John Binder has a bone to pick with his fellow fashion
John Binder has a bone to pick with his fellow fashion chroniclers. “Mostly their attitude is you can be with us, but you have to believe all the things that we believe,” he said. “If you don’t, you’re just not chic enough for us.”
From the vantage of a professional outlier, and ultraconservative at that, he may not be far off the mark.
You won’t find Mr. Binder in the front row of the season’s hottest shows, gushing over the sometimes kinky collections of star brands including Alexander Wang or Marc Jacobs. Nor is he likely to get much love from the left-leaning fashion establishment.
He routinely heaps accolades on the high-profile personalities that style-world insiders, at least privately, tend to scorn. Chief among them is the first lady, whom Mr. Binder exalts as a role model for ordinary American women.
Nicole Kidman, who, in his phrase, “rocked Hollywood” with her vocal postelection support for Donald Trump, gets similar treatment, soaring to the top of Mr. Binder’s best-dressed list. She “stunned” at the Emmy awards, he writes, “in a red gown cut at the ankle with the most exquisite silver roping around the neckline.”
He reserves his barbs for the likes of Jane Fonda, ”the leftist actress,” who “in a faux, Beyoncé-esque ponytail looked like she had developed a classic case of ‘trying to be a teeny-bopper.’ Give it up, Jane.” Samantha Bee, “liberal Hollywood’s talk show darling,” fared no better, pretty much a train wreck, Mr. Binder writes, “a leprechaun in her shoulder-padded, emerald green ensemble.”
For Mr. Binder, 25, delivering tart commentary is all in a day’s work. He is the fashion critic for Breitbart News.
Yes, Breitbart has a fashion critic (!), a man who by his own account is uniquely cut out for the job. Mr. Binder has been following his twin passions, fashion and politics, since his student days at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La. His professors were all too predictably liberal, he said in a phone conversation last week. Which left Mr. Binder, a contrarian by nature, to take an opposing position. “The university turned me into a total right-winger,” he said.
All the same, he remained enthralled by the celebrity culture that spoke to his more progressive peers. “I loved music, the whole punk rock era, all of those things,” he recalled, such attractions all the more compelling to a boy with a nose perpetually pressed to the glass.
“I don’t live this grand fabulous lifestyle,” said Mr. Binder, who was reared in Slidell, La., near New Orleans, the youngest of eight siblings in a family of moderate means. “I don’t come from a place of growing up in a grand apartment in the West Village, from a place of having the same opinion as everyone else.”
His opinions, as might be expected, are in line with those of his employer. At its founding a decade ago, Breitbart dedicated its ideologically right-leaning coverage to celebrity culture. “One of our governing principles,” said Alex Marlow, the site’s editor in chief, “is that culture is upstream from politics. Meaning that the culture in influencing our political climate more than our political climate is influencing the culture.”
Mr. Marlow, who hired Mr. Binder in April, would like those priorities reflected on the site’s home page. “I want people to go there and find something amusing,” he said, “and not regard it purely as a place where readers get outraged.”
The site attracts its audience through, among other things, Mr. Binder’s relentless — O.K., obsessive — monitoring of Mrs. Trump, a click magnet, Mr. Marlow noted, to both male and female readers, and “the member of the first family that gets the highest approval rating.”
Mr. Binder places her on a pedestal alongside a couple of his other revered tastemakers, “the greatest living women,” in his phrase: Victoria Beckham and the Olsen sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley.
In part, he admires his seemingly unlikely idols for their skillful self-branding. Ms. Beckham, in particular, works a kind of uniform, he noted: “With her perfect hair, oversize sweaters, pants and a handbag, you can’t imagine her any other way. In that sense she is very much like Melania.”
The first lady, he said, rarely veers from her signature formality, cleaving to a daytime wardrobe of crisp shift dresses or tailored suits. Never mind that she flaunted a $51,500 Dolce & Gabbana coat during a visit to Sicily. Or got down in the dirt at the White House in September, gardening in a Balmain tartan shirt that costs $1,380. Or that she walked tall in stilettos en route to Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Even in that time of crisis, Mr. Binder enthused the other day, “she was unapologetic and fabulous.”
That sort of boosterism may not raise his stock with fashion insiders, but Mr. Binder is unfazed. In his view the first lady is a bellwether. Until recently, if you were fashionable, you wore sneakers, he said, “even if they cost $2,000 and were Gucci. You didn’t want to look expensive or as if you were trying too hard.”
“With Melania, all that has gone out the window,” he said. “She is transitioning us into a kind of bitch-goddess ultra-femininity.”
Of course, his column is not all Melania, all the time. Mr. Binder shuttles between coverage of style and — wait for it — immigration. His recent reports on that politically freighted beat, which takes up roughly 60 percent of his time, include an account of a California woman who obtained United States citizenship without being able to speak, read or write English. And he wags a finger at Ivanka Trump, not a current Breitbart favorite. At a recent dinner panel, Ms. Trump referred to the young immigrants covered by the DACA program as “innocent people,” while failing to mention, Mr. Binder writes, “some of the egregious crimes committed by illegal aliens.”
How does he reconcile his fashion reporting with his coverage of immigration? Not a problem, Mr. Binder said. “We’re one of the very few news outlets that cover immigration from the point of view of the American worker.”
His style analysis is in line with that mission, he said. “We’re reporting with the gaze of ordinary people who want to look at photos of beautiful women in beautiful clothes.”
Enthralled as he is with his subjects’ appearance, he is no feminist. The movement “has denigrated women,” he said, “reducing those who feel that their chief purpose is to raise children to feeling that they are not on a par with these yuppies on the Upper East Side.”
He acknowledged that such views tend to color his coverage. He reported on the harassment charges against the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein but now focuses much of his ire on fashion designers and editors, calling out their silence as disingenuous. “They seemed to know things, but acted as if they didn’t know,” Mr. Binder said.
He is a maverick and ambitious, for sure. But he nurtures no ardent hope of piercing fashion’s fabled glass ceiling. Does he expect one day to get a summons from Vogue or its more rarefied cousin W?
“I don’t think about things like that,” he said.