Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons Co-design the Uniform of a New Generation

Fashion collaborations are usually met with excitement and expectations from both sides. Still, no else can be compared to the buzz created by Raf Simons’s and Miuccia Prada’s first co-designed collection moments after its announcement. The coronavirus pandemic made their dialogue a mostly remote one-but as the Prada show proved yesterday, a fruitful one whatsoever.

The much-expected show began in a runway overhung with camera rigs and screens displaying each model’s name while walking the runway. This concept of exploring the relationship between humans and technology as shaped by current reality is a pivotal part of the collection and a theme that runs through it. This “dialogue”, as the designers stated in the show notes, was “the first example of myriad possibilities” based on an “a fundamental examination of the meaning of Prada”. The collection indeed was a hybrid of the two creators’ best qualities, a dive into their best moments applied into a distilled version of what is essential. Some might say a new everyday uniform for out turbulent times.

In fact, the pair spent recent months working on the importance of a uniform –something to feel well in it-and think. They also discussed the nature of clothes that make us want to wear the most. “The thing I’ve talked most about with Miuccia over these past months is uniforms. True, metaphorical ones.” said Simons. “It’s something in which you feel good, in which you can express what you want to express without it being a season-specific fashion item,” he noted.

The show opened up with what can be seen as their first take in the idea of a Prada ‘uniform’; 90s inspired trousers and a sleeveless, tunic-length tee worn with sling backs in strong, contrasting colors. One could not avoid noting the supersized, almost space-like Prada logo on all T-shirts, in case you forgot we are talking about the perfect fashion uniform, an elevated take on the leisurewear we all came up wearing daily during quarantine. The next silhouettes were a nod to both Simons’ last shows at Jil Sander as well as Prada’s take on minimalism in the 90s; there were jumpers worn with belted, full pleated skirts, roomy coats clutched a-la Miuccia, and slim-fit trousers worn with tunics. Then, there was the occasional Raf touch: the hole jumpers, the prints on skirts, the tailoring of the anoraks.

In a quote provided by the house for Vogue, Miuccia explained further the thinking behind the collection: “In a time of incredible complexity: What matters? What is meaningful? That is a question we asked ourselves. We wanted to create something that makes sense to people, something that is useful. Everything we do should allow people to live better.” In another provided quote, Simons elaborated: “The show is about emphasizing humanity. It is about women, and everything around them supports them, showcases their characters.”

Sometimes new things come up through the unification of tried and trusted qualities. This was a collection that questioned the very idea of newness for the sake of it. For both creators, the present is a direct result of the past-of all the things we love and define us. In that sense, it was successful-and humane.

New York Fashion Week Was All about Individuality, Not Fashion

There two ways to react to an almost post-apocalyptic reality: to address it or to ignore it altogether while diving in frenzied escapism. For most New York Fashion Week designers, the idea of setting trends appeared less and less enticing-instead they opted to celebrate individuality and self-acceptance. A good cause, indeed. From luxury pajamas to re-invented classics, this stripping back to fashion basics had a lot to do with manifestos-but nothing with design.

Optimism aside, New York Fashion Week has been having a serious identity crisis even before the pandemic. This season, one with no buyers and no influencers, street style stars or international press, most of America’s big names saved power for later. The Row, Proenza Schouler, Ralph Lauren were absent while the typically flamboyant Tom Ford show was replaced by a series of images showcasing the designer’s offering for the season. Ten new names made their debut but did very little to overturn the feeling that there was something seriously lacking-be it emotion, inspiration, or simply, design.

In fact, all the best moments were those that fashion innovation gave way to fierce manifestos on individuality and uniqueness. For the resurrected Imitation of Christ, Tara Subkoff enlisted a group of LA-based teenage female skateboarders to create a film showcasing their bad-ass confidence and skils. Initially, a “political art project disguised as a ‘fashion house’”  the brand’s team staged a show in L.A. and one in New York where they screened the collection video unexpectedly accompanied by opera hits. It was nothing new but was refreshing, full of youthful energy, and fitting for a brand that started off with tremendous success 20 years ago.

Maisie Schloss, who launched her brand, Maisie Wilen, last year, had her own statement to make. Schloss started as a designer at Yeezy and knows one thing or two about unexpected materials and on-trend design. For her collection, she focused on creative ‘weirdness’ and the idea of seeing clothes through screens.The designer didnt shy away from the back her work is almost made to be Instagrammed, in fact, she embraced its two-dimensional qualities by using strong trompe l’oeil techniques.

