Interview by Filep Motwary
In recent years, Mickey Boardman – or Mr Mickey if you prefer – has made a reputation for himself as one of the most important fashion critics behind Paper magazine serving as editorial director and advice columnist. Through a Skype conversation, just before Paris Fashion Week emerges, we try to make a better sense of the industry that so many people serve for many different reasons and in so many different ways.
Filep Motwary: How long now have you been in Paper Magazine already?
Mickey Boardman: 24 years.
FM: You went to Milan, London, now you’re back in New York and tomorrow you’ll go to Paris. Until now, how was New York fashion week and what inspired you most from the London and Milan fashion shows so far?
MB: The things that really stuck with me weren’t necessarily about the clothes. What I really loved was more the presentation, showbiz and pop culture. In London, I was completely obsessed with Anya Hindmarch and Charlotte Olympia, both joyful shows on so many levels. These kinds of shows make you feel good about fashion; you feel glamorous and expensive. In Milan I loved Philipp Plein. Some people don’t necessarily take him seriously, but his SS17 show was fabulous. Again, it was so much fun, very Italian but also something very American about it. I mostly look for inspiration and excitement. All the people I just described are different from each other, but they all put on a show – especially now that we’re in such a weird time in fashion.
FM: How do you mean?
MB: We’re in a time of transition, people say “Print is dead”, “It’s all about the Internet”, “It’s all about see now buy now”, but then some people don’t want to do ‘see now, buy now ’. I feel like we’re also in a shift in terms of the people who’ve run magazines in America. For example, Anna Wintour has been there for 30 years. What people need from magazines today is totally different from what people needed from magazines 30 years ago. I think there are a few people that are adapting and doing different things in print, and that’s why they’re getting attention. But it’s like we still haven’t really made that change over.
You can compare it to fashion shows – do we really need to have fashion shows? People can see a live feed; do they really need to be there? Personally, I think it’s an amazing experience to be at a fashion show and it’s an important valid thing, but on another level you can also make convincing arguments about why brands should save the money and not do it. But who knows what works best. I do feel like we’re at this very time where people don’t know what they should do and people are trying different things. Burberry did the ‘see now, buy now’, Tommy Hilfiger tried it and Ralph Lauren also joined the movement. I think we’re at a doubtful time where people are thinking, what works best for my business? People are trying to figure things out, which can be scary for many people, but it’s also very exciting.
FM: How do you justify excitement? Twenty years ago it meant something different than today. Do you strive for complexity in fashion, for example?
MB: I hate the idea of trends and doing something based on what everybody’s doing. However, I do, at the end of each season, write a report of what I saw that I thought was important for us and about what I thought that wasn’t necessarily important for us, but was happening a lot. Like last season at Balenciaga there were a lot of those floral dresses and there was a lot of 80s club stuff (Marc Jacobs or Saint Laurent). So, we kind of look at that and then also at something like Gypsy Sport, which I think is the best of New York, and Hood by Air, which is something you don’t really get in other cities, because it’s super diverse. It’s urban and up the street and for some reason that’s something what New York has that other people don’t have. Generally speaking, I feel like we’re at a place where people are so tired of the lack of diversity on runways. You can look at some places now where you see great diversity, but there are also many other places that still don’t have this and you see a million white girls looking exactly the same. That’s old and boring, I think. So, in terms of what we’re looking for, part of it is inspiration.
Marc Jacobs is always a big inspiration in New York.
FM: Mickey, how has your observing process changed through the years?
MB: When I started, my first fashion show was Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis – not the Grunge collection, sort of a picnic themed collection, around 1990 or something like that. At this point in time there were not that many people attending a fashion show. It was a small group of fashion professionals and the pictures were only published in the magazines months after the show. Whereas now, there can be a show anywhere and you see it immediately on social media. Twitter, Instagram, Instagram Stories, people are snapchatting the finale and you instantly see the whole show. So the thing that has changed about that is that it has made the pace a lot higher. Everybody that cares about fashion has seen it by the time we’re still Instagramming about it. This is part of a big change that has happened with the ‘see now, buy now’ in fashion. By the time something was available in stores, people were already sick of it.
For example the Moschino show, I was there, I was Instagram storying the Moschino show, everyone who is obsessed with the brand and Jeremy Scott were watching the live feed, my Instagram, Jeremy’s Instagram, watching all the fashion front-row people. They see it all and they love it and they could run out the next day to buy the phone case and sweatshirts. Jeremy was a real pioneer in the ‘see now, buy now’ thing, in a great way. But the downside of it all is that for example Vogue Runway and Business of Fashion – the people who cover the shows – have to go crazy to get the pictures up immediately before the reviews. And I think that the review people now have to turn their texts in within three hours. It’s crazy to imagine that posting a review six hours after the show is seen as late.
FM: But who’s counting time?
MB: I guess fashion fans and the people who want to see it. We’re always in a race to be the first, I think that in a way it used to be with fashion that you were either the first one to write about something, or to announce some kind of thing, and then it shifted into being the first one to show the pictures or the first one to get that look to shoot. But I do feel like some people are stepping back from this fast pace, which is a good thing, I think.
FM: I think now everybody is a little more comfortable with the straightforward act of taking a photo during a show and posting it online as an act of claiming presence, or being part of something that many people don’t have access to – compared to the more mysterious act of looking at the show. What has this new era of digital response taken away from the romance of fashion? Is there space for romance today in fashion?
MB: I totally think there’s place for romance in fashion, I love romance of all kinds and I think we need it. The question is, in a way, can romance be democratic? Because it’s not that the romance is necessarily taken away, it’s just that it’s accessible to more people. When I first was on Facebook, I became friends with a guy from Belgrade and it turned out that he knows more about fashion than I do. He knows all the fashion shows and he knows who was on the cover of Italian Vogue, who shot it, styled it, etc. To me, this showed that you could live anywhere in the world, whether it’s in Bangkok or on a farm in Nebraska, as long as you have Internet service you can know what’s going on in fashion.
On a certain level this, I think, is threatening to other people. I just read Susie Bubble on Twitter talking/complaining, not really complaining, but not being happy about an article that said to keep the bloggers out.
FM: I would also like to discuss gender with you. Now, more than ever before, it’s no longer as objective, and it’s impartial when it comes to the way designers work or how it is presented in their shows. What is your view on this matter?
MB: Again, this in a way goes back to what I was saying about being in Paper for 24 years. When I started, I perhaps had a very progressive attitude or a progressive idea about gender, being gay, wearing women’s clothing as I did at the time. And now, 24 years later, kids are brought up in a different way and have a totally different way of thinking about it. That’s why I think it’s so critical to hear how young people think and to work with young people, because gender is not really a big deal to them.
Every brand is different, as well. JW Anderson, for example, has a totally different approach to gender – it’s not a man wearing a woman’s blouse. That’s just how people think. Not thinking about whether something is male/female is amazing; I think anything that breaks down those old stereotypes that separated or constricted people is great. There are the well-known independent magazines doing things online in that realm, and I think that’s what kids want to see and that’s how they think.
FM: What is your view on diversity in fashion? I was shocked how people reacted on the Marc Jacobs show. When did society become so hypersensitive and why?
MB: Another, more extreme example is Ashish, who showed in London. He is Indian and lives in London. His show was very Indian, the music, the clothes, and still people criticized about cultural appropriation. But, I mean, it’s his culture, so how could he appropriate what he is part of? I think that’s ridiculous. The bigger problem is – also what you mentioned with Marc Jacobs – it’s not even about having a different opinion about it, because people are always going to have different opinions, but it’s the nastiness and the attacks and the way that this has kind of become a norm on the Internet.
People can’t have an intelligent discussion about anything on the Internet; it’s impossible to have a real political discussion in the Facebook comment section.
FM: It becomes like a tree where every leave is a different opinion and you can’t really get out if you’re a bird, you’re just trapped there.
