Polly Brown: “I work best when I’m bored”

Photographer Polly Brown explores the damaging role of
airport security in her upcoming exhibition, Airportals

A couple of decades ago, airports were relatively innocuous places. Architecturally anonymous spaces with transient populations, people moved through them with little thought to the place itself, but dreams of their next destination. After 9/11, everything changed. Airports became intentionally hostile, increasingly associated with security checks and systematic racism. Filmmaker Richard Curtis scrambled to reclaim some form of nostalgia for airports, dedicating the opening sequence of Love, Actually to a romanticised notion of hellos and goodbyes in crowded terminals. But photographer Polly Brown has no such illusions. Her upcoming exhibition, Airportals, which opens at WE FOLK PRESENTS in Amsterdam on Thursday, explores the sinister side of airport security. Here, Polly explains why airports are such poignant places, how making mistakes is the key to growing as a photographer, and what inanimate objects can bring to fashion photography.

Your new exhibition, Airportals, revolves around airport security checks. Why is this topic so ripe for exploration?

When I was growing up, airports were these non-spaces, designed to be forgotten. They’ve got this nostalgia to them, this idea of adventure and notions of freedom of movement. But that’s totally changed in the last couple of decades and airports now stand for something totally different. When President Trump changed the law on immigration in 2017, people protested at JFK. In September, people held a protest at Hong Kong International Airport. You’ve also got the impending environmental damage that comes with airports and air travel as a motif, which has really come to the forefront in the same time period. And of course, the invasiveness of facial recognition and body scanners. So these points of entry have morphed from a seamless process to a real point of friction. I use film which has been damaged by airport x-ray machines, which gives the images quite a nostalgic look. It draws out this contrast between the glamorisation of air travel and how damaging that glamorisation can be.

Airports are often overlooked, but they reflect so many of the hypocrisies and tensions in our society. In that sense, this project is an extension of your other work, which magnifies everyday situations people tend to ignore. 

I also inadvertently look at the politics involved in architecture a lot, like with the office plant series and the book about gallery spaces. Those hidden rules. In airports, you’ve got secret corridors that people are taken down if your passport isn’t right or you have the wrong stamp. There are a lot of layers to how we function in those spaces that are designed to be invisible. I enjoy finding an element of that that can illustrate it, be it a plant or in this case the x-ray machine, to try and peel it back a bit.

Do you have any personal experience of the sinister side of airports?

I do, but only from making this project. I’m in a privileged position of being white and having a British passport, so there are a lot of biases that land me in the right queue. I started this project when I was doing a travel job, so it was very important that some of that film didn’t get damaged. So, I was quite often the person holding up the security queue, insisting on hand checks and arguing in various languages about whether they were going to pass my film through the machines. As soon as you start to cause any kind of suspicion, the atmosphere changes instantly. 

One time, I was in Argentina and I got taken into a side room. I thought I was going to be body-searched and actually they led me to a room with an ancient body scanner which was almost visibly radiating and they made me stand in the middle of it like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. They left the room, like doctors would in a hospital to avoid radiation. And then I spotted that they left my films – which I’d been trying so hard to protect – in the corner of the room. It was a horrible flight home, because I thought it would have screwed up all my images. It happened to be fine on that occasion, and that was the only instance of me being ferried off and going through that protocol. You don’t get anything explained to you.

“People are really willing to help and teach if you’re willing to admit that you need to learn.”

Taking photographs in those areas of high security is forbidden, so how did you discover that the X-ray machines would leave a mark on undeveloped film?

Like many photographers, I discovered it by accident. I left some boxes of film in my checked luggage. I’ve geeked out really hard on this now, so I know they have much stronger x-ray machines for checked luggage than for hand luggage. The images were no longer usable, but I thought it was fascinating that you could see points along the journey where I had taken some boxes out and shot them, leaving others in. You might get one round of damage, which would be a wave, but the more x-ray machines you pass through, the more it builds up. You might get multiple waves or fogging, which gets more extreme as time goes on. I loved that I could see the places I’d been through the pictures and there was this double exposure. It makes you question the whole nature of the photograph. You’re supposed to be capturing one moment in time with light on the celluloid and this was capturing multiple moments, documenting my entire journey. That was the initial spark when I realised I wanted to incorporate the x-rays and this idea of process and travel in a greater project.

This exhibition was three years in the making. How has the concept evolved over that time?

Initially, it was about reportage photos I had taken in airports. Everywhere I’ve gone for three years, I’ve carried film in my case and my hand luggage to see what I get back. In the show, there is a mixture of images shot onto the damaged film and then just the x-ray waves on unused film. They’re kind of these snakes of grain and colour. That was a big turning point in the project, when I started to think about those abstracts as photographs in their own right. It also took a while because not every x-ray machine damages your film. I’ve come to love the abstract images on unused film, because I’m constantly setting up little still lives, so there’s something amazingly freeing in the picture being removed from your authority. I didn’t press a button to take that picture. It was created outside of my control.

Did you end up with favourite airport x-ray machines? 

I only noticed this when I was putting the show together, but there were a lot of Japanese locations. You never really know, but you can judge the age of a machine, and you learn certain tricks about where to put the film in your baggage, and also the ISO of the film can make a difference. They’re older, and I went through a lot of regional airports, which helped. Big, international airports had more high-tech machinery. I also love the ones from Gander, Newfoundland, which is basically a shed with one gate and a machine which looks about fifty years old. I got chatting to an airport official there who gave me a tour of this unused section of the airport that hadn’t changed since the 1960’s. The only time it has been used since then is on 9/11, when flights bound for New York were diverted there.

“With photography, it’s incredibly daunting because there’s a lot of technical knowledge to know and you’ll never know everything. That nervousness of turning up on a set and worrying that you won’t know how to do something never goes away, but the best cure I’ve found for that is to be as honest as possible.”

More broadly, your work focuses on still life. You make mundane details and inanimate objects feel expansive and almost existential. What drew you to that style of photography and why do you think it’s so effective?

Initially, it was just an absence of models. I had no-one to take photographs of and I was hanging around on my own, making do with what was around. That’s like the joke answer, but the reality is that I work best when I’m bored. I’m mooching about on my own, looking at stuff and making up little narratives for the things around me, and I end up with a still life. I think if I have that space to be bored, I can see spaces or architectural things in a different way than if I was reacting to a person who was there. 

How do you think your photography has evolved since you’ve been working professionally?

I don’t know how much the style has evolved to be honest. I was at my parents’ house the other day and they had these paintings up that I did at A Level and they were all paintings of lonely objects with titles stolen from song lyrics. I had this moment of realisation that your interests don’t change that much. Even then, I was looking at how you could project human emotions onto inanimate things. There was a picture of a lamp with a Bob Dylan lyric as the title: ‘They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.’ That said, I feel like I’m always trying to change. With photography, it’s incredibly daunting because there’s a lot of technical knowledge to know and you’ll never know everything. That nervousness of turning up on a set and worrying that you won’t know how to do something never goes away, but the best cure I’ve found for that is to be as honest as possible. The worst is when you pretend you know something and then you panic and have to Google it in the corner. People are really willing to help and teach if you’re willing to admit that you need to learn.

“I love sitting with a designer while they flick through their sketchbook and explain how these random pictures of reservoirs relate to a skirt they made. Maybe that’s what the fashion industry sees within my work – it hints to these other elements that can be drawn out of the clothes.”

Let’s talk about commercial work, because it’s something you do really well – allowing for corporate considerations without compromising on creativity. How do you maintain that balance?

I’ve been really lucky to collaborate with people who have given me a lot of freedom. I know that’s not always the case. The people approaching me generally really understand the work – they’re art directors or they’re in-house at a brand and they understand the humour and the comment. When people get it, it’s really easy to collaborate. I work so much on my own, so it’s nice to have other people to bounce ideas off.

You’ve produced work for Miu Miu, Tiffany & Co and Gucci, to name a few. But outside of those projects, fashion rarely appears in your photography. What role does fashion play in your work?

Even if I show an element of a human, so often that element is just an arm, which might have a glimpse of a white t-shirt. But I don’t generally include clothes, no. I always want human elements to be as ungendered and nondescript as possible. It’s just a symbol of something alive. So I guess it’s strange that I get commissioned by fashion brands, although I have a longstanding relationship with the fashion industry. I studied Fine Art at CSM, but I was friends with people studying fashion and that gave me a really good appreciation of the layers behind fashion design. I love working with designers who allow me to explore that. For example, I worked with Roksanda [Ilincic] for years and she’s got so many aesthetic influences that inform the collections, which go from materials to architecture and beyond. I love sitting with a designer while they flick through their sketchbook and explain how these random pictures of reservoirs relate to a skirt they made. Maybe that’s what the fashion industry sees within my work – it hints to these other elements that can be drawn out of the clothes.

This interview was published on 1 Granary. You can see the original article, including Polly’s arresting images, here.

Fashion Finstas or Worthwhile Watchdogs?

Anonymous Instagram accounts like Diet Prada have more followers than ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar, but none of the accountability. What does the rise of anonymous commentators mean for the fashion industry?

Meme culture has given us many things. It gave us the distracted boyfriend meme, the side-eye girl and you could say it’s to blame (or to thank?) for the rebirth of Crocs. It also gave rise to fashion-related meme accounts, many of which operate anonymously. @stressedstylist@givecredit_ and @skipdin are among the accounts posting fashion-related content from anonymous or semi-anonymous Instagram accounts. While each serves a slightly different function, their existence has bucked the boundaries of fashion commentary and poses complicated questions about the ethics of anonymous posting. 

It turns out, a lot of people have anonymous – or at least thinly veiled – Instagram accounts. These ‘finstas’ or ‘fake Instagrams’ are largely a way to post content for your close friends to see without worrying about the repercussions on your current career or future employability. In a time when everything is posted online, from political rants and what you ate for breakfast to drunken misdemeanours and dancing in your bathtub, anonymity feels increasingly appealing. Especially when online missteps can cause serious damage IRL. Just look at the legions of people who have been fired or dropped from campaigns over old tweets and new posts alike. The strange thing is that our craving for anonymity doesn’t undermine our desire to share our lives online. Some people simply take the vowels out of their name to avoid detection, others come up with Internet alter-egos reminiscent of their first email address (mine was shopaholic2000) or their old MSN names. Finstas are the Instagram equivalent of a digital magazine putting up a paywall, but the readers are your friends and the subscription fee is trust. 

For @stressedstylist, who started their account in November 2017, posting anonymous memes is a way to laugh off the sometimes comical realities of being a stylist without jeopardising their working relationships. “It’s really just about the daily struggles and experiences I’ve been through or I’ve heard of at work,” they say. “Stylists are often neglected in the fashion industry and outside of it most people don’t even know this job exists, so maybe, in a way, my page has raised awareness and created a more public platform for us.”

