A Feel for Fashion: José Criales-Unzueta


José Criales-Unzueta, the La Paz, Bolivia-born journalist and Vogue’s fashion news writer, has become one of the industry’s most exciting and engaging voices. His impressions are consistently insightful, freshly considered and equal parts fashion-technical and contextualised within broader cultural pillars. Plus, he’s funny (follow him on Instagram, @eljosecriales). Although he’s in New York during this week of menswear, he’ll be back at the shows “with the girls” soon enough.

What excites you in fashion right now?

I'm most excited about new ideas and designers who are committed to finding novel ways of communicating with the industry and their customers. I recently spoke to Luca Magliano ahead of his turn as guest designer at Pitti Uomo, and he said that maybe the new way of doing things should be going back to the old ways, but with new principles and with today's freedom. That idea has resonated with me, and I'm looking forward to seeing how independent designers can challenge convention and give the big guns a run for their money — literally. 


I'm also excited about finding new ways of communicating about fashion myself. I feel like we reached a new level of saturation in 2023 when it comes to discussing fashion, and this will challenge both publications and independent voices to be more nimble and imaginative in the way they can reach audiences moving forward. It would also be great for all of us to be more discerning. Not everyone needs to tell every story. 


What is one reason to be optimistic about the state of fashion going forward?


Fashion is at its best when it evokes conversation and reflects the world around us. This budding generation of fashion creatives (designers, editors, stylists, etc.) has a lot to say about the state of the industry and the way fashion works today, and I remain optimistic about the fact that many of our current frustrations can and will result in positive change.


I'm also optimistic about the fashion itself. Customers seem to be increasingly more daring when it comes to the way they engage with fashion, thanks in part to the way talking about fashion has become once again as popular as discussing film, music, or sports. Fashion is certainly overexposed in the media, but I think this can have a positive effect when it comes to expanding the definition of what constitutes fashion and style for the people outside of the bubble of the industry. We're seeing it with the way the entertainment industry is currently engaging with fashion, progressively leaning into the more niche and bizarre versus the mainstream and generic.


Who or what will drive the greatest change in fashion this year?


My mindset here is twofold. On one hand, I think that the greatest change in fashion will come from the saturation of conversations around fashion. There's a ton of content out there, and I think that we will see a consumer-led fracture when it comes to algorithm-driven trends and style. Barbie and Quiet Luxury in 2023 felt like a peak in this regard, and I expect. or at least hope, that in 2024 we'll reach an exhaustion point of this kind of Internet-centric trend-cycle and start looking elsewhere. Add on to this the many conversations around personal style we've been having online. 


On the other hand, I think that the state of multi-brand retailing will drive significant change this year when it comes to which brands stay relevant and in circulation, particularly when it comes to independent designers who have built their businesses around wholesale. Many of the smaller designers I've spoken to over the last six months are anxious about what's next as their buys become reduced in scale or accounts close. This feels like an inside-baseball conversation, but will impact how insiders engage with fashion, what we wear, and therefore what everyone else wears and has access to.


What impact might you hope to have on fashion (can be broad or specific)?


My only hope would be to impact how we talk about fashion in a positive way. I've always hoped to share the access I'm lucky enough to have through my work with my community, and it's been a priority of mine since I started at Vogue to share the access I have through work on my own platforms when possible. I also think that fashion says so much about culture and society, and it's always been important for me in my work to find bridges between culture — pop culture, Internet culture, queer culture, or else — and fashion by telling stories that may sometimes feel niche but are nonetheless important. 


Can you suggest a fashion mantra for 2024?


This was the hardest question to answer for some reason. I think that we could all use a little more elegance in our lives, in the way we communicate, dress, and address the world around us, but one must never confuse elegance with snobbery (I think that's a Yves Saint Laurent quote?). But also, I find myself in a defiant mood this year, so make of that what you will. My personal fashion mantra, however, is Diana Vreeland's "the eye has to travel." I think that we could all use some time looking outside of fashion in order to make things inside of it a little more exciting. Too many redux collections and reissues; let's look outwards and forward. 


This interview has been lightly edited.