Four years in, the Vogue Festival is firmly established, mixing A-list talks with smaller panel discussions, styling workshops, the obligatory makeover stations and opportunities for one-on-one careers advice with Vogue staffers. It’s a pretty good example of a brand extending its reach well beyond the printed (or digital) page, to touch the lives of its next generation reader.
Last weekend saw Vogue Festival return to its Kensington roots, with the big talks staged in the Royal Geographical Society auditorium, and everything else two minutes away at the Royal College of Art. Sponsored (for the second year) by Harrods, it was also handily close to the legendary department store – and had one of its green-liveried doormen a permanent fixture at the entrance.
I went along on both days as a guest of Vogue. My interest covers everything, from the individual talks, to the brand extension strategy of Vogue, to the various commercial sponsors and retail opportunities (the Vogue Shop gets bigger year on year), to plain old people watching. There’s definitely no shortage of peacocking at Vogue Festival, although I was surprised to witness only one selfie stick moment.
Saturday was my ‘lite’ day, with only the Tim Walker talk on my schedule. I remember the very first Vogue Festival had a small audience with Tim Walker (which I missed) that was so popular he had to do a repeat performance. This year’s format had him and his shoot cohorts on a panel with Vogue fashion editor Kate Phelan. A jovial and entertaining storyteller, Walker gave us evocative accounts of some of the Vogue shoot team’s fashion exploits in the farthest flung locations, richly illustrated with slides of his output.
Due to budget and time constraints, the teams have to kept compact with stylists doubling as hair assistants and everyone helping to haul luggage up mountains. (Clearly Uber doesn’t work in Mongolia). Taking part in the chatter were Walker’s cohorts from hair, make-up and production, including hair stylist Duffy and make-up artist Sam Bryant chuckling together like errant school kids. I was interested in Walker’s comments on the pace of fashion and photography now. “Photography is a slow process, but these days there’s no time to reflect,” he said. “As a result, I think the standard of photography has gone down.” I tend to agree.
My first talk of day two was a chummy chat called Building Your Dream between the amazing Bobbi Brown and her brand ambassador and model Kate Upton, hosted by Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman. Bobbi has built her brand around beautiful but natural-looking make-up, the antithesis of the contouring phenomenon it would seem. “I don’t get this whole contouring thing, it’s basically saying there’s something wrong with the way that you look,” she said. She was emphatic but charming and very funny (and didn’t seem to mind one bit when Alex Shulman admitted she didn’t ‘get’ the iconic Bobbi Shimmer Brick). Side note: I would love to know how many faces were painted by the Bobbi Brown Beauty team all weekend; their brushes did not rest for a single second.
Over in the Royal College Of Art building, I loved the discussion on personal style, hosted by Emily Sheffield. On the panel were Stella Tennant, Bella Freud and Bay Garnett. What a fantastic treat; three creative, smart and eloquent women, waxing lyrical about why practical fashion definitely doesn’t have to be dull (hello Stella Tennant in fuchsia and fishnets, and Bella Freud in gold lame shirt accompanied by a whimsical knit and monstrous Celine mega-wedges…). Takeaway points: Style isn’t inherited, but your environment shapes your aesthetic (courtesy of Stella). Fashion should be about joy and fun, not pressure (said Bay). Clothes are only interesting because of the people in them. And copying is not copying if you add your own energy and irreverence (thank you Bella).
With a big gap until the last talk, I had time to wander around the Festival and take in the sideshows. Harrods’ presence was extremely visible, from the #mygreenman hashtag everywhere, to the Food Hall catering (shout out to the My Green Man cake pops), free wi-fi and charging stations for weary Instagrammers. Harrods is clearly hoping to engage the young Vogue Festival demographic and turn them into prospective customers.
Beauty is a big focus of Vogue Festival with queues for the Bobbi Brown make-overs, Kerastase catwalk hair, Organic Pharmacy facials, a rather fabulous Topshop X Vogue mani and the ever popular Vogue cover shoot with speed make-up and accessorising courtesy of Chanel. If you want to know the power of make-up, check the pure bliss on the faces of the girls coming away with Vogue ‘cover’ in hand. Beauty aside, this year I felt for the first time there really was a lot of extra stuff on offer, with endless talks, advice sessions, educational workshops and things like T-shirt customising to keep everyone stimulated.
And so to the master stroke. Fashion is now undeniably part of the entertainment industry, and Vogue Festival has made a name for securing top A-listers for its headline interview. Victoria Beckham and Donatella Versace have been past bill-toppers, with Alber Elbaz and Tom Ford ranking equally high on the entertainment factor. Saturday’s big moment was Olivier Rousteing’s spontaneous selfie with an audience member, but Sunday night belonged to John Galliano: Master of Couture.
The stage was set with designs from his Maison Margiela couture collection, an ornate screen and two cosy chairs. We were instructed not to take photos. Would this be another over-staged Victoria Beckham moment? Not one bit. Galliano came on to rapturous applause, dapperly dressed in a pinstripe suit with pristine ponytail. He was quietly spoken at first, then warmed up, proving to be humble, honest and humorous and still quite the showman.
My ‘WOW’ moment came when he started to explain his design process. He jumped up from his seat, whisked Alexandra Shulman to his mannequin, then proceeded to deconstruct the red ‘wedding dress’ from his recent show. In an animated and almost magician-like fashion, he revealed that the structure of the dress came from an inverted man’s coat in which the lining had become the visible shell. His joy in revealing his magic tricks was infectious. On the subject of Kate Moss’s wedding dress he was equally vocal, declaring, “which other bride would ask someone just out of rehab to make their wedding dress?!” And of the question on where he will take the Margiela brand, he talked seriously about creating a renewed DNA by establishing a new shape. “It’s about establishing love, emotion and time.” Galliano didn’t dwell on the past and Shulman handled the interview with charm and sensitivity. For me, it was the highlight of Vogue Festival and another Vogue coup.
WORDS: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
Images: Bobbi Brown and Kate Upton; Tim Walker and Kate Phelan; John Galliano and Alexandra Shulman, all by Darren Gerrish for Vogue
Other images: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl