AC How do you define yourself?
CB Off the top of my head, fashion critic, sometimes fashion journalist. But as I spend most of my time running to the fashion shows and associated events, I say fashion critic more naturally.
AC What is your view of the role of text today, in this very visual world?
CB I think one goes with the other, there is no reason to set them against each other. Images sometimes need explanation, even if a story only in pictures or only text doesn’t bother me. You can read a text and imagine the images or look at images and make a story in your head.
AC Do you have the feeling that fashion magazines have less influence today?
CB That’s for sure, because they no longer have the monopoly. Given what many magazines publish, it’s not such a bad thing… Mainstream magazines bore me rather quickly and I look at niche titles more, which at least have a point of view. Institutional fashion magazines have been resting on their laurels and are starting to be very repetitive. Especially in France, they display an exclusive side, speaking about friends, friends of friends, which isn’t very exciting. They always work with the same photographers or models, and I think the public wants something else. Before there was no choice, it was that or nothing; now there is something else.
Illustration : Artus de Lavilléon
AC Which is to say, digital.
CB Notably, but also niche press. Digital obviously, because it’s accessible to all, it’s free, just a click away. If there is an interesting designer that the mainstream press doesn’t talk about, you can find it on Instagram and even buy it. I use it a lot for my work for that matter.
AC For fashion designers, has charisma become a quality as indispensable as knowing how to design clothes?
CB Not especially. Paradoxically, I find that there were much more charismatic designers in the past: Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Azzedine Alaïa or Karl Lagerfeld… this is not what we are being offered today!
fashion criticism must be informative and constructive, but it doesn’t influence trends like it did 20 years ago. And I almost want to say, so much the better
AC To put it another way, we get the feeling that managing social networks and manufacturing one’s own image has become important.
CB Yes, for better and for worse… This is certainly one of the elements taken into consideration for recruitment and its importance can sometimes become dangerous.
AC We’re all thinking of the same person…
CB We’re all thinking of the same person, but we won’t mention it, otherwise I’ll get fired… But it also means that it’s a person who is attuned to the times, which is interesting in itself. Now, it mustn’t become a sine qua non, nor take up too much space in recruitment criteria, because being a fashion designer is a job and communicating is another. Many designers are natural communicators and handle social tools well, but communicators who become fashion designers… that’s more complicated. [there too, someone comes to mind, but we won’t name them, ed.] I tend to think that a fashion designer must have basic notions of the construction of a garment and I prefer when they know how to do it alone. We see the difference between those who went to Central Saint Martins and who didn’t get their diploma because they were not able to do it, and the others.
Illustration : Artus de Lavilléon
AC Nevertheless, we expect a fashion designer to accompany a collection with a story or a rational construction.
CB When he knows what he’s doing, it’s very easy to tell the story, there’s no need for a 4-page press release. For that matter I don’t understand why they send out a 2-page press release after a fashion show, it’s useless. The collection can be summed up in two perfectly clear sentences; if it’s more than 5 lines, there’s a problem. Afterwards, the subject can be further developed directly with the designer.
AC We know that these arguments or concepts are sometimes created by someone other than the designer, and sometimes after the fact.
CB It’s a problem… When a designer creates a collection, he knows what he’s doing, he has an idea he wants to express. Then he either works with someone who can make a sentence with his idea or he does it himself. From talking with a lot of designers before and after shows, I see the difference between those who really know what they’re doing, and the others who have made a lot of blabla and we don’t really know why.
I meet young French designers who talk to me about Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy. I have nothing against these two women but I wonder how 22-year-old kids are transfixed by images from 25 years ago, because it’s not their culture
AC You are interested in clothing. Do you perceive a greater influence of image, supported by social networks, in the design of collections?
CB In any case, designers live in a kind of hothouse of images; they find them on the Internet, in the books they collect, or on their travels. Now I am always surprised when I meet young French designers who talk to me about Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy. I have nothing against these two women but I wonder how 22-year-old kids are transfixed by images from 25 years ago, because it’s not their culture. I would be more interested in a collection inspired by Britney Spears for example. They don’t think about what they like and go towards that which is encrypted. If having access to billions of images of many different locations on the planet could free them up on the subject, that would be nice… Understand who they are, and that their image of the Parisian, the New Yorker, the woman in general hasn’t been turned into a cliché by someone else.
AC You are sometimes invited on juries for fashion festivals or awards. Do you find creativity present in what is presented there?
CB This is not where it happens, it’s on Instagram. All the interesting creators I’ve discovered recently, in jewellery or fashion, I found them there. Participating in a competition requires fitting into a box, a formula in which it’s necessary to please a jury which necessarily will have its particularities. Then the juries have different goals: recruiting designers, getting them into studios… some designers are very comfortable in this exercise and they will learn many things, but in my opinion, this is not where it’s happening.
Personally, I practice the nasty implication, and also the absence of the adjective; it’s never good when there’s no adjectives in an article
AC Yet having to seduce a jury or a future client, is this not part of the game?
CB It’s not the same thing: in a jury, there are seasoned designers, CEOs, professionals who have a formatted idea of fashion. Even if they defend themselves, in front of a candidate, they will especially evaluate his or her potential. There is also a hierarchy between candidates and jury, between who is in the circuit and who is still outside. Not to mention that sometimes anything is a pretext to make a member of the jury feel sorry for you…
AC So, interesting designers are on Instagram…
CB They are on Instagram and in other countries… because we are very focused on the fashion ‘grand slam’, but I meet people who come from Melbourne or Moscow… These designers are making their way and today they no longer need to participate in a fashion week, to put on a show, to be worn by a celebrity or sold in a particular concept store.
