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.
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)…
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?!)
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl; Darren Gerrish (David Downton workshop)
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DISCLOSURE: Disneyrollergirl attended Vogue Festival as a guest of Vogue