XXY Editors Discuss: Has Fashion Week Lost its Magic?
XXY Editors Discuss: Has Fashion Week Lost its Magic?
Tahmina Begum: So how are you feeling about fashion week as a whole?
Chinasa Weruzochi: I feel a bit conflicted about it to be honest because I’m always excited to see the new collections but fashion week itself gives me slight anxiety, because you spend so much time, first of all, getting between the shows, I mean that’s a trip in and of itself.
C: And I look at the huge, vast amounts of money being spent on shows…
T: For a few minutes, it’s literally for a few minutes.
C: Exactly; is it necessary? Because if it’s a presentation then okay- I like to compare it to movies. Film producers spend hundreds of millions creating movies but that entertains you for an hour. You know that it’s for entertainment purposes, you can go back and watch this movie X amount of times. But sometimes thousands, hundreds of thousands or if it’s a couture show, millions are spent on shows.
T: Like Chanel, Chanel’s ridiculous.
C: In ‘Dior and I’, they spent over a million, two million pounds or euros putting that on, and it was on for maybe twenty minutes?
T: And it was a show that they had to put together in 8 weeks or something ridiculous.
C: Exactly, if it’s a presentation then at least you get to have a deeper conversation with the pieces and what the inspiration is. That at least provides something that’s more worth it than watching X amount of models walk down a catwalk for 5 seconds or take photos of for ten minutes. It just seems outrageous to me.
T: It seems weird to me because, I just think, people do shows for press. London is a place people do shows for press. That’s why so many buyers skip London. And because London is a place for emerging creatives and they don’t have a lot of money left over, it’s even crazier to me. It’s insane why they spend so much money on shows when Instagram is free. Do you know what I mean? When people will naturally share it to show that they’re keeping up. And that notion hasn’t gone.I just feel as though they’re dying. No one enjoys them, everyone’s miserable. I sound spoilt but I really do only go to the catwalk shows that I really like. I won’t stand in the queue for half an hour beforehand with PR that are maybe a bit annoyed because they’ve been standing around all day, getting rude. You go into the show, you sit down and you’re all squashed, it’s late, on for a few minutes and then you have to run out again. I just feel as though even if I don’t know the designer, I’ll most likely go to the presentation, because, first of all, maybe free food.
T: It’s true though, we need to hydrate. And also because it’s nice, you get to wander around, you feel like you’re swanning around, I always get a selfie with the models. It feels so much more fun. Do you think catwalk shows are going to die out? Let’s say, compare the last five years to the next five years.
C: I think in their current iteration they will. Couture shows will stay because couture is a dream, there’s a very small market for it, but it feeds into other things, so that will stay. Like you said, and I love that you said this, London is a place for emerging designers and yet it costs so much. So many brands are having to scrape everything they have together to get seen. I hope they will be replaced by more presentations because I really do like presentations. You also get to tell a much bigger story when you have them, not that shows aren’t effective but when you just have models walking down a runway there’s not much to it. If you think about it, if Vetements don’t stick to a runway show because it no longer works – which I think is why they left shows, and they’re meant to be innovative brand currently – it speaks to the fact that they’re no longer doing what they were meant to.
T: They didn’t do it for that long and then they were like, okay we’re done with this, let’s move on. First of all, I thought it was stupid that everyone was like ‘Omg, they’re being so innovative because they’re not doing shows anymore’ because it really isn’t about that. But I just feel like shows are becoming disheartening. I remember being in a DAKS show a few years ago and it was in Somerset house and the show had finished. And you know the way they change things really quickly for the next show? But our next show was in the same place and they didn’t really do much. I mean they just changed obviously, the seating arrangements, maybe the carpet, but in that moment of time, I could see through the cracks. I could see that it wasn’t this shiny thing anymore. It’s almost like when someone has really good fake eyelashes and from far away they look really great and then you go up close and you can see the bit of plastic. It was like that.
C: Yeah, that’s true. I know what you mean. I think younger designers are more open to the idea of doing something else but that also depends on what your brand is about. If you’re a sponsored designer, you will take them on because it’s a fairly risk-free form of exposure but if left to their own devices, most new designers are quite willing to do something else. Because – and it might be the social media generation – but you also want to make it more of an experience. You want people to be engaged.
T: And I think that’s the great thing about presentations, the fact that you walk in and you can actually feel the atmosphere. I really like menswear presentations, they kill it. There are very few shows I remember but there are definitely presentations I do remember. I just always recommend a presentation because the IG post of someone walking on a catwalk might be great but it’s not going to last as long in a person’s memory; the fact that in a presentation you can touch and feel and talk to people. I saw a friend the other day in a presentation and the last time we saw each other was in the exact same designers’ presentation last year and we thought it was quite funny. Forming memories like that is so important and that’s what people remember at the end of the day.
