Vestoj has printed four-part narrative interview conducted by editor-in-chief Anja Aronowsky Cronberg for its sixth issue, “On Failure.” Tapping industry figures – including Tim Blanks, editor-at-large at Business of Fashion; designer Thom Browne; Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode; Adrian Joffe, president of Comme des Garçons; Glenn O’Brien, editor-at-large at Maxim; and Nicole Phelps, director at Vogue Runway, among others – the series explores what – exactly – is wrong with fashion. What follows are some of our favorite excerpts from Part I …
Robin Schulié (brand manager & buying director at Maria Luisa): The press release that was put out after Alexander Wang was fired from Balenciaga was pure propaganda. It was your typical statement where everyone praises each other to the sky. There was no reason given for the ‘separation’. And then Alexander Wang started giving interviews about his new store opening in London and none of them mentioned what had happened at Balenciaga – it was all airbrushed out of the success story that is Alexander Wang. Hilarious!
Steven Kolb (president & CEO at Council of Fashion Designers of America): There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in this industry. It’s hard to tell how well a fashion business is doing: whether people are getting paid, what a company’s cash flow is like … Going out of business, that’s failure. Not being able to deliver what you promise, not being able to pay your employees, not being able to feed the infrastructure you’ve created – that’s failure.
Nicole Phelps (director at Vogue Runway): Success in fashion today is about how many $5000 handbags you sell. That’s what determines if a designer stays at the head of a brand.
Tim Blanks (editor-at-large at Business of Fashion): Look at who makes it today. Look at Proenza Schouler for instance; I find them banal but they’re cute and charismatic. Then again, there are designers like Joseph Altuzarra, who’s a genius in my book, so I’m glad that he’s so telegenic and gets a leg-up because of it. On the other hand, there are designers like Anna Sui who have forged ahead for years doing absolutely amazing work. Her shows now have a much better calibre of audience than they used to, but she never quite manages to hit the big time because Anna Wintour doesn’t like her.
Glenn O’Brien (editor-at-large at Maxim): Fashion is one of the main things that distract people from thinking about what’s important today: ecology and politics. It’s a manipulation machine. The celebrity system we have now doesn’t make people think bigger or question anything. It’s the opposite actually – it makes people think more and more shallowly […] It’s nothing new; it’s been this way since Veblen wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class. But today we’ve reached this whole new level of stupidity orchestrated mainly by the mass media. Everywhere you look you see Caitlyn, Kim and Kanye. If people spend all their time thinking about 'The Real Housewives’ or 'Dancing with the Stars,’ they’re not thinking about poverty, police brutality or the exploitation of workers in Abu Dhabi.
Adrian Joffe (president of Comme des Garçons International): I’d say there’s a blueprint for success today – a certain path you need to tread. And an important part of it is being charming to reporters. Do the blah blah blah. Some people who are successful today are brilliant at it. They can charm the pants off anyone.
Hirofumi Kurino (co-founder & senior adviser for creative direction at United Arrows): Money and politics have conquered fashion. In the press for instance, nobody dares saying anything critical anymore. To me, that shows a lack of love. If you really care about fashion, you should be able to say critical things when it’s warranted. Recently I had dinner with the editor-in-chief of GQ Japan, Masafumi Suzuki. It was just after LVMH’s Berluti presentation, and afterwards all the PR people were asking him, ‘Mr Suzuki, how did you like the show?’ I’m sure they expected the usual niceties, but instead he said, ‘It was the worst show I ever saw!’ He told them they were cheating the customer and ruining the heritage of the brand by making expensive, uninteresting clothes. The PRs were shocked, but what he said came from a place of love. He cares about the brand. And because he’s important, people listen and invite him back to see the next collection.
Robin Schulié: Is there any other way to play the game? If you want to compete with the big guys, do you have to do it on their terms? That’s the million-dollar question. Young designers today are often competitive. They want to prove themselves and play the game. But the market today is too fragmented, and the big brands have already honed their skills for several decades. How can a young brand compete with that? And anyway, is there really just one way to be successful? Young designers need to ask themselves if they would be satisfied with another model. Why does every designer seem to follow the same blueprint for success? Why do you need to please everybody? I can understand that Dior needs to, but Christopher Kane? What will happen to his vision once he starts making long dresses for the Middle East, short cutesy ones for Asia and conservative tailoring for Middle America?
Glenn O’Brien: Fashion and the big time art world have been corrupted. The only space noncommercial culture has today, is a little temporary space that nobody notices. Like the space for cheap buildings in big cities, you can fill them until they get knocked down in order to put something expensive in its place.
Ralph Toledano (president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, president of the fashion division at Puig, CEO at Nina Ricci): Big corporate monsters need to have a creative vision and a genius designer at the top. The public wants someone they can identify by name, someone with a recognisable face. They want a hero. That’s why fashion companies stage fashion shows – the public needs to dream. But this aspect of fashion is only partially important to the success of a business today. What really matters is the rest of the machine: the marketing, the supply chain, the location of the shop, the communication campaign. That’s where you make your billions.
Nicole Phelps: The fashion industry has a knack for turning designers into stars. Look at someone like Alessandro Michele at Gucci; your typical backroom guy thrust into the limelight because of his position. We editors are storytellers by necessity – we need to create stars. We have pages to fill.