Yet, it was Private Policy’s collection that summarized the New York season. The genderless streetwear label used CFDA’s new digital platform Runway 360, to present their Spring 2021 collection called “Searching for Aphrodite.” For designers Haoran Li and Siying Qu, Aphrodite is a notion of beauty that goes far beyond the stereotypical approaches, a call for inclusion and representation that is characteristic to the brand since its birth. Their many Afrodites included vitiligo Calvin Klein star Yvesmark Chery, amputee musician Marsha Elle and Dominique Castelano, who dedicated her inclusion to “all the hot queer Asians,”. As in most New York Fashion Week cases, the message was indeed powerful, the clothes came second best. Or as Tom Ford best-summarized it “the last thing I want to see is serious clothes”. Well, you got it.

The Ganni exhibition at Copenhagen Fashion Week spring / summer 2021. Courtesy Copenhagen Fashion Week

The Fashion Shows of the Future Will Be Phygital.Or Perhaps Not.

Nothing can be as unpredictable as the future-and for fashion an industry that relies heavily on predictions and trends, the post- Coronavirus era has been a catalyst for radical changes. Social distancing and health regulations meant the idea of a fashion week as we knew it had to change-with first being the fashion shows. The most recent Copenhagen fashion week showed us that the buzz word of the future would be “phygital” – physical space and digital technologies combined.

Copenhagen Fashion Week was redesigned both as a hybrid format of virtual showrooms which allowed buyers to review the clothes and as a newly designed digital platform to host the shows that would take place both in a digital and phygital format. The advisory board made up of Ganni’s founder Nicolaj Reffstrup; Stine Goya’s CEO Thomas Hertz; Holzweiler’s creative director Susanne Holzweiler; Hope’s creative director Frida Bard; and the creative agency MOON’s CEO Martin Gjesing decided on a series of installments that included almost everything: from presentations, runways exhibitions to installations.

The experimental format performed well-that is, for a compromise. However, the organizers knew right the start it was a challenging choice. “We know from other fashion weeks that the numbers haven’t been crazy high” Cecilie Thorsmark, chief executive of Copenhagen Fashion Week told Vogue Business. Vogue Business also reported that according to Traakr, the best performing Copenhagen Fashion Week brand was Ganni, which hosted an exhibition-by-appointment instead of a runway gathering with 208 posts and over 156,000 engagements, thus  suggesting that people still want to engage in physical events,

Now that Copenhagen Fashion Week is over, the conversation about how the fashion show will evolve becomes more relevant than ever. If the fashion show is based on the shared experience-a communal feeling of participation, then how this could be reproduced in the non-physical world? How would we get the excitement, the thrill, the show? And how can consumers want to actually buy without the fantasy offered, without the immediate reaction?  “If I’m a buyer I’m not going to spend tens of thousands of pounds of my budget on a collection I haven’t physically seen. The digital platforms are great for discovering brands and great for re-orders for instance, but if I was buying from a new designer or spending vast sums, I would want to see and touch the collection first,” notes Lauretta Roberts, CEO & Editor in Chief of The Industry.fashion media.

She is not the only one who sees radical changes coming. For Evelyn Mora, the founder of Helsinki Fashion Week, the fashion industry will embrace interdisciplinary collaboration to the fullest. “It is a new start for the fashion industry and I personally see it as a positive opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our industry. “ she notes. She also feels digital shows do have a future-in a complementary form. “Digital shows might replace the physical shows as we know it but I do think that digital can never replace IRL interactions and socializing. Digital is an essential tool for the fashion industry to embrace. I don’t think that it is an either-or question. Digital compliments physical and vice versa.”

Katie Baron is an author and the Director of Brand Engagement at Stylus. For her, the future of the fashion show will be a mixture of gated, industry-only content like debates, and public-facing experiences from shows to further discussions. “One of the most significant changes will be the introduction of not only live-streamed shows that we’ll comment on akin to watching sport but also, slightly further down the line, the capacity to enter virtual environments with digital models allowing even smaller brands to showcase worlds more closely aligned with their creative vision than at present when even a basic show requires significant funding.”

For Lauretta Roberts, the catwalk, and the showroom experiences are vital. “The catwalk or runway is a device used by a designer to market their collection and present a coherent and compelling creative vision for their collection – they are important and often just joyous to watch. Yes, they are expensive to produce but the marketing benefit and the content created from it endures long after the show has ended. But the buying, from a retailer perspective, happens in the showrooms afterward when they really get a chance to get up close and personal with the collection.” She predicts the new fashion show format is here to stay. “I would not be surprised to see brands investing more in digital presentations” she notes, “either through the digital fashion weeks or through their own channels to cover off the marketing and creative vision side of the equation. “

If phygital is to stay as the new fashion show format, then technology will be vital in securing a future for the industry. “Tech will certainly put consumers in the picture to a greater extent, making shows much more of a ‘tentpole’ moment, but not necessarily bound to the conventional seasons.” remarks Katie Baron. “Consider too, she adds, a greater play on the components that constitute great shows, such as (AR)-trialling of catwalk make-up – straight to fans’ faces – allowing their audiences to continue generating the buzz.”

