Essays, Fashion

The Role of a Fashion Critic

I have been reading a lot about fashion criticism and the role that it plays in the industry nowadays. Are critics important? Do they still have a voice? Do they even fit into the ever-changing world of fashion? Honestly, I have no idea. In my opinion, as long as there are people who care about more than clothes, but about the sociological and historical context of fashion, then critics are needed. If there’s nobody like that left, then they’re redundant. Thankfully, there’s still some people who care (even if it’s a shrinking group).

In the clickbait heavy world of fashion journalism critics are being overshadowed by shopping listicles and selfies. Most online publications would prefer to post 5 short articles filled with fluff that doesn’t really make a point or leave a memorable impact instead of 1 high quality review or in-depth story. Discussing fashion in an intellectual way is increasingly rare nowadays, but fortunately there are still some outlets which quench my thirst for this format. Quartz and Racked are two online publications that I’d recommend, along with all of the big newspapers for their critics (The Washington Post and Robin Givhan, The New York Times and Vanessa Friedman etc.).

The general consensus on why fashion criticism doesn’t matter as much anymore is that it has no impact on a business’ sales. Fashion designers don’t need critics on their side, they need the masses. Social media has let everybody become a critic by sharing their opinion online. You don’t need to be educated or informed to say your thoughts on a collection, but your voice does matter. Olivier Rousteing’s high at Balmain directly coincided with when the brand was at the height of fame on social media and was being posted by people across the globe. It didn’t matter that the critical reviews of the collection touched on the repetitive nature, as long as the public still liked it. Social media buzz doesn’t always translate into sales, but it certainly helps.

A celebrity/influencer-filled front row at Cushnie et Ochs SS17

I think the more accurate reason why fashion criticism has fallen by the wayside is because people simply don’t want to read anymore. I know this for a fact. Even just by looking at “fashion” bloggers who have huge followings and infinite views, you can see that the content they post is more image-heavy instead of words. When online, people don’t want to be confronted with huge blocks of text, especially on a topic thought to be as trivial as fashion. I can even tell this with my own blog. I know it would be bigger in terms of numbers if I tried to just post outfit pictures and click-baity articles, but that wouldn’t be fun for me so I choose not to. The digital presence of major fashion publications gives weight to this theory. On Vogue.com, the average article is short (maybe three or four paragraphs) and has at least two images or tweets included. Most of them focus on gossip or shopping guides. The reason why is that people want to read this kind of thing. Writing is all about garnering the most traffic nowadays. If a publication can gain thousands of views on an article that took 30 minutes to write, why would they waste their time getting potentially less views on something that took multiple hours to fine tune and perfect? If a writer is freelance, the more stories they write, the more they get paid. Say the base rate for an article is $500. Would you rather write 2 articles in a day and make $1000 or 1 article in the same day and make half?

If fashion criticism were to become relevant once again, it would take a major change from readers in terms of their behavior. For one, we would all collectively have to reject all clickbait. This includes commenting on articles via social channels, which still contributes to their statistics. The more comments something has, the higher it gets pushed in people’s feeds, the more likely they are to click on it. If outlets started to see a major drop in engagement in their current preferred format then perhaps they would invest in long-form journalism and criticism. However, until then I am happy to support the few remaining critics who still have a platform.

For further reading on this topic:

“The Importance of Being Earnest” – Style Zeitgeist

“Little impact, lots of prestige: A look at the role of fashion critics today” – Digiday

“Kelly Cultrone: What Happened to All the Fashion Critics?” – The Fashion Spot (from 2014)

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Essays, Fashion

Why Do Fashion Brands Continue to Look Back?

It seems that fashion is increasingly referential. Nothing is really new anymore. No new silhouettes are created. No new innovations are made. Nothing. But is this a bad thing? And is it unexpected?

I started to think about this topic after catching up with all of the shows at Milan Fashion Week. There were two brands in particular that I felt specifically looked back in time, into their own archives – Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. However, their techniques were different. Versace was deliberate, Dolce & Gabbana was not.

This season’s Versace show was, as Donatella put it, a tribute to her late brother Gianni Versace, to mark the twenty year anniversary of his death. The show was filled with her takes on his most famous designs. It was like the highlight reel of Gianni Versace’s career and what made him, and the family name, famous and into a brand. Donatella looked back into the archives (no, literally, she went to the physical archives and looked at his pieces) and chose the silhouettes and prints which were most iconic and ran with it. She featured the Marilyn Monroe and James Deen portraits by Andy Warhol (which Gianni turned into a multi-colored, tile print), she used the baroque that was last en vogue back in 2013 when hip-hop artists like Migos and Drake were obsessed with the brand, and the leopard print (most notably, the yellow version worn by Kaia Gerber who opened the show). According to this New York Times article on the show, “Every garment will come complete with a label that notes the collection and the year, so consumers will know the moment of origin.”. It is a way to incorporate the brand’s history into it’s present show but do it in a way that is of the moment but still collectable. I suspect that items from this show will be just as valuable as the originals from 20+ years ago. Many have wondered if this collection was Donatella’s farewell to the brand as rumors about her imminent departure have been swirling for months now, but she says otherwise. It was, in fact, just a tribute to her late and beloved brother. Of course, no mention of this show would be complete without bringing up the finale which featured the supermodels of Gianni’s shows marching out to Freedom ’90, the iconic George Michael song which lent its sounds to a Versace show back in 1991. Of course, the crowd went wild for this. It was nostalgia at its finest, and that’s what made this show great.

