What’s more important, the Instagram moment or the clothes? Is street style ever genuine these days? Does someone who wears a Valentino dress to a fashion show have an issue? And does the fashion industry have a tendency to cover up abuse? These are but a few of the burning questions dissected by our panel.
Questions: Daniel Björk, editor-in-chief, Bon
Answers: Fiona Duncan, writer
Phil Oh, founder, Streetpeeper.com
Sarah Sophie Flicker, performer and creative director, The Citizens Band; co-founder, Lady Parts Justice; senior editor, Violet, filmmaker
Vanessa Friedman, fashion director & chief critic, New York Times and International New York Times
Portraits Tom Hines
ACT I: IN WHICH THE WEARABILITY OF THE SEASON IS QUESTIONED
Daniel Björk Some commentators said this was a more wearable season than usual. There were, supposedly, fewer pyrotechnics and form experiments, and designers seemed to focus on just creating great clothes. Is this something you’d agree with?
Vanessa Friedman I tend to erase the season as soon as I see it. It’s weird, as a newspaper person, because you’re seeing autumn/winter, then you come back and you immediately have to start writing about spring/ summer. You’re running a season behind what you’ve just seen. Which is a little confusing. I don’t think it was any more wearable than usual. There are so many shows and so many designers; some of it’s wearable and some of it’s not. It depends also how you define wearable. My mother wouldn’t consider much of it wearable.
Phil Oh I think it was a lot less outrageous. In the past few seasons I remember, at least, there were a couple of shows that were just so print-heavy and graphic-heavy, and glam glam glam. But this season, nothing stood out to me in that way.
Vanessa We’ve lost a lot of real showmen in fashion, like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, whose shows most consumers would have looked at and thought, “This isn’t wearable – this is costume.” So that might have something to do with it. But I don’t think anyone is going to look at what Rei Kawakubo is doing and say, “Well, that’s wearable!” It was like, long, dangly intestines coming off the sweater!
Daniel Do you think, then, that these days fashion is so diverse and going in so many directions that it’s just a media thing to boil it down to one or two points?
Vanessa I think we have so much fashion, so many seasons, so many shows and so many collections that it becomes wearable by dint of the fact that nobody has time to work towards anything else.
Sarah Sophie Flicker I gravitate towards the unwearable. And I don’t closely follow seasons. I love theatrical things, and try to find many ways to be theatrical. When you hear someone who’s not in the fashion world talk about “wearable”, does that mean it’s boring, or what? It’s so subjective.
Phil I hate the word “wearable”. To me it connotes, like, shopping mall wearable. From a regular consumer’s point of view. At the same time, that criticism of a fashion show, when people say something’s “unwearable”, as in not commercial or not saleable, it hurts me because I’m like, so what?
Sarah Sophie Isn’t it supposed to be a fun escape? The theatrical side of fashion is such a small percentage of it all. To me it is the unwearability that’s the fun thing about fashion.
Iris van Herpen A/W 2014
Daniel But I wonder if there is a more general move away from showmanship? I remember reacting to a Viktor & Rolf show a few seasons ago because it almost felt a bit dated. The drama almost felt contrived. But then again, this season I see something like Iris van Herpen and… basically you came into the show and discovered models in plastic packets. As the show started, you saw the models were shrink-wrapped.
Sarah Sophie They were vacuum-packed?
Fiona Duncan There’s been a lot of vacuum-sealed stuff, it’s very trendy.
Daniel It was very disturbing. It looked as though they might die.
Vanessa That doesn’t sound trendy. It sounds quite cruel.
Phil I was talking to Soojoo [Park], one of the models who was in the plastic packet, and she said it was one of the most terrifying experiences of her life. But National Geographic instagrammed her picture, and she said it was all worth it to have her face on National Geographic!
Daniel The notion of wearability popped up at the most anticipated show of the season: Nicolas Ghesquière’s debut at Louis Vuitton. In the show notes he talked about wanting to do timeless pieces, and when I hear that I think of something you’re supposed to wear, that is supposed to be part of a wardrobe, rather than a designer saying, “I wanted to create a fantasy.”
Vanessa I thought that show was great, exactly what he should have done. But I don’t think what Marc [Jacobs] did for Vuitton was unwearable. Just because you do a set doesn’t mean the clothes in it are not clothes. A lot of what he did were perfectly nice, beautiful clothes – they just weren’t sold particularly widely. But that wasn’t because they were unwearable; it was how the business was structured under his tenure.
Daniel So do you read Ghesquière’s first outing as Louis Vuitton wanting to sell more clothes?
Vanessa Yes, they want to sell more clothes.
Daniel They see it as a business opportunity, really.
Vanessa They never really used ready-to-wear as anything other than a marketing tool before. Now they’re going to use it as a revenue stream – or they’d like it to be a revenue stream.
Louis Vuitton A/W 2014
Daniel Did you see any other shows that were really, really good this season? A lot of people seemed underwhelmed.
Vanessa No, I thought it was a really good season. I thought Paris was good!
Phil Paris was nice, but New York was underwhelming, and London, which I usually really like going to… well, I didn’t get the same feeling. It just felt like [the designers] were auditioning for jobs at the Paris houses. I think Marc by Marc Jacobs was my favourite show of the whole season.
