By Eric Ramirez
Robin Givhan is no stranger to the fashion industry, as the first ever fashion journalist to receive the Pulitzer Prize in criticism. Her work was referred to as “witty, closely observed essays that transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism,” by the Pulitzer Committee. During a lecture on May 18, Givhan shared her words of wisdom to a handful of fashion students, detailing her unique view of the fashion industry from the sour to the saccharine.
“I always feel like the journalist is the only person involved in the fashion industry that has no skin in the game,” Givhan said. “The retailer wants to sell you merchandise, the designer obviously wants to sell you merchandise … I always feel like I’m the only person who isn’t worried about what the advertisers are going to say.”
This allows Givhan to be unbiased, enables her to write the direct, honest and occasionally blunt reviews that she is known for. But with that penchant for candid opinions comes the negative reactions of designers and even their publicists, something critics of any art medium are accustomed to.
“No one has thinner skin than a writer, so I completely understand when designers are upset when their work is criticized,” said Givhan. “I often think that it’s really the publicist who is upset and it’s not so much the designer, because the designer knows that it’s not personal. If it’s about the work then criticism can be really valuable.”
Givhan began her writing career at the Detroit Free Press right out of graduate school, the youngest in a department of critics. She was assigned “the dregs” of what was being covered, reviewing B-movies at a drive-in theater. But when a fashion job opened, Givhan jumped at the opportunity to have first pick of something a little more interesting.
And while her background was initially journalism before it became fashion writing, Givhan has a rapport for the industry, an affinity that landed her on TIME’s 100 Fashion Icons list.
“For me, whether I like something or not has nothing to do with, essentially, my personal sense of aesthetics in terms of ‘would I wear it?’ ” explained Givhan. “There are many, many collections that I have adored that very few people could wear and very few people would ever want to wear. My question is not how many people can wear it, but can someone wear it?”
It is with that skepticism that Givhan became a distinguished member of the fashion community as well as the writing community. Not quite cynicism, Givhan’s personal and practical perspective reflects the fashion industry for both it’s successes and failures. And it is in that same vein that she left our fashion majors with these words of advice:
“Don’t ever forget that what makes fashion exceptional is that it is something that is creative and can be incredibly gorgeous but it has to be worn somewhere, by someone. If it can’t be, then maybe it’s art and maybe it’ll hang on a wall someday, but it’s not fashion.”Contact Eric Ramirez.