According to Lauretta Roberts,the change is coming-and will most likely affect both smaller designers and big brands. “There does need to be some sort of physical presentation of a collection for trade but I don’t think it needs to be four times a year and we need to give clothes a chance to sell in-store before they are discounted and moved on to allow space for new deliveries. It’s a bit insane that all the summer stock is cleared in June and the stores are full of coats and chunky knitwear in August. That has to change.”

Black Lives Matter Force The Fashion Industry To Address Systemic Racism

On June 1rst, Tom Ford, chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), sent his now-famous letter to the advisory board asking them to do something unprecedented. He urged the board to address the Black Lives Matter movement—and take steps to address systemic racism in the fashion industry.

After some thoughtful discussion, the designers -members of the CFDA, issued a reply: “Having a clear voice and speaking out against racial injustice, bigotry and hatred is the first step, but this is not enough,” read the statement, then went into further detail on the initiatives that were to be introduced. Suddenly, racism and inequality in fashion were making headlines.

For all of us working in the fashion industry, CFDA addressing the elephant in the room has been breath of fresh air. The industry is huge, it encompasses everything from fast fashion and couture brands, retailers, buyers, and publishing -and employs more than 1.8 million people in the United States alone. And yet, this $2.5 trillion global industry has been predominantly white, run by big brands and corporations with few employees of color amongst them-an elitist island of white privilege and underrepresentation.

You can’t miss the irony of it. From the Harlem revolution to the rise of Hip Hop culture in the ’90s, fashion trends have been widely influenced by Black culture. From fast fashion brands to big luxury houses, the references to Black culture, its trends, and visual culture are countless and ever-present. From Dapper Dan’s clever mix of luxury and streetwear aesthetics to Kim Jones’ most recent collaboration with Ghana-born artist Amoako Boafo for Dior Men 2021, the industry has been widely exploiting Black culture while remaining an elitist circle and one of the main sources of white supremacy propaganda in the western world.

We are used in all-white catwalks and advertising campaigns, whitening creams” and beauty brands creating “nude” shades that cater predominantly to a white audience. There are countless inside stories of Black people being denied promotions and addressed in a racist manner. In an industry -cultural touchstone, that impacts so many people, the general unwillingness to talk politics could not but have serious repercussions.

The Black Lives Matter movement sent waves of revolutionary energy prompting a long-overdue industry-wide reckoning in fashion. Following popular culture, the industry executives realized they had to address the problem. Tom Ford’s letter has only been the beginning of a series of events that started by prompting a reply of 250 Black fashion professionals going under the name: the Kelly initiative (named after Patrick Kelly, the African-American designer first to be included at the prestigious Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter in the form of a public letter to the CFDA.

In that, they openly accused the organization of allowing “exploitative cultures of prejudice, tokenism and employment discrimination to thrive,” and demanded more radical action. Then came the Black in Fashion Council, the organization visualized by Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor of Teen Vogue, and Sandrine Charles, a former PR executive, aiming to hold the industry accountable for its decisions and secure the equality of its Black members. According to the Council’s mission statement, it serves as a unison of “a resilient group of editors, models, stylists, media executives, assistants, freelance creatives and industry stakeholders” to “build a new foundation for inclusivity.”

For Bethann Hardison, the former model turned diversity advocate, this is a change long overdue, and one that didn’t happen overnight. Hardison, who is on the advisory boards of both the Black in Fashion Council and the CFDA says, “Things behind the industry have started to change, you just need to search who’s there and ask who is available to hire to make a difference.” For her, the Black Lives Matter movement has been a wake-up call. “Of course, there was a lot of work done before that. Take the 1973 Battle of Versailles fashion show, I was one out of ten Black models to walk an event that showcased American design versus French one in front of 700 guests—something that has never been done before. Still, the Black Lives Matter movement affected the industry deeply. It spread over everyone of color.”

According to Hardison, corporations work best as a multicultural representation of people- and brands are now taking steps towards achieving equality. “Brands have started to understand and help find and educate new talent,” she notes. “Take Gucci Changemakers, a fund that launched a $1.5 million diversity scholarship program to help new talent get opportunities and support across the fashion industry. All this is new-and happening now. It’s an eye-opening discussion for the first time, people are talking race and Black history all day long. This is an educative process caused by a movement full of passion.”

Politically Correct Is Boring -Is ‘Canceling Culture’ Killing Creative Inspiration?

Last week, “Handmaid’s Tale” author Margaret Atwood, “Midnight’s Children” writer Salman Rushdie, literary figure Noam Chomsky and feminist Gloria Steinem were amongst 150 public figures to have signed a letter published in Harper’s Magazine condemning the practice of public shaming, or –as popularly known-‘cancel culture’.The letter openly denouncing ” a vogue for public shaming and ostracism” and “a blinding moral certainty”.This was one of the few public attempts to define what cancel culture really is and does.

‘Cancel culture’ is a true product on our social media playground and our new found freedom of expression that goes with it. Described as the desire to cancel out a person or community from social media platforms.it refers to the -by now popular -practice of un-supporting or ‘canceling’ public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable. Performed in the form of mobbing or group shaming via Instagram, Twitter or Reddit, cancel culture is also present in the fashion world in the form of “call-out culture”.

It is this very emergence of online ‘call-out culture’ a cultural phenomenon that gave a ‘platform’ to many independent voices allowing them to penetrate the rather exclusive fashion industry -and hold fashion designers marketers and editors accountable for copycat fashion products, cultural appropriations and lack of diversity and representation. Instagram watchdog account Diet Prada was the first account to call out designers copying fellow brands’ designs followed closely by Estée Laundry, a similar account that keeps a close eye on the boosting beauty industry.

Their influence-and impact-should not be underestimated. Diet Prada’s criticism over Dolce & Gabbana’s offensive 2018 China campaign resulted in an army of followers angrily shaming the brand –and was so impactful that the label shut down its Shanghai show altogether. In other words, it was ‘canceled’. Since then, the account has called out failings: lack of model diversity, toleration of abuse, and exploitation in the industry.

Canceling culture is present and powerful. A new breed of consumer watchdogs along with their millions of followers are currently forcing global fashion and beauty brands into action. Infallible? Not quite so. Emerging British designer Richard Quinn was publicly accused of knocking off Demna Gvasalia and its distinctive aesthetics when in fact, Quinn had been experimenting with similar designs since his graduate collection.

For Carolin Mair, Behavioural Psychologist and Business Consultant and author of The Psychology of Fashion, this a positive sign of the times.“Social media accounts such as Diet Prada broadcast to millions of their followers. Fashion creatives who ignore their messages, do so at their peril. As a result of these channels, current political and economic turmoil, fashion is now recognized as more than adornment, it is how we express and navigate identity. ” For the creatives themselves. this might be a new and tricky territory they can’t afford to ignore.

“Fashion creatives need to be part of the zeitgeist in their words and actions as well as their creations. adds Mair.  Authenticity, social responsibility, community, respect, and inclusion have always mattered, but these characteristics have often been ignored or sidelined by many in the industry, until recently. It is no longer enough to say and not do.”

11
Image source: Instagram

This is a new type of discussion, one that takes into account values and ethics and dismisses aesthetics as irrelevant, or at best, of secondary importance. This practice may well work for the business aspect of the industry but excludes something vital-that high fashion can, and should be a form of art, a result of innovation, talent, and creative inspiration. One cannot help by bringing to mind prominent art names such as Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and Picasso that operated in the often blurred intersection of copying, interpreting, and innovating. What happens when fashion creatives cross the line?

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible.” writes Mark Twain, in his autobiography. “We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely, but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

“The desire to experiment is risky, tantamount to censorship. At the risk of sounding a little like a right-wing, middle-aged internet commenter incensed about the preservation of ‘freedom of speech,’ art does not truly thrive without the oxygen of scandal, or the occasional opportunity to be perverse.” notes Philippa Snow in a 2019 article for Indie magazine.

Basia Szkutnicka is a  Professor of Practice & Programme Leader of the MA in Fashion & Textile Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. For her, it’s a difficult time for creatives-and an uncertain one for all. “Fashion is changing drastically, whether that will be for the better, we don’t know right now, everything is in flux and changes daily. Now everyone is obsessed with encouraging, promoting, and celebrating diversity…we laugh at brands who unashamedly copy others, thinking no one noticed. With a need to generate income (because ultimately, fashion is a business), we may see insecurity in sales manifest as more copyists…or the opposite – a desire for the unique. Who knows right now.

Is this cultural phenomenon of excessive policing of expression killing inspiration? Are artists completely free to innovate by following their very personal inspiration, creating new images and fresh silhouettes? How can artistic inspiration flourish over excessive attention to be politically correct, unoffending? Many designers already privately comment they are so frightened of being caught out that they are completely rethinking their approach.  For Mair, the answer depends on several factors that include the actual definitions of political correctness, fashion, and art. “If the wearer/observer cares more about what is politically correct, then they may consider fashion outside of art. It depends on the perception (worldview, mindset, attitudes, experience, etc.) of the viewer. In fact, that is probably the same for other forms of art.” she notes.

There is criticism, though. “Politically correct’ for me, sounds boring. Fashion and art have been a place to voice an opinion and encourage dialogue…and let’s hope it stays that way. Without discourse, there is no progress’ comments Szkutnicka

Perhaps the last word in this discussion should come from the fashion creatives themselves. They are the ones to figure out their own answers-and to define their inspiration path. For Patrick van Ommeslaghe, art director, fashion designer, and part of the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp graduates’ circle, the authenticity of ideas is crucial for the fashion designer. “I was trained at The Royal Academy at a time when copying was still considered as the worst crime “ he points out. “And I still keep having in mind the Godard quote: It’s not where you take things from, its where to take things to”. Or in the words of  T.S. Eliot in ‘The Sacred Wood’: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

Glamorizing Agony: Why Mental Health on a Vogue Cover Is Not a Good Idea

αρχείο λήψης
The controversial Vogue Portugal July/August issue

Virtual fashion weeks are a fact. But how do you review a digital fashion show?