The finale gowns at Versace.

Dolce & Gabbana, on the other hand, offered none of the nostalgia factor. They produced a show of beautiful, albeit boring, clothes that could’ve been any one of their shows from the past five years. Dolce & Gabbana refuse to innovate anymore and it has gotten dull. It is hard to believe that 10 years ago, they were one of the main attractions in Milan and they actually made futuristic, fashion-forward styles. Remember the show opened by Snejana Onopka strutting down the light-up runway, after arriving in a glass elevator and descending down some stairs, to the sound of Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back? That would never happen nowadays. Instead they play it safe, season after season, year after year. I guess they are doing what works for them and their business, but that is why Versace was all over your social media for the entire weekend and Dolce & Gabbana was a blip that almost went unnoticed.

Dolce & Gabbana SS07

Designers often look back though, at their past work (like the No. 21 show, also at Milan Fashion Week), or at the brand’s own heritage. That’s what almost every designer does who becomes the Creative Director of a storied brand, like Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne. The chainmail, futuristic styles are nothing new, but they work and people love them because they look cool. It is said that Alexander McQueen was so impressive because he is one of the only designers of the past quarter century to create a brand new silhouette, the Bumster, the ultra low-rise pant style which exposed the top of the butt and caused women to shave their pubic hair because the top of the area was revealed. When the Bumster trickled down into mainstream fashion, it came in the form of low-rise jeans, beloved by your favorite mid-2000s celebs who loved to show off their g-strings peeking out above their waistband.

McQueen’s Bumster

Maybe this is just how fashion is going to be going forward. It isn’t about innovation. It’s about commercialism. It’s about sales. It’s about social media coverage. It’s about short-term attention. It’s about building a brand. The only way to build a brand is to be consistent, but I believe that there is a way to do it by innovating or making some changes and introducing new things along the way.

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Essays

Instagram and Nudity

How much nudity is too much?

With Instagram, I feel like I have been totally desensitized to nudity yet in recent weeks I have found myself noticing it more and more. It wasn’t something that used to bother me really. I always thought that I don’t have to participate in posting photos like that if I don’t want to, so why should I care? But I have found myself caring and I’m not sure why. I don’t need to be bothered by other people’s photos but for some reason I am.

Take Elsa Hosk as an example – a beautiful model who makes a living posing in her lingerie for Victoria’s Secret. Her work shots are fine. They are selling the underwear. She is doing her job. But her Instagram tells another story. It is full of full nude shots and super sexualized selfies, and every time I look at it I am trying to work out why she posts these things? What is her motivation? She is already one of the most well-known models in America, idolized by girls and wanted by guys, yet she seems to be trying to get more attention online, grow her following, and do it by posting her naked body. I find it a little sad that women’s bodies are still their strongest form of currency. I know that we are supposed to have reached a new wave of feminism where posting your body online under your own terms and reclaiming it back is what women are all about now, but I also can’t help but think that by posting yourself naked and doing so for your own gain (financial or followers) is just playing into the hands of men around the world who continue to think of women as little more than their body.

I have noticed this nude trend trickle all the way down from the real famous (Kardashians & Jenners) to the insta-famous (all of those “models” with 50k+) to regular girls that you and I know in real life. It’s just strange and borderline worrying because I hope that it doesn’t put girls in a position where they feel that posting their body online for likes is the best way to boost their self esteem. Your body should never be more important than your mind. I don’t really care if people want to post themselves naked or with very little clothes as long as there is no ulterior motive behind the post, but if the reason that you’re posting it is for likes (which you use, in turn, to measure your self worth) then there is an issue in my opinion. This is a complex issue which, if handled the wrong way, can veer into slut shaming. I’m all about body positivity and feeling good about yourself, but I’m also all about having a life off of the internet and not using social media for personal gain, whether that be amassing a large amount of followers or using your likes to gain a confidence boost. I don’t intend to single out Elsa Hosk in a negative way in this piece. She is a beautiful woman who seems super sweet, has cool style, and appears to be a nice person with lots of friends and a great relationship. Her Instagram is really pretty which is why I initially followed her. I just got a little bit turned-off when I felt like her posts were just full of nudity in an over-the-top way. And hey, I guess if you’re a VS model you are being paid for your body looking great. At least it sells the lingerie. I just feel conflicted and a little bit confused on this matter and I struggle to articulate my thoughts on it properly.

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Essays, Fashion, Opinion

The Importance of Creative Directors to Musicians

I came across an interesting article on Billboard recently about how in the digital age, a musician or an artist having a creative director in charge of their branding is more important than ever. This makes sense, especially because being in the social media spotlight can be highly beneficial to an artist and the key to gaining this kudos is by having a clearly defined and well managed brand – something cool for people to look at and aspire to. Branding is everything nowadays whether you like it or not. We all even have a personal brand, even if it is not monetized. If we all have a brand, are we all creative directors? Maybe on a micro-level. An artist needs to hire somebody to direct their brand because it is the most important thing they have, arguably. Songs can blow up and become a summer jam but are easily forgotten about a year later. A brand leads to longevity – something that is vital, and often missing, for musicians today.

