In step with her straight-to-the-chase fashion reviews, Suzy Menkes was forthright as ever during Tuesday’s Q&A with Fern Mallis at 92Y.
A quarter of a century into her run at the International Herald Tribune, the Order of the British Empire-winning British journalist has no plans to ease up any time soon. Whether recalling how her younger self and some friends once dressed as a cleaning crew to crash a fashion show or describing how she feigned illness in order to be whisked into J.Lo’s first runway show with one of her sons, the 69-year-old fashion editor amused the crowd for nearly two hours. Even her pompadour was made with a purpose — to keep her hair out of her face when writing. Here, Menkes’ views on weightier matters.
This story first appeared in the May 9, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Forty years of going junket-free:
“I don’t go where I am paid to go and I think that is the way it should be.…Someone like Valentino, such a generous man, so many times he invited me to go many places you can’t even remember what they’re all called. I never went on the boat even though he asked. Of course, I didn’t really have the bikini for it.”
“I went to Africa four times last year. The level of handwork is just magical. I went to Nairobi, where they have collectives making bags for Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney.…If these things can be properly regulated by honorable people, then fashion can be a wonderful way of getting people out of poverty.”
“There has to be a change in mind-set by the consumer. It’s about saying there is something morally wrong about having a swimsuit or dress that costs the same as a cappuccino. I don’t think the answer is the Disney answer — to pull out would be a catastrophe because that’s the only industry they’ve got there.”
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Young Asian-American designers:
“They have this wonderful American spirit of can-do, get on with it and believe in yourself, which is a very good combination.”
Changes in European houses:
“Tragically, all of the big bosses never come to me. I am sure they go to Anna [Wintour] and ask her advice. I tell people what I think, and that is probably not what they want to hear. Fashion [companies] built as houses are like families. Yves Saint Laurent was absolutely built that way. People were treated like family and they felt like family. It isn’t like that anymore. It’s much tougher, not necessarily better or worse.”
“It’s a tragedy. We know that creative people have all sorts of demons. I would never say that I love Hitler in any shape or form ever, and I don’t know many people who would. That’s not to say that somebody with such brilliant talent shouldn’t be given some kind of second chance. But how do you do that is difficult.”
Kanye West’s designer ways:
“What I would say to him, particularly after his absolutely brilliant performance Monday, is, ‘Don’t give up the day job or in his case the night job.’”
“Victoria Beckham works incredibly hard. And no she doesn’t go to Roland Mouret and ask him to make a few things for her.”
Social media and such:
“It’s equivalent to the revolution and what a privilege to live in such an era. It’s a question of whether you use it intelligently. I try to train myself not to go home at midnight and start looking at my e-mails. I don’t always succeed. I have a Facebook page. I am not tweeting at the moment. During the collections, I am absolutely flat-out. It is very heavy. Heavy is the wrong word because I love it. But it is an enormous amount of work.”
Most difficult reviews:
“When you know a designer whom you all admire is losing it. It’s terribly painful because you feel for them and at the same time you feel for yourself not wishing to stick the knife in.…I tend to soften a review if, for example, somebody has lost a partner to AIDS. You do not then go in.”
Job security in light of the IHT being renamed the International New York Times in September:
“Who knows? I’ll certainly have a fabulous payoff after 25 years.”