C: From the designers perspective, you don’t forget what you’ve put into your collection. I mean I’m sure by the time you get to 100 collections, you probably do, but for press, I see what you mean. I went to a few shows for Mens and I don’t remember them anywhere near as vividly as I remember the Phoebe English show with the clay; all the colours and the details in that presentations.
T: Do you think we’ve got this feeling because we’ve been doing it for a few years?
C: I’m not sure?
T: I really can’t work it out. The other day when we said we were going to do this call, I was wondering is it because technically, I’ve been doing this for five years? Coming up to this February it will be six years, so is it because I’ve been doing it for nearly a decade? Is it because it’s wearing off a bit? Or is it literally because we’re tired of seeing the same shit all the time? Like come on, make a change, we’re meant to be the age of a revolution. I can’t work out if I’m just tired.
C: It’s just moving so fast now. I don’t think it’s because we’ve been doing it for too long because the Tim Blanks and Suzy Menkes’ have been doing it for far longer but I do believe shows had a bit more of a soul than they do now.
T: I agree.
C: I think there’s this conflict now because the shows have become so commercialised, but retail- I don’t want to say it’s doing badly- but the retail landscape is shifting so quickly, that you don’t even get to see the fruits of the commercialisation of the runway or the interesting pieces because they need to push more product.
T: That’s what I find weird, that the things that you remember from the show, that they’re not even in the stores.
C: I remember the first time I heard of showpieces as an intern, and I was like what? And they told me those were the pieces that are just on the runway and for press but they never make it to stores. But those are the ones that everyone really wants.
T: I just find that weird because I think it’s just, first of all, a waste of money. But then I think, are we just thinking about it from a realistic perspective? I guess because we work in the industry. We both work, obviously at XXY but you have your own fashion brand and I write for other people. (Okay, my job is exactly the same), but you have two different jobs, so I just think, is it because when you don’t work in fashion and you see it from the outside, you see a reason for showpieces, but when we work in it, it’s the whole eyelash thing, it’s less shiny, less sparkly?
C: Because we’re looking at bottom line figures? I mean it’s great but you spend x amount on this show, x amount on these showpieces and you’ve made x amount from the store, who are now not just doing as well. I mean Avenue32 – the Mecca for emerging designers just closed down which makes me so sad. There are so many contracts that put the designer in such a precarious position and you’re looking at them wondering, is it worth it? Not the construction of the pieces themselves because that can be worth the result, whatever it is and even if it never sells, but in terms of having a job and a life.
T: I think that’s because we’re the type of people who are both very conscious of fast-fashion and the effects that it has, well especially you having a sustainable and ethical brand. Not that we justify being in fashion but a lot of people that work in fashion have a little bit of guilt. If you want it to be, it can be an indulgent career and not really give back that much. I think because of that, we do look at things as a waste.
C: That’s where I have this conflict. If you’re going to make the runway show into a dream, and show us this amazing, beautiful, immersive thing, then do that. I can justify that, the same way I can justify watching a movie that I know has cost hundreds of millions to make. Everyone needs some sort of distraction from reality sometimes and inspiration, dreams can be invigorating.
T: My problem is that, like anything in life, if you’re going to do something then do something properly. If you’re going to do a runway show, do a runway show, have fun. I really like the fact that Teyana Taylor did the two shows in NYFW and she killed the two shows on the runway.
C: You might as well make it amazing and it went so well with the brand. If she did that at Burberry it might have been odd.
T: Make it memorable so at least you have that branding to keep you going because I guess the whole thing about having investors is that they want to see that you have potential. So at least if you have something that’s memorable and some type of branding, that’s better than doing a shit show and not having any sales, because I just think why are you here? In the least mean way, but if you’re not pushing anything forward in any way, and you’re just there for the sake of being there, what are you bringing to the table?
T: Okay, let’s take it back, what was your first London Fashion Week memory?
C: I don’t remember the first one but the biggest one was when I was interning and working backstage. We were getting models ready and it’s so funny because the model that I dressed at the time was Xiao Wen. She was starting out but now she’s quite established. And she was the sweetest thing but we couldn’t get shoes her size so we had to stuff them with tissue and Anna Wintour came in while we were stuffing.
T: Oh my god, what show was this?
C: Erdem. They moved us outside and shut the door but the doors were big glass doors so you could see all of us just peeking in. So we actually got a view of what she thought before the actual thing.
T: But what would happen if she was like ‘all of this is shit’? Like I want to know what would actually happen.
C: Apparently, you can tell. Because I…
T: Devil Wears Prada (laughs)
C: (laughs) No no, I watched September Issue, have you watched that film?
T: Oh yeah, I love that movie.