MB: Yes, we’ve forgotten how to have a discussion with someone who has a different opinion – in society in large. And it’s so important for us to have a discussion with someone who has a different opinion than we do, because that’s how you understand where people are coming from. I do think cultural appropriation is a bad thing and I understand why people could be sensitive about it. I’m from an older generation; to me it’s obvious that, for example wearing some Native American regalia would be cultural appropriation.
Despite the fact that Native American dress is a fabulous inspiration for a fashion story, I can see why people would be upset about a white person wearing one. I understand that. Whereas certain other things I feel different about. That’s why I think it’s important to have a dialogue with people – particularly people whose culture is being appropriated. What we need to understand is where things come from, what is the motivation. Is someone knowingly doing it?
We all have things that we are personally more engaged with and thus we feel more sensitive about, but I just wish for people to be more constructive about it and to talk about things with an open mind as opposed to just going right to the dark place and insulting someone who did something you disagree with.
FM: Wouldn’t you agree that this cultural appropriation takes away the magic? For example, remember Galliano’s shows back in the days for Dior, or McQueen’s shows, or how long the shows of Yamamoto were, because there was a whole ritual behind them. You would see so many cultures blended in one show, different characters. Remember Galliano’s Couture collection for Dior Fall 2000?
MB: In a way artists can be very naïve and very insensitive. And I don’t mean that in a bad way necessarily. You know the Marina Abramovic situation, where she said “Aboriginal people look like dinosaurs,” which to me isn’t insulting, but I could see why FASHION NEEDS ROMANCE people got upset by other things she said. I think artists approach things from a very cosmetic, superficial kind of way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insinuating they’re not thinkers, but if you approach something as an artist, you’re looking at how it looks. Choices that are made can then easily offend people who don’t think in this same way. Hopefully, talking about these things in the end is good, because we don’t want people to be offended and we don’t want people to feel like their culture is taken advantage of.
Most of human history is people taking things from other cultures, literally and figuratively – whether it’s taking money or whether it’s doing Couture shows inspired by the pharaohs. That needs to be recognized. Not that every fashion show needs to be a payback of all the cultural wrongs of our forefathers, but a constructive intelligent conversation needs to be hold instead of attacks on each other.
FM: Moving into a different kind of direction, is fashion now living a moment of excess or not?
MB: I think we’re in a place of extremes now in the world. To me, paying a thousand dollars for a handbag would be so shocking, but now, if you want to get a great handbag, you almost can’t get anything for less. On the one hand the H&M’s and the Zara’s and those type of fast fashion chains are on the rise, but on the other hand the most luxurious of the most luxurious are doing well also, because the super rich will always be super rich and will never care about the costs. I think, as I mentioned, we’re in a time of change.
People are really stopping and thinking, “Is it worth to spend ten million dollars on this fashion show?” Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. I think what especially needs to catch up is how people think about the environment and the sustainability and cruelty of fashion. Other than Stella McCartney, in terms of high fashion, nobody really thinks about this. Not thinking about these issues seems really wrong and old, and kind of gross in a way. I think it’s wasteful and not thoughtful, it’s a very negative side of fashion.
FM: In my show Haute-à-Porter, at the Modemuseum of Hasselt Belgium that just ended, I tried to investigate the line between Haute Couture and Prêt-à-Porter. Simultaneously with the release of my book, filled with conversations I had with the likes of Yamamoto, Rick Owens or Valerie Steele, I tried to investigate if there’s actually a difference today between Haute Couture and Prêt-à-Porter. If we compare it to how it was in the past, how it all started with Charles Worth and then how it flourished in the 50s after the WWII, what represented Haute Couture somehow still represents it today, but then we have Prêt-à-Porter, that has overcome itself. Think of brands like Burberry that were once known for their trench coats and how today they deliver wonderful embroidered womenswear and more complexity into their designs. Gucci is also a great example.
MB: I feel like Couture means that you have a lot of fittings, you know what I mean. Whereas Prêt-à-Porter you buy off the rack, and yes you’ll have it customized in the sense that you have alterations and things done, but there’s a bit of a blurring line in that. Real Couture is custom made, just for you, and I think there’s always going to be a market for that. Same as there will always be a market for Rolls Royce cars or Maserati’s, or the most expensive penthouse. Maybe part of the democratization of fashion, how everyone can see the Chanel Couture show, has raised the standards of people.