As well as posting their own experiences, they get ideas from followers, who have found a sense of community on the account. “It’s incredible how memes can really bring people together,” they continued. “Most of my followers are definitely people in the industry. So many stylists and assistants tag their friends or share my memes and this makes me super happy. We often have the same problems and face similar challenges at work.” As the account has fostered a close community of stylists, some followers have started to resent not knowing the person behind the memes. Their identity may be hidden, but the people commenting, liking and sharing posts do not have the same protection. “People often message me asking who I am or try to guess, but does it really matter?” For @stressedstylist, the motivation for being anonymous really comes down to being shy and not wanting their memes to define their career: “I made it anonymous because for now I just prefer not being exposed or recognised for that, there is no particular reason other than that and that I’m really shy. It’s kind of like I have created a character that speaks up for me.”

In many ways, anonymous fashion accounts like @stressedstylist fulfil the role that fashion forums like The Fashion Spot used to. In a Business of Fashion column defending the seemingly antiquated forum in 2016, blogger Susie Lau wrote: “There’s something about the anonymity (and notoriety) afforded by avatars, the moderators chiming in with reminders of posting rules, the threads of discussion that can go on for pages and pages with back-and-forth replies.” She argued that The Fashion Spot and other forums like it was a necessary space for people interested in fashion to share their authentic feelings about the industry. It wasn’t just a place to vent or gossip – in fact, it had strict guidelines on this, and encouraged credible research – it was a place where fashion-lovers could discuss the intricacies of by-gone collections and dissect current trends in microscopic detail. The anonymous forums filled a void left by mainstream fashion commentary. 

If #unfiltered is the ultimate Instagram badge of integrity, then it’s understandable that accounts like @givecredit_ are gaining traction for their honest content, void of brand affiliations. Their posts highlight cases of cultural appropriation in fashion, inviting brands to acknowledge their sources and do better. In this case, the anonymity of their account stems from being a broader team running a fledgling campaign. “The idea behind it was not to remain anonymous, but to promote our cause under a generic shared name,” says Andreea Diana Tănăsescu, a founding member. Their campaign recently called out Carolina Herrera for appropriating the colourful striped fabrics initially woven by artisans in the town of Saltillo, Mexico. The brand claimed that their Resort 2020 collection evoked ‘the playful and colourful mood of a Latin holiday’; in reality, it was ripping off indigenous designs. Other posts include Valentino Haute Couture 2019/20 copying Akha headdresses from Thailand and Kim Kardashian trying to trademark her shapewear brand, ‘Kimono’. According to Andreea, the account’s anonymity allows it to take a backseat and hand over the platform to the people whose cultures are being appropriated. “We are a platform that gives everybody the voice they need to be heard,” she says. “We are trying to have an open approach towards different perspectives, so as to find the best and most efficient way of solving cultural appropriation issues.” Crucially, they are not calling for boycotts of the accused brands and nor are they saying the designs cannot be used as inspiration. They are simply asking that brands credit and compensate their sources.

What @givecredit_ tries to do, which other anonymous accounts seem to neglect, is go through a rigorous verification process. Of course, an account like @stressedstylist doesn’t require much verification because it is based on personal experience and doesn’t implicate or accuse specific brands of misdemeanours. With @givecredit_, posts have the capacity to affect brands’ sales and therefore workers’ livelihoods, so the team are careful to do their due diligence. “Verification requires both time and knowledge,” explains Andreea. “Especially culturally, we should pay special attention when presenting a specific situation to the people.” In some cases, this process takes mere hours but in others, it takes months: “We have collaborations with partners all over the world. It is much easier for us to connect with native traditional-textile experts this way. We are undergoing the process of becoming official, through a collaborative partnership which we have started with Donna Bramhall of Haute Culture Textile Tours. This allows us to verify accusations with the communities which keep and maintain this essential type of knowledge, generation by generation.”

While @givecredit_ focuses on cultural appropriation, anonymous accounts like @shitmodelmgmt and @diet_prada have gained an audience for their handling of sexual assault allegations and calling out ‘ppl knocking each other off lol’ respectively. All face similar challenges with verification. While they allow people to speak openly about commonplace issues they face without fear of endangering their careers, their anonymity has arguably played a significant role in broadening the reach of a sensationalist call-out culture, often at the expense of a thorough, methodical approach to researching and discussing key issues. The anonymity becomes a little more sinister when the account is public and, instead of just posting drunken selfies, it posts call-outs. In some cases, this leads to products being pulled or customers boycotting brands, but others simply ignore the accusations. While followers have largely supported their claims about major brands ripping off start-up talent, Diet Prada have faced some backlash when critiquing young, independent designers. Last year, the pair called out Richard Quinn for supposed similarities to Demna Gvasalia’s designs for Balenciaga, only to be scolded by followers who reminded them that Quinn’s exploration of head-to-toe florals predated Gvasalia’s. It raised questions over the account’s responsibility to support young talent, which is often their justification for posting larger brands’ copies. It’s one thing to adopt a cloak of anonymity to protect your own career, but quite another thing when you do it to tear down someone else’s.

“Someone had to do this. I know it’s crazy that a meme account ended up being the person to do it, but it was just time. What would you do if you had thousands of horrific stories? Would you just go to bed at night knowing you had a way to help?”

At the end of February 2018, just a few months after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, Instagram meme account @shitmodelmgmt started posting a ‘blacklist’ of alleged abusers within the fashion industry. Soon, there were more than 450 names on the list, and those with more than three allegations levelled against them were marked with an asterisk. By the beginning of March 2018, the blacklist had been removed from the @shitmodelmgmt account, with the account holder telling followers, “I’m getting too many death threats and threats to ‘find my family’ and ‘make me sorry I did this’. I’m still not sorry for protecting models from future negative experiences. Someone had to do this. I know it’s crazy that a meme account ended up being the person to do it, but it was just time. What would you do if you had thousands of horrific stories? Would you just go to bed at night knowing you had a way to help?” With such high profile additions as designer Tom Ford and photographer Bruce Weber, it is understandable that the person behind the account would wish to remain anonymous. They may be problematic, but the people on the list are also influential, and speaking out publicly could result in the account holder being blacklisted themselves, albeit from work not because of an assault claim. The former model told Paper magazine, “I’m so glad that I didn’t [reveal my identity] because I would be scared.” Whilst the account itself is anonymous, the person behind it was wary to accept tips or allegations from other anonymous accounts. When someone messaged her from an account with no posts or followers and no screenshots of the alleged inappropriate messages, she chose not to share the allegation.  

Diet Prada is no longer anonymous – it’s founders were unceremoniously exposed as Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler – but the watchdog account still functions with an air of backstage whispers more akin to Gossip Girl than true journalism. Its early anonymity seems to have granted it a free pass to bitch and gossip, and it encourages similar bullying behaviour from its audience, who regularly send in tips. The ‘news’ shared on Diet Prada isn’t just office gossip spilt at the water fountain, it often comes with receipts: Instagram comments otherwise buried in a flurry of responses, illicit conversations and direct messages with the names covered up are all screenshotted and shared. The issue is that the accused rarely get a chance to respond to allegations before the damage to their reputation is done and the pair have been known to play favourites. Last year, Dolce & Gabbana were forced to cancel a show in Shanghai after Diet Prada drew attention to racist comments made by designer Stefano Gabbana, the New York Times reported that “the internet’s troublesome commentators” were now “too influential to ignore.” Many people suspect that Diet Ignorant, an account dedicated to calling out Diet Prada’s call-outs, is run by scorned designer Stefano Gabbana. On the other hand, brands like Prada and Gucci, who have invited Liu and Schuyler to narrate their shows before, have enjoyed relative impunity despite accusations of racism.

These anonymous accounts exist in a time when consumers pledge allegiance to fashion brands based on their social and political credentials. People brandishing logo t-shirts want to know that they aren’t guilty-by-association. So the allegations Diet Prada throw out have very real ramifications. Encouraging boycotts of brands they disagree with generally doesn’t damage the people implicated but the people working below them, the people who depend on that brand to make ends meet. The legacy of Diet Prada’s anonymity, combined with the fact that they lay no claim to rigorous journalism or research, seems to be that it relieves them of accountability.

The Business of Fashion recently referred to Diet Prada as “fashion’s most exciting new media brand.” The article went on to suggest that, in order to grow, Diet Prada might consider a more journalistic approach, “giving subjects the opportunity to comment, and more rigorously fact-checking tips and corroborating accusations.” The idea that an anonymous entity can play judge to a digital jury is a complicated one. Whether the public participation that platforms like Diet Prada encourage is a good thing is yet to be seen. Of course, in cases where there are sexual abuse accusations involved or racist slurs, there is an element of public interest. It took Diet Prada and @shitmodelmgmt calling out abusers within the industry for mainstream publications like Vogue to finally sever ties with the accused photographers.

“Anonymous communication in journalism is not a new concept, but technology simply offered more ways of hiding one’s identity.”

When Vogue reporter Luke Leitch called out Vivienne Westwood for copying Rottingdean Bazaar in March 2018, it prompted the brand to issue a PR apology. However, publications like Vogue haven’t made a habit of such call-outs. For the most part, anonymous accounts say what mainstream fashion commentators, bound by brand affiliations, cannot. Anonymous accounts may not be beholden to advertisers or affiliations but they aren’t totally exempt from possible consequences. Fashion law attorney Anna Radke helped shed some light on the issues that most commonly arise from anonymous accounts. “Some of the legal pitfalls that anonymous accounts can fall into include defamation, invasion of privacy or copyright infringement,” she explained. 

Legal action raises the question of whether account-holders should be able to retain their anonymity. “Being anonymous might not help one in avoiding liability, as the right of freedom of expression needs to be balanced with such interests as crime prevention or protection of one’s reputation. There are various legal steps of defeating a person or entity’s anonymity, and the approaches vary from country to country,” says Anna. “There was a case in which the court decided that Yelp needed to unmask anonymous user in a defamation case. There was also a copyright infringement lawsuit against an anonymous Amthrax blogger who posted a training manual copyrighted by Signature Management Team, but here, the court ruled that his or her identity did not have to be revealed.” For Anna, the internet has made anonymity more achievable. “There is no doubt that the Internet offers new ways of sharing information on important matters, which can be accessed globally,” she says. “Anonymous communication in journalism is not a new concept, but technology simply offered more ways of hiding one’s identity. There are, for instance, certain technical steps that could be undertaken in order to minimise the risk of being uncovered, such as making it difficult to tie a specific IP address to a particular person. There has been a rise in these cases recently, and it’s interesting to see how the outcomes vary in different legal jurisdictions. If they are not unified, it might become easier to ‘hide’ in one country than another.”

Interestingly, as anonymous Instagram accounts have gained popularity, their counterparts in traditional fashion commentary have had to sacrifice theirs. Jess Cartner-Morley, Associate Editor (Fashion) at The Guardian, commented: “When I started, fashion editors were anonymous. Now we’re expected to be models. Blogging had such a huge impact on fashion writing; it essentially broke the fourth wall of fashion writing. It’s now a conversation between you and your audience.” Jess became Fashion Editor at The Guardian in 2000, about seven years before blogging became mainstream. She attributes the loss of fashion journalists’ anonymity to the contrasting visibility of bloggers and the trust that earned them with readers. “That was a huge tone shift blogging brought about; fashion writing is unrecognisable now and having your photo taken is part of that – when you’re having a conversation with the writer, it makes sense that you can see them in a physical way. It’s a valuable thing in a marketplace for people to know who you are.”

