By AA Patawaran
On the invitation of Kerry Tinga, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle youth columnist and fashion communication consultant at MINT (Meridian International) Fashion School at McKinley Hill in Taguig, I gave a talk last week on fashion journalism. Although fashion has always been a big part of my career as a lifestyle editor; I don’t really consider myself a fashion journalist.
While it is true that practically everything I’ve done in magazines and newspaper had a lot to do with style or fashion, whether I was working for a magazine on the affluent lifestyle (Lifestyle Asia) or a travel magazine (Stopover) or a fashion magazine (Sense&Style) or the lifestyle section of newspapers, such as this, I’ve only mostly looked at fashion as a means to an end and maybe that is what fashion really is.
When I was starting out in the mid-‘90s, I told my boss, Jullie Yap Daza, then the editor in chief of Lifestyle Asia, that maybe I shouldn’t do the fashion pages anymore. I was, after all, doing a lot of other things—the socials pages, the wedding pages, the products pages, not to mention the main features, such as the cover story or the personality profiles or home articles. But before I could tell her that, she said, “You are in a women’s magazine, you should learn fashion.”.
I was glad I didn’t have the chance to tell her I had too much on my plate. Before I knew it, fashion became my favorite, if only because of all the lifestyle beats, fashion was the most flexible, which is to say I could come up with stories, such as the one I called “August Waiting,” really about women who would wait longingly for lovers who would never show up, but I would tell such stories on the pretext of a fashion shoot.
The class for which I gave the talk was small. I really had to think about what I had to say because in the fashion program at MINT, developed by London-based designer Lesley Mobo, the kids were only in a foundational level, from which they might be led to a particular aspect of fashion to specialize in, whether design or styling or journalism. What’s more, we were in an intimate space. I would be talking to individuals, rather than to a big crowd, so I narrowed down my talk to six things I learned writing about fashion.
MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, MORE THAN FASHION ITSELF, FASHION JOURNALISM IS STORYTELLING
Everything in fashion has a story and every story has fashion in it, even if it is, in fact, anti-fashion, even if it’s about nudity because that, too, is a fashion statement.
In my early years, walking down a street in the rain, I saw my reflection on a puddle of water. That gave the inspiration for a fashion shoot, on which I collaborated with the Manila-based fashion designer Pascal Banet and an Australian production design company. Come to think of it, it was also the first time I wrote poetry as a professional to go with each of the photographs.
More recently, I collaborated with New York-based Russian photographer Julia Pogodina to create a story “Grey Gardens,” shot in the Hamptons, inspired by the 1970s documentary of the same name on Jackie Kennedy’s aunt Big Edie Beale and her cousin Little Edie, New York socialites found living in subhuman conditions in their broken-down mansion at the Hamptons. The story came out in multiple pages of Sense&Style just before we even knew of the made-for-television drama Grey Gardens that premiered on HBO in 2009, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.
WORKING IN FASHION, FOR THE MOST PART, IS UNGLAMOROUS
While I was editor of Sense&Style, I interviewed a lot of young people who professed to have a love for fashion and the eagerness to work for it. I asked one of them if she would be willing to lift the hem of her most disliked celebrity’s gown as she crossed the street during a fashion shoot and she said, “I think that’s too menial.” But I would and I did.
Even as editor in chief, I’d do very menial things, like buying coffee for the crew, if I thought that a dip in the energy level would compromise the quality of the photographs I was aiming for at the shoot.
You can’t do fashion journalism (or lifestyle journalism in general) if you just stick to the 5Ws and 1H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) of journalism.
To lifestyle journalists, all that is just background information. A huge part of lifestyle journalism is creative writing. Style, pizzazz, imagination, and sophistication are often required, maybe even fiction—yes, lots of literature!
FASHION IS THE STUDY OF LIFE
It might seem like it’s all about appearances, but you look at old pictures and you kind of get an idea who, what, when, where, why, and how they were just by looking at their clothes. You can spot a revolution in a dress. “You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes,” said the late Vogue editor and fashion visionary Diana Vreeland. “You can see and feel everything in clothes.”
FASHION IS AN INSIDER JOB
Life in fashion is, well, a life. Every fashion show, every fashion shoot, every designer you meet, everything you do is an education. Sometimes, it takes years of building the stock knowledge it takes so you can look deep enough at what fashion has to offer or where it is coming from.
Hemlines rise or fall and, often, there is a more compelling reason they do so than fashion alone.
You can’t do fashion just sitting in your cubicle. You need to be out there observing life. It also takes a lot of networking to get the inner linings or else you can’t go beyond the surface.
FASHION IS AN ADVOCACY
It’s not so much the length of the skirt or the details of the cut or the lusciousness of the fabric as it is the life that people can imagine or dream of or seek in the dress. In reality, fashion often makes us feel less desirable, especially when confronted by Photoshopped images in magazines, but on the ideal level, fashion is supposed to make us feel beautiful, to make us feel there is something we can do to feel better about ourselves, no matter what our shape or size or color is.
At the very least, fashion is designed to make us dream and, in fashion, to make us get there. I’m sure you will agree that fashion has a lot to do with identity, whether personal or social or even national. Lately, in Manila, there’s been a buzz about indigenous fabrics, tribal patterns, and traditional clothing, thanks in part to Catriona Gray’s winning looks that won her the Miss Universe title, although the buzz had been around before our Miss Universe victory put us in the spotlight again, with the likes of designer Len Cabili really going out of her way trying to give local weaves a breath of new life and “Love Local” champion and retail maven Ben Chan making the terno wearable and fashionable again.
See, even in nationbuilding, fashion can be a powerful tool, too.