Fiona This is the first season that I wasn’t on assignment in New York, so I didn’t have to go to the BCBGs and things, which, to me, are absolutely tortuous. I go into those shows and I want to cry. The spectacle of it is disgusting, and I find it to be commercial shlock. I just imagine where it’s produced and how much is produced.
Vanessa So who did you see?
Fiona Eckhaus Latta are among my favourite designers. And their first show was something really worth showing to a larger public. They’re quite young and self-taught, and every season they’ve been getting better. Telfar at the New Museum was really exciting. The clothes maybe aren’t so wearable, but the whole spectacle of it was [amazing]. They took over the whole New Museum, and it was done with Ryan Trecartin, who is this young visual artist, and Lizzie Fitch, who is his collaborator. They created a department store in the entrance of the museum, with a 3D printed model of Telfar, and a pop-up shop of garments from the collections that you could buy straight away. It mimicked the Chinatown storefronts. So, like cheap bags branded with Telfar, and cheap t-shirts. Upstairs there was a runway. Everything was considered, the music for every model: each look had a soundbite created for it, and each had a miniature 3D model that you could buy. It was very intricate and very well thought out.
Phil I’m curious: was it sponsored by like, Samsung or Nokia?
Fiona They teamed up with Kmart, which totally makes sense for Telfar because he’s very much about demo cratic fashion and accessibility. Hood By Air was pretty exciting – it was like a really good demonstration of what Shayne [Oliver] is about.
Hood By Air A/W 2014, photo Victor Virgile
Phil [Hood by Air] was one of the most painful experiences. They came out one look at a time.
Fiona It was slow, I liked that!
Phil You weren’t sitting right in front of the speaker! It was like, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom.
Fiona Yeah, it felt like the parties he’s been throwing in New York for the past six years, but it was incredible, to show this thing that’s been happening. I do empathise with you. I got in a fight with a guy who wouldn’t give a part of the bench to me.
Phil It was the whole show, the anxiety that you felt from the soundtrack. They had someone shouting [high-pitched voice] “10,000 screaming faggots!” over and over for three or four minutes, and I just wanted to choke. But then, an hour or a couple of hours later, when the headache subsided, I thought about it and, although at the time it was an incredibly painful experience, it was awesome.
Fiona I didn’t find it painful at all, for the record.
Daniel Speaking about wearability, and also about American designers, I’ll tell you who is having a massive impact in the United Kingdom and Europe: Michael Kors.
All Oh really?!
Daniel If you look around the UK, you see loads of girls with the bags. It’s a very obvious idea of luxury and, crucially, it’s also a very widely accepted idea of luxury. “I’m on a jet plane and I’ve got big hair, I’m quite beautiful, and there’s nothing odd about me, I’m just sexy.”
Vanessa This is really technical, but one of the reasons for Michael’s success in Europe, which is huge, is that European luxury brands like [Louis] Vuitton are chasing the Asian customer, and have gone ever further upmarket in their pricing. Michael [Kors] went into a space that was effectively vacated by the local luxury brands in terms of how much the bags cost. And so all the people who can’t afford the $10,000 handbag, but who want, say, a $1,000 level bag are buying Michael Kors.
Phil I thought a lot of it came from the Michael Michael Kors line, the $200 bag.
Vanessa More here [in the USA] than in Europe.
Phil Well, since it went public, the stock went up. Which is great, because I bought it at $40, and it’s $90 now!
Daniel I suppose Mulberry vacated that space in the UK. They decided to become high luxury, which they’ve now reversed. In a way, that felt like a vanity thing, as if the Mulberry owners wanted to have a luxury brand, instead of being pleased with being highly successful where they were.
Vanessa The problem is with stock prices over the past ten years: Hermès and Richemont’s brands have done really well. LVMH and Kering have also outperformed the market, but recently not quite as dramatically as Hermès. What that says to people is that super luxury is what has been most successful. They’re all charging up to that level – Burberry and Louis Vuitton. And there isn’t that much space any more at the top of the market.
Sarah Sophie There can’t possibly be.
Phil It’s interesting though, I always thought it was the little shopping mall stores that were driving the revenue [for Michael Kors].
Vanessa I think with Michael, especially in the US, you cannot underestimate that reality TV fame in terms of making him a household name across the country. Project Runway was huge for him, and really insulated him from the recession.
ACT II: IN WHICH THERE’S SOME CONFUSION ABOUT THE REASON FOR SHOWS
Daniel Many brands and designers are live-streaming from the shows these days. With this kind of added transparency and access, do you feel it’s become even more important to be at the show? To actually have a seat? Because even if everyone can see it, not everyone can actually be there. I’m just wondering if the new openness has, in a way, accentuated the exclusive side of the fashion season. In any case, what is the purpose of a fashion show these days?
Phil For me, fashion shows are more marketing tools than anything else. When you look at who’s invited, a lot are bloggers, digital media and celebrities, and there are fewer critics.
Sarah Sophie A big part of that is because of social media, right?
Vanessa I don’t think there are that many bloggers in the front row. That has been totally blown out of proportion. Maybe there are five or ten, but it’s not like, “Oh my god, all the traditional editors are gone, it’s all bloggers now!” Most critics are still there, I don’t think people are losing spots. What’s interesting to see is the rise of Asia, and the power there. If you look at shows now there are gigantic sections filled with editors and critics from China, Japan, Korea. They have significantly more floor space than bloggers!
