The fashion industry is a complex web of connections – and this might prove to be more of a liability than an asset. Yes, fashion is something of a byzantine ecosystem borne largely from the industry’s failure to look outside of its closest circle of stylists, consultants, journalists, ghostwriters, etc. for talent. The result is a significant overlap of roles – a magazine editor styling a brand’s runway show, a critic writing a brand’s show notes, or the same handful of casting directors determining which models walk in shows during a season. It also ensures that the iron-clad establishment stays in power.
As we have stated in the past, this set up tends to give rise to conflicts and as a result, a need for transparency. Yet, the notion of candidness and clarity is increasingly obfuscated because it could potentially dismantle the delicate balance – between advertisers and editors, designers and editors, influencers and brands, and still, some further variations thereof – upon which the fashion industry so heavily relies. (Note: this is in no way a fashion industry-specific phenomenon).
Fashion’s small club of connected individuals – and the routine use of the same editors, journalists, stylists, and creative directors, and the multi-faceted roles that many of these individuals assume, and the consistent recognition of the same individuals via industry awards – has given rise to another very distinct shortcoming: A glaring lack of perspective on the runway, in editorials, and behind the scenes.
The Same Creatives, The Same Standard(s) of Beauty
It has become commonplace for the industry’s participants to rely on, more or less, a fixed group of creatives with little variation thereof. It should come as no surprise whatsoever that if we consistently tap the same handfuls of individuals to dictate the discourse of fashion, the ultimate product will remain largely static.
This can be said of the consistent reliance on a small number of in-demand stylists. For instance, famed stylist Karl Templer's clients include Alexander Wang, Sacai, Valentino, Ralph Lauren, Coach, Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, and Zara (more about his work with Zara here). It is not uncommon for these stylists to also hold creative roles at fashion's most esteemed magazines, as well. Templer is the creative director of Interview Magazine.
The same can also be said for casting directors. Ashley Brokaw, for instance, who the New York Times lauded as “fashion's most unlikely power player” a couple of years ago, has her say on what models walk for Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Paco Rabanne, Prada, J.W. Anderson, Coach, Proenza Schouler, Calvin Klein, Raf Simons, Ralph Lauren, and others, each season.
As set forth by T Magazine’s Alice Gregory:
“If you flip through a magazine, stare up at a billboard or scroll through the thumbnail images of last season’s fashion shows, chances are high that you will be looking at the faces and figures of models Brokaw has discovered and groomed. Her clients include Miuccia Prada, Nicolas Ghesquière and Jonathan Anderson. She has cast shows for Miu Miu, Balenciaga and Tommy Hilfiger; chosen models for print ads for Calvin Klein, Harry Winston, Chloé and Armani, along with campaigns for more mass brands like H&M, Gap and Zara. She collaborates on shoots with Steven Meisel and Patrick Demarchelier.”
Or what about Fabien Baron? As Forbes recently wrote, "For the past 30 years, [Baron] been the creative helm behind some of the most famous campaigns for top brands like Calvin Klein, Burberry, Giorgio Armani and Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Coach. Over that period he has also revamped five magazines, including Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Interview — where he is currently editorial director."
Please do note, this article is not for the purpose of faulting Ms. Brokaw, Mr. Templer, Mr. Baron, or others in similar positions; they are name-checked merely to demonstrate that many of the most famed brands look only to the most industry-embraced individuals, thereby contributing to a large canon of homogenous style/aesthetics that dominates most of the runways and editorials at any given time.
Moreover, Brokaw, Baron, and Templer, among others, are, in fact, representative of a sizable number of individuals that operate in a very similar manner. When well-known brands limit the pool to any fixed group of in-demand creatives, the natural result is uniformity and the proliferation of those uniform standards - whether it be in terms of the look garments or the appearance of models.
In addition to tapping the same creatives for no small number of gigs, the industry perpetuates its views by way of multi-hyphenate creatives. Consider a relatively recent Dolce & Gabbana online campaign, entitled, #DGLovesStBarth. The campaign was styled by Anna Dello Russo, a well-known street style star and the Editor-at-Large and creative consultant for Vogue Nippon. Given Dello Russo’s role at Vogue, her work in styling for a brand that is a Vogue advertiser and the subject of frequent seasonal reviews from the magazine is ethically questionable. In the U.S., it might be questionable from a legal standpoint, as well.
Moreover, one could argue that it suggests impropriety on the part of Vogue for failing to separate church and state, as such involvement could lead to preferable treatment – conscious or otherwise – for the brand from the publication as a result of Dello Russo’s work with them.
The same could potentially be said for British Vogue's newly-appointed creative director Edward Enninful, who recently directed and styled an ad campaign for Gap - a Vogue advertiser.
