As we were live-tweeting the Oscars red carpet telecast a couple of weeks ago, there was one moment during the pre-show that caused a social media uproar: Kristin Cavallari — who rose to reality TV fame after her stints on “Laguna Beach” (Stepheeeen!) and later “The Hills” — was seated on E!’s panel of fashion experts, critiquing couture gowns and giving uninspired commentary, like, “Lupita has been killing it this season.”
The reality star was surrounded by similarly clueless pundits (like Ross Matthews and Kelly Osbourne) until, like a beacon of hope, Harper’s Bazaar Executive Editor Laura Brown joined the roundtable for a few moments of discussion. A collective sigh of relief swept over our Twitter feed: Finally, someone who knows what she’s talking about.
Cavallari — who famously ridiculed her “Laguna Beach” nemesis Lauren Conrad for going to fashion school — never had a particularly remarkable sense of personal style while she was on MTV, yet, starting on Mar. 17, she will be the host of her own fashion-centric show on E! called “The Fabulist.” She’s just the latest in a long line of celebrities turned fashion critics: Rihanna has her own competition show called “Styled to Rock,” “Project Runway” regularly calls upon celebrity guest judges to aid in elimination challenges and Joan Rivers invites famous friends to join in on her “Fashion Police” style-bashing sessions each week.
While watching these shows grow in popularity, I couldn’t help but wonder: What makes these celebrities qualified to be called “fashion experts?” Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but the celebrity critics often take to this public forum to tear down a designer’s work with no concept of the look in a larger context or what went into making the piece. Perhaps this is why red carpet dressing has become more “safe” — it’s rare that a celebrity will make an appearance in a directional piece by Commes des Garçon or Rodarte (read: anything that’s not conventionally “pretty”) because it’s likely that she’ll be ridiculed in the media.
In the age of the fashion blog and social media, everyone has a forum to voice his or her views on the collections, trends and the industry’s key players, and those with clever concepts, a clear point of view and valuable commentary — Style Bubble‘s Susie Lau, The Man Repeller‘s Leandra Medine and Garance Doré, to name a few — have established themselves as the go-tos for opinions on the shows each season. Here at Fashionista, we turn to the old school fashion critics — Robin Givhan, Vanessa Friedman, Tim Blanks — for unbiased, highly educated thoughts on the collections, which reflect their years of reporting on fashion week and the industry at large. But critics of their caliber seem to be a dying breed.
This raises another interesting question: Who, exactly, does the public want to hear fashion criticism from? Celebrities who like fashion and generally look good in clothes? Editors and writers who can comment on fashion within its cultural and historical context? Or just someone who they can relate to? Fashion is a huge aspect of pop culture (and celebrities undoubtedly help brands sell clothes), and while the commentary on these shows is basic at best, their popularity is undeniable. Luckily, those who are hungry for more can head to Style.com or pick up The New York Times to get their fix from a true fashion expert.
I probably won’t be a regular watcher of Cavallari’s new show, but I’m willing to bet that she isn’t going to be the last celebrity to get her own fashion series on cable. Will you be tuning in to see what she has to say?