George Serventi is the semi-anonymous writer behind @skipdin, the ‘award-wanting meme account for people who love to hate fashion’. While several of George’s posts demonstrate a sharp wit, others err a little too close to bullying, aping the same gossipy tone that so often fuels Diet Prada. Ageist comments about middle-aged women wearing Simone Rocha and a post undermining the achievements of educator, little person and activist Sinéad Burke seem ill-intentioned. It begs the question of whether he would get away with these posts if not for the mask of anonymity. 

For George, the account is mostly just an extension of his satirical fashion magazine, SKIP Dinner. He says running an anonymous account, however malicious the content can be, has catalysed his career in mainstream fashion commentary. “I’ve been writing for various online fashwan [sic] publications for a few years, but the account has afforded me a few opportunities” he wrote via email. The opportunities he’s referring to include a column in LOVE magazine. “You’ve got to put yourself out there to get any interest, despite the fact it’s scary and lots of people might not like you.” 

It’s not just George getting attention from his (not so) anonymous account. @stressedstylist has been featured in i-D, @shitmodelmgmt in Paper and Diet Prada in every publication from Vogue to the New York Times. Whether or not mainstream fashion commentary has changed as a result of these accounts, it certainly has taken notice. Perhaps the two types of commentator can exist side by side or, like George, writers can straddle both. But as more and more people turn to social media as their main source of news (2.4 billion and counting, according to Forbes), it might be time to apply journalistic standards to anonymous commentators too.

This article was written for 1 Granary, where you can read it, memes and all.

No Fashion (Week) on a Dead Planet

Extinction Rebellion’s call to cancel London Fashion Week was
met with raucous resistance. But what would cancelling fashion
week actually mean? And what other solutions are out there?

When Extinction Rebellion first called on the British Fashion Council to cancel London Fashion Week back in July, the idea seemed absurd. News outlets rushed to question the validity of such action, and many dismissed it as an impossible ask. But over the course of fashion week, as protestors created a red carpet of ‘blood’, staged a ‘die-in’ and held a funeral for the fashion industry as we know it, people started talking. Many spoke earnestly, others in hushed tones, and some between muffled bursts of laughter. 

As part of our own investigation, we asked readers on Instagram stories whether they thought LFW should be scrapped. Answers ranged from “No no no darling” to “YES!!!!”. Some suggested only allowing sustainable labels to show, while others argued that the responsibility shouldn’t fall on luxury brands as much as their fast fashion counterparts. The general divide was 50/50, with very few sitting on the fence. 

Sara Arnold, a key member of Extinction Rebellion’s Boycott Fashion team, clarified that the action was about using a key cultural event to draw attention to the environmental crisis we are facing. “The call to cancel fashion week is primarily about starting conversations,” she explained. “LFW is a cultural hub, and culture should allow people to connect with the truth. We ask culture to stand up to that responsibility. We want the BFC to use Fashion Week as a platform to make this emergency known. We have to use our voices.” 

In light of the myriad, complex conversations around this issue over the past few weeks, we gathered everything together to try and make sense of it. Cancelling LFW may not be the right solution, but what else is there?

Cancelling London Fashion Week would impact young designers most

In our recent graduate roundtable, The State of London Fashion Week, the participants almost all agreed that cancelling London Fashion Week seemed counter-productive, as young designers would be worst hit. Matthew Needham is one such designer, currently completing the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins, but his upcycled garments have already received praise for offering a potential solution to wasteful design practices. “In London, the majority of us are promoting change,” he said. “It seems backwards to be targeting us and the BFC.” Fellow designer Jonathon Kidd agreed, pointing out that targeting London in particular magnified this issue: “I see LFW as mostly young designers. If you were asking me this question about cancelling Paris Fashion Week, the answer would be different as it probably would affect big houses much more.” Shortly after the call to cancel became public, Fashion Roundtable founder Tamara Cincik issued an official statement to similar effect: “LFW is not a showcase of mass produced hyper sale mega brands, these are small companies with marginal turnovers- all of whom buy into sustainable business practice. These are the very people who support XR and see themselves as a part of that message.”

Cancelling fashion week only works if you cancel all of them 

What would the cancellation of a major fashion week actually look like? Extinction Rebellion member and RCA Fashion graduate Laura Krarup Frandsen pointed to the cancellation of Stockholm Fashion Week as an example of how the BFC might respond. “Stockholm fashion week got cancelled with a month’s notice, to reevaluate itself in today’s context,” she said. “The UN Secretary General has warned that we are facing a direct existential threat if we do not completely change course by 2020 latest! Yet we are talking about how to best showcase fashion collections for 2020? 2021?” 

Stockholm Fashion Week, due to take place from 27th-29th August, was cancelled by the Swedish Fashion Council so they could focus on finding a more sustainable alternative to the biannual fashion weeks that were run since 2005. CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council, Jennie Rosén, says: “The fashion industry is in a critical situation, because the planet is. It’s that simple – the whole industry has to be disrupted and we have to act now. Saying we are aware of the problem, and then repeating what we have done before will not allow the necessary change to happen.” 

Her call for action is not dissimilar from Extinction Rebellion’s fight against what they call “business as usual,” but the response to the SFC’s decision raises questions about whether or not designers are ready to embrace this approach. Stockholm Fashion Week was cancelled a month before it was scheduled, meaning designers due to show had already invested time and money into their presentations. Their response demonstrated a lack of support for the decision. Swedish stylist Christopher Insulander aimed to fill the void with a series of events under the moniker Crap Diem Couture Week. Participating designer Emelie Janrell commented on Instagram that, “marking the platform where fashion can actually be shown in its art form as a threat to the climate is not solving these issues.” Asked about the response from Swedish designers, Jennie simply stated: “It always hurts to make a change.”

As Lucy Siegle so brilliantly put it in The Guardian, “the four premier global fashion jamborees (London, New York, Paris and Milan) continue to celebrate a system of production and consumption that is spinning us ever closer to ecological Armageddon.” But cancelling one is not enough, as Stockholm shows. Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, commented: “Fashion Weeks globally need to act in unison, because to cancel one would just increase the impact of the others. If nobody can come to London, more people will just travel to Paris or Milan.” In fact, most of Stockholm’s more notable brands were already showing elsewhere: Acne in Paris, and Rodebjer and J.Lindberg in Copenhagen.

We need to do better, not just boycott and ban fashion weeks 

Orsola, whose August blog on The Voice of Fashion advocated improvement over cancellation, was keen to point out the strides being made within the current LFW model. She spotlighted British designers Phoebe English and Richard Malone for their efforts to pivot towards a more sustainable business model while continuing to produce clothes and show on-schedule. 

Richard’s SS20 press release announced that the label would be “consciously dispensing with the idea of seasonality” from now on, while the collection itself featured panels reconstructed from previous seasons’ discarded cutting scraps. Meanwhile, Phoebe sat out from the February and June shows this year to focus on finding more sustainable methods for her brand to move forward with. “We have used this time to explore approaches and actions to making work which can be described as attempts at solutions,” she says. As such, her new collection uses zero-waste pattern-cutting techniques to incorporate carefully sourced, high quality deadstock and surplus fabrics. At her presentation, models walked around a board filled with information and ideas about sustainable design, presenting her approach to certifications and fabric sourcing in the most transparent way possible. Earlier this year, Phoebe even started a Whatsapp group to share her findings with other designers, saving time, resources and needless competitiveness in one fell swoop. 

“I’m not one for unnecessarily banning; I’m always one for improving,” continues Orsola. “Both Richard and Phoebe are switching, brilliantly, at their own pace, in their own time, following their own creativity. They’re not compromising their creativity, but they are questioning it.”

Her comments on creativity relate to a common criticism of the Extinction Rebellion call to cancel. Speaking at the Helsinki Fashion Week Symposium in London last week, Sara said: “I think people misinterpreted our call to cancel LFW as a call to end creativity, but creativity doesn’t have to be about creating things, it can be about creating solutions. The fashion industry has all this creativity which is currently being used to fuel a capitalist system. Why don’t we use it to solve problems and save ourselves instead?” Sustainable designer Patrick McDowell, who repurposes Burberry fabric and Swarovski crystals, happily agreed: “We have the ability to design systems. Frankly, I’d be bored just designing clothes.”

Positive Fashion: we need to celebrate genuinely sustainable solutions and remain critical of greenwashing

Chekii Harling, founder of TRASHMag, curated part of the Positive Fashion Exhibition in the BFC showspace at LFW this season. Her exhibition showcased 12 designers foregrounding recycled and/or natural materials in a fun and colourful way, aiming to dispel the myth that sustainable clothes are all hemp, beige and mushroom leathers. The creativity on display was incredibly striking, albeit not without its own issues: Coup melds together discarded footwear, inspired by 20th century cobblers. Hanging alongside them was Leo Carlton, who spurns feathers in favour of polylactic acid filaments made from fermented plant starches such as corn in his modern take on millinery. And then there was Adam Jones, who crafts clothes from bar towels and beer mats. 

“What’s key is that the designers I selected are not just thinking about this, they are acting on it,” says Chekii. “The mainstream mind-set is that the cheap high street brands are the enemy, and indeed they are but the big boy designer labels and the mid-rangers in between tend to be just as unethical. Introducing press, buyers and a small section of the public to the fact that there are less harmful ways of making clothes is the first step in reversing the disastrous impact that the industry is having on the planet.”

The BFC could undoubtedly do more to make LFW sustainable, but the Positive Fashion Exhibition was a step in the right direction. Without it, innovators such as Chekii and her designers would not have had the platform to share their ideas on the world stage. That said, the initiative has faced criticism for its inclusion of high street retailer Foot Locker, who only released a statement on Modern Slavery in 2018. Similarly, the presence of complimentary Evian plastic water bottles caused some controversy. 

Prior to Positive Fashion, the BFC hosted a sustainable fashion platform called Estethica, which ran from 2006 to 2014. Orsola, who co-founded the platform with Filippoi Ricci, was unimpressed by the corporate slant that Foot Locker and Evian gave Positive Fashion. “Estethica was rigorous, both in terms of design and the techniques,” she explains. “Positive Fashion is not rigorous, it’s corporate. It’s very different. Positive Fashion will describe Foot Locker as being about artisans and craftsmanship. It’s not. Positive Fashion put in a thing with Evian water saying they’ll be 100% recycled plastic by 2025, without writing on it in graffiti – ‘that’s too bloody late mate’ – which is something Estethica would have done.”