So what does a creative director do exactly? To my understanding, a creative director is in charge of how things look overall. A wide, encompassing statement, I know, but I think it all comes down to imagery. Creative directors control the vibe, the style, the look of everything. Whether that be the clothing worn by the artists (acting as a wardrobe stylist, deciding not only tour outfits for on stage but everyday looks in case of candid paparazzi shots or the all-important Instagrams), the style of photography used in Instagram shots or album covers, or the color schemes, products, and locations used in music videos. Anything that you see can be, and is likely, conceptualized by the creative director and brought forward to the artist. That’s not to say that the artist is not in charge of their own style in any way. It is more so that the creative director comes up with ideas and then work with the artist to make something that feels authentic and right for the artist instead of a singleminded vision: a collaboration.

Virgil Abloh and Kanye West

I think the importance of a creative director can be best demonstrated via Kanye West and his longtime collaborator Virgil Abloh, who has become a star in his own right in the past year. Abloh has his own brand (Off-White, formerly operating another brand called Pyrex Vision), he DJs, he hosts events and parties all around the world, and he has degrees in Architecture and Engineering. He’s a smart guy. He’s also partially responsible for keeping Kanye West so relevant as he knows exactly what people want. Abloh has his finger on the pulse and has no problem telling people that he listens to the kids on Tumblr and realizes their spending power and also their knowledge of fashion. No bullshit passes by Tumblr kids, especially the fashion ones (myself included) as we have been given the resource to learn everything online. Abloh understands this and uses it to his advantage. He has taken things that he has found on Tumblr and presented it to West in the past, as mentioned in one of the interviews linked below. It’s no secret that West loves fashion and has tried various times to break into the industry, with his Yeezy line for Adidas being extremely commercially successful but other ventures failing or floundering. West has also found great success in the merch game, perhaps solely starting the trend of people wearing concert merch as fashion items, beginning back on the Yeezus tour in 2013. We hit peak merch in 2016 with the Saint Pablo tour and the trickle-down effect with merch-inspired pieces being sold in fast-fashion stores like Forever 21 (who were accused of copying West multiple times) and Zara. H&M currently sell a range of “band t-shirts” with various rock bands’ graphics printed on them. Everyone jumped onboard – retailers and other artists alike. Now everyone needs to have merch, and to have merch that sells you need a brand. That’s where your creative director comes in.

West is not the only musician with a creative director. In fact, most of the biggest stars in the music world have one right now. The Weeknd has La Mar Taylor, a friend from Toronto who created the now iconic mixtape trilogy covers and continues to manage the artistic outputs. The XO brand, the collective of individuals associated with The Weeknd, has gone from being an underground icon, big on Tumblr with a cult-like following but not yet mainstream, to being an easily recognized symbol that is even tattooed on loyal fans. The Weeknd recently done a collaboration with H&M, featuring shirts with the XO logo prominently posted. That wouldn’t’ve been possible if he didn’t have the brand. Some other stars just have stylists. There’s a difference. A creative director’s role is much bigger, and arguably much more important. I could go on for days and days about this topic because one of the things I love the most in life is seeing how fashion intersects with other industries. In this sense, fashion and music and art all collide into one, and everything, in turn, becomes one commercial product. That’s not to say that art for art’s sake doesn’t remain, it’s just that everything nowadays is monetized. Pure artistic endeavors still exist, but creative direction takes something from that level and makes it something bigger. Something that can help you pay the bills for years to come.

The Weeknd’s brand is XO

Further Reading

“The Secret to Being A Modern Pop Star? A Creative Director Pulling The Strings” – W Magazine, September 2016

“Virgil Abloh: From Pyrex to Paris” – Dazed Digital, 2016

“The Life of (Virgil) Abloh” – GQ, August 2016

“From Kanye to Kings of Leon, Why Artists Need Creative Directors in the Age of Instagram” – Billboard, April 2017

 

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Essays, Opinion

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo as a style icon is funny to me. I’ve never thought of her as fashionable. She was, however, known for being unapologetic about her heritage at a time when Mexicans were unpopular in America. In fact, it is not much different now than it was then. Ever since Donald Trump suggested building a wall, anti-Mexican sentiment that was often hushed has once again being exposed. The issue of race is so complicated in America, something that has become increasingly apparent in recent years with the abundance of murders and attacks on, basically, anyone who isn’t white.

Frida Kahlo, besides being a talented artist, was known for not liking white people. Despite this, she speaks to a lot of women, including white women, for her uncompromising nature. She painted herself in natural dress when women were shunning that look. She let her eyebrows grow into a monobrow, even though that is thought of extremely unfeminine. Was she a feminist because she did what she wanted or have we painted her as a feminist hero without her making any true statements? This is something I’ve wanted to explore.