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely transformed the way we live and work-and expedited the world’s digital evolution into forms and structures that haven’t been everyday reality a short time ago. The fashion industry has been hastily digitized like no other. Traditionally based on interpersonal relationships forging around physical fashion shows, organizers worldwide are experimenting with the digital versions of fashion weeks.

Back in late March and April, Shanghai and Moscow offered a digital version of their subsequent fashion weeks; it was London Men’s Fashion week though that placed the digital fashion show as something that is here to stay for good. The British Fashion Council delivered its latest London Fashion Week 2020 Men’s under the telling hashtag:  #LFWReset. But it is something of a test case for what will follow: a digital schedule from Paris (couture and men’s wear) from July 6 to July 13, and Milan, from July 14 to July 17. In New York, Mark Beckham, vice president of marketing and events for CFDA, affirmed that they will be launching a digital platform to feature designers traditionally showing as part of the original schedule.

With physical distancing rules excluding the traditional fashion show format, digital presentations have taken the form of short films; live-streamed physical runways with no audience present, and virtual showrooms. In that sense, the question for the fashion expert is crucial: How do you approach a fashion show as a critic? Is a new format calling for a new approach- and a new toolset to evaluate, interpret, analyze the designer’s vision, its delivery, and predict the success-or no-of his offerings? And most importantly, are digital fashion shows replacing physical ones?

Bella Gladman is a freelance writer and editor and has also chaired many panel discussions reviewing fashion collections. For her, a digital film- like show can sometimes be more accurate in presenting the designer’s vision. ”Is more of the designer’s original vision in collaboration with the filmmaker, she notes. “Digital shows might not have the physicality but can showcase the vision best-and allow for more experimentation –shown in context with other cultural products such as music clips.”

So how do you evaluate a digital fashion show? Gladman notes that interpreting a digital formatted show begins with applying nothing else than the traditional editor’s skill set: “You do apply your critical toolbox, she says, but in a more abstract way-you get to feel an atmosphere rather than fabrics”.  Indeed it’s this very essence of things that makes digital fashion shows a part of the future. ”Fashion shows will reemerge, she notes, as big fashion brands will continue to stage big productions with huge PR campaigns beforehand as usual. That being said, there has been much talk about sustainability in the industry-and digital shows can really benefit smaller brands that want to communicate their vision to their fan base.”

For Filep Motwary, the Editor-at-large of Vogue Greece, and a fashion exhibition curator, reviewing a digital fashion show in the traditional way is problematic. “I am not sure how accurate, how valid a review as such will be», he notes. “When attending a show in person, the experience I value greatly as it offers me a literal way to examine one’s work within my own mindset while I am using all of my senses. Watching a collection on a screen could be as well interesting but most probably not as fulfilling. There are so many elements to look at like the materials, the construction, the embellishment and you need to have a closer look to truly appreciate.” For him, the actual physical presence is by itself the very essence of the fashion experience-and part of the thrill. “The feeling you get when at a show is exceptional, it’s exciting! Nothing can replace that feeling, at least for the moment.”

Motwary believes shows can efficiently work in a complementary mode- and serve as an inclusion tool. “Hopefully digital will be an extra door for others who were left outside. Why not?”, he affirms. “A pandemic as such cannot stop creativity, it’s impossible to block humanity from dreaming, to be desirable or optimistic, to dress and feel alive. This is who we are. COVID 19 is not human” concludes.

For Philippe Pourhashemi, the freelance fashion writer, consultant, and stylist, the challenge with a digital show is that you lose out on all the live elements.” Elements such as the music, the attitude of the models, the general mood of the presentation, and the audience reaction, can be defining when it comes to elaborating your review” adds. In his mind, a fashion review is all about the clothing and the references at play within each silhouette.

“Using your instincts and imagination is probably the best way to achieve that, hoping that the collection touches or inspires you”, he admits and further elaborates on how physical fashion shows and digital presentations can in fact coexist. “I think we’re going to see a mix of both, shows made for a much smaller or absent audience and digital events aimed at the consumer and social media exposure. It’s going to be difficult to replace the ritualistic and performing dimensions of a fashion show using only digital, and I still believe people will want to gather in a place to experience beauty, but at the moment it’s hard to say when this will happen.”

