Hearing about the death of Anna Piaggi last month got me thinking about the legacy of fashion people and ‘style icons’, and how wider society remembers these figures. Reading through the obituaries of Piaggi, much is noted of her extensive wardrobe, singular style and standing in the fashion world. Almost as an afterthought comes details of her work; she had a prolific output at Vogue Italia, where she put together collages she called her ‘doppie pagines’. These pages reflected her encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of costume, and drew parallels between couture and wider culture unseen by many others.
This depth of knowledge was not the source of Anna’s acclaim, however. She took on the greater, vague-er role of ‘Style icon’, and was loved the fashion world over for her theatricality and for never wearing the same outfit twice. It can be argued that her personal dress took on such a higher profile than her ‘real work’ that in fact her style of dress was in fact her life’s work, with hr other endeavours building up to and feeding into a great live experiment – 81 years in the duration.
Through dedicating oneself to being fabulous, and to encouraging the fabulousness of others through visual means as stylists, editors and mediators of the fashion image, do we need our fashion tastemakers to really write anything? We all know we largely only buy fashion glossies for the images; flicking through we only give each page a half second to grab us before we move on. Vogue is just like Playboy in this regard, saying you read it for the articles is a joke, regardless of how high the quality of the journalism.
Many of our fashion greats have a largely silent (but no less powerful) influence, from Diana Vreeland to Anna Wintour and beyond. The real conversations are happening behind closed doors, and the public is faced with a silent yet screaming wall of pure visual style.
I guess it would be fitting to look at the polar opposite of this attitude, to balance it out.
Amy Spindler was a fashion critic at the New York Times from the late 90s to the early 2000’s, sadly dying of a brain tumour in 2004. Here’s a short but sweet obit (from 10 magazine’s tumblr).
AMY SPINDLER: STYLE EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE (1998-2004)
“Fashion editors going to fashion shows is a little like high-school kids…taking drugs, drinking, wearing slutty clothes, or jumping off bridges: they do it because everybody else is doing it.” So starts a fashion-week diary Amy Spindler wrote for Slate magazine back in 2000.
She went on, in that first entry, to state that fashion editors look forward to death, because, among other things, “they can wear the back of their dress open for the first time in public”.
But then, she never was one to wrap things in cotton wool. More a shoot-from-the-hip kinda girl, making sure designers knew when they hadn’t delivered their best. She wasn’t venomous but honest, her opinions gathered from her observations, backed up with knowledge and intelligence.
She started out writing press releases for Brides magazine before moving on to The Daily News Record, then W before finally ending up at The New York Times, where the role of fashion critic was created for her. Her presence and fierce views soon established the fashion industry as a force to reckoned with, not a frivolous indulgence that had, up until then, been merely, for want of a better word, humoured.
Sadly, Spindler died in 2004, at the age of 40, from a brain tumour. Cathy Horyn, who had become her successor at The Times in 2003, summed her up in her obituary perfectly: “Ms Spindler was never interested in simply putting a dress on a page or talking about hemlines. She recognised that fashion was as important a cultural barometer as music or art and that it should be – demanded to be – covered as rigorously as a political campaign.”
(by Natalie Dembinska)
Upon googling Spindler, you mostly get obituaries of her, and photos of Cathy Horyn. She seemed to dress in uniform black, never attention grabbing. From the few relevant results you can glean that here was a critic who took her job seriously, and was well aware that she had an important job to do and was going to do it. Finding her work requires some actual effort (i.e. searching the archives of the new york times online), so heres a few articles I’ve pulled out of the pile:
Now I’m not attempting to actively compare these two women, as they clearly occupied wildly different roles in the industry, and its fair to make a distinction between the two. Its disappointing to note however that Piaggi died a style icon while Spindler was amazingly prolific as a writer over a rough 10 year period and what people only seem to note is that she died young.
Clothing can act as an abstract expression of complex attitudes and opinions; and it is this abstraction that leads to people of all intellects being able to appreciate Anna’s brave style rather than Amy’s . Even if you do not ‘speak’ fashion, and understand that an outfit can be a biting comment just as much as an article can, (or analyse the parralels that Piaggi drew), you can still see a brave, colourful lady and be inspired.
We do, however, need more people who speak fashion and are willing to translate to the rest of the world. And it would be brilliant to see more people blur the lines between the ‘style icons’ and the critics of the world. Why not express your views through writing AND visuals? That way, perhaps, you can create a double whammy sucker punch that’ll make sure the world has no choice but to pay attention.
As an end-note, a fair few people paid tribute to Anna Piaggi as ‘one of the last great style icons’. This annoys me. It’s the same as when an old movie star dies, and people say ‘the last great bombshell’ or whatever.
A) Its insulting to the ones that are still alive, of which there are many, and
B) Stars are always being made and dying, what will people say when Susie Bubble dies in like 60 years or whatever, will she be ‘the last great style icon’ too?
To prove that point, heres a selection of great fashion people who are either still writing great fashion, wearing great fashion or combining the two.
(interviewed by Alexander Fury – 2 for 1 deal!)
Apologies for the weird sizing and fonts, blogger is being a tad eccentric!