman with the power to make or break designers’ careers as fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, has accused the French of tabling “an inhuman and unacceptable schedule” for the 94 catwalk shows.” (Day 2002)

However, it is noted that she is a very educated woman, and never criticize without saying a few kind words in the end. In her articles, she tells not only about the collections of clothes but also about the events in the fashion industry for the financial pages and categories of art is where the story of the popular exhibitions in museums. Besides Paris, where she lives most of the time, Menkes is a frequent visitor to New York, most of the European capitals, as well as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore.

Not limiting herself to work exclusively in the field of fashion journalism, she  also writes about the economy and even politics in modern Europe and Britain. Suzy Menkes thinks that “that fashion can be a political statement, which is much more important. The way that people dress makes them part of an army, dressed in their own uniform, determined to do something.” (Grau 2012)

In 2009, a new book on the life and work of Valentino was published. In this paper, an English journalist in warm colours speaks about designer’s work, calling him one of the best designers of all time. (Menkes, Tyrnauer, Chitolina 2009) In winter 2009, Madame Menkes took part in the famous American show project Podium, where she was invited as a judge. However, it is unusual that a person, who dedicated her life to fashion, says that fashion “ultimately is designed to cover the human body, to give you joy, to make you feel better” and don’t think that it has to have “a great intellectual meaning.” (Grau 2012)

In 2003, after many years of work in the field of journalism, Suzy Menkes was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to journalism, the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor of France (where she still lives now) which was presented to her at the time by France’s President Jacques Chirac and have got the V&A Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fashion at the 2005 British Fashion Awards. (Seidler 2005)

To sum up, today Suzy is still engaged in journalism as she did for many years. Almost all of the world’s favourite designers and the latest fashion shows in Europe and the U.S. are described in her articles but according to Peter Preston from The Observer, the “International Herald Tribune isn’t what it was, to be sure: it’s the kind of history-steeped publication that can never escape its romanticised past.” (Preston 2012) Many European publications say that Suzy Menkes is one of the most influential and respected people in the UK fashion industry. Despite the fact that most often she is called fashion critic, she insists she is just a reporter and columnist who is moved by the enthusiasm and passion for fashion.

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