From the top of the New Museum in the Bowery, the blue sky stretched right across Manhattan. Inside, the walls were stark white, framing the eight speakers from Italy, America and the UK. “Fashion Displacement” was the name of this New York seminar instigated by Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design & Marketing in Florence.
“It’s about re-designing education in times of change. Fashion has the power to connect with other people working in creative industries,” said Loppa, explaining that the panel included “communicators” such as myself and Aimee Song, the interior designer who has 4.1 million Instagram followers for her “Song of Style”. We joined fashion consultant and green activist Julie Gilhart; Rio Uribe, founder of the Gypsy Sport brand; Sarah Kozlowski, Director of Education and Professional Development for the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers for America); Burak Cakmak, Dean of Fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York; and Fabio Piras, MA Fashion Course Director at Central Saint Martins in London.
Giving star status to a designer was seen as a plus when stardom brought interest and engagement to a wider list of customers. But the natural evolution for large brands is to continue to create excitement for themselves. Even if they own the designer’s personal brand, they are unlikely to push it fast forward.
I suggested that the concept of hiring a dynamic designer as Creative Director for an existing brand had developed over the past 20 years, as ageing fashion houses became desperate to find a way to rejuvenate their brands. Hence the deliberately disruptive arrival of John Galliano at Christian Dior in 1996, setting a pattern repeated across the industry from Alexander McQueen at Givenchy to Tom Ford at Gucci.
Julie Gilhart, former fashion buyer at Barney’s, felt that it was not only the designers and the customer profile that had shifted; everything was changing, such as the way commerce was conducted and including, of course, digital sales. Young creatives now have access to everything, so a kid alone at home can actually make a collection and be quite successful on social media at age 12! Julie said that these ultra-young designers “need to learn how to be bored”, and that her own Aha! moment was when Alber Elbaz told her that he had been sitting next to Geoffrey Beene as his assistant for eight years — and that it was not much fun.
Linda Loppa summed up the current situation with these words: “The designer profile has changed, consumer behaviour has changed, the rhythm of design has changed — so how can we address the global issues in an educational programme?”
Fabio Piras agreed. “It might sound provocative, but I think we need to champion the use of the simple pencil. Yes, you don’t need to go to college to study fashion, but there is a process; you need a designer to do something, to have the vision, the creative commitment, the rigour. You can’t cut endless amount of calico and try to drape something without knowing what draping is and then photograph it and that’s your look book. That culture is really worrying for me. The fact that you can put it on Instagram when photography can completely lie to you…”