BRIDGET FOLEY: Executive Editor, Women’s Wear Daily. HOME BASE: New York City. PROVENANCE: Albany and Troy, New York. PAST: “I’ve had a number of different jobs at WWD over the years, but when I was hired here, it was really only my second job.” FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Covering the National Association of Men’s Sportswear Buyers show at the Javits Center as a Manhattan-based fashion editor for California Apparel News. FIRST SHOW: “I don’t remember what my first show was, but I do remember my first season, and I will say that I snuck into Calvin Klein, thank you very much, because I wasn’t invited.”
STEPHEN MOOALLEM: Obviously, Women’s Wear Daily rigorously covers the fashion industry for an audience that has a pretty sophisticated understanding of both fashion and the business. You’re also a critic and columnist. What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in how it all works?
BRIDGET FOLEY: The inherent change is one of the things that is so wonderful about this industry. On one hand, it doesn’t change—the schedule is relentless and rote. If you’re in New York, then you know where you’re going to be on the Thursday and Friday after Labor Day in perpetuity. But in terms of the creativity and the visuals of it, and the new people coming in and shaking things up, it’s exciting . . . Many years ago, I heard an interview with Mr. Fairchild [John Fairchild, the former editorial director and chairman of Fairchild Publications]. He was asked what his role was, and he said, “I’m a reporter.” And that’s what I think of myself as: a reporter. I write primarily for people within the industry. Of course, journalism overall has changed so much over the last decade, and most of traditional media didn’t take the Internet all that seriously at the beginning. It always used to be about the next day’s paper. Now, it’s about the next minute—and when it’s a scoop, you want to be first. But we always have to be very careful not to sacrifice the journalistic responsibility. We have to be first, but we have to be right because we are a journalistic vehicle . . . Then, I’m also a critic, and I write a column, which I really love doing because I get to talk about things beyond the runway and put things into perspective as I see them. But as a critic, the most important thing to me is to be as honest as possible within the time frame allotted for you to prepare a review. Of course, it’s opinion, but designers work for months and months on a collection, and we get back to the office and have somewhere between 45 minutes and two-and-a-half hours to write a review, so it’s very important to me that we’re not cavalier. When you are doing something so intensely and have so little time to do it, the opportunity for hyperbole is perhaps too much there. Especially when you love something—or very much don’t like something.
MOOALLEM: So what, to you, are some of the big, overarching narratives in fashion right now?
FOLEY: Well, I think the biggest one is how social media—and the way that “information” is “delivery of information”—has changed and is continuing to change, and how fashion is responding to that. People are still trying to figure out how to use social media and really make it work for them. Then, globalization is also an enormous issue. The world is an increasingly smaller place, but then you really have to know what you’re doing when you go into China. Right now, we also have the excitement of all of the new talent that has arrived in the last 10 or 15 years—particularly in New York. We haven’t seen that in a while. And the fact that luxury continues to explode. It’s just doing so well at a time when the global economies are not, and that’s a very interesting thing.
MOOALLEM: What does it say to you—that luxury has continued to thrive?
FOLEY: The primary argument is that people want distinctive merchandise. They want special things. They want quality. And people who can afford to pay for it are willing to pay for it. Mass luxury was the working luxury motif of the ’90s, but some brands have now gotten away from their more entry-level, aspirational price points, and really focused on the higher-end consumer. Because of the high-low, there is so much good design available now up and down the chain. But people who want quality want to know, “If I’m spending five figures on a bag, then this bag will last forever.” So luxury isn’t just a word—it’s a very real, tangible concept.
MOOALLEM: Is there anything that you would like to see more of in fashion?
FOLEY: I would like to see the designers have a little more downtime for creative purposes. On the one hand, I think the older I get, the harder it is to get that rush when you see something or to be really swept away. When I see something fabulous—like Rei Kawakubo’s pink triangles last season, for example—consider me swept, you know? But these days, designers just have so much work to do. It is relentless-creativity on demand, as I’ve said before. If you’re going to stay in it, and you’re in New York, then you’ll know what you’ll be doing after Labor Day, in perpetuity. And yet you’ve got to come up with something really exciting and moving . . . Well, I shouldn’t say that, because not everyone does something really exciting or moving, because the other thing that I think is very interesting today is the obsession with brand-building. I understand it on one level, but I think it can hurt creativity. Even 15 years ago, the fashion houses were still houses. That is the most intimate of terms. Coca-Cola and Buick were brands. But there is such pressure now to brand-build and be global and have this sort of all-encompassing image and aura. That’s very difficult. Some designers use it as an opportunity to push their primary lines. I know that Jack [McCollough] and Lazaro [Hernandez, of Proenza Schouler] feel that way. I just saw Jason Wu at the launch of his Miss Wu collection, and he said that it just really gives him the opportunity to have a division between the two collections. But I do think that the brand building is a major difference. Have Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent been brands for a long time? Yes. Did both of those designers brand? Of course they did. But now you have a kid who has been in business for three seasons talking about his brand. When Alexander McQueen was starting out, he wasn’t the wild child in London talking about his brand—he was talking about his work and his craft and pouring all of that emotion into the clothes. I think it’s important not to lose that.