Phil I didn’t really mean fewer critics, more like fewer print editors and market editors. Now they have to make much more space for the digital side, all the Vogue.com people, and they have to have a section for bloggers and personal style bloggers. It seems like a marketing tool, rather than an industry event.
Sarah Sophie Well, you have to have the people who have hundreds of thousands of followers.
Phil I’m not saying this is a good thing!
Sarah Sophie I know, I’m not either! I just get why it makes perfect sense. I think humans are very good at adapting themselves to new technologies. I try to take a rosy view of it, mostly because I don’t want to think that my children are going to grow up to be ADD, unfocused, squirmy people who can’t enjoy a moment. We have a great capacity to adapt and find ways to balance it all. But it does all feel, like anything new, out of hand at the moment, because it’s new.
Fiona I agree with Sarah Sophie, humans are highly adaptable, and technology is both an extension and mirror of ourselves. What I’ve always loved about fashion is how fast it moves, how fast information can travel from one body to the next. With the internet, fashion has finally met its match. The fashion show works to blast some information that’s designed to be temporal – like a designer’s message for a season – into the world, and then the world responds. Social media just makes visible what was happening before in our minds.
Chanel A/W 2014
Daniel What about the fact that sets often have to feel instagrammable?
Vanessa That’s what Karl Lagerfeld does: the Chanel moment, the Chanel supermarket, winning the Instagram war. He did completely crush everybody [this time]. It’s pretty rare now. Who builds a set? Chanel always builds a set, Dior usually builds a garden.
Daniel Givenchy, but that was last season, the car crash.
Vanessa This time there weren’t any. In New York, people really don’t build sets.
Phil They don’t have the budget to build crazy sets.
Vanessa Ralph Lauren has the budget.
Phil But there are hashtags on every invite.
Daniel There are hashtags on the cover of Vogue.
Phil I guess this is what I mean about fashion shows. Now that they’re more accessible to the public, they’re more about marketing dollars.
Dries Van Noten A/W 2014
Vanessa Some of them are and some of them aren’t. Somebody like Dries Van Noten, that’s not a marketing tool. They all stream their shows, they’re creating content for their own sites. But they’re still selling. There are still buyers buying, we [the critics and editors] are sitting at the show – it’s not purely a marketing exercise. The only person who has ever told me it’s a marketing exercise was the CEO of Calvin Klein, who see their main line collection as a marketing tool.
Phil To sell the celebrities?
Vanessa To sell the jeans, the bottles of CK perfume. It works very well for them. And they’re very open about that.
Daniel Speaking of marketing and commercialism and big shows, do you think the Chanel show was political, with its supermarket theme?
Vanessa I think the Chanel shows are big and very expensive. And to me, they’re distractions. Distractions from clothes that can be truly breathtaking – which you would realise if you had the time to look at them. But a lot of people think the sets are magic, and it transports them to fashionland, cloud nine.
Daniel Would you prefer it if it was just clothes?
Vanessa Yes. In the end, it’s always about the clothes, so why not show them? If the clothes are bad it doesn’t matter [about the set].
Phil But it’s fun!
Fiona Usually I find the Chanel shows super tacky, and that always makes me wonder: what audience are they after? Who is the designer and the brand trying to communicate with? I actually loved the supermarket, and for the first time in a long while, I felt Lagerfeld was looking my way. Both the clothes and the set looked like they were inspired by my Tumblr and Instagram feeds: the 1990s Barbie look and the mundanity of it, almost normcore. And then it was all over my feeds, so you know they hit on something.
Sarah Sophie I’m in two minds because, if I had your job, Vanessa, I would probably feel the same way, but as an observer it’s great when a real theatrical spectacle happens. They’re so much fun to look at.
Vanessa I’m in a minority then.
Sarah Sophie If I had to write about the clothes or think critically about the clothes, I’d feel differently.
Daniel Vanessa, when you review, do you try to think away the surrounding things?
Vanessa No, because that’s part of whatever he is saying. If your responsibility is to react to whatever they’re doing in a show, then it’s part of it – especially if it’s Chanel.
Phil So they’re never fun for you?
Vanessa I think [Karl] has so much to say that sometimes he tries to say too much, or lets the set do too much of the talking. Everyone’s like “THE SUPERMARKET!” and they’re rushing to steal candy and it’s hard not to think these people didn’t even see what was coming out in front of them. And I think that’s too bad – they miss the real product because they’re being bamboozled by the fake product. But I’m one of very few people who [is sceptical]. I liked the last couture show a lot, it was simple and very pretty. He did this white one that was like origami. Incredible, really incredible. But when he’s doing 50,000 things…
Phil Do you feel the same way about the Louis Vuitton ones that Marc has done?
Vanessa Um, no. The train was a bit much. But the clothes, on the whole, were pretty good. I think the Vuitton problem was that he never had an identity for that house. The handbags worked well, but in terms of ready-to-wear you could never say what was Vuitton style. Marc is incredibly good at capturing the zeitgeist of the moment, but it’s so fleeting that if you try to identify it six months later, you’re like, what was that? Why do we care? I often wonder, if he was ever given a retrospective, how would his collections hold up? Because when you see them they often feel incredibly current, and kind of right. But I don’t know if, five years later, they would still feel that way.
