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 III …
Nicole Phelps, director at Vogue Runway: Most consumers don’t want design innovation, exaggerated volume or a third sleeve on their garments. They want their garments to get them laid.
Steven Kolb, president & CEO at Council of Fashion Designers of America: Unless you make clothes as a hobby, you can’t use fashion as just a leisurely release of creativity – it’s very different from being an artist. To be a fashion designer is to participate in the fashion system.
Jean-Jacques Picart, fashion and luxury goods consultant: In America fashion is an industry. Here in France we still find it hard to accept that fashion is commerce, and that beautiful things have to sell. Many designers suffer from a form of snobbery, where they think they should be above pedestrian concerns like how to sell a dress.
Glenn O’Brien, editor-at-large at Maxim: What I see around me is only heartache and misery. Vanity. Enslavement of Third World people. People thinking that they are more important than they are. People without consciousness or principles. That’s the corporate world of fashion we have today.
Robin Schulié, brand manager & buying director at Maria Luisa: The fashion industry today is a beautiful lie. Nobody is happy. Everyone is fucking frustrated. I don’t see happy faces – I don’t see happy people doing their jobs.
Nathalie Ours, partner at PR Consulting Paris: In the 1980s fashion was still fun; there were no real rules yet. There were fewer brands so each designer occupied a much greater share of the market. Now there are so, so many brands.
Jean-Jacques Picart: In fashion we have to accept that there is an end to success. Every designer has a life cycle. An older designer retires, and a new one can flourish. This is the way it should be. That’s why I’m not keen on the revival of fashion houses. Why doesn’t a conglomerate invest in a new designer instead? An executive would say that an old brand already has a reputation, a ‘heritage,’ and that it will take less time to revive a brand like that than to build a new one from scratch. It’s a calculated risk, and succeeding in fashion is about taking calculated risks.
Nathalie Ours: A designer who wants to stay in business has to take things very slowly, step by step. I’ve lost count of the designers who were the hottest ticket for a season; all the buyers wanted the clothes, and the designer got overwhelmed and couldn’t deliver on time. After two seasons like this the buyers get fed up because late deliveries mean that the clothes won’t spend enough time on the shop floor before the sales start. Or maybe a market blows up – as we had recently with the Russians. So many designers started getting orders from Russian boutiques, and then the market dropped. The designers never got paid. Young people think fashion is very glamorous, but really – it’s hard work. Fashion is glamorous for the two minutes it takes to take a bow at the end of a catwalk show.
Glenn O’Brien: People have always been attracted to success; it’s our natural instinct. We want to survive, move up and get rewards but those rewards are illusory. We find that out later, when it turns out we didn’t make it. We see the dream getting further and further away the more we chase it.
Nathalie Ours: Sometimes I wonder how long we can actually expect a designer to be successful when fashion is so fleeting.
Robin Schulié: We expect a lot from our designers today in order to think of them as successful. We expect them to have their own brand, while designing for a big house. We expect them to have shops worldwide. We expect them to constantly be in the press … Look at young brands like Christopher Kane, Nicholas Kirkwood or J.W. Anderson. The corporations that own them are investing so much money in them, they aren’t allowed to just grow organically. The expectations are very high, and that in itself can be disastrous for a brand that is still establishing itself. These brands were profitable before they got investment from Kering or LVMH – they already had private backers. But they couldn’t afford to lose money so they couldn’t grow. When they get backing by corporations, their growth speeds up immensely all of a sudden. New shops are opened, new campaigns appear in the press. And now these companies that were previously profitable, start losing money. Their sales don’t match the investment they’ve received. The sheets aren’t balanced. It makes me wonder how long it’ll be before one of them hits the wall.
Glenn O’Brien: Culture is getting stupider and stupider. I worked in the music industry for a long time. And what I learned was that a record company, Columbia Records for example, might have three hundred artists and they have to put the same amount of work – A&R, publicity, radio promotion – into each one. So when you come across a Michael Jackson and you make one hundred times more money than from all the other artists that still require the same work, the economies of scale dictate that you don’t want twenty really good artists, you just want one overwhelmingly popular one. Everything comes down to the bottom line.