Progress is slowing down because commerce comes before creativity

Speaking at the opening breakfast for LFW, which was held in the Positive Fashion ‘Sustainability’ room, BFC Chair Stephanie Phair said, “I believe that collaboration between creativity and business is the alchemy to success.” Yet her assertion that “creativity and commerce have to go hand in hand” begs the question: is commerce squeezing a little too tight? As writer and Extinction Rebellion activist Bel Jacobs states, this is not an industry under threat. In fact, apparel consumption is expected to grow 63% by 2030, according to the Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report. Research collected by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that global clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years, while Fashion Revolution submitted written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee last year stating that “the way fashion is produced and consumed has been dramatically scaled and sped up over the past 30 years.” It’s worth noting that London Fashion Week, which many see as a longstanding, traditional institution within the fashion industry, only began in 1984, just as fast fashion’s growth really took off. 

For environmental activist and model Arizona Muse, this shift in the industry has placed commerce at the centre of fashion weeks, making them into vehicles for consumerism. On a panel organised by the BFC to close LFW last Tuesday, Arizona said: “Fashion Week has come about to sell things, and creativity is second to that now. That’s the seeds of the problem. Fashion Week could be harnessed for so much good. We’re on such a complex path and the fashion supply chain is so complicated. We’re part of the metal industry, the agricultural industry, textiles and furniture… The change we have to make is enormous. It doesn’t work to do fashion the way we have been doing it. We need a more humane fashion system.” 

On the same panel, Common Objective founder Tamsin Lejeune took a slightly different approach, advocating the business sense of switching to a sustainable model. “Sustainability needs to change from something brands see as a cost to something they see as an opportunity,” she said. Common Objective appeals to the competitive nature of business under capitalism, incentivising change by ranking more sustainable businesses higher up on their site, which now includes more than 20,000 organisations. Among them are a ‘humanitarian lifestyle brand’, a ‘luxury baby alpaca wool label’ and an ‘eco-conscious designer swimwear brand.’ But, as moderator Tamsin Blanchard rightly stated, “we can’t buy our way out of this crisis.” 

The change we need to see in business models and mindsets is bigger than simply shifting to so-called sustainable fabrics. If we still operate within a capitalist fashion system built around colonial power structures and driven by financial targets, progress will always be limited. A representative of the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion – who released a manifesto detailing their frustrations last year – explained: “The growth logic obstructs discussion about sustainability because continuous expansion of market share is incompatible with the finite limits of the Earth’s resource base.” The idea that we can conscious consumption can save us misses the point. As Extinction Rebellion have pointed out again and again, we have very limited time to turn things around and move away from critical tipping points which would heighten the climate crisis. “By the time you have implemented these incremental changes, the deadline will have passed,” Bel added. “We have less than 18 months.”

Legislation is seriously lacking 

The lack of legislation around fashion’s environmental impact is a sore point in almost every conversation on this subject. If it’s too late for incremental change, surely legislation holds the key? The government’s resistance is disappointing at best. In February, the Environmental Audit Committee published a report called Fixing Fashion. It made 18 recommendations, from tax incentives for environmentally responsible companies to placing a one penny tax on every new garment made, the result of which would be investment in better clothing collection and ‘green’ jobs. The participating MPs traversed the political spectrum, and the measured recommendations were informed by industry players with decades of experience. Yet the government rejected every single suggestion. 

Now, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion are working with Fashion Roundtable as secretariat to push for change. At the first meeting a couple of weeks ago, designers, activists and consultants gathered to share their thoughts on the subject. It was a necessary first step, but demonstrated the complicated nature of progress on this subject. The issue of sustainability in fashion is incredibly contentious, and ideas for what to do about it are thin on the ground. The APPG represents a definite desire for change within the industry, but whether the government will listen is less certain. 

Industry bodies have made vague attempts at progress themselves. Most notably, in August, French President Emmanuel Macron enlisted François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kering to form The Fashion Pact. The pact, presented at the G7 meeting in Biarritz, garnered 32 signatories, from Stella McCartney and Chanel to the Prada Group and Capri Holdings Limited, which includes Michael Kors and Versace. It details commitments to stop global warming, restore biodiversity and protects the oceans. So far, so promising. However, read the small-print and you will see that “the document is not legally binding and can be seen as a set of guidelines.”

We need to separate fashion from the fashion industry

It all seems rather bleak when you think about the lack of government action and the limited time we have left, but London-based designers – including those showing at fashion week – are providing light in the dark. There are so many examples of how fashion can exist for good, operating outside of the industry norms that have proved so damaging. While far from perfect, Positive Fashion showed real promise and they weren’t alone. Even Gucci and Burberry both committed to carbon neutral shows this season, with further plans to slash emissions by 2025 and 2022 respectively. As Phoebe English rightly said: “The government does not have systems in place to deal with an emergency of this magnitude. If we don’t enact change, no-one else is going to do it for us.”

Orsola advocates for a return to community fashion, as a more inclusive solution. “I’m partial to a good boycott myself,” she says. “But the job of Fashion Revolution is to look at fashion, not from an elitist point of view, but from a universal point of view. My next-door-neighbour is a single mother with three children. How could she boycott fashion? If she takes part in Secondhand September, where is she going to buy school uniforms for her children? That needs to be communicated somehow. We can’t keep talking about fashion with a very high-end and mainstream point of view.” She points out that the solutions we are looking for may have been right under our noses this whole time. “When you think of specialities or regional food, we’ve got regional fashion too. We’ve just stopped looking for it and looking out for it,” Orsola continues. “The future is not just about technological advancement, it’s also about ancient skills. Just as much as we’re talking about the extinction of the rhino, we should be talking about the extinction of the artisans and those skills. These organisms are part of our culture, and have been for millenia. How patronising is it that we don’t listen to what they have to say?”

There is so much common ground in the way thought leaders are approaching this issue, despite the different ways they are manifesting those thoughts. As well as the renewed appreciation of craftsmanship that Orsola spoke of, Sara spotlighted Extinction Rebellion’s love of block-printing as an example of how fashion can be separated from the fashion industry and used to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis. At the APPG meeting, Sara wore an old t-shirt with the words ‘beauty’ and ‘fashion’ crossed out, and ‘truth’ and justice’ printed in their place. “Those are block-prints on secondhand clothing,” she explains. “We’ll have them during the rebellion, so people can bring old clothes and we’ll print on them. That alone isn’t going to save the world, but it does have a purpose. It’s been a really good way to spread the message.” The black and white prints are certainly striking. Business of Fashion’s sustainability correspondent Sarah Kent even suggested that the climate action group were ‘out-marketing fashion’, with their slogan t-shirts and dramatic protests attracting more media headlines this season than the catwalks themselves.

The need to reconnect with our clothes and how they’re made is one that many people working in sustainable fashion recognise. Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign seeks transparency in the supply chain, giving garment workers a platform to share their experiences. Building on that, their Fashion Transparency Index ranks brands by how open they are and Fashion Open Studio celebrates those centering craft and transparency. All of this helps to throw open the fashion industry, casting a necessarily harsh light on the exploitative practices that have been allowed to seep in. Bel Jacobs captured this sentiment when she said that “disconnection works at the service of capitalism.” Or, as Eco-Age’s Head of Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, Charlotte Turner put it: “people need to understand the provenance and technicalities of their clothing to connect to it emotionally.” If anything, fashion weeks could be in a prime position to make this happen. Chekii’s exhibition presented information about the designers on washing labels by graphic designer James Barnardo, to convey the importance of understanding where our clothes come from and what they’re made of.

And finally: global goals need local solutions 

At present, the UN Sustainable Development Goals – often referred to as the Global Goals – are our best blueprint for what a more sustainable fashion landscape might look like, but we need to fill in the practical blanks with local solutions. For Orsola, this means using local and indigenous knowledge and rejecting Western, capitalist homogenization. “We should really be listening to how they recycle in China versus India versus Northern Europe, versus South America. Could those pearls of wisdom include solutions that could be technologised, advanced and upscaled to create a proper environmental solution?” she asks. “For me, it’s a constant learning curve that what’s happening in Zimbabwe is not relevant in Mexico and vice versa. We’ve just somehow put a big veil of gloss, or big veil or Gucci over it. Everything is the same, but we’re not. We’ve got more to learn from other parts of the world now than ever before. We just need to listen.”

Aside from less carbon emissions from travel (LFW welcomed guests from over 60 countries last year), what local fashion weeks offer is a glimpse into the creativity and innovation in the country that hosts them. At their best, fashion weeks are a celebration of the people making progress. That said, there is almost definitely a more environmentally-friendly way to run them. Perhaps, as one of our Instagram followers suggested, there could be a set of sustainable criteria for participating brands. In fact, Copenhagen Fashion Week plans to do just this from next season – whether this would work globally is another issue. Maybe we could scale fashion weeks back, showing just once a year instead of the ever-quickening cycle of seasons we’re trapped in right now. Ultimately, what fashion weeks offer is a platform with a captive audience; an opportunity for influential players to gather together and talk about where the industry is going. They could be meeting points of like-minds, where sustainability is top of the agenda and commerce comes last. As Sara Arnold so poignantly said last week: “Everything is up for questioning.”

This piece was written for 1 Granary – you can read it with all the glorious images here.

1 Granary collages: He said, she said, they said

Professional commentators, fashion students and members of the
public reflect on six defining shows from London Fashion Week

There are moments when fashion feels perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist, seamlessly marrying designers’ visions with consumers’ desires. Other times, fashion feels entirely absurd. When the fashion press rave about hemlines and handbags, do the public care? Do they get it? We took to the streets over London Fashion Week to ask members of the public – people more au fait with drainpipes than piping (hi Chris the plumber!) – what they thought of six defining shows. With a little help from fashion students and the odd comment from professional reviewers, we’ve covered Richard Quinn‘s feathered flower girls and Christopher Kane‘s eco-sexuality to Tisci’s Burberry and Templers’ Ports 1961. We even threw in Simone Rocha and JW Anderson for good measure. Enjoy!

These collages illustrated an article I commissioned and edited for 1 Granary called, ‘He Said, She Said, They Said.’ To read the full piece, click here. It’s juicy!

The State of London Fashion Week

We gathered young designers, fashion students, journalists and casting agents into a group chat and asked them what they think of London Fashion Week. From their first time sneaking into a show to presenting their own collections and stepping off-schedule completely, they have experienced the highs and lows of an event often likened to a circus. With Extinction Rebellion calling to cancel fashion week altogether, our group chat of graduates tackles the existential questions surrounding LFW.

1 Granary

First question: Have you been involved in London Fashion Week before? In what capacity? (Attending shows? Volunteering backstage? Modelling? Showing your own collection?)

Laura K. Frandsen
@laurakfrandsen

I’ve attended a few shows by designers that I know personally, but in general I’ve never had much interest in fashion weeks.

Peter Movrin
@petermovrin

I got a ticket to a Burberry show when I was on the MA at CSM. For butcher from Slovenia that was a whole new level of experience. Even nicer was when we had the graduation show and I was lucky enough to be chosen. I was so full of emotions.

Bianca Batson
@biancabatson

My first experience was modelling Meadham Kirchhoff and Fashion East shows! Then I was working for Ashish and shot backstage for 1 Granary. I guess I had a personal relationship with most of the designers, so for me it was all positive and quite fun! It’s been a few years though. 