C: Where she went to see Stefano Pilati’s YSL show and her eyebrows twitched. And they were like watch her eyes, you can tell whether or not she likes something and that’s why she always keeps her sunglasses on. Her eyes would go one way and she’d smile a little and then if she didn’t, it was a no. I remember at the Erdem show though, I believe she liked it as everyone was just like, ‘(sigh of relief). Come back in and we can carry on with the show.’ But that was my first big fashion week experience.
Before we started I walked in and I was like Oh my goodness. I don’t think I realised how much of a big production it was. I don’t think people know, they think there’s like two makeup artists in the back and the models are filing in one at a time. No. Twenty makeup stations. That’s twenty tables that have been set up for makeup, plus twenty makeup artists, because they do all the makeup at the same time plus a head makeup artist, plus interns, plus the designers, plus people putting on the actual production. The production is huge.
T: I mean the amount of stress. I see the way Pat McGrath does a show and the way she gets all the of the artists to imitate her and you are literally learning, it’s kind of like Chinese whispers, so you don’t want the last model or an editor’s last thought to be completely wrong in comparison to what you originally wanted. And you are literally giving a lot of people the power over your show like the makeup artist, the hair, the systems, the way that it’s going to be styled, the way it’s going to go out, the music, everything.
I think it’s interesting because people, just like having something to lean on as well. If you think about it there are they could be so many mistakes going on. So they can just blame them when the going gets tough.
C: What was your first fashion week memory?
T: It was this European social media company. It was kind of a Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter all together and it was called ‘UrTurn’ and you could basically do what we do to images on Instagram Stories now. So I was actually there to do street style. So my first fashion week memory wasn’t even got to do with the shows but was to do with the circus around it all.
C: Isn’t that amazing though, because this whole industry, as much as you entrust your vision to so many people, this industry is built on collaboration.
T: It really is
C: It’s such an important part of fashion week now. But anyway, sorry go on.
T: No that’s okay! That’s why I found Susie Menkes’ article about the circus of fashion in the New York Times so interesting because she wrote that article that same season I was first there.
C: Oh my goodness! I remember reading Susie Bubbles response and being like yes! Because she mentioned the fact that she was being mocked for wearing the showpieces.
T: I remember reading the article when I got home like, ‘Oh what was fashion week really like then’ [before bloggers]. It’s funny because you were really inside and I was really outside.
C: And here we are!
T: So what else I was going to ask you was, do you think the reason why shows are so hollow now is because people kind of go to shows to say they’ve been to the shows, as like a save face kind of thing? It’s more about how many you can go to not really what you go to?
C: Oh, I think what you go to is important in terms of saying you’ve been to it like you said. Five years ago, when I was still interning and gaining experience, it was about how many shows you could go to because then I think was the pinnacle of fashion exposure. And now because loving fashion and being creative is so mainstream, it’s about how many you can decline.
T: Yessssss, that’s soooo true.
C: Like I’m only going to Valentino and the Gucci dinner and the Kenzo party and that’s it, that’s all I’m going to do.
T: I actually agree with that because it sounds snobby, but there are actually a lot of things that I won’t go to. It’s that whole thing that I want someone to go to it. It’s not a hierarchal thing I just want someone to go to them that will actually enjoy it instead of me just sitting there thinking I can wait for the next one. And even like because we live in this age of the personal brand. I think a lot of it’s come down to preference because like you said, 2008 to 2014, fashion was so excessive.
I just remember even the shows I went to were very, very excessive and then it became super minimal and now it’s funny because I feel as though it’s really in sync with Millennial girls? Do you know what I mean? It’s like it’s very in sync, for example, the Rosie Assoulin show that yesterday everyone was looking at. Personally, that’s like the perfect show because I feel as though she took the trends that everyone is loving and not letting go of but she just kind of made them slightly more innovative, but still very wearable and very luxury in terms of materials.
C: There’s also so much choice in fashion now. There was a point where before you had any recognition in this industry you had to have been going at it for so long and now there’s so much choice. You can form your own kind of little brand community of loyalists, in a year or two. Now it’s about attending things where you are part of that community.
T: So true, so true.
C: Whereas ten years ago, you didn’t have that kind of choice. It was literally high street or established luxury brands. You had to be doing it for ten years before everyone even knew your name outside of the industry.
T: I do question if we’ve become a bit too cliquey and a bit too niche because I do like that you can like find designers that are very aligned with your core beliefs, and I like the fact that they’re very aligned with what you want to see next but the same time I’m very aware that there are certain bloggers who are friends with each other and certain writers and it’s really all the same perspective. Before there was more variety. The first two years we went to a variety of things. Now it’s much more about people thinking about if they’re going to enjoy it, if it’s worth my time, almost before they even get there. Which is kind of a shame because you’re meant to, it’s like walking into a bookshop, you’re meant to be surprised. It’s not like Amazon, which already tells you what you’re meant to like.