My Grandparents, My Parents, and me (this is my favourite painting)

My Grandparents, My Parents, and me (this is my favourite painting)

I have always been drawn to her artwork because I find it visually appealing. On top of that, everyone knows Frida Kahlo as her image is iconic. I can understand why she is hailed as a style icon because her look is unique. However, there is more to the woman than that. For example, a famous painting of hers at the MoMA in New York explores her familial background. It has two sets of grandparents on each side, one white and German and the others Mexican, then her parents, then her. It is important that she chose to identify with her Mexican roots instead of the white side of her family. There is another self portrait that she did with her two selves, connected by veins. It shows the duality of her, as like many women she had an image that she presented to the public and an image of her true self. The painting is believed to represent two sides of her after her break-up from her husband who cheated on her. One side is broken-hearted and rejected whilst the other side is well-presented and still appealing to her husband.

The Two Fridas

The Two Fridas

Maybe it’s Kahlo’s spirit that makes her an icon. It’s nothing to do with clothes or appearance. It’s about attitude. A nonchalant way of living that many people strive to achieve, and often never quite manage to reach. One thing is for certain, Frida Kahlo stayed true to who she was and didn’t change herself to suit the male gaze or the typical white beauty standards. That is a true skill that all women should learn. Be yourself, not who someone else may want you to be.

Further reading on the artist & the cultural appropriation of her work (and her as a person)

“Quit Appropriating Frida Kahlo” – Resistance Always, WordPress (lots of good photos on this post too)

“Stop Bastardising Frida Kahlo” – a popular post that went around Tumblr

“Frida Kahlo would hate your Frida Kahlo shirt” – Golden Gate Xpress

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Essays, Fashion, Opinion

MR Writers Club: Describe Your Personal Style

See below the response I submitted to last month’s prompt.


Black & minimalist. Words that I’d previously use to describe my personal style. Note: previously. I worked in an office for a year at 17 and quickly adapted to the corporate dress code. Somehow it spilled over into my casualwear. Neither jeans nor sneakers existed. I wore a uniform of pencil skirts, wide leg pants, and black tops of some variant. I’d say I dressed twenty years older than my chronological age. Sometimes I still do.

I went back to school this summer. Starting college after two years out of the system was daunting to me, especially coming from Scotland where things are rather different. Not only were the classes going to be unfamiliar, but the people too. I’ve discovered that although we are two English speaking countries, culturally, we are worlds apart. I learned that teenagers in America are really teenagers. Like, actual kids still, not mini-adults like we are at home. I soon realized that I had to adapt or I would stick out. During orientation people were already asking me why I dressed up so much, so I made a conscious decision to change. It was time. Micro-miniskirts in various materials (vinyl, pleather, scuba), colorful fur coats, t-shirts, and jeans have made it into the rotation. I literally hadn’t worn denim since I was 14 years old.

I enjoy getting dressed nowadays. I often think of a #look (yes, the hashtag really elevates it) and strive to realize it. I love when I plan an outfit mentally and execute it perfectly. Going to a fashion school helps too, allowing the freedom to push the boundaries of what would be considered acceptable in a regular college. Sometimes I will wear the most ridiculous outfits just because I can. It’s fun. Fashion should be fun.

The Man Repeller ethos was ingrained in me before I even heard about this website. I’ve never dressed for guys. Ever. I don’t want to. Case in point, I wore a typical “club” outfit yesterday but paired it with black leather Converse and a plaid blazer. “Geography professor” vibes, yet I think it looked cool. The week before I wore Acne Studios leopard print tights with a leopard print fur coat – you’ve got to fully commit to that kind of thing. I got many puzzled faces looking back at me on the streets (and I thought New York would be ready for that look).

My style has changed over the past few months, but so have I as a person. I’ve matured and my style has too. I’d say the biggest sign of maturity is not caring what people think, knowing that you are enough without requiring the validation of others. That’s what I’ve come to achieve in my outfit choices and, almost, in daily life. So, to summarize my new, improved, and ever-evolving style in the simplest way possible: a series of #looks. (Say the hashtag.)

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Essays, Fashion, Opinion

The Future of Retail

In the past few weeks I have been reading a lot about the ever-evolving retail landscape. I find it very interesting, especially because I plan to enter the apparel industry in a few years time. Our notions of what we want and expect out of a shopping experience have changed dramatically. Now it is not enough for a brand just to have brick-and-mortar locations, an online presence is a necessity. But is online all that brands need to provide, or is there something more? Fashion companies need to change with the times in order to remain in business, essentially. But how do they do that, going forward?

I find it funny that online has taken over, or that we perceive it to. I learned in one of my classes that only 10% of all transactions in the USA occur online and around 30-40% in China. I’d say that my generation would think that more transactions occur online because we have embraced e-tailing in such a full-on way. I have friends who shop almost exclusively at online stores because it’s easier, there’s a bigger selection, it’s cheaper – a myriad of reasons, really. Some shoppers are still reluctant to make the shift to the internet, but a large chunk of people will at least browse.

There are still some brands who have a very small online presence. For example, Chanel sells just sunglasses, skincare, fragrance, and beauty on their e-store. Pieces from collections, such as shoes and bags, are available to view online but not to purchase – that can only be done in stores. For such a high end brand, it is important to keep exclusivity. In a major way, the internet has democratized fashion. For younger brands like Altuzarra, based in New York City, it doesn’t make too much sense having to worry about e-commerce on their own website. Instead you can shop these type of brands online on sites like Net-a-porter and Matches Fashion. Altuzarra’s e-store actually links you through to Matches to complete your transaction. That’s a true partnership.