Katie Grand proves another interesting example. The founding editor of AnOther Magazine (and now the editor of LOVE Magazine, a Condé Nast-backed venture), Grand currently styles and/or has styled Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu, Bottega Veneta, Hogan, and Oscar de la Renta runway shows and ad campaigns (per models.com). She also styles editorials for System Magazine, the Sunday Times Magazine, Vogue Italia, Self Service, and of course, LOVE.
Of Grand, Forbes recently wrote: "Best known as the Editor-in-Chief of LOVE, the bi-annual magazine she founded in 2009 with publisher Condé Nast. She is also the advertising creative director for Marc Jacobs' womenswear, menswear and beauty lines and is the stylist for the designer’s famed womenswear show. The list goes on and on—Prada, Miu Miu, Bottega Veneta, Balmain, Interview Magazine, Vogue, GQ, and Tatler have all called upon Grand to work her creative magic on their brands. Burberry has even allowed her to shoot the entire February 2017 collection for the latest issue of LOVE weeks before it's meant to show on the catwalk in London, that is how much faith the industry has in her."
The circle is further closed by the corporate-backing of publications. The same handful of publications tend to cover the happenings of the industry, many of which maintain close – and sometimes, financial-based – relationships with brands, other publications, and various industry individuals. The result can – in its most extreme form – be likened to the assimilation of the free press into the role of a masked public relations outlet because, as we well know, proper truth-in-advertising disclosures are little-utilized in fashion.
This is not something that seems terribly worrying to the industry. As famed critic Tim Blanks told fashion-focused journal Vestoj in an interview for its series, What’s Wrong with the Fashion Industry, “We are all cynics in fashion now. That’s how we justify writing press releases for fashion brands, and then turning around and giving the same brand a good review in a newspaper. Artistic integrity be damned – I’m making a living here.”
Still yet, take into account the many design competitions – such as the LVMH Prize, the Woolmark Prize, the H&M Design Award, the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation, ANDAM, British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund, the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund – that routinely help identify and herald in the new “it” talent in the fashion industry.
More often than not, the same handful of editors, designers, journalists, and influencers participate in these competitions as judges, and in some cases, even underwrite/sponsor them, as well. The fact that so many of the same individuals are tasked with helping select these competition winners – no shortage of which have deep connections to organizations that hold a stake in the outcome of such competitions – is noteworthy and problematic.
In short: a handful of potentially biased industry insiders dictate the selection of emerging talent within the industry, thereby furthering the complexity of fashion’s intertwined web.
And still yet, the industry's most celebrated awards events prove a hotbed for routine. The same designers and other creative tend to be nominated each year for the same prizes. As Vanessa Friedman wrote for the New York Times a few years ago of the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards, "Every one of the names nominated for one of the big three awards has won before — in Mr. Jacobs’s case, nine (count ‘em) times, including a lifetime achievement award in 2011 ... in Proenza’s case, five times; in Mr. Wang’s case, three times, though he has been nominated 11 times. Tom Ford, who is getting the lifetime achievement award this year, has also won five times."
A Larger Issue
It is vital to note that the growth of multi-tasking creatives is not inherently problematic. Neither is the rise of a handful of overly prominent (and well connected) publications or of fashion’s reliance on its small circle of friends (or as 99% YOUTH, the collaborative project between the anonymous STEVE OKLYN and French website Apar.tv, calls it, “industrialised, globalised multibillion dollar complexes” and “the spider web of power dynamics and relationships which hold the industry together”).
In fact, at its core, this is a perfectly acceptable creative scheme; designers CAN be consultants, editors CAN be stylists, and models CAN be photographers. Moreover, it makes sense that brands would want to rely on the most respected and successful talents in the industry.
This dynamic becomes questionable, however, when it ensures that industry’s output – be it show reviews, runway show castings, magazine editorials, or even the treatment of news – is skewed, fixed, and at times, downright inauthentic. The relationships behind those show reviews, castings, design competitions, and so-forth govern the end result before they have arguably had an equal or fair chance at innovation, diversity, and/or impartiality.
We have, more or less, ensured that any variations on the accepted ideals or interests – whether it be in terms of design, of “it” models, the narrative put forth by brands, or the skin color and size of their target audiences – take a permanent back seat to the reigning powers-that-be. In particular, this small group mentality has resulted in a short-sighted observation of beauty (thin, white, and so on), for instance – something that will only be changed in a meaningful, lasting manner when the industry begins to look outside of the establishment and its innermost circle, something it has been largely unwilling to do.
This is not unlike something that Jean-Jacques Picart, a well-known fashion consultant, told Vestoj not too long ago. Speaking of fashion shows, he noted: “If we only invite the front row set of this world, the way we view fashion will never change.”
* This article was initially published in April 2017.