Before the tea, a well-dressed, bespectacled man scanned the crowd before taking his reserved seat in the front row. I half-expected Scott Schuman of “The Sartorialist” to pop out from behind the Beinecke’s glass tower of rare books to snap a photo of his ensemble, a tasteful navy suit mixed with a striped shirt and flowery tie in bright watermelon hues.
This was Tuesday’s Master’s Tea with Andre Leon Talley, Vogue editor. And this man was Eric Gaskins, ruthless critic.
As Talley later informed us, Gaskins is a friend, a former designer who now authors the fashion blog “The Emperor’s Old Clothes” that has garnered attention for its ruthless dissection of the fashion industry. The site’s mascot is a hissing hairless cat, fangs bared in an expression of extreme kitty displeasure.
The slogan? “A cold blooded, no holds barred, unapologetic take on the glamorous underbelly of fashion.”
Under the alias “Fluff Chance” — that would be the first pet/first street stripper version of his name — Gaskins rips on everything from fashion-focused reality TV shows to Scott Schuman’s (a.k.a. the “Snotorialist’s”) inability to take a compliment. But, while Gaskins can be biting, there’s a catch: This isn’t cheap, sweeping criticism meant to goad industry members and elicit nothing more substantial than a high hit count. His posts are long, thoughtful and level-headed. In an industry where idol-worship can reach formidable heights, with fashion fans fawning over the designers and editors that they’re supposed to like, Gaskins’ brutal honesty is a much-needed slap in the face.
Case in point: On the fervor caused by Michelle Obama’s Narciso Rodriguez dress at her husband’s election, Gaskins wrote, “For God’s sake……IT’S ONLY A DRESS.”
Talley told the crowd that he checked Gaskins’ blog every morning to see what he had to say about the latest fashion news, despite the fact that Gaskins once wrote an acidic post about “America’s Next Top Model,” a television show on which Talley now participates as a judge. Gaskins was one of only a handful of Talley’s fashion friends who attended the tea; if his presence indicates anything, it’s that fashion can take a little internal criticism. A love of fashion doesn’t have to make a person a glassy-eyed sheep.
Midway through the tea’s Q&A, a question was asked from the back of the room. Stylish bodies twisted in their seats to see the speaker. After a series of uncharged questions for Talley, one student got into a verbal tussle with the editor over the apparently boring nature of American Vogue. She felt the magazine was too safe. He asked which publications she thought were “cutting edge” and he called her up to the front of the class to see if what she was wearing was “cutting edge.”
He decided it was.
The room buzzed with comments, snorts of disbelief at the speaker’s gall. ALT had asked us earlier if we were having fun. Well, now we were. A little bit of controversy woke the crowd up — can you imagine questioning Vogue’s legitimacy to a renowned editor who easily clears 6 feet 5 inches? Verbal brawls are always good for a cheap laugh, but more intriguing was the way that Talley engaged in this critical conversation. In his position, it would be easy to fall into an assumption of authority. As with his interest in hearing Gaskins’ honest opinion about the fashion industry, Talley seemed to want to work through this student’s criticism of Vogue, the de facto fashion bible for the American woman.
The two decided to finish their discussion later. I wish they’d continued it then and there.