Marvin Desroc
@marvindesroc

I’ve always seen it from backstage – mostly volunteering. I’ve attended a couple of shows and, thanks to the MA, I guess I was able to show this time around. Backstage is madness but the adrenaline is great. Attending shows is not what excites me the most. It excites me more to actually work towards that show. And seeing people’s reaction to your work the day after. 

Célia Fröhlich
@abbild.studio

I attended and modelled at Berlin Fashion Week when I was younger, at the beginning of my studies. It was something I had never experienced before and I felt this sense of exclusivity. Like I was attending all these events I had only seen in magazines before.  During my MA, I helped NEWGEN recipient Paula Knorr with her presentations as an intern and a friend. I helped with everything backstage and got to know what it means to work towards London Fashion week as the person who creates this one climax and goes through a mentally and financially challenging time to achieve that. 

Josephine Jones
@josephinejonessdiary

I’ve been working as a model for designers, including my friends such as Charles JeffreyVeronique Leroy and ARTSCHOOL for years. Last year I signed with Elite Models so fashion week is rather manic for me now! I also attend a few shows, these days in a more official manner. Fashion East and Christopher Kane are personal favourites and always very fun. However, I’ve been sneaking into loads of shows for years and it is way more exciting than getting an invitation! 

Sidonie Wilson
@sidoniewilson

I’ve worked at four years of fashion shows, so 8 seasons and about 8-10 shows each season, in London. I’ve managed shows from seating plans, invitations, managing press, photographers, VIP management and seating. Always working long hours, in the lead up to and over LFW and always wearing black.

Emma Louise Rixhon
@etwoagency

Both in NY and London, I’ve only been when I’m working – either as a casting assistant or journalist or in this case creating content. I can’t imagine wanting to go if I hadn’t been a part of the process.

1 Granary

You’ve all seen fashion week from different angles, so I imagine your thoughts on this will differ, but does London Fashion Week in its current form excite you? Is it something you actually want to be part of?

Josephine Jones

I think people go too fast and too hard with showing at fashion week. It depends if it’s an artistic or commercial endeavour. Sarah Mower told me the point of a runway show is, ultimately, for sales. So personally – although I invested time and energy into having a presentation on schedule – it’s not something me and my team feel particularly fussed about doing again now we have mainstream brand awareness. I don’t regret it. It was one of the most empowering experiences ever. However I’m working abroad to save money to show another presentation and capsule either next LFW or off-schedule in January or December. No one needs to be tied to a schedule! Especially since competing for attention, even with the best PR, is really challenging.

Jonathon Kidd
@jonathonkidd_

Fashion shows are weird. I feel like being invited to something is quite exciting but the reality is less so. Sometimes you’re just sat around and you see a lot less than what you would on Vogue Runway. Nothing from fashion week feels like it’s going to be historic anymore. Every season it seems like something really cool happens, but nobody seems to care afterwards. I feel like social media just changes the game massively. 

Laura K. Frandsen

When I’ve attended shows of my friends, knowing how hard they’ve worked for it and seeing everything coming together being so well executed… you can’t help but feel proud and amazed. I just don’t like the context of fashion week and would never go for the fun of it. The promotion of extravaganza and excess is not only completely out of tune with the climate and ecological emergency that we are in, but dangerously undermining it. It’s neither valuable of valid anymore.

Bianca Batson 

I find traditional catwalk can be a bit boring if there are a thousand looks.

Marvin Desroc 

It is too saturated in London. It’s fun, the energy is amazing overall but it is just way too much.

Matilda Söderberg
@_matildasoderberg_

The hype, hysteria and speed of it all really puts me off. It could be a great platform for showing and exhibiting work. It makes it simple for buyers I guess? But as Marvin just mentioned, it’s super saturated with stuff. You lose track of it all and potentially miss out on some brilliant work.

Célia Fröhlich

I believe that we forget how orchestrated everything is and how it is intended for “outsiders” to not feel like they belong. 

Sidonie Wilson 

I don’t think that it’s orchestrated to make outsiders think they don’t belong, I just think this is the fashion industry’s time to show off. It’s exclusive yes, but not in a negative way. The point of it is for sales and press to see the exciting new talent and then for them to showcase it to the rest of the world. PR’s role in fashion week is just to keep the cogs moving. 

1 Granary

What is the main function of London Fashion Week in your opinion?

Michella Oré
@frightfullyfrank

For buyers, to introduce the next season which will (ideally) result in sales. For press, to highlight and make accessible the next wave of design and creativity that is being made public for the first time.

Fabian Kis-Juhasz
@fabiankisjuhasz

As of now I’m not sure since all of it could be done digitally and online. I guess it is a huge publicity stunt and advertisement. The buyers will see the collections in the showrooms so it’s mainly just for the press.

Emma Louise Rixhon

At its best, theatre. At its worst, cash. 

Laura K. Frandsen

To keep consumerism going!

Sinéad O’Dwyer
@sjodwyer

Exactly! It feels like selling is the ultimate function. Or else it wouldn’t need to be everyone in the same place and time.

Josephine Jones

Irreverent expression of ideas. Also sales, but for me it’s an opportunity to see a wide range of people’s ideas and philosophies/manifestos take shape all around us. It has to mean something. I believe these events shape culture and motivate designers to stop procrastinating and actually show something.

Laura K. Frandsen

If fashion really is about shaping culture, shouldn’t that be a good enough reason to move away from this dead-old broken system and lead the way?

1 Granary

To the designers in the group: do you feel that showing at fashion week was worth the money you invested in it?

Bianca Batson 

I showed off-schedule and did my presentation very DIY so, in terms of money, it was cost effective. It gets people talking, but ultimately I think producing an amazing shoot or video can do the same. I don’t think you have to present during fashion week. 

Josephine Jones

Exactly, Bianca. You definitely don’t have to be on schedule! So many designers, like Wales Bonner are rebranding as artists or artisan designers and staying away from brief fleeting runway shows where you see the clothes for a few minutes, in favour of presentations or exhibitions of the clothing. As a print designer, my work doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a runway context. No regrets, however my bank balance had a heart attack that I couldn’t have predicted. Saying that, I’ve always preferred my money where I can see it, hanging in my closet… (not a great business model)!

Michella Oré

I would second that – the notion of seasons has long become irrelevant. We’re transitioning to series-based collections which aren’t held to a specific time frame. Hopefully this will cause both people in the fashion industry and those consuming to reconsider what they purchase and how frequently they do so. Because if you’re buying a piece for the quality and design (and because it makes you feel good!) you should be set for years.

1 Granary

If you could change London Fashion Week in some way, what would you do?

Sinéad O’Dwyer

Make it less often. 

Fabian Kis-Juhasz

You see a lot of lacklustre or repetitive work because designers don’t have the time to develop innovative ideas for each season. Fewer seasons would mean better quality and less waste.

Michella Oré

Make it more accessible to new talents who may not have the financial means or social ties to join in. While there are platforms, groups, and mentors opening doors for new designers and faces, there still remains a large bubble in which the same familiar names (i.e. schools, agencies) bounce around.

Laura K. Frandsen

The UN Secretary General has warned that we are facing a direct existential threat if we do not completely change course by 2020 latest! That literally means no business as usual if we are to have a future worth living. We are talking about how to best showcase fashion collections for 2020? 2021? Should we keep fashion week – well, the fashion industry at large – alive at the cost of our future?

1 Granary

Building on Laura’s point: Extinction Rebellion have called upon the BFC to cancel London Fashion Week. What are everyone’s thoughts on this? What would your concerns be if BFC were to cancel LFW? Who would it affect the most?

Josephine Jones

I think cancelling LFW is a bad idea, we need to change LFW somehow not destroy it, in my opinion. Every designer I know big or small is working to make what they do sustainable but it does take time. Do I think we need to do better ? Yes. Do I think people can change everything overnight because of one individual protest? Nope.

Jonathon Kidd

Firstly I want to say Extinction Rebellion is like the coolest thing to happen in the UK in a long time but, honestly, the problem isn’t with most the designers that show at LFW. The problem is Zara, H&M, Topshop and so on. I see LFW as mostly young designers. If you were asking me this question about cancelling Paris Fashion Week, the answer would be different as it probably would affect big houses much more. 

Célia Fröhlich

Fashion week as it presents itself feels like a very stubborn system that we keep up and nobody knows the exact reason except for convenience and sales. Fashion likes to be seen as being at the forefront of developing towards the future, but as an industry we still don’t develop new concepts that take on the responsibility and forward-thinking that is necessary. I believe that a more open “fashion week” presentation system could be put into place that celebrates fashion and its value. But the value of fashion and garments would need to be reinterpreted as well.

Bianca Batson 

I think it would be a shame for young designers. But like I said before, you can do your own thing, show off schedule and still be successful. There are lots of brands doing this. It is a great platform for exposure though, especially with initiatives like Fashion East who have put so many designers on the map. 

Célia Fröhlich

I believe the BFC should go the radical way and cancel to think of a more sustainable concept. Like the Swedish Fashion Council putting this as a priority on their agenda. I have high hopes that they can come up with something that profits our future and celebrates the emotional value of fashion in our society.

Laura K. Frandsen

Continuing business as usual will most likely impact the lives of everyone. And everything we do from now on will decide whether we are going to meet that narrow window of opportunity or not. We can’t possibly still justify spending our time and scarce resources, promoting something that we don’t need, nor can we afford.

Bianca Batson 

It’s not business as usual if changes are made. Cancelling fashion week would impact the young designers, not the big cogs of the wheel who are churning out crazy amounts of product. And making changes to fashion week is at least a start without killing business immediately. 

Célia Fröhlich

I see where you are coming from, Bianca, but wouldn’t you believe that something interesting could come from a meeting of young designers who get the opportunity of a clean slate? Also, there are a lot of big business causing harm that don’t show at fashion week at all and reach their audience in different ways. How do we create a turning point that puts pressure on big businesses?

Laura K. Frandsen

Continuing fashion week sends a clear message, from the forefront of so-called culture, that the climate emergency is nothing to worry about and that the climate science should easily be ignored. That is the opposite of leading the way. We don’t have time for small incremental changes now.

Bianca Batson 

Not if changes are implemented to help work towards something better. Suddenly cancelling something that people have been working hard towards, and are relying on for sales of the business, to pay their staff, is not the solution. All I’m saying is that there are ways to drastically change fashion week without killing it.

Emma Louise Rixhon

I agree with this – it’s not young designers that are the problem, nor is it really the brands who show at fashion week. It’s the massive mainstream industry that is catering for 99% run by incredible powerful high street conglomerates. Change needs to happen at a societal level around ideas of consumerism and worth attributed to ownership. If anything fashion week revolves around fantasy. There is room for art and beauty and if anything we need it now more than ever – fashion can make powerful statements. The problem is that they get capitalised on. 

Laura K. Frandsen

Definitely echo this! But art and beauty and creativity dies within big business, and so do we. We do need creativity so meet what’s ahead of us, but that shouldn’t have to compromise our future.