AC Being sold in a shop is good nonetheless…
CB Now designers sell online themselves, via their own sites, they have friends who wear their clothes without having to go through an agent or their PR, because they don’t have them. They will grow in this way, which doesn’t stop them from entering a more traditional circuit. I’m thinking of Pyer Moss for example.
AC What is your view of the role of fashion criticism?
CB It must be informative and constructive, but it doesn’t influence trends like it did 20 years ago. And I almost want to say, so much the better. I think that we used to impose something and today we can analyse things. There is no longer that peremptory side, which I don’t miss. I never intended to be a great empress of fashion who decides who will matter or not. I find that an awful way of doing things. When you read the critics from the 50s, 60s and 70s, it was the sorceress side of fashion, electing who deserved to be recognized. I am very happy that designers that I do not like at all and whose work I can’t stand succeed, so much the better. They have an audience, it doesn’t concern me, but I find it healthy. On the contrary, I find the temptation toward a general consensus unhealthy and dangerous.
AC Many images circulate without necessarily an historical context. Can text analyse and articulate these references?
CB It is indeed up to us to analyse these references, for example why suddenly many designers are referring to the 90s, which must be around the year of their birth. They have a totally distorted view of what it was, which is interesting to analyse.
AC From the moment when newspapers are constructed to be full of praise, and negative criticism often takes the form of an omission or the most minor references possible, I’m thinking of Le Figaro for example, sometimes it’s necessary to really unpack what you read to perceive a criticism…
CB But it makes for very interesting intellectual gymnastics! The journalist is often singled out, but he is not master of the publication. The journalist can write a relevant and sharp criticism, but his superior rereading the text may decide to erase everything. And it is of course this person who decides what is finally published. It happens to me sometimes, it makes me angry, but that’s the life of a news organization.
AC Do you need to develop strategies to communicate your feelings about a collection, a designer or a season?
CB It’s up to each of us to make his own mayonnaise… Personally, I practice the nasty implication, and also the absence of the adjective; it’s never good when there’s no adjectives in an article… My ultimate example, and I’m not comparing myself to her, is Joan Didion, and in particular a collection of articles she wrote in the 1970s and 1980s on the United States, including a text on New York. In a nutshell: garbage grinders had begun to be installed in apartments. With this, the garbage collectors’ union got involved because it took work away from them and they managed to put out stories saying people had put their baby in the garbage disposal machine. She tells it in a detached way, falsely detached, when you can only be horrified by what is described. For me, this is the ultimate example of how you do it, if we can not honestly say that something is really a joke.
AC At Le Monde, you are one of the few journalists to write for both the newspaper and the magazine. The newspaper has an informative approach while the magazine is more in entertainment mode.
CB Yes, the daily is the news, but information is dramatized. The work of a national newspaper is to bring added value to information, it’s not a Google report.
AC You enjoy writing about the contemporary in the column ‘Post et Postures’, where you put your contemporaries’ humour and the politically correct to the test. Do you read the comments that the column sometimes provokes?
CB Sometimes I am even insulted… but I don’t care. If in 2019 I must explain to human beings able to read and write what irony is… I don’t have the time!
AC This column allows for observations on the contemporary; has it become difficult to obtain gems in interviews, from designers for example?
CB It depends on who… I sometimes have to slow some designers that I know well down: “you’ll get fired saying that!” A few are able to give something else, to have a point of view, to not necessarily be nice to everyone, and to have things to say.
AC Are you interested in a political dimension that is emerging in the discourses of designers, be it feminism or ecology?
CB With regard to the feminist discourse, I find that there is a lot of opportunism, people who all of a sudden discover that they are feminists. There have always been feminist creators, like Rei Kawakubo or Miuccia Prada, who do not feel the need to back it up with a discourse. Alexander McQueen or Azzedine Alaïa were great feminists. You do not have to write things about yourself to convince yourself of it, like some sort of autosuggestion [here again, we force ourselves not to think of anyone in particular, ed.]. It’s all very well to talk about feminism, it’s not for that there are more women CEOs or board members… Saying that underage models are not allowed to work, that’s not the problem.
AC On the green positioning of brands, do you believe in the sincerity of the speeches or is it rather politically correct opportunism?
CB I think it’s much more sincere and lasting. In the fashion world, people understand the problems they’re causing. They take real action and work on it. Obviously, it allows them to improve their image, but they really do invest money and resources.
AC But luxury is an economy of desire and not of need…
CB There will be a moment when it will be contradictory. But within their business models they are all getting involved in ‘greener’ standards. And the multiplication of all these actions will eventually produce results. More and more brands are emerging that recycle fabrics and science is helping to imagine how to make fabrics or materials from recycled materials.
AC Knowing that we can never predict the sales of each model, we are obliged to destroy the unsold pieces if we want to preserve the rarity and therefore the price – except to discount the pieces, which is not the tendency.
CB They are thinking about it because soon they will not be able to destroy anything anymore, a directive has been published on the subject. These houses are torn between making money and taking into account a real problem. They seek solutions between these two poles.
AC If you did not work in the press, what would you do?
CB In fashion probably, in art or in interior design.
AC In a fashion house?
CB Or I would have my own structure. I would make jewellery or something else… As a critic, we have to attend more and more events and it can become boring. The day you start to want to write horrors about all the designers, you must stop. The ‘Auntie Danielle’ side of fashion is not possible. Must do something else, it’s no big deal…