ACT III: IN WHICH SOCIAL MEDIA IS SEEN TO BE SPIRALlING OUT OF CONTROL
Daniel Is social media out of control in fashion?
Phil Yes. And I’m sorry for my role in that. But it’s not just in fashion, it has become overwhelming in our everyday lives. When you’re hanging with friends and they feel they need to instagram every single moment, and they’re using their lives and what they do to get a Twitter moment, or an Instagram moment, or a bigger social media following. So it’s not just fashion, but you do see it, especially during fashion week. A lot of people view shows through blurry photos on Instagram, rather than being at the show or looking at a professional photograph.
Sarah Sophie How do designers feel about that, does anyone know? That people are at the show instagramming the stuff as it’s coming out?
Daniel It depends on the designer.
Sarah Sophie Are there designers that don’t let you, who have restrictions on that?
Phil Tom Ford, Victoria’s Secret.
Vanessa Does Tom Ford still?
Phil I think it’s changed. I guess maybe they hired a digital media strategist.
Daniel It’s difficult to put restrictions on photos from a show. Even if you’re not supposed to take pictures, people do it anyway. When I was at the Simone Rocha show in London, I was sitting next to this lady, and for every look she would hold up her massive iPad. I couldn’t see the model as she was walking, until the last five metres perhaps. On top of this, behind her was a woman taking photographs with two iPhones, and I thought, OK, this has gone overboard now.
Phil It’s also what’s happening in music: people watch concerts through their phone. It’s unfortunate. I hope that at fashion shows, people will learn proper etiquette about use of iPads. We haven’t figured it out yet.
Daniel Why do you think people do it? Obviously some of them represent a media outlet, but not all.
Phil Going to a fashion show is cultural cachet. You show your friends or followers that you were there and great, you had a seventh-row seat at Rebecca Taylor, cool. Most people who do this, it’s not to show the look or the runway.
Vanessa I don’t instagram. I find it very weird when critics film shows. Because you’re supposed to be looking at it. How do you do that when you’re looking through your camera all the time? It seems wrong.
Phil But then they see it in re-sees anyway.
Vanessa Not if you’re a critic. Generally, if you’re a critic, you have to write about the show after the show. People who go to re-sees are market editors or stylists. Maybe those are the people taking the pictures. But some newspaper critics, especially in the UK, are being asked to film the shows and post images, in addition to whatever reviews they have to do, etc.
Phil There are lots of unwilling participants in this, they’re told to [do it], more or less. And with the state of publishing, it’s hard to say no, no?
Fiona If more people said no, we would be able to say no more often!
ACT IV: IN WHICH STREET STYLE IS ASSESSED A NEW
Daniel If that’s what going on inside the shows, outside the spectacle of street style is still going strong. Phil, you must have a good insight into what people are actually wearing. What are the success stories right now?
Phil There’s a really interesting Italian handbag maker named Paula Cademartori. She started a couple of seasons ago, she’s friends with a lot of the Milan crowd, and started gifting handbags to Anna [Dello Russo], Giovanna Battaglia, some of the bloggers. And the [bags are] quite photogenic, really cute, quite nice, cool. When we photographed them, they would get on Style.com, Vogue.com, [they had] kind of a distinct look. Through those photos – and this is from her mouth, not my analysis – Barneys, Bergdorfs, Liberty, Lane Crawford, Selfridges, all these buyers started coming in and picked up the line, and said they saw them on the street style blogs. It’s sort of a brand that was birthed on the internet.
Vanessa But if she is giving them to editors who she knows will be wearing them to be photographed, and it’s put on Vogue.com, that seems to be classic marketing and manipulation. As opposed to they genuinely loved it and bought it.
Phil Of course. I’m not saying anything different!
Sarah Sophie Isn’t that the model a lot of designers work on?
Vanessa Yes, and I find it really depressing. It is the sense that people are dressed purely as marketing ventures. To me, that’s more depressing than shows being marketing ventures. There’s this scam of pretend genuineness about street style now. It used to be about people who wore interesting clothes that were really their own style. It was about integrity, and that’s why people loved it so much. And now it has been completely manipulated.
Phil I know full well.
Vanessa Do you search for people who aren’t being manipulated?
Phil Maybe people think I’m naive. But I know every single person who goes by, I know this person has been gifted that. Of course, my personal preference is finding people who have their own personal style. The problem is when they start getting attention, and start appearing on Style.com or Vogue.com and, a season or two later, they start getting gifted things and their personal style changes.
Fiona And you’ve seen that?
Phil Numerous times.
Vanessa Do you ever write it in your pictures, with captions?
Fiona “Oh, look what she’s carrying now!”
Vanessa Or have before and after pictures? That would be really interesting.
Phil I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me! I try not to get too critical, of course I roll with this just as much as anyone else, it’s my business. But it becomes so much more rewarding when I do find those really cool people who do their own thing, who have their own look.
Vanessa Do you think that your general consumers in middle America, or kids who are obsessive fashion kids, do you think they understand that what’s being presented to them as individual style is totally manufactured?
Phil Not totally manufactured – not all of it, some.