1 Granary

Thinking about the changes people are making to try and be more sustainable – How could the fashion industry continue in a more environmentally conscious way?

Bianca Batson 

Well if everyone stopped using Uber for a week I feel like that’d have a nice impact on carbon emissions…

Laura K. Frandsen

I completely appreciate and acknowledge young labels doing things in a more ethical way. It is just not going to solve the crisis that we are in. The fashion industry at large, can never be sustainable, simply because the main problem is overconsumption.

Célia Fröhlich

During my time shadowing a politician in the German Parliament, I saw first-hand how slow the political process is in reacting to change. I believe it has to come from the industry itself and Fashion Councils are there to develop guidelines for the industry. Also, it is important to educate the consumer.

Emma Louise Rixhon

I think transparency would be a radical first step. To make consumers aware of the travel, labour, materials, the intensive hours and processes involved in every garment would make people more aware of what they are paying for and why, and help them decide whether to even purchase. A mass-scale consumer-led commitment to slow fashion. People need to learn to fix and rework their clothes or buy second hand. This obsession with the new needs to be stopped.

Laura K. Frandsen

The UK Parliament has straight up refused to legislate on the fashion industry.

Josephine Jones

I think Matthew Needham’s approach to repurposing old collections to make new ones from discarded materials is so innovative and to be celebrated. He’s really leading the way in this in my opinion!

Emma Louise Rixhon

Yes, this and Bode (who use pre-existing materials) or other designers who commit to re-using. The new knitwear hype (brands like Rui Zhou or Kepler) are also interesting because, as a process, it uses less material and doesn’t produce off-cuts.

Célia Fröhlich

A sustainable way of creating and designing seems to work in many small-scale businesses, but only to a certain extent. Should there be a limit on production? Why not build up a think tank that develop future fashion scenarios and new concepts of engaging with fashion, sustainable design and so on and have designers apply for a platform that explores and celebrates that. Not looking at stockists and how to sell much, but rather exploring how to create value that can sustain a brand whatever form it has?

Laura K. Frandsen

The problem with the whole talk about “sustainability” is that is leads us to believe that if we design better products, using different materials and put more heart into it, it will “solve” a problem. The fashion industry is predicted to increase by 63% by 2030. That is the problem. Consumerism and the promotion of it, is the problem. I’m not judging anyone for pursuing their dreams or doing what makes them happy. But we need to reevaluate the way we live and consume, in the context of a climate emergency. It will change before we know it, but our chance of controlling that change is very limited.

Célia Fröhlich

I just think we shouldn’t see this push for change (this time coming from XR) as something to be frightened of, but rather especially as young creatives to use a time in which a lot is questioned to stand out with new ideas and erupt what is perceived as given. 

This was such a fun piece to cast and moderate. I conducted the group chat over Whatsapp – to see photos of the participants and view the content in colour, head to 1 Granary.

1 Granary: Mastering Graduation

AHEAD OF THE PARSONS MFA SHOW,
10 ALUMNI SHARE THEIR ADVICE FOR
THE GRADUATING CLASS OF 2019

Tomorrow, a fresh crop of Parsons MFA Fashion Design & Society graduates will present their designs at New York Fashion Week. The two year course, led by Shelley Fox and JOFF, takes an interdisciplinary approach to fashion education, normally culminating in an exhibition as well as a runway. This year, the exhibition was postponed until after the show, so the runway tomorrow will mark the 2019 students’ debuts. We asked 10 Parsons alumni to share their thoughts on the new approach, plus the pressure and potential of showing at fashion week, dealing with the post-graduation blues and navigating the beginning of their careers.

What are the things you wish you knew beforehand?

Stephanie Frig: You need to go into it accepting and allowing anything to happen. Earrings may be too heavy or beads may fly off. Be prepared for changes. Remain open and positive.

Amy Crookes: Sometimes you have to move sideways in order to go forward. 

Annaliese Griffith-Jones: I wish I took time into consideration more. When you are making such intricate, handmade garments, fabric and embellishments, these things take time…a lot of time. I think that is the biggest struggle working up towards the show because you want it to be of the highest quality as it is a pinnacle time within your career to reflect what you represent and your image as a designer. I do not recommend working until 7am and running to the show.

Zoe Champion: Eat before the Prosecco!

Tingyue Jiang: I should have planned what my long-term goals were as a designer. After graduation, I had to figure out a plan for my future, not just follow what school let me to do.

Gahee Lim: I wish I had better understanding of grad school vs. reality. Grad school is a curated and protected environment that is nothing like the real world. Merit is only a small fraction of what matters to work at a company or to run your own business. 

Do you have any last-minute advice for this year’s graduates?

Caroline Hu: Believe in what you have done and persist and be brave. Whether you want to be a brand or go to work, you must work hard and be humble.

Annaliese Griffith-Jones: Enjoy watching your clothes walk. I think you can get so caught up with perfection that all you see is what you could have done better.

Amy Crookes: Get as much experience as possible and use the time post-graduation to explore and find your focus. Ask for advice, BUT know that you don’t have to listen to all of it.

What did the show do for you and/or your career?

Annaliese Griffith-Jones: The show gave me a lot of exposure and also a chance to collaborate with different photographers and creatives. It also allowed me to take a step back from the collection and see it as a whole.

Venice W: Physically more people see your work which is a good thing. It was mentally drained as everything you have been working on for one full year was wrapped up toward a sort of conclusion (runway show) in less than 10 minutes.

Snow Xue Gao: That process really made me start to think who was going to wear it, who was going to buy it. Design gets exciting when you dress a real person.

Gahee Lim: Opening the Parsons MFA show in 2016 was huge for me and my career. I had an amazing amount of editorial exposure and job opportunities. I had the very good luck of freelancing at different places for a couple of years after graduation, then I worked at The Row for a year. And I started working at Thom Browne women’s runway design team.

Is there anything that you wish you had done differently in the first few months after you graduated? 

Amy Crookes: No, I used the few months after graduation to relax and re-group whilst freelancing and continuing to work on my own projects. It was really important for me to try and find a healthy work/life balance after graduation. 

Tingyue Jiang: I wish I could have taken a long break after graduation. Once I started to work, it was hard to take a long break.

Rui Zhou: Apply for jobs ASAP.

Annaliese Griffith-Jones: I would definitely stress less! I was really caught up with deciding what I was going to do with my future and felt there was a ticking clock for exposure time, but I think in reality it doesn’t work like that. People still appreciate your ideas, processes and intricacies of your collection far beyond the show.

This article was originally published on 1 Granary, where you can view it in all its glory – including sketchbook and runway shots.

Fabian Kis-Juhasz and her Devilish Damsels

Miss Havisham models lounge around a red and pink boudoir, reading the Satanic Bible and toying with the chokers around their taut necks. Powder and rouge stain their distant faces, offsetting the saccharine surroundings with a dollop of dark kitsch. Bloody corsets protrude from piles of mattresses like a sinister take on The Princess and The Pea and church organs ring over the unsettling scene.

For a split second, immersed in the demonic depths of Hungarian designer Fabian Kis-Juhasz’s imagination, you forget that you’re in the British Fashion Council’s Designer Showroom, with crowds and cars pulsing along The Strand above. And that’s exactly how Fabian wants it. “A catwalk show is on for ten seconds, and it’s harder to appreciate the details,” she says. “With a presentation, you can communicate much more of your identity. I wanted to make a visual statement of the things I like.”

“Femininity is such an unattainable image. It’s not realistic for most people who identify with it. It’s aspirational, but it also makes you feel shit about yourself.”

This is Fabian’s first presentation at London Fashion Week. Like Josephine Jones, whose on-schedule debut the night before featured an all-trans cast, Fabian used mostly trans and non-binary models. Many were close friends and collaborators, people who have appeared in all of her collections to date. In Fabian’s work, femininity is a guise that can be put on and taken off. Her moulded corsets, complete with phallic waistlines and drooping breasts, offer a more inclusive womanhood, where the body beneath it has no bearing on its validity: “Femininity is such an unattainable image. It’s not realistic for most people who identify with it. It’s aspirational, but it also makes you feel shit about yourself. So I love this idea of femininity being performative. The idea that femininity is not definitive of who you are, but just a thing that you can be, might help you feel more comfortable in your own skin.” It’s a tool for expression, of what you can be, as opposed to an intrinsic expression of who you are.

Thanks to set designer Gillian Hyland and stylist Danielle Goldman, the devil is in the detail: dried flowers wither in faded pots and the vanity mirrors stare back at you with lipstick flowers. Eggs are scattered across the floor and surfaces, as a symbol of womanhood and fertility. As the show wrapped, Fabian’s fellow designer and RCA alumna Sinéad O’Dwyer scooped them up to take home for brunch.

“I was really interested in the Church of Satanism,” continues Fabian. “The whole thing is about not believing in anything, contesting the idea of God, religion and faith. So I had the Satanic Bible in the set.” The Monstrous-Feminine by Barbara Creed was an obvious addition, a firm favourite on Fabian’s bookshelf. Similarly, Julia Kristeva’s exploration of the abject in Powers of Horror influenced Fabian’s separation of femininity and womanhood, where clothes are the borders that define and contain the monstrous body. Amidst the academic allusions, Wuthering Heights lent an air of romanticism. The literary props were as much about entertaining the models as they were about reflecting Fabian’s process. “I started thinking about how uncomfortable it must be for the models to stand around for two hours with nothing to do, so I gave them books to read,” she laughs.

“Because we used fabrics on the walls, I had to flame-proof them, which I didn’t know was a thing.”

Thinking up things for the models to do was just one of the invisible tasks Fabian didn’t anticipate when she applied for a presentation space. “There are so many ridiculous details,” she says. “I was told I had a space four weeks before the presentation, so it was a tight turnaround. The BFC provided a production team to help you assemble things, but I had to bring my own set, models and make-up. I had so many set designers cancel on me, and one of the models did the soundscapes the night before. Because we used fabrics on the walls, I had to flame-proof them, which I didn’t know was a thing. I was running around London the day before and I spilled the flame-proofing liquid in an Uber. So I fire-proofed an Uber by accident!”

“It’s so strange because you have the presentation, which is such a huge moment and everybody is congratulating you, and then you go home to your cold apartment where the heating is broken and you go to Tesco to get food and it’s not glamorous anymore. It’s such a 180 from what you just experienced.”

The process of staging a presentation is a steep learning curve for young designers like Fabian, but one she would wholeheartedly recommend. “Doing a presentation on-schedule is great press,” she says. “You can start to gain a following, maybe get some interviews and build your image. I had a feature in LOVE Magazine, which was pretty cool.”

“Getting freelance fashion work is almost as hard as showing at London Fashion Week.”

The main downside is the cost. “There’s never a clear number attached to what you’re going to get out of a presentation or how much you’re going to put in yourself. I’d do it again if I suddenly came into a huge inheritance or something!” Here, the realities of being a fledgling designer set in. “It’s so strange because you have the presentation, which is such a huge moment and everybody is congratulating you, and then you go home to your cold apartment where the heating is broken and you go to Tesco to get food and it’s not glamorous anymore. It’s such a 180 from what you just experienced.”

