Working in fashion journalism isn’t always pretty.

There’s an often-misguided assumption that fashion editors have more in common with their fashion industry peers (designers, publicists, etc.) than they do with their publishing associates. Christina Binkley, a veteran journalist who worked at The Wall Street Journal for 23 years, said she was surprised to discover how many fashion houses considered themselves as collaborating with publications rather than receiving objective editorial coverage.  She also soon discovered that those who do not work in ardent support of fashion houses can face repercussions, such as being banned from attending a runway show.  

Binkley shared more about the unique experiences of a journalist covering fashion.

Does the fact that editors can get banned from runway shows affect coverage?
I came to [fashion] from a different perspective because I did not start out as a fashion journalist. I had worked many years covering other industries for The Wall Street Journal and other papers before becoming a fashion columnist. It was a shock, and it continues to surprise me — the level of cooperation that occurs between the journalism side and the business or brand side. And fashion shows are a part of that. They aren’t the only reason for that, but the invite-only aspect, where reporters can get banned, leaves a lot of reporters and editors to go soft or tread carefully if they feel losing access would be problematic for their careers.

How are you sure Chanel banned you?
They banned me this season because they have been very upset with me for three years for something I wrote, where they preferred I had not mentioned the family that owns Chanel. They complained vociferously at the time to myself and my editor at WSJ, so I knew what they were upset about. Then I didn’t go to Paris for a couple of seasons, but they did still invite me while I was still at WSJ. Now I am a freelancer, so they feel more comfortable not inviting me. When I submitted my request to attend, they said they could not seat me, which is laughable, because they are showing at the Grand Palais which [seats] thousands of people.

Have you ever been banned from other fashion brand-related events?
There may be cases where I am not aware, where it happens quietly. But of the high-profile bannings that I have [received], one was from Balenciaga when Nicolas Ghesquiere was the designer, although, I don’t know if he had anything to do with it or not. I had used the word “ugly” to describe a sweatshirt he had designed for a collection, and I don’t know exactly if [that’s what did it] — but I was banned for years until Alexander Wang came in and started designing. So it lasted quite a while.

No one has ever been as forthright as to say, “You called our sweatshirt ugly, so we aren’t going to let you come.” They send more coded notices, and this is true across all brands; they will say, “We can’t find a seat for you at the show.” No one ever says, “This is why you aren’t invited,” but it becomes pretty clear that a ban follows a critique.

Was there a reason you decided to tweet about this experience?
I sent that tweet right after I had received [the email] that they could not find a seat for me at the show. I giggled at my desk when I got it because I was thinking about that cavernous Grand Palais, and I thought it was a funny thing. I also believe in informing the public, so I sent a second tweet to provide context to explain that fashion shows are invite-only events.

What do you do when you’ve been banned?
I don’t get that upset about it. The brand is the one that doesn’t get the coverage because I, as a journalist, already have more things than I can possibly cover during fashion week.

I try to address it because I prefer to let them know that I understand what the situation is, but I do it politely because I don’t understand why anyone would get upset. As a journalist, I wouldn’t review a collection I have not personally seen, but I certainly can see it and understand what’s going on with the brand because of photographs that are going up online; I don’t really lose out on much. It’s more a symbolic gesture on the brand’s part. I am perplexed by what they think they are gaining by doing that.

Are there other obstacles you have experienced while covering fashion?
When I’m talking to people who are just coming into fashion journalism, or even when I am explaining fashion journalism to editors at other publications, [I try to explain] that you are talking to people who are highly attuned to image and very sensitive to anything that could damage a brand or person’s image in any way. That’s what you are selling in fashion: an image. We don’t review clothes by how well they work or even by how well they fit — we just talk about how they look. When you have an entire industry of people who have been trained to be sensitive to imagery issues, it can be like walking in a minefield when working with them.

How so?
You don’t see this with many other industries. With General Electric, [for example,] you don’t see journalists being banned from reviewing a washing machine. But there’s also a kind of training that goes on because fashion magazines are so important and a common interface for brands. Fashion magazines are more a part of the fashion industry than they are the journalism industry, so they really cooperate and are often seen as allies by promoting the brands. Brands will say, “Thank you for your support,” which was a phrase that shocked me when I first started covering fashion because I didn’t look at it as support. I looked at it like journalism.

I can sympathize with people who work on the PR side of brands because they are dealing with some people who are seen as on their team, even though they are part of a publication, and then dealing with other people from a different publication who don’t see themselves as on the same team. I don’t think there are many other industries that have that same complicated relationship.

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