Fiona It’s pretty manufactured. And even if it’s like a subtle coercion that you’re not even aware of as manufactured, it’s still manufactured.
Fiona I mean internal – even if the subject who is putting the clothes on isn’t aware that they are [being manipulated].
Phil Most of the time, it’s still stuff that they like.
Fiona You can tell when someone really loves what they’re wearing. There’s something magical [about it], at least I feel as though I can discern that.
Sarah Sophie I agree, and that’s what’s exciting about fashion, when you see someone who’s expressing something true to themselves.
Phil With the street style pictures that I take, I like to keep it a mix of the fashion items and people who can put together a good outfit – which is kind of rare.
Fiona Who’s the Russian one who’s always photographed and she has like, blunt hair?
Daniel Vika Gazinskaya?
Fiona She always looks great! She’s wearing a lot of her own clothes, right? Whenever I see her, I’m inspired.
Phil It’s funny, you know who she is because she is photographed.
Fiona Oh, absolutely. I wish I knew more about her than that.
Daniel She lives in Moscow. I had dinner with her in Stockholm, she’s very nice. She was talking about how it’s such a slog doing the shows and the collection. But she’s not…
Phil She’s not, like, an oligarch’s wife.
Daniel No, she’s not one of the rich fashion girls. She grew up in a normal Soviet family.
Fiona So fascinating, I really like her.
Sarah Sophie But it does feel as though [street style has] hit a peak. Is it lessening at all?
All Not really!
Anna Dello Russo
Sarah Sophie I loved the Marc by Marc Jacobs show, it was exciting, but I was with Tennessee [Thomas] and Alexa Chung, and as we walked outside, it was like being at a movie premiere, but 100 times more. Maybe it was just that particular show. It was thronged with people.
Phil When I first started doing this, there was only a small handful [of photographers]. The Japanese were always there, then there was Bill [Cunningham] and Scott [Schuman], and maybe a couple of others. So outside a show in Paris, you could build a rapport, say hello, chat a bit.
Vanessa It felt like it was fun at the beginning. You just had Scott and Bill, and you generally felt like they were interested in people, and it was their taste, too, how they see the world, and that’s interesting. But now, there are all these people who are just dressing for that moment. And a lot of the photographers are like lemmings. One person goes to take a picture, and then everybody goes to take the picture, and you’re like, it’s supposed to be about individuality, why are there 300 of you? All taking the same picture!
Phil Well, every magazine uses these pictures as the basis for trend stories, or shop-this-look, partly because it’s much easier to buy a photo for $75 than it is to shoot it yourself in the studio. Each magazine hires somebody, and they might not particularly like fashion, they’re a photography student and [are told to] just shoot everybody, or look at the Sartorialist and memorise the people and take a picture of anything crazy. There’s less of a personalised point of view.
Sarah Sophie I have a friend who is a comedic actress who created a character for herself last fashion week, and she was ridiculous. The second one person took her picture everyone did, and they didn’t see she was clearly fake. It was kind of unbelievable. She was wearing some crazy shit.
Phil I always feel really bad when I hear industry people talking about this, because I hope I’m not lumped in with it. I’m embarrassed.
Sarah Sophie Don’t be embarrassed! I always watch Bill Cunningham the times I see him out. He sees something that is exciting to him, I don’t see him taking pictures of the same old people. They’re interesting pictures. The crowning glory, at least of my fashion life, was him saying to me, “Thank you for dressing up, nobody dresses up!” I was wearing a headdress.
Phil I don’t think it’s a bad thing that people get dressed up for shows.
Vanessa To me, that’s the way you dress, that’s your thing. Sarah’s not dressing up to be photographed at that moment, that’s just part of her daily life. I think the thing that people react to is editors or guests who dress just to have their picture taken. Or who are not even going in [to the shows] sometimes. That’s not part of the narrative of fashion week, that’s just them trying to get attention. Fashion week shouldn’t be about that.
Phil When you say, “just to get photographed”, I don’t think it should be an all-or-nothing thing. Obviously that’s a goal, but they also like their clothes, and where else are you going wear them to?
Vanessa I see those people all the time. They don’t wear that in their regular life.
Phil Of course not.
Vanessa Why not, though? I wear exactly the same thing to the shows that I wear to the office.
Phil If you buy a really special item, like a beautiful Balenciaga thing or a Proenza thing, you can’t really just wear it to the office.
Fiona Why not? I would.
Vanessa I wear my Alaïa dress that cost my whole year’s savings all the time. To the office, to parties, to fashion shows. That’s the point of it.
Phil What about a Valentino dress, how many times can you wear a Valentino dress?
Sarah Sophie If I had a Valentino dress I would wear it every day!
Vanessa Anyone who wears a floor-length Valentino dress to a show has an issue. You wear that to the Met [Gala].
Phil It’s supposed to be fun! I get that it’s a little annoying but…
Vanessa Then it’s the question of why are you going to the show? I go to a show to work. It’s my job. And I’m not going to wear an evening dress to a show, because I’ll be getting on the subway to get to the next one! And if you go to a fashion show because you think it’s a party then fine, wear the Valentino dress. But frankly, I don’t think people should go to a fashion show thinking it’s a party, because it’s not.