The main lesson Fabian has learnt from her foray into Fashion Week? “I think you have to milk every opportunity you can get out of your graduate collection. The market is so saturated with people, and there are so few opportunities. Getting freelance fashion work is almost as hard as showing at London Fashion Week. Just because there isn’t a cool name attached to something, don’t turn your nose up at an opportunity. You can still grow through it, you can still learn something.”

I interviewed Fabian after London Fashion Week in February. The interview was published on 1Granary – you can read it in it’s full glory (images and all) here

Simone Rocha: Family and Femininity

A decade after graduating from CSM, the Irish designer shares a few pearls of wisdom at The Sarabande Foundation. 

Tousled hair tucked back by pearl-encrusted clips. Billowing fabric framed by hyperfeminine frills at the collar and cuffs. Matronly silhouettes shrouded in graphic floral prints. This is the paradoxical prism through which Simone Rocha sees the world. Her designs could be described as feminine and tomboyish in the same breath: “I love the mix of hard and soft, manmade and natural,” she says. “I think that stems from being from a mixed background.

The daughter of Hong Kong-born, Ireland-based designer John Rocha, fashion runs in Simone’s blood. As a child, she would dart around backstage at her father’s shows. It was here that she first met fashion journalist Sarah Mower. Their paths would cross again, years later, in the cramped and colourful office of esteemed CSM MA Fashion tutor Louise Wilson. “I was petrified of it, but always gagging to get in and hear what Louise had to say,” remembers Simone. A decade later, on a balmy evening, the pair are rapt in the conversation for the Sarabande Foundation’s Inspiration Series, Sarah in a cream blazer and Simone in a ruffled white shirt of her own design. Here is a round-up of what they had to say.

“Home is where the heart is. If you put your heart into your work, that’s when people will respond to it because people respond to emotion.”

Rifle through the Simone Rocha archive and you’ll find direct lines to the people and places who have inspired her. Swimming in the sea off the west coast of Ireland inspired her to create a lacquered lace, and spotting Ireland’s first female President, Mary Robinson, wearing pearls in an airport cemented the stone of the sea as a Simone signature. Her long-time love of Louise Bourgeois – whose estate Simone collaborated with in May this year – started when she visited the Stitches in Time exhibition with her mum, aged 16. But closest to her heart is the first window display she created for Dover Street Market in 2013, inspired by the lanes behind her childhood home: “I remembered smoking fags, kissing boys, pigs running after me. The whole thing, I put into that collection.”

“Have a bit of patience. Just because it’s not happening for you right now doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen.”

In 2013, just a few short years after graduating from CSM and Fashion East, Simone topped the Emerging Talent, Ready-to-Wear category at the British Fashion Awards. The following year, she was promoted to The New Establishment Award. And it was at the BFC’s NEWGEN showroom in Paris that she was first spotted by Rei Kawakubo, who would become a firm supporter. When you’re feted as an emerging talent, when do you fully emerge? For Simone, it wasn’t until she exhibited a collection in the Tate Modern. “That was the first show Anna Wintour came to,” she says. “And so many great artists have shown in that space, I really felt that I’d made it.”

“When your aesthetic is innate to you, it’s really important to keep challenging it.”

Finding your look as a designer is only half of the battle. How do you maintain it without it feeling stagnant? “I think that’s something I learnt from Louise Wilson. She told me to go out and look at things that you want to look at that don’t feel like something you should be interested in. She said, you’re making all these beautiful dresses, who cares? Go look at porn, go look at Indian movies…The reality is that whatever I design is going to go under my guise because it’s in my DNA. I’m going to go in and out of fashion, and I’m okay with that. I just have to make an effort to push myself out of my comfort zone. ”

“Get to know back-of-house and get a good accountant”

Before starting her own label, Simone did her fair share of internships, but she didn’t limit herself to design. She worked under her father, Marc Jacobs and Dazed to name a few. “The way our company has grown has been really organic and slow, and we work very closely across all departments. Production is very important and it shouldn’t be separated from design.” Her team now boasts more than 40 members, and she’s keen to make each feel valued. “Your pattern-cutters are the technical graft that bring your ideas to life.”

“If you want to show alone, you really need to figure out what you want to say”

For Simone, family and femininity are the two pillars around which everything else forms. Her mother, Odette, is her business partner, she collaborates with her partner on videography, and her daughter plays a crucial role in keeping fashion in perspective: “Having a young child really takes the edge off,” she laughs. Even her grandparents have played a part, albeit in mindset rather than mucking in. “My grandparents had this ethos of making the most of what you have and that has stuck with me. We always try to incorporate fabrics that we over-ordered into the new collections.” When it comes to femininity, inclusivity reigns. “I think a bit of macabre running through the femininity is realistic, but it is not one age, shape or size,” she professes. “Even though I have a very specific aesthetic, I don’t want it to be alienating. I want my casting to reflect my customers.”

This article was originally published on 1Granary – you can read it here. Image by Niko.

1Granary interview: Steve Salter

Steve Salter is best known as the Fashion Features Editor of i-D, but it was his menswear blog, Style Salvage, that first put him on the fashion map. Part of the 2007 blogging wave, Salter segued into mainstream fashion media via a spate of digital roles. He started at Dazed as Digital Sales Executive, later moving to i-D as Online Editor. Before taking over the Fashion Features role from Anders Christian Madsen in 2017, he also acted as Social Media Editor and Digital Editor. Steve was the last person employed by i-D founders Terry and Tricia Jones before they sold to Vice in 2012.

Writing with one eye on fashion and the other on the world, Steve manages to make heavyweight topics like cultural appropriation as accessible and engaging as lighter notes on meme fashion and microbags. His degree in Law and Sociology might seem irrelevant now, but his love of words and debating remains. Plus, it was academic boredom that first pushed him towards journalism: his first published pieces were music reviews for local zines and independent publishers in his university town of Warwick.

What attracted you to i-D?

I grew up in a small seaside town – Margate – which is popular now, but when I was there, it was the arse-end of nowhere. Reading about London and the creative scene in magazines like i-D was my escape. I knew I had to be there. Even when I accepted the Law degree, it was all part of the plan of getting that bit closer to London. I moved as soon as I graduated, worked in a few marketing jobs but soon transitioned into fashion. Being offered a role at i-D was everything, it felt like home then and still feels like home today.

Do you think it’s true that to be a fashion journalist in the UK, you have to live in London? 

Location shouldn’t be a barrier today, so we’re trying to break that a little bit. Historically so much of British fashion has centred around London – as it has done with other capital cities around the world – but in this hyperconnected world, why should it? Everything is under a microscope in London but we all have to look beyond our immediate surroundings and discover the unknown because that’s where we find the best inspiration. It’s a case of us all having to look beyond our surroundings. Of course it helps when everyone is in one city because you meet people and it’s easy because everyone knows each other, It’s such a community and that’s beautiful, but if you’re coming from the outside then it’s hard to break through that. The internet has helped somewhat, but there’s still a way to go and that’s on the people who commission features.

How has the menswear scene changed since you first came to London? 

When I started covering men’s fashion on the blog, it was really around the birth of London menswear as we know it know but it was still a tally-on to the women’s show in those early days. At that time, Fashion Week was around the grounds of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, and Fashion East had a house just opposite that. It was an old Georgian townhouse, and they gave designers a room each to do an installation. Those still rank as some of my favourite fashion events. It’s where I first encountered Gosha Rubchinskiy, Nasir Mazhar, Meadham Kirchhoff, and so many more. I was so fortunate that I was one of the few journalists covering it at the time. Well, I wasn’t really a journalist, I was a blogger. It felt like we were at the start of something and, looking back now, we were. I love covering the established designers and big fashion houses today, but I can’t imagine a time when I’m not excited by the energy of emerging talents, it’s infectious. i-D has always been about new ideas, new talent, and new energy so that’s why we’re a good fit.

You just touched on it a little bit, but I’d like to talk more about your transition from ‘blogger’ to ‘journalist’ – what is the difference in your mind? And when did you start calling yourself a journalist? 

I don’t know whether there is one to be honest. It’s just a title change. My Instagram bio says: a fan, not a critic. That’s something that Terry Jones actually said at i-D and it’s one of the reasons I feel so at home there. As a blogger, I only covered what I loved and as a journalist, I only cover what interests me because there’s enough negativity in this world already. If it’s not for me, I either ignore and move on, or if it’s there’s something there, then I commission it out. It’s about being honest, but it’s coming from that mentality of only really writing about stuff that you really like. That’s what I did with my blog and it’s what I try and stick to now.

It sounds so obvious but a piece always reads better if it’s written by someone who is knowledgeable about and excited by the subject. If that’s not me, then I’ll just commission it out.

It seems like we’re having a renaissance of the freelance writer, but so many of my friends that are freelancers joke about being terrible at pitching. Being able to pitch a feature is such a good skill. Someone might say they want to do a feature on a designer, but if they just googled it, they would see that we’d just covered them. So what I want to know is, what’s the hook? Why are they the best person to write it and why do people need to read about it?

I think your career trajectory is really interesting. How has your early digital focus shaped the way you approach journalism? 

I would say that it’s been shaped by digital and my various roles across the business have helped hone a unique perspective but it’s always been powered by real-life interactions. Throughout my time at i-D, I’ve always gone where I felt I was most useful to the business. When I joined, there were two editors – Sean [Baker] and Sarah [Raphael] but i-D was a very simple Tumblr site back then. Terry and Tricia brought me on to help relaunch it but then they sold it to Vice. In those early days, we would only post articles on social media occasionally, the digital strategy was in its infancy. Once we joined Vice, we needed to grow our audience, and social media was the way to do that so that’s what I moved into and it was exciting because I, along with our former Editor-in-Chief Holly Shackleton, was shaping the tone and voice that enticed new readers to the site.

However, after a couple of years focussed on digital growth, I had a bit of a mental breakdown, just because of the relentlessness of it all. It’s easy to get too obsessed with the numbers side, because you’re tracking it in real-time and it’s addictive. During my time as Social Media Editor and then Digital Editor, we saw figure growth with the help of Vice and we truly became a global voice.

Aside from the obvious points – more daily content, a more immediate interaction with readers etc. – how do you think social media has changed fashion journalism? Has it changed the way people write? 

Definitely. I feel guilty for it because when I watch shows now, there are times in which I think about it in terms of: what’s going to be the headline and what’s going to be the sell? You’re kind of writing the piece as you look at it because that’s the reality of fashion’s pace today. It extends beyond fashion week coverage too. Social media has essentially homogenised how content is presented and there’s been little opportunity to escape clickbait culture but we’re all increasingly moving away from that world. How many features have you been drawn to because of a really good title or tweet only to discover that there’s not much else to it. It’s all smoke and mirrors and it can perform well in the short-term but people are beginning to wake up to just how problematic it can be in the long-term.