Amy Odell is the writer of the successful book “Tales from the Back Row” and a regular contributor for BoF and The Cut. She agrees fashion shows aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. “Physical shows will probably be reduced in number for many years to come, she predicts, but I don’t think they’ll go away entirely. I could see a future where fashion shows are organized like art fairs, where consumers can buy a ticket and then see a slew of fashion exhibits/shows in one day. That way, consumers are subsidizing physical shows, which makes them easier to put on for labels that don’t have much money to do so.” For her, there is always a place for the fashion show as long as big fashion brands have the means to produce it-and share the experience with the audience.

“Big labels with deep pockets will always want to put on a show, and the industry will always want to go to them. But I think they will be choosier about which collections they show physically and be forced to think harder about why they’re asking people to come see their clothes in person versus looking at photos at home. Just look at the Balenciaga A/W 20 show; it was the kind of moment that had to be seen in person, that made people feel something, and that made a powerful (and perhaps eerily prescient) statement about our times” she concludes.

 

 

Ninette Murk’s eternal optimism will save the world

There are people that can turn every heartbreaking event of their life into an act of positivity -and Ninette Murk is definitely one of them. The founder and creative director at Designers Against AIDS (DAA) and creative platform for social change Beauty Without Irony (BWI), Murk created DAA as a tribute to her assistant, Peter, who died of an AIDS-related illness; and BWI as a response to the cynical outlook the fashion business was adopting –being a fashion journalist she was experiencing it big time.
20 years later, both foundations are going from strength to strength, with DAA successfully collaborating with leading and popular fashion brands, designers and celebrities such as H&M, Eastpak, JBC, Delvaux, Marc Jacobs, Bernhard Willhelm, Rihanna, Timbaland, Robert Smith from The Cure, Pharrell Williams and Kendall Jenner. In 2013 Murk relaunched BWI as a creative platform for social change staging exciting international exhibitions in Essaouira (Morocco) and Antwerp (Belgium).

Today, in a world experiencing the aftermaths of the corona pandemic and in the midst of the #blacklivesmatter protests in the US and Europe, Murk’s creative optimism appears the only way to go forward. Indeed, her full body of work is a celebration of pure beauty, idealism, and lust for life -a lust that overcomes all obstacles to support a good cause –and makes a positive change to the world. Here, she speaks about DAA, her more recent project ‘Beauty for a Better World 2020’- and how eternal optimism in action can save the world.

Tell us a bit about your most recent projects, especially Beauty for a Better World 2020?

Beauty for a Better World was a very early project of mine that started with the Twin Towers incident and the overall world apocalypse that happened -and didn’t really get the attention it deserved. I then went on to found Designers against AIDS, a project that became very famous -and got media attention especially after our 5 years lasting global H&M collaboration. Many designers contributed, in fact, we have a vast archive of work that represents our mission. Meanwhile, I wanted to reboot my beauty projects as I feel the perception of beauty in the world is important-but most donations were made to DAA just because the initiative has gained so much publicity. I don’t think it’s bad, naturally, I just felt I needed to do something involving beauty-and thus restarted it. We have a great team of high profile and talented people both in the fashion and media industry that are passionate about our mission. I believe in beauty -in fact, the process of choosing your most beautiful artwork of all to be exhibited on behalf of BFBW2020 has been cathartic even for the artists themselves.

Your work deals a lot with beauty and happiness through awareness and responsibility-How do you define the idea of responsibility in the fashion industry? What’s missing in terms of ethics right now?

Every company (not only in fashion!) should make sure that it’s being fair on every level of their process- towards their employees, customers, suppliers, ad /media agency, shareholders – and also to the planet. The focus right now for many businesses is mainly about making as much money as possible, cutting costs wherever they can. This is not sustainable and it certainly is not human.

 

kendall-jenner-en-gigi-hadid-voor-designers-against-aids-2369-7238 copy
Kendall Jenner and Neville Jacobs (dog of Marc Jacobs) in one of the t-shirts he designed to benefit Designers against AIDS. This project by LOVE Magazine also featured Gigi Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Cara Delevingne

 

What is the greatest lesson fashion must learn from the coronavirus epidemic?

Fashion must slow down, its more imperative now than it has been some years ago. The fashion schedule with so many shows a year and countless meetings and fast fashion production are destroying nature, the most important thing we have-and thus our wellbeing and future. There are solutions: reduce the schedule, produce less and better quality clothes that are ethically made, and make your supply chain as transparent as possible. Full transparency is needed. I am also a member of GWAND, a Swiss festival for Sustainable fashion, and have learned a lot from these people-advocates of sustainability in a creative and not –boring, fun way! Sustainable fashion isn’t anymore how it was some years ago-the clothes are actually very nice, stylish, and more accessible price-wise.

The #Blacklivesmatter movement is causing a stir-How can fashion brands fully embrace diversity?