I do a lot of my browsing online, especially for brands that I wouldn’t normally have access to. I love e-tailers like Net-a-porter where I can see all of the items that I loved going down the runway in an as close to real life situation as I can. I also love online boutiques like FRWD by Elyse Walker. It has a cool, tightly edited selection of merchandise on offer and I can visualize how the store would be in my head without having to leave my bed. Now that I live in New York I can go to the high end department stores and browse in person but before I came here online was my only platform. This is what I mean when I say the internet has democratized fashion. It has made it accessible. Luxury is no longer out of reach. Consumers no longer feel intimidated by the luxury stores because they can pre-pick what they’re going to buy online (and find out the price so there’s none of the awkward “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” drama) and go in store to have the experience of shopping there. That’s what shopping is about, an experience. If retailers can’t provide that then they will lose out to online stores eventually.

Barneys New York

It has also been speculated that the internet is going to kill the department store. They are not the giants that they once were, both in the UK and the US. Macy’s is known for being constantly on sale. It’s a store where you’d be foolish to pay full price. In fact, this can be damaging for some of the brands that are stocked in store (like Michael Kors, for example, who has been hit by discounts offered by department stores fairly badly in the past few years). Similarly, Debenhams in the UK runs promotions almost weekly. It is just a way to get shoppers into the stores. However, there are some things that can be done by the department stores to draw shoppers back in without having to slash prices.

I was in Macy’s at Herald Square a few months ago. What I learned from my visit was never go too far up in the building because the clothes get dowdier the higher you go. If you start from the basement, the “teen” or “junior” area (which is where the Levi’s are kept), you will experience fitting rooms with adjustable lighting on the mirrors. You can see how the outfit would look in various settings. I found that a very cool feature. I’ve heard of other stores doing a “smart” mirror where you digitally try on clothing instead of actually having to go into the fitting rooms and do it yourself. I’m not sure that I like that idea as I think you can only get a true representation of how things fit once they’re on your body, although I do realize that nobody ever, ever, ever looks good in fitting room lighting. Ever. Experience is key; trial new technology.

I think the area that department stores need to work on is becoming speciality stores, like Barneys or Bergdorfs instead of “department stores” in the traditional sense. I think the two aforementioned are safe, regardless of what happens to normal department stores. Young people aren’t interested in shopping at the same store as their grandparents generally (although my granny shops at Free People…) so I think more needs to be done to modernize the stores and make them more youthful. I found that Macy’s had a stark contrast between what they classed as “juniors” fashion and what they had in the regular womenswear area. It was almost like the kids were too young and the adults were too old. There didn’t seem to be a good spot for women between 18 and 30, and I think that is a key demographic in terms of spending power, disposable income, and actual interest in fashion and keeping up to date with trends. The way to find out about how young people actually dress is through social media. It is an as-true-as-can-be reflection of our times, although what you see on there is often an edited reality. Alternatively, pay attention to what young people on the street actually wear. Chances are you’ll think that the teens are older than their calendar age, mainly because we all dress more maturely than teens did a decade ago. The time of teenage high school movies is over, although sometimes stores reflect these dated ideals in their choices. My main suggestion would be know your customer and ensure your research is current.

If it is more convenient to shop on my phone whilst lying in bed at 2am, I’ll do it. But if I know there’s a great store where the employees are friendly, the visuals are appealing, and the experience is worthwhile, I’ll sure as hell get out of my bed in the morning and march along there instead. We no longer need specific retailers because there are so many options out there for consumers. Retailers now need us.

FURTHER READING

Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren Hit Hard by Stores’ Discounting Binge – Business of Fashion (August 2016)

The Future of Retailing: The Technology Revolution is Now – Forbes (August 2016)

RECOMMENDED RETAILERS (online & in-store)

Forward by Elyse Walker

Matches Fashion

Net-A-Porter & The Outnet

Opening Ceremony

 

& Other Stories, Soho, New York

Barneys New York, Downtown location (Chelsea, New York)

Topshop Oxford Circus, London

Aritzia, Flatiron location, New York

 

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Essays, Opinion

Book Review: The Vogue Factor by Kirstie Clements

I am an avid reader. Give me a book on almost any subject and I will devour it. Honestly, I read books on so many different topics from the most low-brow trashy crap to great pieces of literature and a whole bunch of stuff in-between. Now my usual method of reading is buying a book from Amazon marketplace for a penny plus postage and waiting 6 weeks for it to arrived in a tattered, old condition from some random town in the middle of the United States. This book was slightly different though. I received it for Christmas in 2013, brand new and untouched. Almost fresh from the print, the book was just out and just making a stir: I read it in 2 days. Realising that it was probably not enough time to digest what I had actually read, I decided to read it again this spring and you know what? It is a really good book.