Daniel There is a tradition, if you look back, of the fashion show being a social event. When you had the old couture shows and clients there, then it was, if not a party, at least an event to dress up for, to an extent.
Fiona These days, social life is so intertwined [with work] in most creative industries, especially in fashion and especially in New York, it’s hard to differentiate between those two.
Vanessa I can differentiate pretty clearly.
Fiona You have the job that you have, and you have the position that you have, and you have the authority that you have, but I think a lot of people confuse them. And Anna Dello Russo is getting rich off it – with some H&M garbage collection, selling that to kids – and that’s the stuff that bothers me. Rich people bother me. Ugh. You’ve got an Occupy kid at your table: me.
Saint Laurent A/W 2014
ACT V: IN WHICH WE ASK OURSELVES: WHAT’S NEW ANYWAY?
Daniel When we talk about fashion we are always looking at what’s new. I had a discussion recently about the idea of “the new” – that it’s basically a 20th-century idea. Now we’re living in a different era, where everything is digitised and online, where everything exists at the same time, and people are accessing culture in a different way. While clothes might not be possible to digitise, references are. All these archives of old and new mixed together on The Fashion Spot and Tumblr, they are in some ways just digitised fashion. And we now have a situation where a lot of people don’t care whether something is new or whether it has been done before.
Fiona Everything’s been done before!
Daniel Yes, but we still have this idea that we’re going to a fashion show and expect to see the future. One thing about the first Saint Laurent show was that people were expecting to see something new, but what came out was a style that was very recognisable, and people even mentioned Rachel Zoe. There were no radically new ideas. So I guess the question is whether we should abandon the idea of looking for what’s new?
Fiona I work in a really good bookstore, and I’ve noticed in the past two years a proliferation of print magazines, art, culture, whatever. And they’re specialised, targeting a very specific audience, magazines like Violet or Lula, also Bad Day, StyleZeitgeist, so many. Their aesthetics are very particular, and this proliferation and specialism is telling in a cultural sense. You might get this from fashion designers, too, ones who do what they do again and again, and it doesn’t need to follow a yearly trend.
Sarah Sophie What is new? I mean that goes for anything, in any art form. There are only so many things you can put on your body. But we always want to strive towards new because it’s exciting. In literature or film, there’s nothing new, but we still want to strive.
Fiona I think it’s new that you have a proliferation of magazines, for instance, or it’s new that you have different tastes recognised as valid taste, and have that diversity normalised. The New York designers I know who are friends, they all do something very different. Like Shayne, from Hood By Air, does something very different from Telfar. But what they’re all doing is trying to articulate a version of themselves.
Vanessa Don’t you think that’s what every designer has always done since the beginning of time?
Vanessa Everyone is trying to articulate an idea of themselves. Or if you work for a higher body, then you’re trying to articulate an idea of Dior or whatever. Fashion is always trying to articulate an idea of something.
Fiona Yes, but as someone who always read Vogue as a kid, it was always declarations of “Here are similarities between all these collections and here is a moment”. You could declare something has been something this season, and see clear lines between seasons.
Vanessa You don’t think they’re still doing that?
Fiona I don’t know, I don’t read Vogue any more. I read magazines that cater to something more localised.
Vanessa And you don’t think those localised ones are doing the same thing with whatever their subject matter is? Magazines are often trying to produce a coherent view of the world for their readers, so they make whatever connections make sense to them. I don’t think that is different or changed. Otherwise you would have something that’s not coherent.
Sarah Sophie I guess I see it only in the sense that when we were young, we had Vogue and Seventeen, and when Sassy came out it was like a revelation for me. Now, when I think of the work I’ve done with Lula or Violet, I work there because my vision is in line with Leith [Clark’s] vision.
Fiona People complain about there being too much [media], but when you find the thing that speaks to you, when you find a book or a song that speaks to you, it’s quite revelatory – and you can have that in a magazine. It’s about production getting easier, it’s about digital, it’s about sharing the moment.
Sarah Sophie This might be a totally dumb thing to say but, for women, one nice thing is that there are so few rules as to what we have to like at this point. If you think about something that was really new, such as hemlines rising in the 1920s, that was revolutionary. But now, it’s hard to imagine what could be new, because we can all be an expression of who we are on the inside, and that could be a short hemline, it could be a latex catsuit, it could be a bustle. It can be whatever you want it to be. The spectrum of it all exists and it’s really positive.
Daniel It’s harder to make an impact when the audience is so diverse. I suppose that when Dior presented the New Look, the people who actually bought that fashion were a very small, samey group of women. And then it sort of disseminated from there. But now, if you present something, not everyone is going to react to it in the same way, because some people will say, “Oh, my favourite brand is Hood By Air” and others are “Dior by Raf Simons is the best thing”, and those two are totally different, yet they’re both part of the scene these days.
Fiona The other day I was walking around with my iPad, and it felt like an accessory. I was wearing the most basic thing, but I had this whole visual world at my disposal. It was both an accessory and a tool.
Daniel So maybe the new will come from somewhere completely different – for example, how we use technology?
Vanessa The whole thing about what’s going to be new is that you don’t know, because if you knew now, it would be old.
Sarah Sophie You can’t predict it.
