Wednesday, July 25, 2012



The other day I watched a brief interview with former editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia, Kirstie Clements. As she was making her way into a show at Australian fashion week, she was asked a question frequently posed by those interested in becoming a part of the fashion industry. 

What is the biggest tip you can give potential interns and employees?”

Her answer reinforced what I had already suspected, and prompted me to think about the ways in which the fashion industry is about more than just clothing itself. She acknowledged that one “…obviously has to have incredible passion and drive”, but that the desire to work for a fashion magazine should stem from something more than just a love of shopping.

“You have to have a great knowledge of the arts, and of theatre, and of film, and of a lot of things that surround fashion, not just clothes…so I would suggest people study and bring more to it than just ‘I love shopping and fashion’ because it is so much bigger than that.”

Fashion designers, stylists, magazines and photographers all seek inspiration somewhere, and so it’s only natural for the editor-in-chief of a highly regarded fashion magazine to expect her staff to understand fashion as being more than just items of clothing. After all, fashion is not an isolated thing - it is inextricably linked to other facets of life and is both influential and influenced.

Fashion is influenced by all sorts of outside factors - from obvious influences such as film, literature, art, theatre, television, dance, celebrity, and music - to more complicated influences such as politics, history, nostalgia, war, social movements, religion, people and economics.

In terms of the more obvious influences, trends of times past often re-emerge when popular culture puts something back on our radars. Television shows for example have highlighted the influence popular programs can have on the fashion industry, by underlining that they are not just about the narrative and the characters. Styling and costume play an important role in television, as seen in the critically acclaimed HBO series ‘Mad Men’ styled by Janie Bryant. This impeccably styled show has no doubt had an influence on the fashion industry over the past 5 years. The acclaimed show has brought about a strong retro revival and influenced what seems to be a never-ending array of collections and editorials inspired by the late 1950s and early 1960s.

This link between on-screen style and fashion trends can also be seen in feature films. I’m not normally one for predicting trends, but with the upcoming release of ‘The Great Gatsby’ this December, I wouldn't be surprised if we started to see more looks that emulate the opulent fashion styles of the 1920s. This was a decade that saw fashion move away from the rigid Victorian garments / lifestyle, and towards a more liberal way of dress that had not been seen in previous decades. Ralph Lauren originally designed the costumes for the 1974 film adaptation of 'The Great Gatsby' and then revisited the Roaring 20s for his Spring 2012 collection. The era has also inspired many magazine spreads, including this editorial styled by creative director of American Vogue, Grace Coddington.

Kirstie makes a valid point in saying that people wanting to work at Vogue should be well read and aware of what is going on in the world, as each issue of the magazine aims to demonstrate a high level of understanding when it comes to the fashion industry and also aims to uphold its overall relevance within society.

Among other things, a fashion magazine needs to be aware of the story behind a collection, the message designers are trying to convey, the person or time they’re paying homage to, the boundaries they're trying to break, the reactions they're trying to provoke, the market they're trying to appeal to, and even the restraints that are placed upon them during financial hardship.

It is easy for people to over-simplify fashion and to dismiss it for being shallow and exclusive, but in reality there are many elements that engage it with the world as a whole. This engagement has been demonstrated throughout history and will continue to exist for as long as people wear clothing.

The 1960s for example was a time of social and political change both in the US and the UK, and its influence on the fashion industry strongly demonstrates the well-established relationship fashion has with the rest of the world. Social movements throughout the decade heavily influenced a change in fashion, as people were more prepared to take risks with their clothing and lifestyle choices, and used clothing as a way of expressing themselves. The emancipation of women at the time was reflected in innovative fashion styles, most notably through the mini skirt and the bikini, and these women started to see fashion as a tool of empowerment.

As the decade progressed, and the Vietnam War drew more and more negative attention, men and women used fashion as a way of rebelling against authority and highlighting their resistance to conform. Psychedelic prints, tie dyed and hemp clothing, vests, headbands, and unisex garments, among many other fashion styles, were heavily embedded in the hippie / peace movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Fashion helped establish this youth movement as a distinct subculture by giving it a very strong identity – one that was widely recognised and that still influences fashion today.

Rewinding in history slightly, you’ll note that fashion has been heavily influenced by the harsh realities of war and financial hardship. The Great Depression of the 1930s forced people to wear certain fashion styles and materials, as people had limited resources and had to think more about the functionality of clothing. During the World War that followed, certain aspects of fashion were dictated by circumstances outside of the fashion industry's control. An example of this was when the US government demanded all nylon for parachutes and other war uses, leaving only cotton and rayon.

Similarly, the recent financial crisis lead to the industry rethinking how it operates, and designers and retailers were forced to create effective methods to get consumers spending again. This was seen in 2009, when American Vogue and the CFDA sponsored the global initiative Fashion Night Out. This initiative aimed to encourage the public to start shopping again and support the international fashion industry.

There is no doubt that fashion extends beyond items of clothing and that it has a strong connection with the world as a whole. Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to understand why Kirstie emphasised the importance of studying and bringing more to the editorial table than just ‘I love shopping.’

Now then, I better get back to watching 'Mad Men' for the 4th time... All in the name of research!
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