They must mean it. Not many brands are actually investing in diversity in their staff roles or ensure equal pay rates. They must hire more black people, promote and consult them. Diversity in fashion is not a new concept, in the past, Benetton and their photographer Oliviero Toscani have been successfully embracing it with great vision-and commercial success. The Benetton clothes were just brightly colored basics, but the message, the awareness, the brand ethics were powerful. They talked about AIDS, racism, everything that matters. Diversity also means more representation in terms of sizes. Brands must embrace diversity and actually mean it as a long term strategy-don’t just add a plus-size model to gain attention but then not do anything groundbreaking. You don’t brush off the need to show diversity and inclusivity just by stating it or posting a #blacklivesmatter on your Facebook page.

So, how does it feel being an eternal optimist?

This is more part of who I am, more of my attitude towards life than a structured philosophy. I have been through a lot the recent years in terms of personal health, and have managed to get through them smiling and with optimism. You see, I may occasionally feel pain or get a low mood, but then I focus on all the great things I am blessed to have: a nice life, a house with a beautiful garden, a great husband, and an invaluable circle of friends. Those are priceless -and that’s how we all should face life.

Ballet Room by Antonio Paladino
Graduation collection of Serkan Sarier at the Antwerp Academy (2001), photo by Antonio Paladino-the start of Beauty Without Irony project

 

77986-bcad45b2daf240508dd8375f3c8aea57_1024x1024@2x
The Dita Von Teese- designed T-shirt for DAA’s first global Fashion against AIDS collection with H&M.

beautywithoutirony.com

designersagainstaids.com

 

 

 

With white supremacy as a business model, fashion is failing to address racism

On Thursday, Conde Nast’s global content adviser/chief creative officer and editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour sent an internal note to her staff apologizing for not doing enough to “elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators.”. Her reaction sounds odd considering that the problem of racism and discrimination in the fashion industry has been brought up numerous times in the past-while her career in Conde Nast was already thriving.

This is hardly a new issue- accusations of racism in the fashion industry have been heating up in recent years. In a 2017 article called “White-Washed Runways: The Effects of Racism in the Fashion Industry” featured in The Fashion Law, Olivia Pinnock  quotes Anna-Mari Almila, Research Fellow in Sociology of Fashion at London College of Fashion who  sees this as a consequence of broader issues in the world “When someone who has more power – socially, economically, politically – takes something from a community, then it’s a problem.”

We are used in all-white catwalks and advertising campaigns, cultural appropriation of all things black culture-the list is sadly endless. And while in the past couple of days during the #blacklivesmatter protests we have seen fashion and beauty brands making posts about how they support the black community –those very same brands barely have any black models for their campaigns or foundation shades for people of color.

Words like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ are often used as part of a marketing strategy-and often remain just a strategy. In reality, most big luxury fashion brands don’t want to address the elephant in the room and there is a very real reason for that; they profit from privilege. Being predominantly European, their brand strategies align with the idea of the ‘privileged’ luxury consumer to the westernized rich-and-white model, and that only. Washington Post critic Robin Givhan showcased the problem when addressing the 2019 fashion scandal of ‘Blackface’  by writing: “Blackface is, in essence, a kind of fashion — one rooted in the dark, arrogant insecurity of white supremacy, one inspired by this country’s original sin — that keeps evolving year after year until each iteration is just a little bit different from the previous one. But they are all of a piece.”

The idea of privilege has been culturally connected with being rich and white. If brands are to change their marketing strategy, understanding the ‘multiplicity of privileges’ out there, then we can talk about radical changes concerning racism and discrimination in the fashion world. Everything other reaction is the typical obligatory response to a ‘trending’ topic-and unfortunately-will remain so. Just ask Chanel.

 

For design duo Cunnington & Sanderson, clothes tell the stories of the soul

What do we actually define by a brand’s ethos? And just how important is that in shaping the overall aesthetic and creative practice behind a name? For Cunnington & Sanderson, their ethos is their trademark; their work, a fashion narrative with a signature style, and a fascinating fashion story to tell.

Experimenting with tailoring and volume, the designer duo uses innovating cutting and elaborate draping to form silhouettes that unexpectedly emerge through an endless dialogue with the fabric itself. Their creations are bold, sculptural pieces of extreme craftsmanship; a rare combination of traditional techniques and fashion-forward aesthetic innovation.

For the award-winning brand, the construction process works as part of a very personal fashion narrative waiting to be told. Each individual garment undertakes elaborate draping, sculpting, and is crafted according to its own unique characteristics –characteristics that eventually become its emotional symbolism, its story.

We caught up with John and Matthew to discuss creativity, sustainability, and the emotionally charged vocabulary of their clothes.