Daniel I mentioned Saint Laurent as a brand that has moved on from the idea of showing the new, and how people have been quite perplexed about it all. This season people were like, actually, this is good! Has anything changed?
Vanessa No, fashion’s attention span is up, they’re tired of being mad at [Hedi Slimane] and now they like him. He wore them down.
Sarah Sophie I noticed that, too, as an outsider, it seemed that everyone was up in arms about it, then suddenly embracing it.
Vanessa It was incredibly commercial. I think he’s very smart.
Daniel There’s something to having that kind of vision where everything is art directed, from the venue to the invites with the books, and how the names are written, and the music, that it’s just one song repeated for the whole show. The show becomes this very clear message: lots of sparkly tops or dresses, very short hemlines, then capes or coats.
Vanessa And if you’re a grown-up woman who wants to wear trousers or a long skirt, it was a take-apart-able collection with literally something for every single age group and aesthetic.
Phil It’s like he takes a back issue of NME or Rolling Stone and makes a show of “Get this look!” for $4,500. I guess from a fashion sense, that’s fine.
Vanessa What do you mean?
Phil What do you mean, “What do you mean?”? I’m talking about high fashion consumers who aren’t necessarily music fans who were part of the music culture that’s being shown.
Vanessa See, I think the only people who actually buy those looks from the catwalk are celebrities dressed on the red carpet. That’s the only time you see Saint Laurent head to toe, the way it’s styled on the runway…
Phil Not in Asia! In Asia everyone wears head-to-toe Saint Laurent – or whatever look they’re going for.
ACT VI: IN WHICH THE QUESTION IS POSED OF WHETHER FASHION IS A SUBCULTURE
Daniel Sometimes when I look at what ordinary people are wearing, I wonder what impact high fashion actually has. I see the jacket that is military in origin, or the look that comes from sports. There are very few moments where you go, oh, that’s from so-and-so’s collection.
Vanessa You do the same thing when you look at the catwalk: you’re like, that’s from the military, that’s from sports…
Fiona [The high street] is making Céline and Acne versions, and you see that everywhere. But clothes are a simple form so it’s hard to say if those are from particular collections.
Daniel I sometimes feel that high fashion, or what we see on the catwalk, has become almost a subculture, just one with a constantly changing look. You have the people who buy the actual clothes, and you also have the people who can’t afford them and go for the budget versions. But looking at the impact on the mainstream, it’s almost as though high fashion style is not disseminating in the same way as before. The impression I have is that the look that has been current for a few years, in street style blogs and so on, is the kind of colourful, boxy look you see when you go to fashion weeks. And when you see someone dressed like that in London, you know they work in fashion, or that they want to work in fashion. You don’t really see it anywhere else. Do you agree?
Vanessa I would say that high fashion dresses celebrities, and then that gets copied by a lot of people. Certainly, my kids look at Taylor Swift, and she does have a connection [to high fashion]. It gets diluted and slightly changed, but I think there is still influence.
Sarah Sophie It’s not like in the 1950s, when there was this new shape and everyone wanted to wear it… The question is: when people walk into Zara, are they thinking, I saw [something like this] at this runway show and I want it because of that? Or are they just walking into Zara and thinking it looks cool?
Céline A/W 2014
Phil They don’t even know.
Vanessa They probably saw it on some celebrity.
Sarah Sophie I think you’re right about that. My seven-year-old is all, not so much Taylor Swift, but a little more Katy Perry!
Phil Consumers of the fast fashion stores unwittingly follow fashion. When they buy the knock-offs, most of the time they don’t even know it’s a knock-off. They buy it because they like it. How many times I’ve taken photos of someone and I’m like, oh is that the Proenza skirt, or is that Céline… And they’re like, oh no, I got this at Zara! I got this at Topshop. I think people do follow high fashion trends, not because they’ve chosen to, but because of the production and the buyers.
Daniel To me, it’s a particular group of people who do this. You say you photograph them. To me, that says they’re in fashion.
Phil Of course it is [a particular group]. I didn’t really get into fashion until quite recently, and now when I talk to my friends who I knew from before, who are all in important industries and other cities, it takes me a while to remember that when I talk about Anna Dello Russo or Susie Bubble or Raf Simons or Nicolas Ghesquière, they have no interest in what I’m talking about.
ACT VII: IN WHICH WE GO ETHICAL ON FASHION’S DERRIÈRE
Daniel Do you think that fashion should be more ethical? I’m only saying this because there’s a perception that fashion is an area where people don’t really care about ethics. They don’t care if the models are too young or too thin, they don’t care about fur, not to mention textile workers.
Vanessa You hear people who think that all fashion is silly, and clearly that’s not true – it’s not superficial and it’s not stupid. There are many companies and many people working in it who are incredibly responsible. But it’s also a very bright shiny balloon that’s fun to sling mud at, because it’s right there in front of everybody, and everybody can talk about it. If you said to someone, hey, do you think the electronics industry is ethical? Most people would be like, huh? They’d say they don’t know enough about it. Fashion is an industry that lends itself to criticism. And yes, Marc Jacobs will use an underage model, and everyone is like, oh my God, Marc Jacobs has used an underage model! But out of 1,000 shows, one uses an underage model? You can’t damn a particular industry for questionable actions that are in every industry.
