Hazine

16.12.2015 - Estelle Marandon

Fashion People

The fashion judge, jury and executioner

JOURNALIST SUZY MENKES IS THE BEST-KNOWN AND MOST INFLUENTIAL CRITIC IN THE FASHION WORLD. HER CRITIQUES ARE CONSIDERED TO BE HARSH, BUT FAIR. WHEN SHE DELIVERS HER AUTHORITATIVE JUDGEMENT AT THE END OF A FASHION WEEK, IT DETERMINES THE SUCCESS OR FAILURE OF EACH COLLECTION.

The biggest fear ahead of a fashion show is that Suzy Menkes' front row seat might remain empty. The 71 year-old journalist is indisputably the most important and influential fashion critic in the world. If she doesn't write about a show, it is tantamount to issuing it with a death sentence. So, as Domenico De Sole, the former CEO of Gucci, once said, the first question anyone asks after a show is, "did you see Suzy?" Designers both fear and revere her frank and honest judgement. Alber Elbaz, the former creative director at Lanvin, is even said, back then, to rise at 6 am in the morning after his shows so that he could buy her report hot off the press. Apparently, it is only then that he knew whether his work was any good. Suzy Menkes herself says that she never judges based on her own personal taste, but tries to appraise collections fairly. “It is not true that I could end a designer's career,” she says. Yet she undoubtedly has the power to put a designer in the spotlight. The Maison Martin Margiela designer, Mathieu Blazy, was plucked from obscurity when she mentioned his name, going against the house's policy of not crediting individuals for its designs.

FROM DRESSMAKING APPRENTICE TO JOURNALIST

Suzy Menkes originally wanted to be a designer herself. As a teenager, the British journalist went to Paris to study dressmaking. But she quickly realised that she did not have the right talent for it. So she returned home and went to Cambridge, where she read history and English literature. In the 60s, she began writing about fashion for The Times. Although her editor colleagues ridiculed her for it, she has remained faithful to her passion to this day. "Fashion continues to fascinate me, because it is a reflection of what is going on in the world, although you don't often realise that until later," says Menkes. Following stints at the Evening Standard and Daily Express, she went on to become the fashion critic at the International Herald Tribune (now International New York Times) in 1988.

THE TIRELESS REPORTER

Since then, she has been shuttling back and forth between the fashion capitals of Paris, London, Milan and New York, and visits some 600 shows a year. She is thought to have written more than 1.7 million words for the International Herald Tribune alone in 2012. In addition to her work as a journalist, Suzy Menkes has also written several books, on subjects including the Windsors’ style, and knitwear. Although Suzy Menkes is over 70, she still works tirelessly. Contrary to rumour, and fears that she might retire, in 2014, after 25 years at the International Herald Tribune, she moved to a new role at Condé Nast. Now, as Vogue International Editor, she writes exclusively for all the Vogue websites around the world.

Short Facts

Trademark

Her rather unusual hairstyle was conceived for purely pragmatic reasons. She could not bear it when her hair fell in her face while she was working, so her hairdresser at the time rolled up her fringe and pinned it firmly in place with a comb. Her pompadour hairstyle has been her trademark look ever since.

Distinctiveness

Suzy Menkes converted to Judaism out of love for her late husband. Yom Kippur is therefore the only day she never works – to the distress of fashion designers, as it often falls as they are presenting their autumn collections. Some designers will therefore not show on that day. 

Anecdote

She is reputed to be incorruptible. Suzy Menkes allegedly returns any gifts she is sent by fashion houses and press offices, with the words, “I was brought up to believe that a girl should not accept gifts, except flowers and chocolates."

Awards and Recognition

2015 Order of the British Empire 
2015 Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur

TIMELINE

1943 - Wartime birth

Suzy Menkes is born on December 24th 1943, in Beaconsfield in the UK. Her father was a pilot in World War II and was killed shortly before she was born. A short time later, her mother moves with her and her older sister to the country, near Brighton.

1966 - In fashion

She begins writing about fashion for The Times.

1969 - Marriage

Suzy Menkes marries her Times colleague, the journalist David Spanier.

1985 - Knitting

Publication of her book Knitwear Revolution: Designer Patterns to Make.

1987 - Noble book

Publication of her book The Windsor Style.

1988 - International Herald Tribune

Suzy Menkes succeeds Hebe Dorsey as fashion critic at the International Herald Tribune.

1990 - Jewel

Another book of hers, The Royal Jewels, hits the stores.

1996 - On screen

Suzy Menkes plays herself in British TV comedy Absolutely Fabulous. 

2005 - A year of awards

At home, in Britain, she is awarded the Order of the British Empire. In France, she is made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.

2009 - Jury member

As a guest judge she makes an appearance in the finale of the TV show Project Runway.

2014 - From The Times to Vogue

After decades of working for the International New York Times (formerly International Herald Tribune) Suzy Menkes leaves to become the Vogue International Editor.

Photo:

© Gettyimages

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