 

Let me give you some background information. The Vogue Factor is written by Kirstie Clements, ex-editor in chief of Vogue Australia. She wrote the book after being fired from her position after working at the magazine for almost a quarter of a century. The book tells her story of how she grew up in Australia and managed to snag a job on the reception desk of Vogue and how she managed to work her way up to the very top by making herself practically indispensable. She discusses the glamour and the passion of the staffers for Vogue, as you can imagine, and all the behind the scenes stories ranging from gossipy titbits to real business talk. As luck had it, Kirstie moved to Paris, moved back to Australia, worked for a couple of different magazines (mainly branches of Vogue), and had a hell of a time in the process of it. Yes, she’s not Anna Wintour but she is, or was, Australia’s equivalent, except less scary and a little bit more approachable.

When I found out that she had been fired, I expected the book to be very bitter, but it wasn’t. It genuinely was just a woman sharing stories of her life, one that likely inspired many young girls after reading the book. But don’t get me wrong, she didn’t look back on everything fondly and paint life at Vogue as all sunshine and happiness. It was very much a no bullshit book. She called out the fact that there is a definite Conde Nast hierarchy and Vogue Australia is very near the bottom of it. She acknowledged that so many things that are commonplace in the fashion industry are absolutely ridiculous; like the super-skinny models who reportedly ate tissues and spent lots of time on a hospital drip. But mostly, she seemed appreciative of all that she had experienced and proud of all that she had achieved. I think what you can tell from her book is that she got very lucky and I think she knows that.

“And God Created Woman” starring Abbey Lee Kershaw, a famous Aussie model. Clements said in the book that the magazine were fond of using Australian models and supporting local talent.

I think perhaps the best example of her luck is the fact that she got a job at Vogue with no degree, no contacts, no real fashion experience. Ah, yes back in the simpler times when a degree didn’t equal success (even though it doesn’t guarantee it now), you could get your foot in the door by starting at the lowest level and working your way all the way to the top. Now, you need a degree to even get an internship or to fetch a cup of coffee: ridiculous but true. Despite her lack of formal education, she seemed to have a rough idea of what she was doing and managed to get herself involved with as many projects as possible. This led to her promotion at the magazine and she ended up in a more senior role than just reception. Then she moved to Paris and contributed to Vogue Singapore (I think?) then moved back to Australia and came back to Vogue. She was made EIC in 1999 and was fired from that position in 2012.

I think what I’ve really taken from the book is how different things would be at a major edition of Vogue, say American or British, in comparison with what it is like in Australia. Yes, the Australian fashion market is ever increasing but it is unlikely that it will ever be a major player in the global scale like say the big four (New York, London, Paris & Milan), maybe in a decade or two… Clements discussed having to get Aussie designers to literally copy designs from the catwalks of Europe to feature in the magazine because the pieces weren’t available in Australia. She talked about how difficult it was to book the big-name models and photographers because they could not offer them enough money or the magazine wasn’t prestigious enough for them to want to work for. She talked about the fact that even though she got invited to all of these wonderful fashion events, say Paris Fashion Week, Vogue Australia would only ever get one seat (or sometimes just standing room). Lets face it, Australia is a small fish in a big sea.

What I got from her story was real inspiration. Now I’m not a fool: I understand that the world of fashion is not paradise, not even close. But what I do know is that it is a world that I want to be a part of. Not just for the glamorous parties, fancy foods & the jet-set lifestyle, but for the love of fashion. It is something that excites me, and as a person who looks perpetually unimpressed (it is just my resting face, honestly) fashion is a big deal in contributing to my happiness. The joy that I feel when seeing brilliant clothes, striking editorials and, even, eye-catching advertising campaigns is unparalleled. I think the people who have a genuine love for this industry will succeed, should they work hard enough. The people who are social-climbers and really don’t give a fuck will fail, in the end anyway (even if they seem more successful than you at the time). What was so great about Kirstie’s book was that she did not seem jaded by the fashion industry, despite her decades-spanning career in it. She still seemed to care and she still seemed excited, and that’s what I love to hear. So yes, she may no longer be Editor-in-Chief but she likely has other things ahead. This is a woman who seems smart, is a good writer and who actually cares: three things that are practically vital for success in magazines. I wish her all the best in the future and I’m actually kind-of glad that she was fired, purely because if she weren’t this book would not exist. Ah yes, the silver lining.

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Essays, Opinion

Why Chanel and the Met Gala Being on the Same Night is Ok

Fashion is deemed very frivolous. It is not a matter that people think hold much weight, rightly or wrongly so depending on your opinion. That’s why the Met Gala is such a big deal. Often classed as fashion’s equivalent of the Oscars, the Met Gala (or Ball depending on who is saying it) is an annual charity event held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The event honours the opening of that year’s exhibit at the Costume Institute in the museum. Basically, it is one of the few evenings in the year that fashion actually matters to people. Celebrities, designers and fashion-people in general attend. An invitation is so sought after that tickets cost around $25,000 to purchase, you know, if you’re not actually on the guest list. The prestige of the event is so much so that the first time that a very pregnant Kim Kardashian attended in 2013, there was a general uproar from press and fashion critics alike. Just as a little side note, she was banned the previous year by Anna Wintour but we all know how that has changed as she has since received that infamous Vogue cover that led many to proclaim Anna Wintour’s credibility dead and gone.