Sarah Sophie If you’re speaking about body image, it’s complicated and it’s worth a discussion and, yes, if I could dictate what age models would start at, I’d certainly pick older. I’m not against the idea that we can push the weight models are [by promoting] healthy eating, which also comes with girls who aren’t 13 or 14. I also love the fact that environment campaigners are starting to talk more, after this tragedy in Bangladesh [the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in which 1,129 people died]. People are talking more about these things, and I would love to push more towards consideration of these sorts of issues.
Vanessa You have to distinguish between fast fashion and high fashion, because the Rana Plaza was an issue of fast fashion, and that’s true of technology component parts, too. It often has to do with pricing, margins and volumes. The luxury fashion houses actually treat their employees incredibly well. They build these beautiful factories to take care of them when they work, right? It’s a question of supply chain. In high fashion, it tends to be vertically integrated, so they own everything: fabric producers, or the mills, through the factories where they produce the clothes to the stores where they ship them. If you are H&M or Gap or Uniqlo, at some point in your supply chain you’re working with third party manufacturers in far-off regions…
Fiona But in a pseudo-perspective, high fashion sets an industry standard where you have seasons and need for newness, and that’s what fast fashion is replicating.
Vanessa Fast fashion doesn’t have seasons, fast fashion is dumping out new stuff every two weeks. I would say the reverse is true, that high fashion is under more and more pressure from fast fashion to produce more stuff. But I also think this has nothing to do with the ethics of it. I think those are different issues.
Sarah Sophie I’m sure I sound totally like a Pollyanna, but it does seem to me that all my friends, who are small designers in New York, are becoming very conscious about how they produce things, conscious about environmental stuff, about who the workers are, who is making their things, about making things as much in NYC as they can…
Vanessa It’s in their economic interest, too, but the problem emerges when they hit a certain size, and it’s not even that it’s too expensive to produce in NYC, but that the places aren’t there. No one can produce the volumes that Michael Kors needs, so you have to go somewhere else.
Daniel If you take Alexander Wang, there was that whole sweatshop thing a few years ago. I suppose that would be the level where volume is going up but you don’t really have a massive organisation to oversee everything. But coming back here to another perceived lack of ethical awareness: does fashion have a tendency to cover up abuse?
Vanessa More than banking?
Sarah Sophie Maybe less than banking!
Daniel Or is that impression really about Terry Richardson?
Vanessa That’s where you’re going with this!
Sarah Sophie I think the people held in high esteem in any sector are always protected in that regard. Look at Woody Allen, look at any politician…
Daniel So what we’re saying is that fashion is no worse or better than any other industry.
Fiona I think comparing fashion with banking is really apt, because if we’re talking about LVMH, or even Terry, we’re talking about big money, corporate interests. In a way, we are talking about banking. Selfishness and greed – power – covers up abuse. I’d like to see people start using new categories to discuss fields of production, because to group all of fashion or all of art together isn’t accurate. I think a brand like Chanel has more in common with Disney or Fox News than, say, a small design team like Eckhaus Latta. And Eckhaus Latta has more in common with a writer like Chris Kraus or an artist like Bjarne Melgaard, who they collaborated with.
Sarah Sophie I work in so many different industries, and my husband works in film, and they’re all the same, sort of. The second you really see what the underside is like: it’s all the same, the good the bad and the ugly.
Phil When you talk about fashion abuse, fashion scandals are just so much sexier for mainstream press to write about. Underage models, a photographer having sex with them, allegedly luring girls to do whatever.
Vanessa And if it’s Terry Richardson, even better because he’s got all these nudey pictures that they can pull out.
Phil It’s more sensational for the audience to read about seals who’ve been clubbed to death for fur, or girl models, anorexic girls – compared with chemicals releasing tetrablablacide into rivers, or sustainable fishing or farming or whatever. That’s not sexy.
Vanessa Or you show that Miley Cyrus video [for Wrecking Ball] again. Like, “Wouldn’t you know this guy was bad!”
Phil As Vanessa said, fashion is an easy target for the mainstream.
Vanessa It’s actually too bad, as it has made brands become publicity-shy. They don’t talk about the good stuff they do, because they’re terrified that if they stand up and say, “Oh I have a good policy!” everyone will give out to them about what they don’t do. And that’s a scary place for them to be. A while ago, the World Wildlife Fund commissioned a report from a researcher who looked at the ten biggest public companies and graded them in different CSR [Corporate social responsibility] categories. And because a lot of [fashion companies] didn’t want to talk about it, a lot of them failed, because the researcher just didn’t have any information. The Financial Times wrote a story about it, and Tiffany called me and were very upset, like, “We have not failed! We have all these good policies, come and hear about them!” I went to Mike Kowalski’s office [chairman and CEO of Tiffany] and he told me about their policies, which actually are really good. They only source their gold from one mine in the US because then they know everything about the mine and they can check how they treat their workers. They will not sell new coral, new emeralds, new rubies, because there is no way to know the exact origin of the gem, and whether it was used to finance illegal operations, for example. And there’s no such thing as a sustainable coral reef. But Tiffany didn’t want to say anything about it, because they were so scared that people would criticise them for other stuff.
Daniel And you see that as being because fashion is so vilified?
Daniel “Stop the vilification of fashion!”
Vanessa Or just put it in perspective.