C: I agree with that. I’m so interested to see where everything goes. From the press perspective, I wonder where this path is taking us. From the designer perspective, I’m trying this thing of seeing opportunities rather than negatives? Admittedly, I took a non-traditional route but I think before you knew what you had to do and the established process, but now everything’s really trial and error and you have no idea what’s going to work.
T: Do you think fashion week was better before Instagram?
C: Hmm. I don’t know that I have enough experience to judge that, I didn’t go to fashion week enough to know if it was better before Instagram.
T: I think it’s interesting because I remember it without Instagram.I feel as though people were just a bit more curious. Sometimes I’ll know what presentation looks like if someone’s got there an hour earlier before I have because it will be on Instagram. And I know that there’s the argument that when do people have time to be on Instagram during fashion week but you’d be surprised.
C: In cabs, walking between shows…
C: People that were going to shows at that time, kind of all knew each other and respected each others opinions. You would both look at a show and be like, is this really great? And now before you even have a chance to have that conversation or you go to write a review, you’ve heard what people have said on social media and change your point of view because you don’t want to get hate on your Instagram page. Because these things aren’t regulated. I mean you can say ‘I think that skirt was a little pedestrian and someone will come on your page and say “I think you’re a bit pedestrian” or “ugh, just die”.
T: Omg this is my life. Literally my life.
C: I’m not saying that anyone needs to be responsible for anyone else’s personal behaviour, but again even reviews have changed and I’m not blaming that on Instagram.
T: I do actually. I blame the culture around it. No one writes a bad review anymore because they’re so scared they won’t get invited again, but they don’t understand that even if it’s a bad review, it’s still going to get hits. That’s the thing, it’s probably going to get more hits, give you more attention. It just kind of frustrates me.
C: I remember reading a review of Marchesa, their first collection before I knew about finishing before I knew about the complexities of garment construction, and I remember reading about this and the writer talking about how they didn’t have finished seams and finished hems. And I was like oh those things are important, need to learn about those! I need to make sure when I do it, it includes those things. Now, the most constructive thing you probably get in a review is they would be better if there were more pieces.
T: If you didn’t read that review would you wouldn’t have learned yourself.
C: Exactly, there was so much to learn.
T: I do worry about the younger generation because if we’re not being constructive and criticizing, we’re leading the younger generation into this industry blindly, because I mean all they can see is the shiny-ness. Because before it was shiny but still was honest. Maybe it’s getting back to it because we’re noticing it, other people are noticing it, so maybe people can make their way back to it. Everything’s circulars so people do make their way back to things but at the same time I do think like it’s such a shame because it’s that whole thing with Lucinda Chambers, what she said in Vestoj: ‘Am I going to get another ticket?’ That shouldn’t even matter if you’ve just been fired.
I understand why because if you’ve been in the industry for that long and you’ve been relevant for that long you’re human so you going to think these things. But do we think like this because the industry is really that fickle and just really about being relevant or is it because we’re afraid to criticize and that was so afraid that we’re not going to be able to join the club?
C: I think before you had editors and you had traditional journalist like Tim Blanks who would go and write a proper review of those shows. I think those two jobs – blogger and critic – can be different. It’s okay for Susie Bubble to go to a show and want to buy the showpieces. That’s fine but it’s also fine for Tim Blacks to look at those pieces and go, I don’t know what the point of that collection was.
You should be able to have those things, but I think now being an editor is more about pushing a personal brand. I always feel like if you’re reviewing a show you should have private pages. And then you can say whatever the hell you want to say and people recognise that that is your job. But now a bloggers review is interchangeable with a Style.com review because it’s just descriptive and because some designers are like if you don’t write something I like, I’ll just replace you.
T: I don’t think anyone’s ever going to put up a private fashion page because that’s the time when numbers spike up and I think frankly no one’s going to miss out on that. We are almost baby feeding everything before it happens. I don’t know how much of an initial reaction people have anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I would have my career it wasn’t for the Internet but at the same time, I just think that initial reactions almost like gone. That’s the whole thing about putting on a show. Like Alexander McQueen said, “I just want a reaction from people, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad you just want a reaction.” And what if you’re not even getting that anymore?
C: Even if you only go to shows that you like, you can still give constructive criticism. In fact, you should be more critical of the brands you like. If I’m going to a show aligned to my “personal brand” and my style, I’m going to be more particular and critical but also enthusiastic about it. If you’re only being positive about brands that you’re going to, because they are in line with your personal taste, I think there’s a problem with that. I do think it has to do with the expectation in terms of job roles. If your job as an editor or fashion writer is to go to shows and say this is what I thought…
T: Because who else in the world is going to say it?
C: I think there needs to be some sort of industry-wide consensus that it’s okay to invite someone who may not actually like your show.
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