That leads nicely into my next question, actually. How relevant do you think good quality fashion writing is to online audiences?

There’s been so much dumbing-down across the media landscape, just to reach a wider audience but I always think it’s our role to educate. Going back to your earlier question about personal milestones, I loved it when tutors at LCF or CSM told me that the blog was on their reading list. I want everyone that arrives on i-D to take away something new and ideally, involve them in a conversation. It’s about immersive storytelling across platforms because our work extends beyond published features alone. It’s about making the most of our access too, we as fashion journalists have to take audiences on a journey inside our fashion world. Beyond being presented what’s shown on the catwalk, our audiences, are interested in discovering the human stories behind fashion week. By this, I mean the designers, the models, the behind-the-scenes creatives, the assistants and everyone beyond too. They want to hear about the fascinating, the underrepresented, the challenging, the amazing, the funny, and the weird. We should inform, critique, challenge and entertain, involving our audience in each.

Have you noticed any shifts since the beginning of your career in what you want to write about and what people want to read about? 

I guess putting fashion through a wider cultural lens. When events happen like the Met Gala, that doesn’t really interest me all that much personally – what celebrities wear to events – but that is something readers always like to see and know about. I just try and think, why would you come to i-D specifically for that story? I think that’s also what’s happened with the digital explosion: publications have lost their tone of voice and their perspective a little bit because everyone is covering very similar topics and talents. And it filters down to print as well – who magazines have on their covers, how things are angled, the language used in headlines – everyone looks at what everyone else is doing. That’s the biggest shift I’ve seen, but I hope that’s going to change. Especially now publications like Vogue are considering paywalls. They will no doubt need to hone in on who their reader is and what they want or it won’t work.

What, in your view, is the i-D tone of voice? What is the filter that you put on a story to make it i-D? 

I guess it’s that fans not critics mantra. Informed informality. We’ve always joked it’s like the slightly older sibling, maybe, who is either encouraging their younger sibling into a new scene – you might like this, you might like that – and giving them the encouragement and platform-sharing to feel like they can be a part of it too. i-D shouldn’t be exclusionary, it should be celebratory.

You mentioned putting fashion through a wider cultural lens – I think that’s something i-D do really well. It’s never been shy about discussing gender, sexuality, race, politics… 

One thing that does annoy me actually is how fashion journalism in the wider sphere isn’t seen as real journalism. Someone said that fashion journalism is closer to fashion than it is to journalism, and I think that’s true, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t evolve and become something more than that. We’re seeing the likes of Vanessa Friedman at the New York Times and Matthew Schneier at New York Magazine who are doing some really interesting pieces and exposés. I don’t think i-D will necessarily do that, but we can push for positive change.

Yeah, I think what i-D does well is intellectual fashion coverage without intellectualising it. 

Exactly. Whether designers are being political in their work intentionally or not, there is always an element of that, because we can’t separate ourselves from our environment. It goes back to what i-D is, it’s about identity.

How do you integrate politics in a meaningful way without losing engagement or alienating people who don’t want fashion to be overtly political, and also without it coming across as tokenistic? Especially with digital pieces, where the headline has to be so succinct and the piece itself is more snappy. 

It can never feel forced. It’s really difficult because, with social media, someone might come to an online piece with no prior understanding of what i-D is and they might have never read another article on there. I think that’s the difficulty of commissioning out opinion pieces too, because it’s obviously the opinion of the writer, but it’s also the opinion of the publication. It’s a balancing act. Within the piece, you have to make sure you’re linking to a number of other pieces that are part of that wider argument. It doesn’t all have to agree, but it needs to give a wider perspective of the issue.

You must spend the majority of your time thinking, talking or writing about fashion. What do you think are the most pressing conversations to have in fashion right now?

Sustainability. We have to make fashion a cleaner industry. So many designers are beginning to think about it now and fashion is getting better at responding to criticisms, like Extinction Rebellion’s, but there’s so much work that needs to be done. It’s a wider conversation that the industry needs to have in terms of the post-production too and how we cover stuff. We send people all over the world to see the shows, to cover launches, to profile talent. Is it all necessary?

Yeah. We often talk about fashion’s impact on the environment, but one thing that gets glossed over is the fact that journalists and models fly a lot

Exactly. I hope the industry realises that and changes accordingly, especially since far-flung destinations – like Marrakech for the Dior cruise show and Prada showing men’s in Shanghai – seem to be becoming the norm. People who don’t really get fashion always ask me, ‘so how long is the show?’ or ‘what are you actually doing there?’ You know, I was in Marrakech for two or three days, but the show itself was about 20 minutes long. Of course, it’s a wider experience that builds the narrative but it’s such an expense of resources and there are many ways to tell stories.

I guess the other side of keeping fashion clean is, how do you maintain journalistic integrity when you’re being given so much free stuff by brands? And maybe that feeds into the ‘fan not a critic’ thing as well – a sort of criticism by exclusion? 

It’s really tricky. My point of view is that it’s okay to go on the press trips if it’s transparent. The gifts thing is a whole other thing. I often get emails asking for my shoe size or something and it’s like, what are you sending me? It feels weird. I’ve got a very particular style and, this sounds ungrateful, but I don’t want random things sent to me and I’ve been sent some really weird things.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been sent? 

Just really colourful things and crazy hype hybrids of things that just aren’t me. I end up giving them to people in the office who can appreciate them.

It all feeds into the discussion about sustainability and how much unnecessary stuff we produce and consume. It’s not just the press and influencers being sent gifts, it’s the acceleration of the fashion calendar and the high turnover of designers too. If we’re talking about sustainability more broadly or holistically, how do you think we can make fashion more emotionally sustainable for the people within it?

It’s difficult, because so many designers in recent seasons have pushed back on the sheer volume of fashion. That’s probably one of the biggest changes I’ve experienced in the industry – it’s gone from two seasons to four seasons to everything else in between, collaborations and stuff. I look at people like Virgil [Abloh], Kim [Jones] to an extent as well, and I think, how are you doing it? Obviously they’re part of a bigger team, but they do so much. Some people seem to thrive on it, but it doesn’t seem sustainable to me and an increasing number of designers are finding a way forward that works for them. I don’t personally thrive on the relentless pace. I need time to breathe and comprehend a little bit. Hopefully there’ll be a slight pushback on that, I think there has to be.

Yeah, especially when mental health has become such a big topic within fashion, and you’ve obviously had your own struggles with that. 

Yeah, completely. I think the biggest thing I’ve had to navigate is being a writer and dealing with any kind of depressive or anxious episodes. Fashion isn’t really an industry that’s great for it, because things can happen at any time and it demands a lot. I always liken mental health to the weather really, and I’m aware of certain triggers and things now, but it could happen whenever. I’ve missed deadlines because of mental health struggles, but it’s something that i-D has been great at understanding and I think the wider industry is waking up to it now too. The more we talk about these issues, the better it is.

Social media and mental health seem to be closely linked. Especially this idea that, as a writer, you have to have an online persona – a ‘personal brand’ if we’re being that synthetic about it.  How would you advise young journalists dealing with that? 

I used to be a lot more active across social media during my blogging days but I’ve moved away from the infinite scroll because it can easily become too much. My advice to any young journalist is just to really think about what you’re posting and why you’re posting. I’ve always seen social media as an extension of what you’re writing and how you’re presenting yourself to the world but just do what’s right for you.

One final thing. I found an old copy of i-D where you said that your advice to your 16-year-old self would be: don’t do what you think you should do, do what you want to do. Would you stand by that advice now? 

Totally. That goes back to the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was 16 – or 18 or 21 for that matter – and I might still not know exactly now. It’s always transient, it’s always changing. It sounds really cliche, but do what you want to do, not what your parents want you to do or what other people expect of you. It’s your life. I’m realising as I get older that we put so much focus on what our first feature in print is going to be or something, but it doesn’t matter. Things are forgotten pretty quickly.

This interview was originally published on 1Granary – you can read it here. Image by Ottilie Landmark 

1Granary interview: Heather Glazzard

After writing a preview of photographer Heather Glazzard’s Queer Letters exhibition for TANK, I interviewed them for 1Granary

Early in 2018, Halifax-born photographer Heather Glazzard launched a series called Queer Letters, inviting members of the LGBTQ+ community to sit for a portrait and share advice with their younger selves. Glazzard, who is currently on the Fashion Image MA at Central Saint Martins, started the project to shed light on the diversity of queerness, normally overlooked by mainstream media. A year later, it has been exhibited by Vogue Italia and Open Eye Gallery, and received funding from Arts Council England, an achievement recently toasted at twin exhibitions in Manchester and London.

You explore gender and sexuality a lot in your work. How did you get into photography and how did you develop your own point of view?

When my dad passed away, I used it as a form of therapy. I was already exploring photography, but not seriously, and when that happened, I needed a creative outlet. I went to study Fashion Styling at the University of Salford, with a focus on photography. I started photographing naked women – friends and people I was sleeping with – because I didn’t know what I wanted to say with my work. My tutor at the time saw that I was exploring sexuality, even before I realised that’s what I was doing. Then I went to intern for the photographer Richard Kern, who does a lot of nude photography, and he told me I should do something about being queer, because nudity wasn’t as interesting anymore. Originally, I started a collective for women, non-binary people and femmes called Moist. We did club-nights, events like queer speed-dating, poetry nights, exhibitions, residencies with Islington Mill. But it felt like a lot of work, and I realised if I was going to do something, it had to be in my own way.

Where did the idea for Queer Letters come from?

When I was growing up, I didn’t have something to relate to. I realised after Moist that I wanted to create a space where queer people could feel seen and understood. That’s how Queer Lettersstarted. I applied for funding from Superbia, Manchester Pride’s year-round culture programme, in June 2018. It’s just grown from there. I got more funding from Arts Council England in January, which means I can pay everyone involved. It feels really good, knowing I can pay people, and I think it incentivises people to take part as well. The funding also included dyslexia support, which is so helpful.

The premise for Queer Letters is so personal and powerful. How do you find people to feature and make sure it’s inclusive?

The queer space is a community where you can be who you want. I don’t think we can escape labels, but queer feels more free. It’s how I personally identify. That said, I want to give visibility to new ideas of gender and sexuality. The project started with me photographing friends and people I knew, but now I find people on Instagram and when I’m out. I get quite paranoid about it, because I want it to be diverse and inclusive. I’m trying to do something worthwhile, but am I doing enough? There was one about being Muslim and someone told me it changed their life when they read it. I want as many people to feel like that as possible.

Why do you think the project resonates with people?

My therapist encouraged me to write to myself after my dad passed away. It’s so powerful, because you’re speaking to a part of yourself you might have forgotten. Writing feels like a form of therapy, so asking people to write letters to their younger selves provokes really interesting responses. When I see them all together I feel quite emotional, because even though they’re individual letters, they’re part of something bigger. People aren’t just writing to themselves. A lot of people write what they think would be useful for others to hear. Everyone keeps asking why I haven’t done one myself. I feel like I should. Maybe that’s the next step.