Business of fashion

On Vogue Festival and the masterclass economy

Vogue festival 2016 main entrance

As fashion and its industry become more fashionable than ever, it’s unsurprising that people want to know more about it. There’s a real thirst for expertise, insight, insider stories and an understanding of the inner workings of it all. And of course, to be part of it.

Enter the rise of what I call the masterclass economy, an uptick in conferences, workshops, panel debates and hands-on masterclasses that let you get stuck in. Apple’s new store in San Francisco is a good example, with a dedication to knowledge workshops that embrace and encourage creative entrepreneurship. And of course, London’s Vogue Festival is one of the pioneers in recent years of the more glamorous type of symposium.

Getting a good mix is crucial, both for consumer satisfaction and for profitability. For the fifth Vogue Festival that took place last weekend, there was the usual mix of tabloid-worthy A-list interviews (Kim Kardashian! Dolce & Gabbana!), panel debates (‘You Social Media: What’s Real Now?’), braid bars and make-up stations (sponsored by beauty brands who cough up thousands for the pleasure). Plus editorial fashion how-tos brought to life by Vogue staffers, with help from main sponsor, Harrods.

Vogue festival 2016
Vogue festival 2016
Vogue Festival 2016
Vogue festival 2016 Jo Malone perfume bar
Vogue festival 2016 Harrods doorman
Vogue festival 2016
Vogue Festival braid bar
Vogue festival 2016 merchandise

But also of value were the added extras. I loved the lecture from Robin Muir, Vogue’s one-time picture editor, curator of the recent Vogue 100 exhibition and author of many books. Muir gave his highlights of the treasures from the Vogue library, which is considered Europe’s finest archive of fashion photography. It houses two million+ items – prints, transparencies, commissioning letters and other ephemera – in old school filing cabinets, that beg to be digitised. (It’s happening, but slowly.)

In 1942 Vogue pulped its archive in a bid to support the war effort, yet ancient artifacts frequently reappear, unearthed from the estates of deceased contributors. While the library was once open to outsider creatives researching films, books or fashion projects, it’s now strictly for Conde Nast employees. This is Muir’s favourite image, a young Lucian Freud with his pet sparrow by Vogue contributor Clifford Cotton (below)…

Vogue Festival Robin Muir lecture Lucian Freud

Another Vogue Festival creative coup was the drawing masterclass hosted by illustrator David Downton (below). This is the sort of thing I could imagine Vogue Festival doing more of; hands-on practice taught by real experts. Even (Vogue fashion director) Lucinda Chambers’ summer styling masterclass was brilliant. Deconstructing the rails of Harrods high summer offerings, she extolled the multi-tasking virtues of Self Portrait lace dresses, Maje PJ trousers and Victoria, Victoria Beckham minimalist separates, as only she could.

Chambers herself wore an Atlantique Ascoli top correctly identified by me when I quizzed her afterwards. (Lucinda: “Did I buy it? Oh yes, I never borrow, I have to own it. But it was soooo expensive. You look chic too, what are you wearing?” Me: *faints*. Chic? Moi?!)
Vogue Festival David Downton drawing class - erin O'connor -photo by Darren Gerrish

Vogue Festival 2016 Lucinda Chambers styling workshop

Of the interviews I went to, Grace Coddington was the most entertaining, Juergen Teller the most inspiring and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele the most passionate.

I loved Grace’s honesty. She talked about being uncompromising which I liked as a takeaway. In my experience all the most creative people are uncompromising, which naturally can make them difficult to work with, but it also pushes the team harder. She also expressed a fatigue with the superficial Instagram-ification of fashion. On models, she lamented the numbers game that gives models their popularity. “I worked with Kendall [Jenner] in the past, and she was lovely but it was too quick. Before, you could develop a relationship with [new faces], now it’s all based on follower numbers. You don’t have time to have a relationship with these girls any more.” For a storyteller casting a shoot, she’s right that the girl has to be more important than her popularity.
Grace Coddington interviewed at Vogue Festival 2016

What a fantastic masterstroke to get Juergen Teller and ICA executive director Gregor Muir in the hot seat for Vogue Festival. This was my major highlight, listening to Teller talk candidly about collaboration, intimacy and honesty as an artist. He talked about his long-term projects with Helmut Lang and Marc Jacobs – surely some of the most memorable and iconic ad campaigns ever. Interestingly, he negotiated the Marc Jacobs one on the basis of also steering the layout, type and overall creative direction. It’s what gives them their offbeat impact and identifiable ‘Juergen’ look.