I’m not sure, but seeing the beautiful details and techniques of Couture has maybe made people hungry and does set the bar higher for what the ready-to-wear companies have to make. However, I do think that there will always be Couture. It’s the same as people that say, “Print is dead.” People have been saying, “Couture is dead” for a long time as well, and it’s still here.
FM: Who do you think is responsible for the over decoration of the collections today?
MB: I don’t know, but I would like to thank him because I love it! I think people love shiny, luxurious looking things. I feel like, in the end, we all want to look fabulous and a very easy, obvious way to do that is with decoration, with sparkle, with fur, with animal skin, things like that – the old indicators of expensiveness.
I think that might be part of it, brands make what people are going to buy. People don’t buy it if they stop making it. On the other hand, if nobody wants an overly decorated top, then Burberry won’t make an overly decorated top. It’s funny because on the one hand we’re wearing sweat pants and t-shirts and at the same time we’re constantly looking at people in gowns and tuxedos at award shows on TV or on red carpet events or fashion shows. Those things get more and more extreme, it seems like the average person is getting more and more dumpy dressed compared to them.
FM: Is it possible that what you see in a show might argue with what you know? I mean if, for example, there is a designer who starts a prospective you don’t like, but you might really respond to the work in the moment.
MB: Absolutely. The thing I appreciate most in a fashion show, designer or brand is a very strong, heartfelt point of view. So, the favorite thing that I personally respond to, is not based on what’s right for the magazine or the movement that is happening in fashion. It is happy, colorful and sparkling. I love Missoni, Ashish… I love those things that are very overly happy, fabulous and shiny. However, brands like Comme de Garçons, Rick Owens or Iris van Herpen, are brands that are not my personal aesthetic, yet I still love them. Despite a different point of view, I love it and they are able to sell it to me, even if it’s not my style. I’m a clown, I’m never going to be a vampire, but I can really appreciate a good vampire look. Same with Michael Kors, Jill Sander, Marni – I love them.
There are a lot of brands that are, I would say, intellectual or ‘simple’, and people expect Paper to only love Comme de Garçons – which we do, but we also appreciate these other brands that have different things. To me, the joy of fashion is that on a day in Italy you can go from Gucci to Philipp Plein, to Max Mara and to Moschino, you can see all different things. In Paris you go from Dior to Comme de Garçons to Balmain, all extremely different, but all valid. That’s why I think it’s a shortcoming when people are comparing brands that are so different. These brands are amazing in their own way and I don’t think any should be discounted. If something is very wearable, does that mean it’s less fabulous than something that is a total artistic creation, which no one can really wear out of the house? No, I think they both need to be valued in their own manners.
Boardman was raised in Hanover Park, Illinois and graduated from Purdue University in 1989 with a degree in Spanish. After school, he spent a year in Madrid, Spain teaching before moving to New York City to study fashion design at The Parsons School of Design. Since 1993, he has written the advice column “Ask Mr. Mickey” in PAPER Magazine. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Out and German Vogue. Boardman is an active commentator on the New York social/fashion scene and appears as a cultural commentator, lifestyle expert and fashion guru for networks like VH-1, A & E, CNN, Style Channel, E! and Fox News. Boardman was recognized as one of New York magazine’s “Most Photographed Faces in New York” and voted by Fashion Week Daily as one of the most-invited people. Boardman has been featured in magazines and books like Smile i-D: Fashion & Style, 20 years of I-D Magazine, Simon Doonan’s Eccentric Glamour, Contrast Magazine and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Look: Portraits Backstage at Olympus Fashion Week. Also a philanthropist, Boardman has been active in many charitable efforts including Mr. Mickey’s Sidewalk Sale, Doctors Without Borders, Coalition for the Homeless and Red Cross earthquake relief for Haiti and Chile. Boardman is a dedicated supporter of Citta, a charity that builds schools, clinics and women's cooperatives in India and Nepal.