Suzy Menkes: Singular style, stellar career

Always had a big fashiony crush on Suzy Menkes, until recently the longtime International New York Times (I'm old enough to still call it the Herald Tribune) Fashion Editor, now at Vogue as International Fashion Editor.

She's not the usual fashion editor type: check the map-of-England face, offbeat pompadour ("I got sick of my hair falling in my face") and ample figure.

Menkes, who auctioned off her wardrobe and accessories at Christie's last year, claimed to have discarded nothing since 1964. She was always a big woman; to see her in a Harper's Bazaar slideshow, in four decades of wild chiffons, prints and brocades is to be buoyed by her verve. 

She has said, "Fashion ultimately is designed to cover the human body, to give you joy, to make you feel better", and "...That's what I love, real luxury, the kind of luxury you can feel and smell—I will always spend the extra money to get a silk vest, not a cotton vest."

In preparing her wardrobe for auction (because she ran out of storage space) she said, "...going through my personal collection...taught me a lot about myself... I am an untypical fashion editor, who has totally failed to sculpt a day-to-night wardrobe out of a block of black outfits. And that I love color! Black—who needs it?"

At seventy, Menkes has apparently kept her integrity (she returns or donates designer swag) and heart. After the 2013 Bangladesh garment factory tragedy, she said: "...It's not just about the manufacturers putting money into safer practices, it's about the consumer—we need to realize that it's morally wrong to buy a bikini for the same price as a cappuccino."  

I adore Suzy Menkes for wearing ensembles like these:








She does in fact wear black occasionally, but softened by transparency and texture:


But more often, black is the base for an overlay of vibrant colour in the highest-quality fabrics:


With Menkes' departure and Cathy Horyn's retirement, the New York Times Syle section loses two distinct voices. But we can still read Menkes via Vogue, and here's a treat: her piece on how a present day Cool Girl's wedding dress echoes her '70s Ossie Clark. (Who else can write, "I called up Celia (Birtwell) who, along with Zandra Rhodes, was the greatest hand-printer of them all...").

As 2014 draws to a close, a Menkes-minded New Year's resolution shapes up: to live my elder years with her example of exuberant elegance in mind.   

14 comments

LauraH said...

If fashion is all about expressing yourself through clothing choices, why do all the fashion people look the same? Bravo Suzy Menkes!

Thanks for this pre-Christmas treat.

une femme said...

Though I don't always agree with her opinions, she (and Cathy Horyn) are two of the best and most insightful fashion writers out there. I've always admired that she does her own thing style-wise in a rarefied world that worships a very narrow aesthetic.

Ellena said...

Bravo to your resolution.
Elder years, here she comes!
http://www.advancedstyle.blogspot.ca/
Interesting blog which I follow.

Duchesse said...

LauraH: Thanks, she does look festive- maybe that was in the back of my mind as I wrote this.

Pseu: I'm following Menkes via the Vogue International site but Horyn is harder to find; I read that she retired following the recent death of her partner, Art Ortenberg, last winter. There was one excellent piece in the NYT last summer:
http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/commercialization-of-high-fashion-hedi-slimane-ysl-nicolas-ghesquiere-louis-vuitton/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Sign%20of%20the%20Times&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body&_r=0

Ellena: I dislike most of the ensembles Advanced Style lionizes; see this post:
http://passagedesperles.blogspot.ca/2011/03/50-style-eccentric-elegant-and-space-in.html

C'estChic! said...

Thank you so much for this, Duchesse! I have always admired Ms Menkes, now even more than previously.

frugalscholar said...

A grad school roommate--who looked rather similar to Menkes--adopted a similar look, top knot and all!

I have to say (unrelated to above) that even in photos, you can tell her clothing is very luxe.

lagatta à montréal said...

I'm not really in the fashion magazine loop: I always read Marie-Claire (the original one from France) when it was a quality publication combining fashion and serious women's subjects. So I've never heard of her. It is good to see that she has prospered in such a "catty" (says lagatta) field despite breaking the mould that insists on middle-aged fashion editors as gaunt as teenage models.

I love the purple coat and the "black" ensemble that reads more as smokey grey and almost purple, though that could be my monitor. Do not like the last coat, but that's none of my business.

She does have an anyone's mum English face, but she also has the legendary beautiful English skin. And was spot on about Rana Plaza. The only problem is that there are higher-priced goods that are also made in sweatshops.

I was happy to re-read the Advanced Style post: so many thoughtful comments!

Araminta said...

Suzy was in the year following mine at my Cambridge college and she was an original dresser even then, when none of us had any money. I've always admired her unabashed enjoyment of fashion. She published a book on royal jewels early on which spoke to her love of rich glowing colours.

Wendelah said...

Menkes sounds (and looks!) like an amazing woman. I will make an effort to read her columns. As a woman of size who enjoys wearing colors, it's good to know I'm not alone in that preference. O.T.: What I admire about the Advanced Style women is their originality, their risk-taking, and their use of fashion as performance art. They're fearless individualists in a society which still insists on judging how women present themselves, even more so as they age.

Janice Riggs said...

Suzy walked the line between exuberance and eccentricity with a deftness rarely seen - you could tell she was born to be a fashion writer! Thanks so much for reminding me of her singular coolness!
hugs,
Janice

Madame Là-bas said...

I just looked at the slideshow of Suzy's wardrobe through the decades. Her fashion choices are so bright and joyful. she looks like a lady who enjoys her clothes.

tess said...

Lovely, joyful expressions on this lady's face and in her choice of clothes.

Tish Jett said...

Back in the day when Suzy took over from Hebe Dorsey at the Herald Tribune, I have been -- let's be frank -- a total groupie.

In fact, I once told her so at a cocktail party in Paris.

The way she writes about fashion is absolutely brilliant. She manages to create a new vocabulary for writing about clothes. She should, and probably will, go down in the annals of fashion history as one of the all-time greats.

It was such a pleasure to read about her here.

Thank you, thank you.

Duchesse said...

All: Those who have met her (Araminta, Tish) have my eternal envy. Isn't she a treasure? In a field full of hype, bald lies and superficiality, her discernment, heart and authenticity shine forth.