On art, he talked about his self portraits, which can be taken by anyone, whoever he’s with, but he directs them very specifically. The most important thing is the edit, thus he spends a lot of time on the layout. It’s all part of the art and his self expression, which of course is unique to him.

He also discussed some of the challenging work he has done that opened up a dialogue about his family, in particular the time he took a naked self portrait next to his father’s grave. “Photography lets you go to places you wouldn’t normally get to go to. It makes you push yourself into uncomfortable parts of your life and talk about important things.”

Juergen Teller at Vogue Festival

Alessandro Michele came on to the most almighty cheer from his fan club and gave us the low down on his journey, from his start at Fendi to his work with Tom Ford in London and then the famous five-day deadline he had to whip up his first collection for Gucci. He was charm personified and my overall takeaway was that cheesy old chestnut; stay passionate and just keep going.

This guy has passion oozing from his pores. His take on ‘Renaissance with street style’ has absolutely infused how we dress now and it all comes from a completely authentic place. While he sometimes struggled to articulate his answers, with the odd apology for the language barrier, it wasn’t hard to understand that his utter self-belief is what drives him. On the pressures of the business and relentless fashion schedule, he described it as “a beautiful pressure; it’s something that belongs to you, because you want to do lots of things.” Oh yes, I can totally relate!

Alessandro Michele at Vogue Festival gave us the low down on his journey, from his start at Fendi to his work with Tom Ford in London and then the famous five-day deadline he had to whip up his first collection for Gucci

One of the most intelligent discussions during Vogue Festival was the social media panel. ‘Your Social Media: What’s Real Now?’ touched on mental health, youth peer pressure, sexual double standards and social vanity. The panel line-up was superb – Sasha Wilkins (aka Liberty London Girl), PR Liz Matthews and psychologist Prof Tanya Byron, chaired by Vogue’s Nicole Mowbray. Conclusion: As social media has become pretty much the norm, it’s everyone’s responsibility to monitor what they put out there and how they’re represented. While I would have liked to hear more about brand collaborations and the recent hoo-ha around Instagram transparency, there were more serious issues to be discussed.

Vogue Festival 2016 Social Media Panel

While the most informative aspects of Vogue Festival were undoubtedly the talks and panels, let’s not forget the shopping component. The merchandise surpassed itself with exclusive ‘Vogue’ sweatshirts from J Crew, Bella Freud matches, a cheeky Smythson notebook and even Vogue chocolate. All in all, for those who wanted to submerge themselves in a world of Vogue, it was the perfect edit of information, inspiration, education and self-expression.

Vogue festival 2016 customised denim
Vogue Festival customisation by Susannah Garrod
Vogue festival 2016
Vogue festival 2016 Grace Coddington perfume
Vogue festival 2016 merchandise Smythson notbook
Vogue Festival 2016
Vogue Festival Jo Malone
 Vogue Festival merchandise
Vogue Festival J Crew sweatshirt
Vogue festival 2016 - Vogue covers

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl; Darren Gerrish (David Downton workshop)
NOTE: Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my cookies policy here.
DISCLOSURE: Disneyrollergirl attended Vogue Festival as a guest of Vogue


It’s a bit of a retail focus on the DRG STYLE INDEX this week. Here’s the latest weekly ranking of the brands buzzing on my radar…


Kenzo X H&M collaboration launches 3rd November 2016
Thoughts on Kenzo for H&M, the latest of H&M’s collabs, launching in November? I think it’s going to be one of their better collaborations. Kenzo’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim are experts at retail and marketing after all, which are arguably as important as the design elements in these mega collaborations. I contributed to the H&M book, The First Ten Years (which came out in 2014), a celebration of ten years of H&M’s designer collabs. My research revealed just how huge the promotional budgets are for these things, with supermodel and super-photographer print campaigns, TV ad campaigns, extravagant launch parties and the rest. For Kenzo it’s a great move to engage the next gen Kenzo customer, although it’s interesting to see LVMH working with the high street so happily.


Not Just A Label fashion panel Maison Assouline
Loving everything about this version of experiential retail from e-com site Not Just A Label. On 31st May it’s hosting a panel discussion on ‘Authentic Radicalism’ at the fabulous Maison Assouline bookstore in Piccadilly. The line-up is great, including Fashion Revolution’s Orsola de Castro, The Future Laboratory’s Martin Raymond and fashion lawyer Hugh Devlin. So, not only is it an important debate into the creative new ways of working for the fashion industry, but it’s hosted in one of London’s most delightful retail establishments. It’s invite-only but it will be live streamed as well, meaning everyone can watch, even if they can’t be there.


Apple Union Square Store San Francisco

It’s not been terribly rosy for Apple of late, but there is some good news. The new retail concept looks and sounds freakin’ amazing. Just opened in Union Square, San Francisco, it’s the first taste of what the Apple stores of the future might look like. And where Apple leads, everyone else follows. So this could be what all bricks and mortar stores look one day.

A central feature is the ‘plaza,’ an outdoor gathering place for the community, with public Wi-Fi powered by renewable energy (which will be open 24 hours). Meanwhile, in store, creative artists – photographers, gamers, musicians, entrepreneurs – will make regular appearance to host talks and workshops to make the store a creative activity hub, not just a place to sell you stuff. As Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores says, “we are not just evolving our store design, but its purpose and greater role in the community as we educate and entertain visitors and serve our network of local entrepreneurs.”
Apple Union Square Store San Francisco designed by Foster + partners
Apple Store San Francisco designed by Foster + partners

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
NOTE: Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my cookies policy here.

Graduate Fashion Week 2016 is coming!

Graduate fashion week 2016

Graduate Fashion Week
serves as a very good bellwether of where fashion is at in any given year. I remember in the early years, the overriding influence was a Galliano-flavoured one (think deconstructed slip dresses and bias cutting), followed a few years later by McQueen-esque everything (bumster trousers and severely tailored blazers). This year, I predict it will be all very Vetements-meets-Hood-By-Air – that is, oversized puffa coats, deconstructed bombers and utility-luxe details.

What you get with GFW is a good balance of creative thinking and commercial nous. Now in its 26th year, it’s the go-to event for international brands sourcing fresh blood for their design and buying teams, and as such, there’s an effort to produce newness anchored in wearability. At Britain’s most famous design schools it’s clearly been drummed into students that designs absolutely have to sell.

From the selection of designers spotlighted by Graduate Fashion Week as stars of tomorrow, counter culture and youth culture references both retro and modern are omnipresent. From Edinburgh College of Art, Anna Madelena Currie’s collection is big on techy streetwear inspired by gang culture and historical Elizabethan dressing. Hence pieces like a tactile velvet puffa with voluminous sleeves and 3D graphic lettering that mixes casual comfort with a certain glamour (below).

Anna Madelena Currie graduate fashion week

From Manchester School of Art, Louis Trainor-Selwyn is championing the rock n roll dandy, having taken a trip to study the opulent interiors of Versailles. A stylist’s dream, his subsequent collection is colour-rich, textural, fun and energetic. And commercial to boot.

Louis Trainor-Selwyn menswear at gfw

Olivia Barclay from Nottingham Trent University is another breakthrough talent to look out for. Observing the importance of bedroom culture, her dreamy gauzy coats have ruching and utilitarian zips that take them straight onto the street. Looking at the styling on this one I’m seeing a Rihanna-shaped paparazzi opportunity waiting to happen…

Oliviia Barclay Nottingham Trent Yniversity

And as fashion itself has become fashionable, there’s been a growth in interest in all the ancillary fashion jobs out there. With the digital fashion revolution, it seems dozens of new job titles have emerged in fashion that didn’t exist ten years ago. I always enjoy checking out the emerging media talent at GFW and this year I’m getting to do that in an official capacity as a judge for the New Media Award.

Graduate Fashion Week is open to everyone from 5th-8th June, with shows every day, plus expert speakers in the Asos talk space. Check out the full schedule of shows and activities at and buy show tickets HERE.

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
NOTE: Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my cookies policy here.

Coach class

Coach pre fall 2016

When it comes to featuring cars in fashion shoots, have you noticed only vintage cars will do? Here’s the perfect example; Coach’s first ever pre-fall campaign for its Coach 1941 women’s RTW and bag line. In this context though, a classic American, leather-interiored car absolutely nails it. What does contemporary Coach stand for, if not luxury leathers and iconic Americana?

The campaign was shot on location in Red Hook, Brooklyn, depicting Stuart Vevers’ vision of laid back but youthful luxury (that’s helping to revive the brand, to much acclaim). (more…)