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel's Metiers d'Art show in Salzburg (Pre-Fall 2015)

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel’s Metiers d’Art show in Salzburg (Pre-Fall 2015)

 

Chanel’s cruise show, on the other hand, is a little bit less of interest to regular people. Whilst gossip magazines and fashion magazines alike will include images of the best dressed attendees at the Met Gala, Chanel’s cruise show will likely receive less mainstream attention. However, it is always quite a spectacle. For the pre-collections (both Pre-fall and Cruise/Resort/whatever you want to call it), Karl Lagerfeld takes Chanel all over the globe, showing in many exciting locations and often drawing inspiration from such places. This year for the Cruise show, Chanel is going to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. I often think that the pre-collections for Chanel are better than, and certainly more exciting than, their regular collections. For reference, Chanel is always near the end of the show schedule in Paris meaning that by the time you see the photos from Chanel, you have seen at least 100 other shows (if you’re looking online, I doubt people actually go to that many) and have probably seen about 10,000 photos. I feel burned out looking at it all and I’m not even travelling. However, for the pre-collections, Chanel is one of the few brands that actually stage a show – many brands just show lookbooks or release photos from presentations – and they always put on a good one. Usually there is more of a story behind the collection and the different locations make it all the more exciting: think of it as all the important people in fashion going on holiday together.

This year, Chanel’s cruise show has fallen on the same date as the Met Gala. That is a problem. Now you may think “why not just change the date?” as that does seem like the most logical thing to do. However, the date has reportedly already been changed due to a clash with Dior. This isn’t the first time that a conundrum like this has occurred. The same thing happened for the pre-fall Metiers d’Art collection in Salzburg. It was held on the same day as the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that was held in London. Because of the different locations (and the not-so-close proximity) people had to choose between one and the other. This meant that fashion editors, buyers, journalists, and basically anybody that matters in fashion attended Chanel and the rest (including the celebrities, for the most part) attended Victoria’s Secret. However, this time around it is different. The Met Gala is not the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show: it actually matters. It is an event that people in fashion covet a ticket to and attendance is thought of as an honour.

So how are people going to decide between the two? I’m assuming that buyers, journalists and some important editors will go to Chanel and the rest to the Met Gala. Of course Anna Wintour, perhaps the most influential woman in fashion, will go to the Met Gala as the Costume Institute is now named after her and she is heavily involved in the running of the event. For that reason, I also assume that many important American Vogue editors may also attend. However, the celebrities will be divided. I don’t think celebrities are needed at a fashion show. Their only role is to grab a little bit of press which in the end doesn’t matter because press doesn’t always translate into sales, especially if said celebrities fan base is primarily made up of teenagers who cannot afford the brand’s product. I think that celebrities will see the Met Gala as a better event to attend. For one, the coverage that they will receive will be greater, both in volume and quality. Moreover, the event looks like a bunch of fun. I’d love to get a preview of the exhibition at the Costume Institute as the exhibitions are always hugely successful and very busy. However, many may attend Chanel if their loyalty lies with Karl.

The most divided sector will be the models. Each year, some models attend the Met Gala on the arm of a designer or are often there to represent a certain brand. Last year, Kendall Jenner, Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman went to the event wearing Topshop and to represent the brand. Similarly, Liu Wen wore Zac Posen, Cara Delevingne wore Stella McCartney, and Karlie Kloss wore Oscar de la Renta – all representing their respective brands. A few more models not listed also attended. Now I think it is pretty likely that these models will be invited to attend this year but will they accept the invitation? This goes back to aforementioned the VSFS vs Chanel Salzburg debacle. Both Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne were rumoured to be cast for Victoria’s Secret yet they walked Chanel. Considering that they are Karl’s favourites at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if they skipped the Met Gala and walked Chanel instead. Perhaps the rest of the models that walk Chanel will be less known ones. I don’t think that is necessarily a problem as often the less known girls are the best. When I say less known, I mean girls like Sasha Luss and Marina Nery who probably won’t be invited to the Met Gala as their social media following hasn’t hit the million mark. I don’t think social media should be an indicator of someone’s success but unfortunately it is nowadays. Anyway, my point being, the pseudo-supermodels will probably go to the Met Gala, the rest (if they get cast) to Chanel; that is fine with me.

So this is it, a cardinal sin, a faux pas, has been committed, through no fault of either party, by scheduling both events on the same date. It sounds rather silly when you think about it but it will be a big deal and a difficult choice for some. For example, for some models walking Chanel may grant them some prestige in their career and is definitely a good show to have listed on your models.com profile, but being seen at the Met Gala would do wonders from a publicity standpoint as it garners more attention with the masses than a Chanel runway does. The fact of the two events being on the same night might actually be a good thing though. At least the people who matter (for the most part) and those who are actually influential will be at Chanel, you know reviewing the runway and picking pieces to buy into their stores, and those who just generate publicity but little more will be elsewhere. Yes there will be some important people missing out (think Ms Wintour) but it is not the end of the world. After all, the Chanel show will be on style.com, the goings-on inside the Met Gala will not.

