It's not easy being a fashion critic (or any other critic for that matter) in this day and age. The Internet has unequivocally provided us with a universal platform for anyone who's anyone, the freedom to express their thoughts, opinions and—more commonly now—false truths, all while having the seemingly impenetrable anonymity of a screen name.
Everyone has an opinion and everyone has the right to present those opinions to an audience of their choosing. But in an arena where elements of craft, taste and knowledge intertwine so tightly such as in fashion, these opinions are not always based on a combination of all three. As subjective as fashion is, there's always somewhat of a consensus when something is deemed 'stylish', or at the very least, 'tasteful'.
Pierre Alexandre M'Pelé has managed to cut through the noise and has become the source of fashion information for a crowd that's hungry for knowledge, but also with a short attention span. Under the moniker of @pam_boy on Instagram, M'Pelé has gained popularity for his brutal honesty, revealing insider secrets (through screenshots of anonymous Instagram direct messages) and educating followers on all things fashion.
It's the fashion reviews the Central Saint Martins graduate puts out every fashion week season on Instagram Stories that have become his trademark. Taking screenshots of an entire collection from Vogue Runway, M'Pelé breaks down each look with not words, but emojis. And they're not just restricted to the standard everyday emojis too. For example, M'Pelé uses the volcano emoji to denote a look that's 'super hot', the corn emoji for a look that's 'corny' and the tornado emoji for the ones that has him 'blown away'. As it stands, the index for his emoji reviews contains at least 30 of these picture characters.
But who's M'Pelé away from @pam_boy? And what does he really think about the fashion industry, some of its designers and his cult following? We speak to the Paris-born, French-speaking fashion critic in a more traditional format.
The raison d'être of a fashion critic
"The role of a fashion critic is to analyse and digest fashion and to feed it to the people because it's often not so easy to translate what a fashion designer wants to say or wants to convey with their clothes. I think a good fashion critic is someone who can understand the current zeitgeist and is able to translate the work of a fashion designer into words for people to understand where we are as a society."
Creating his trademark
"I think it was after I graduated from Central Saint Martins. I was already writing on Instagram and gained a little bit of traction. But when Instagram Stories launched, I had to find a way to adapt to people's attention span because Instagram Stories are so short. It was kind of like an epiphany to me: "If I'm not going to use words, what can I use? I'm going to use symbols. What symbols?" And then I realised that we use emojis all day and everyone uses that universal language."
Launching his own publication
"Instagram is not sustainable; we're always looking for the next big thing and it's very ephemeral. So to me having a publication that's kind of grounded would allow me to be saner, first of all, mentally. And also to not rely on online because within social media platforms, there's always the idea that things are never meant to last, including someone's popularity. It was really important to start SCRNSHT to also show that what I do online is only a little bit of what I can offer to the industry."
Being himself while writing for other publications
"The people who ask me to write for them know what they're going to get from me. I make it very clear because I don't want any sort of conflict of interests between magazines and the brands that they might work for. I get a lot of freedom which is great, and I try not to think about the different relationships that might play in the background between brands and people involved in the magazines I write for. So if I really want to say something, I'm going to say it."
On this one-liner while reviewing the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2020 men's collection: "Abloh has a team of tailors that can make great stuff."
"My reviews have to be fair. There's one thing, which is the creative side, and there's also the technical side. Virgil Abloh's work might be crap or might not be as interesting as we might want it to be, and that's also an opinion, because they work with amazing people who work super hard and some of them work in fashion for all of their lives. Something might not be the right vision, but the execution might be good, so to me it's always trying to find that balance as well.
"I don't want to be someone who's going to shoot a gun at everyone and at every target. I think it would be quite unnecessary; it would make me feel like I'm Diet Prada or something. (laughs) There's always more behind what we see. And that's what I try to uncover to the best of my abilities."
Can a fashion critic also have favourites?
"I'm a fashion critic but I'm also a human being. But the thing is, I'm always open about this. I love Chanel and I love Karl; don't even listen to me when I review them. (laughs) I'm very open and upfront about this, which a lot of journalists aren't. Because I know journalists who write press releases for brands and then they review those brands for other magazines. And they don't necessarily advertise that connection between them and the brands.
"You're going to get my opinions and my critiques, but if you want something impartial, don't come for me when it comes to some brands. I want to be very clear about who I like as well. It's great for me to have a lot of followers but I feel that me speaking in a very honest way to my audience is the most important thing."
Having Marc Jacobs as a fan
"I think Marc saw my Instagram—one of my reviews—and then we just started chatting. We both realised that we love fashion. I haven't met someone who loves fashion the way he loves fashion. And to me, that was really something because at the end of the day, we're all on the same boat—we're all in this industry, we love fashion and we all love to dress up. So for me to meet someone of his status who supports me, on the basis of we both love fashion, I think that's tremendous."
His thoughts on LVMH creating a luxury fashion brand for Rihanna
"It feels as if it's a test—creating a brand from just the fame of a celebrity—for a world where we wouldn't need fashion designers anymore. Because when you really think about it, LVMH promoting this is LVMH trying to erase the creativity in the process and focus on the profits. I have a big issue about this. And the clothes are not even good. (laughs) So it's a bit of a situation."
What the fashion industry should do better on
"Equality and inclusivity and sustainability. Only because we just have to do better. It shouldn't even be a fight anymore. It should literally just be the norm. I feel like the luxury and the fashion industry speaks to everyone, and they're very happy to take everyone's money so they should be able to represent everyone as well. And not just on the façade. I need more female CEOs, more female executives and more people of colour in the boardroom; everyone needs to be involved. It's just the way we will progress.
"And sustainability, only because it just makes sense. Fashion can never be fully sustainable because it's an industry. I don't want this idea that we can be 100 percent sustainable; it's completely false. But we should do as much as we can."
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