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Jan 16, 2008
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Press holds its own in US fashion industry

Jan 16, 2008

Penelope Cruz - Roberto Schmidt/AFP
NEW YORK, Jan 16, 2008 (AFP) - Courted by designers and beloved by advertisers, the US press remains a force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry, even if celebrities are increasingly calling the shots.

Having one of your dresses worn by a star on the red carpet at the annual Oscars awards ceremony, for example, can count for more than what fashion editors write about your latest collection, according to industry insiders.

For that reason, the cancellation of this year's Golden Globes ceremony in California due to an ongoing writers strike came as the latest upset for an industry already suffering from falling US sales.

"Hollywood and the fashion industry are worried that the biggest awards show of them all, the Oscars, might be a casualty if the Writers Guild of America strike isn't settled," the influential Women's Wear Daily recently wrote.

An editorial phenomenon for nearly a century, the paper is considered the bible of the fashion industry for its exclusives, trade news, personnel movements and latest launches.

"It is a shame the event was canceled at the last minute, as we have been working on some great dresses with some of our clients", the paper quoted designer Alice Temperley as saying just after the Golden Globes were canceled.

Vanessa Seward, the designer at Azzaro, which last year dressed Hollywood star Kate Winslet for the Globes, told the paper the cancellation of the Globes was "very disappointing."

"For us, these types of events are very important because as a house we are specialized in red-carpet dresses. People in the US really know us because of (these events)," she told Women's Wear Daily.

Eric Hertz, head of the Fashion Institute of Technology, said popular culture was increasingly "a marketing tool for fashion"

"The industry depends on celebrities for advertising markets. It's hugely important for the industry. One hundred celebrities wearing dresses do more for the industry than a critic," he told AFP.

"In some ways fashion coverage has diminished. Fashion is only covered occasionally," he said. "The New York Times is unique, it has a full fashion department," he added.

But he said that Suzy Menkes, famous for her pompadour hairstyle, undoubtedly drew readers to the fashion pages in the International Herald Tribune with her coverage of catwalks from Milan to New York.

Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of American Vogue and the model for Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada," is another towering figure.

"Vogue is still very powerful. It's a global phenomenon," said Hertz.

"Fashion lifestyle has become a concept, designers surround the consumers with products, and it's more than fashion, it becomes a world. Fashion is not just a dress," he added.

Jessica Siegel, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, said celebrities were now more powerful than the US media.

"Everyone who is in fashion wants to have celebrities wear their bags, their pants, their shoes. The media per se are not influential in this country, and criticism of fashion is not influential at all.

"Not the media but celebrities are influential," she said. "Ceremonies like the Golden Globes give the tune, and the media help make it circulate."

But it is not just a one way street. Celebrities who slip up face the prospect of being named by Californian-based former designer Richard Blackwell on his biting annual list entitled "Mr. Blackwell's Ten Worst Dressed Women."

Last year's winner was Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, a Fashion Week regular.

By Paola Messana

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