Aged just 19, UCC student Paul McLauchlan has covered London Fashion Week a dozen times, and his work has been featured everywhere from Italian Vogue to The New York Times. Here he tells how he broke into fashion writing at 13.
There aren’t many 13-year-olds who swap conjugating Irish verbs for London Fashion Week but I was one of them.
Biannually, I ditched secondary school for a few days to attend one of the busiest trade shows in fashion.
It wasn’t difficult to persuade my parents, believers in self-expression in the purest form, as they understood this was something I was passionate about and, more importantly, they wanted to help make my dream come true.
Having seen The Devil Wears Prada, like many, I was fascinated by the inner workings of the fashion industry and I yearned to be a fashion designer.
As time passed, I realised fashion design wouldn’t be for me. The associated pressure and endless hours didn’t appeal to me. What did? It was fashion writing.
I founded Paulidoodles in 2011, a now-defunct red carpet fashion website which had amassed over 250,000 unique visitors when I ceased publication. After two years covering red carpets around the globe, I started Sanguine Style as a new platform to express my opinions primarily on runway shows.
When I went to LFW in 2013, it wasn’t my first time at the event: The previous year, I was on holiday with my family in London, and the trip coincided with the trade event. Back then, it was no more than people-watching. But in February 2013, I returned to attend the shows, accompanied by my engineer father on a whistle-stop trip to see three shows.
And so began almost six years of travelling across the pond on early-morning flights to witness what designers had to offer for the season ahead. I emailed PR companies to request invites.
This doesn’t mean I get everything I apply for (on average, the success rate is about half). Gaining access is one of the toughest aspects of a fashion week. (Even when I wasn’t invited I would stand outside some fashion show venues equipped with a DSLR, snapping the pristinely-clad industry insiders. It was very much a personal project, an appreciation of the characters I admired.)
When I returned I would write reports about shows on Sanguine Style, offering my two cents on the latest collections.
For years, I have read the likes of The Cut’s Cathy Horyn, The New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman, Washington Post’s Robin Givhan, and Christina Binkley (formerly of The Wall Street Journal), essentially studying their work, scanning for clues to find out how to convey fashion beyond what’s seen on the surface.
This would transform into my own fashion criticism, delving deeper into the meaning of the clothing I saw on catwalks and decoding them.
In September, I traded college lectures for LFW once again. My 12th time attending, the workload proliferated to 34 shows.
This meant long days of pinballing from one side of London to the other in under an hour and writing on-the-go. I reported on a coterie of emerging talents for Vogue Italia online and the rest will appear in various upcoming freelance projects and in criticisms published on Sanguine Style.
Some of the more striking ones? Greek designer Mary Katrantzou’s 10th-anniversary show at the Roundhouse in Camden, Wexford-born Richard Malone’s interplay between high and low with couture styles and 1990s sensibilities, and Gareth Pugh’s homage to the late Judy Blame, an extravagant display of London club culture.
LFW has proved to be a great networking platform. Over the years, I have introduced myself to Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue. It’s long been rumoured that Meryl Streep’s turn as the callous Miranda Priestly, editor of the fictional Runway, in The Devil Wears Prada is based on Ms Wintour. However, to me, she appeared shy but pleasant.
In general, the fashion industry I know — albeit geographically removed from it — is quite the opposite of The Devil Wears Prada. In fact, my experiences at LFW and with editors on freelance projects have been underscored by dignity, respect, and politeness. Of course, there is the ever-churning rumour mill, but reducing fashion to just gossip is farcical. Most of the time, people are curious to hear from the 19-year-old from Cork.
LFW is great but, undoubtedly, the highlight of my career thus far has been contributing to The New York Times. In April 2018, I pitched an article about fashion’s involvement with the Repeal the 8th campaign here in Ireland to their fashion director Vanessa Friedman. She paired me with their London correspondent, Elizabeth Paton. Together we reported on different aspects of the story and it was published on the eve of the landmark referendum vote.
I interviewed the fashion designer Richard Malone and founder of The Hunreal Issues, Andrea Horan, for the piece. My second article for The New York Times arrived on newsstands in September. It spotlighted the debut of sustainable watch brand, Baume.
I’m often asked, “Why fashion? Isn’t that just glamorous frocks and glossy manes?” My response is simple: I strongly believe in the power of fashion. Nobody is exempt from it, not even naturalists. In choosing what we wear — or don’t — we communicate a version of ourselves to the world. Even if someone says, “Oh, I just threw this on” — it’s still a conscious decision.
I’m fascinated when fashion designers reflect the world around us, whether they are talking about the changing face of gender constructs or commenting on the role of women at a time when politics is fraught with narratives like that of Christine Blasey Ford accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both teenagers. These things have a trickle-down effect on the way fashion is perceived.
Like film, music, or literature, it acts as a mirror to the times. It’s an intriguing time to write about fashion.
Furthermore, it’s a multi-trillion euro industry which outpaces automobiles, fast-food, and video-games. Imagine if we devoted the same time to the business of fashion on the news as we did to sport.
Another recurring question I get is “what should I be wearing next season?” It’s a tough one I usually leave unanswered. I could say, ‘I don’t care.’ It’s true, I don’t.
People often fear when they meet me and I tell them what I do that I will judge their outfit or their personal style but what I do isn’t about criticising an individual’s dress, rather it’s about evaluating the messages designers are trying to communicate to us, the spectators, the consumers.
To answer your question, what should you wear for Spring/Summer 2019? Whatever you want.
What happens during the off-season after New York, London, Milan, and Paris have passed? Well, it’s always fashion week somewhere. Tokyo. Shanghai. Seoul. Copenhagen. Moscow. Kiev. You name it, there’s probably a fledgling fashion week there, and I hope to make it there someday. Not to mention menswear, haute couture, and the pre-season collections. It’s an endless cycle of fashion shows which makes opportunities for content fruitful.
It must be admitted, I don’t foresee an Irish fashion week emerging in the near future since we export most of our talent to London — Richard Malone, Simone Rocha, etc.
But there are names to worth supporting domestically: Natalie B. Coleman is a formidable presence on the Irish fashion scene with compelling, feminist designs; Blaithin Ennis is a jewellery designer from Wexford, endeavouring to make fine jewellery accessible; and there is the sustainably-minded wunderkind, Alla Sinkevich who recently graduated from the National College of Art & Design in Dublin.
Aside from fashion writing, I, like most other teenagers, attend college. I’m a first year at University College Cork studying arts with English, French, politics, and art history. I pass afternoons around Cork city —I’m typically found in Soma Coffee Company, the Crawford Art Gallery, or at home working on college assignments — and evenings at parties or in bed by 10pm.
Fashion Week provides an escape from the normality but I thoroughly enjoy the humdrum of daily life after an intense blast of shows, writing, and travelling.
My aim is continue freelance writing and keeping my personal blog with a view to one day climbing the ranks at a newspaper or magazine in London or New York, but the future is unpredictable and that’s thrilling in itself.
I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
Paul McLauchlan is a fashion critic and freelance writer based in Cork.