Elise By Olsen

The adage that “everybody’s a critic” may be truer than ever, but Wallet magazine’s newest issue explores criticism from a fashion perspective.

The compact magazine’s editor in chief Elise By Olsen discussed the “Culture of Critic” issue Tuesday morning. Readers will be able to find it at the Tate Modern in London, MoMA PS1 in New York, The Broken Arm in Paris, Modes in Milan, and next month at Tsutaya Books in Tokyo.

Originally slated to be released in October, the latest issue was held up a bit, since Olsen has had her hands full launching the International Library of Fashion Research in Oslo. The just-released issue includes interviews with The Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large Robin Givhan, The New York Times’ chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman and the controversial fashion critic and founder of the Not Vogue site Steve Oklyn. (Each signed off on their interviews.) There is also a 20-page visual essay featuring Vacquera, Gauntlett Cheng, Agnès B., Hermès, Miu Miu, Ann Demeulemeester, Telfar and others.

With budgets being what they are, dealing with advertisers took an extra round or two, but the publishing house remains open despite the pandemic.

The initial plan was to do an issue on material production — sustainability, production, factory work, ethics and more. After one interview, Olsen said, “We changed our minds. First of all, it’s such a silent industry. Nobody wants to talk to you. We didn’t really get any of the interviews that we wanted to and we tried so many.”

Criticism was a more suitable theme for the issue, “with Wallet looking in on its own field and the field that we’re participating in,” Olsen said. “It’s been interesting to question who do we do it for. Who is the critic responsible for? Is it the consumer? Is it the designer? Is it the industry? Is it back into the media in which the critic works?”

She mentioned how fashion journalism has been in “such a poor state for a while and the written word is not as prioritized as imagery and visuals [are].” Making the distinction between fashion coverage and fashion criticism or analytical writing has been interesting. “Fashion coverage is fashion show reports, maybe interviews, news features, stuff that is not fueled as much with opinions or so much of a historical context. Whereas, critical journalism and analytical journalism give context around what you’re trying to speak on and how does that respond to the current climate and the past climate in fashion, and fashion as an institution,” Olsen said.

In terms of the International Library of Fashion Research, a few big donations are expected from major fashion houses as well as two collections from private collectors, Olsen said. A few corporate sponsorships and partnerships are being set up “to sustain the institution building,” she said. Board meetings are being held with the 35 members, who represent fashion, architecture, art history, art and other areas.

In addition, there are plans to announce a partnership with a large institution based in New York. That should strengthen the Oslo-New York link, according to Olsen. (The museum’s founder inherited the permanent collection from her long-term mentor Steven Mark Klein.)

The library has educational partnerships with Central Saint Martins, Parsons School of Design, Polimoda and a few educational institutions in Oslo. The interchange of all these institutions is quite rare, Olsen noted. “When we do these research programs, which we are hoping to do once the physical space is open, it’s going to be incredible to see what an Oslo fashion student can share in comparison to a Central Saint Martins student. It will be very different for better or for worse. There are all these exchanges that are very helpful for both an Oslo student or a London student,” Olsen said, adding that she hopes to be able to accept student thesis, which has not been catalogued and archived in an institutional library context within fashion.

The library, a 3,300-square-foot space, will house printed matter — books, magazines, invitations, illustrations, posters and many other items. The shadow of the pandemic has eclipsed a spring opening, and Olsen is now looking toward the fall hopefully, but realistically. “There’s no point for us to open for a local audience. This is an international project. We want to be able to potentially host people here. We have an incredible database and institution where we continue to make programming and have activations. That’s good enough for now and accessible for the public,” she said.

In other news, Olsen will have a hand in Colmar’s next Advanced Garment Exploration (A.G.E.) project. For the third series, she is teaming up with her Wallet co-founder Morteza Vaseghi, who is serving as creative director. As the project’s head of communications, Olsen will be exercising her community-building skills among other talents. The A.G.E. collection will be unveiled in select stores this fall.