You are a design duo, how does this influence the design process

We always base our collections on a narrative. Every garment has its own characteristics and emotive symbolism. At the beginning, the heart of the story is chosen, and then as a design duo, we build a whole world around it. Working in unison we collect objects, depict music, emotions, silhouettes, words, phrases, art, sculpture, symbolisms, and begin sculpting them together. When the narrative is written we transfer this world into our draping and garment design. Excellent communication is key as well as compromise to ensure we are both on the same page with the same vision. This is always achieved because we both involved with the creative directions throughout the whole design process, from the concept, research, development, draping, editing, structure, pattern cutting, finishes, fabric choice, colorways, fittings, production, etc right until the garment is worn by one of our loyal and valued customers. Having two perspectives is really exciting. We both have different ideas but because we design in the same way by draping onto the stand to create new, original, and thought-provoking garments, the results are always complimentary.

 You have described your ‘Occupied’ collection as a certain iconography of emotions. Are we afraid to wear our emotions?

We believe that clothes can express how we are feeling or how we want to feel, either subtly or extrovertly. Clothes can make you feel confident, attractive, or more relaxed. They can heighten a mood you are already feeling or they can express the emotion you want to express. We want to inspire people to wear what they want.

Emotions are a key element that we portray in our garment designs, and we hope people make a connection to the personality of their characteristics.

For example, the “Occupied” AW1819 collection focused on breaking the stigma around Mental Health by creating awareness and giving hope and encouragement to others. In our view, the bed can be a solitary sanctuary and become an entire universe. In the collection, pillows, bed linen, and blankets are worn as everyday clothes just as emotions are worn for everyone to see and are no longer hidden. Comfort is found in the non-conformity.

 

Credits - Leeds Museums and Galleries & photography by David Lindsey
Leeds Museums and Galleries, photography by David Lindsey

 

You have been avid advocates of sustainability and ethical fashion – how do you ensure it

We aim to create and design clothes for somebody who can recognize and appreciate craftsmanship, creativity, and originality in clothes. For someone who understands the importance of sustainability. Our brand promotes slow fashion and aims our designs to people who do not follow trends but cherish quality clothes that they make a personal connection with. We design zero waste garments using luxurious & organic fabrics and we use environmentally friendly processes that are transparent. Working closely with traditional Yorkshire Mills such as Abraham Moon & Sons who show a transparent and traceable process where all processes are made in -house and in one location.

Constructing, deconstructing, editing – how do you both know when a garment is finished

We decide a garment is finished by instinct, a moment of feeling like when you get goose pimples, and we can see that the structure holds within all the credentials that inspired its own creation. We imagine the same way a sculpture or a painter knows. It is important not to overwork an idea always aiming to capture the creative process and not to look placed or forced. Allowing the fabric to breathe and drape with gravity capturing movement, shape, shadow, space, volume and to appear as though the fabric is sculpting the garment by itself.

A garment is far more than just something that is worn. It should be cherished. Hours of dedication and passion is put into the creation of one of our designs. For us, each piece is special because if it was not it would not have been created.

There is a certain symbolic element in your garments design. Tell us more about it.

From the Occupied collection, the pillow top was the first design –and it went on to inspire the whole collection. Other garments include the tailored jacket which is worn as a skirt with sleeves as pockets, a laundry dress with elasticated detailing like bedding to capture what once was and a hollow dress that appears detached as an empty unworn dress on the front of the wearer.

The symbolic elements build up the characteristics of the garment. They can be inspired by many things including personal experiences or even historical events. These elements are then expressed through fabric texture, colour, creative pattern cutting, uniques finishes and detailing. Importance is always focussed on fabric placement – how the fabric drapes naturally by its own weight and how the movement just one center-meter can change the whole mood and appearance of a design.

What are your future plans and projects?

Designing a range of zero waste garments that are made in sustainable fabrics. And of course, continue to design and create innovative garments by developing new ways of working with digital technology and sustainable processes.

Cunnington & Sanderson are very proud to have been selected by prestigious buyers and renowned stores for the Not Just A Label x Joor x 100 Project. That means that from now on, we also present our work on the international leading wholesale platform JOOR, where the whole selling process is made online.

Any comments on the current situation? How do you view the Covid19 pandemic?

We hope that after the pandemic of the Covid19 people will give independent fashion designers the credit that they deserve for their craftsmanship. Clothes should be valued and purchased for quality and originality and not for fast fashion that turns into damaging disposable waste.

 

credits - Photography Rafael Kroetz - Model Zoe Herveva - Make up & Hair Sabine Nania - art direction Cunnington & Sanderson

Credits -photograpy Rafael Kroetz - model Zoe Herveva - muah Sabine Nania - Art Direction Cunnington & Sanderson

credits - Photography Rafael Kroetz - Model Zoe Herveva - Make up & Hair Sabine Nania - Art direction, Cunnington & Sanderson

Cunnington Sanderson hollow dress & wollen pillow top
Cunnington Sanderson hollow dress & wollen pillow top

Image Credits – Photography Rafael Kroetz – Model Zoe Herveva – Make up & Hair Sabine Nania – art direction Cunnington & Sanderson