As someone who is not a model or at all important in fashion for that matter, an invite to either of the events would be appreciated but if you twisted my arm for a definitive answer, I think I’d choose the Met Gala: would you?

 

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Essays

Mary Kate and Ashley: The Accomplished Duo

There is something about a set of twins that makes them infinitely more interesting than regular people. For one, they would never struggle to think of a fun fact about themselves at a group job interview – “I have a twin” always breaks the ice. Secondly, having a twin must be even better than being merely siblings. You would share a bond that can only be achieved by being twins because you are together, and have been together, right from the beginning all the way until the end. Twins are often grouped together for life, which can be tiresome for many but if you’re as business-savvy and as passionate as the Olsen twins, you will reap all the rewards.

Mary Kate and Ashley have been in show business since they were less than a year old and have only grown since then. They started out acting in Full House, sharing a role at just 9 months old, and now, 27 years later, they are at the forefront of fashion. What makes Mary Kate and Ashley different from other child stars is the fact that they created an empire, or their management did, at a time when most other children their age were playing board games and learning basic arithmetic.
Dualstar, their production company which released their movies and television specials, was founded in 1993, when the twins were just 7 years old. Between 1993 and 2004, the Olsens starred in 13 feature films (all of which I watched as a child), 3 television programmes and 2 other video series. During this time they also released a wide range of products to target the pre-teen and teen market including video games, dolls, clothes, home decoration, furniture: practically anything you can think of, they did.

Although the empire that they built was a pretty mean feat to achieve, I’d say they have achieved something even greater than that now. The twins have completely reinvented themselves, so much so that they are almost unrecognisable from who they used to be. They have come to embody American luxury fashion, becoming complete icons in the process of it. I’d say that Mary Kate was the breakout fashion figure of the two, purely because her boho-chic look in the mid 2000s which became hugely fashionable all over the world (helped by Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe of course). Now, with their hugely successful fashion line The Row, the Olsen twins have proven themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

From various collections of the past few years

From various collections of the past few years

Now let me clarify one thing, I do not agree with celebrity designers. Those who are already famous that decide to dabble in fashion for a bit of fun on the side without having a true passion for it are a real annoyance to many. They usually have zero formal training, no experience and just the celebrity status to get on by. The Olsen twins, however, have surpassed the celebrity designer stage. The Row has recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary and receives rave reviews almost every season, along with admirable coverage in fashion magazines not just in America but around the world. The Row has established itself as one of the great American brands of the past decade and one that will, hopefully, be around for decades to come.

I think what has made the Olsen twins’ experience in fashion different is that they have stuck it out. This is not just a side-project for them but actually their main and only focus. They no longer think of themselves as actors, their production company has been dormant since 2004, and are fashion people through and through. That is not to say that they didn’t face critics when the first started out, because of course they did. Fashion is a notoriously elitist industry and unless you have worked your way up and paid your dues, you won’t be respected. As the Olsens were celebrities, actors nonetheless, they were faced with hurdles from the start. Yes they had the finance behind them to create something special, but if the fashion press are against you it can be difficult. But they have done something commendable in sticking it out for so long and creating such a good output. They have truly proven themselves in the industry.

Their line, The Row, started out with them trying to create the perfect white t-shirt and has since expanded into something of couture-like proportions. Although technically still ready to wear, the construction and thought that goes into the line is impeccable. Famed for the simplicity yet complex details (a bit of an oxymoron, I get it), The Row produces garments that can be a staple in wardrobes. Mary Kate and Ashley have almost created uniforms for themselves, as that’s what their line really is. They create what they would wear. A key feature of The Row is the neutral colour palette that is used season after season. The straightforwardness of it is so important to the success of the range. And believe me, it is definitely a commercial success. Sold in over 145 stores worldwide (Harvey Nichols in London, Saks in New York to name a couple), the label generates sales of tens of millions each per year. It is also a critical success: collections are lauded by the press and they have received real critical acclaim in the form of awards from the CFDA (Womenswear Designer of the Year 2012, Accessories Designer of the Year 2014). Basically, what I am saying is that there is no stopping Mary Kate & Ashley.

Another factor that separate s The Row from other celebrity lines is the fact that they have positioned themselves firmly in the luxury segment. Price-wise, they could rival Hermes. At $39000 for an alligator skin backpack, their prices aren’t for those who are just dabbling in the high end market. People buy their items, and pay such high prices for them, because they are so good. Well researched, designed and constructed, the pieces are classics that could last for years and become wardrobe staples. You have to remember that the first collection the twins created consisted of just 7 pieces. The effort and singular attention that goes into every individual piece designed along with the hands-on work by the Olsen twins makes the price tag worthy and almost justified. So whilst I am unlikely to be able to afford anything by The Row, I can always dream. The Olsens have gone beyond what anybody could’ve imagined when they set out to become fashion designers. One can only hope that The Row‘s place in the history of American fashion is realised.

Ashley carrying the $39000 backpack

Ashley carrying the $39000 backpack

FURTHER READING

An interview with the duo in Elle magazine this month.

A Wall Street Journal online article.

If The Row is out of your price range, like me, the twins also have a second, more contemporary line called Elizabeth & James. Prices start at around ÂŁ50 and go up to the late hundreds.

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