There are plenty of reasons for an arts critic to leave town—say, vacation. OK, OK, all critics should see what’s animating the national conversation from time to time—it can broaden and inform their perspective. But sometimes it feels like The Washington Post‘s reviewers are spending a bit too much time consuming art in other cities, especially New York—this despite the Post‘s 2009 reorientation as a paper focused on politics and local news. With editorial budgets tight and plenty of in-town art that escapes the Post’s eye, we offer this regular series, in which we determine how much of the Post‘s travel budget ought to have gone to an individual review. At one end of the budget spectrum: Acela. At the other: Hitchhiking.
Reviewer on the Road: WaPo fashion critic Robin Givhan in Sunday’s Style section, where she doubles up, reviewing the Cristóbal Balenciaga exhibit at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York and profiling Vogue Italia‘s Franca Sozzani in Milan.
Invoice Argument: For almost a century, Balenciaga has been a staple in the wardrobes of stylish women around the world: fashion icons Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn were fans. Since 1997, the label has gained new relevance under the direction of Nicolas Ghesquière. With his sculptural mini-dresses and pencil-thin leather pants, Ghesquière has cultivated a new clientele of tastemakers including Jennifer Connelly, Kate Moss, and French It Girl Charlotte Gainsbourg. The Balenciaga retrospective has a big-name curator in the form of Hamish Bowles, Vogue‘s European editor at large.
Lots of people talk about the need for more diversity on runways and in the pages of fashion magazines, but Franca Sozzani’s actually doing something about it. With projects like Vogue Black and Vogue Curvy, the editor is challenging the fashion industry’s commonly held perceptions of beauty. And she’s doing it from Italy—home to a mere seven percent immigrant population and the xenophobic Northern League political party—of all places.
Budget Hawk: The Balenciaga exhibition venue is pretty obscure. Sure, folks in D.C. might be willing to daytrip north for a show at MoMA or the Met, but the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute? And Milan! Well, the fact that the cheapest round-trip tickets to the Italian fashion capital’s ring in at about $700—nearly the same price as three round trips on the Acela—speaks for itself.
The Verdict: Acela; coach class. Givhan does some terrific, insightful reporting in both the Balenciaga and Sozzani stories. While the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute seems to largely be championing Balenciaga’s glamorous pedigree, Givhan traces the working-class, utilitarian influences in his collections—making the Spanish designer seem all the more relevant. And her profile of Sozzani is so good that I’ll even forgive semi-ridiculous phrases like “black and brown women, fat girls and obese ones, too.” When Givhan quotes Anna Wintour as saying, “sadly we don’t see as many African American models as we could,” and then goes on to feature Sozzani’s accomplishments in expanding diversity in fashion, you can’t help but think it’s a subtle commentary on the most powerful woman in the industry. And if Givhan pulled double duty in Milan by covering the September fashion shows, well, it’s probably even worth springing for business class.