November 24, 2014 

Women, Fashion and Choice: Why Fashion Matters

Lou Stoppard is SHOWstudio’s Editor and a freelance writer and broadcaster. She completed her undergraduate degree at Oxford University, earning a first class BA in History, before moving to Central Saint Martins College to pursue a Master’s degree in Fashion Journalism. She has written for titles including ELLE, ELLE Collections, GQ Style, Stylist, The Times, Dazed & Confused, i-D, Varon and Bon. Stoppard is particularly known for her interviews and has conducted written and video conversations with the likes of Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, Sir Paul Smith, Dylan Jones, Jeremy Scott, Nicola Formichetti, Jonathan Saunders, Roksanda Ilincic, Alexandra Shulman, Daphne Guinness, Bryan Ferry, Lady Amanda Harlech and Phillip Lim, amongst many others. So it is with such great pleasure that I introduce her here on my blog.

Of course fashion matters. On a very straightforward level it matters simply because of the jobs and income it generates. That’s something the often-brilliant Charlie Brooker totally missed when he declared in The Guardian, ‘If the fashion industry truly cared about the future of our planet, it would issue a solitary line of unisex, one-size-fits-all smocks, then shut down for good.’ Sure that makes for a great line – a fun quote for Twitter, a punchy excerpt to keep his editor happy – and I’m sure the appeal of that made it easier to overlook the 816,000 people who are employed in the UK fashion industry – it’s our second biggest employer – or the 27 billion it generates to the economy (based on a report from 2010). I doubt he’d say the technology industry – which is increasingly taking leads from the fashion community with its seasonal drops – would be better off if we all just agreed to use the standard, pretty functional Nokia 3310 or that the music industry would be great if we all just accepted that Pulp were as good as it’s ever going to get. Well, maybe he would. But if so it would only be because it would make a good headline. And fashion always makes a good headline because it’s easy to criticise and hard to defend.

Fashion is about surface decoration so one can always call it frivolous. And because it’s ‘frivolous’ the debate that it’s wasteful/immoral/vapid will limp on and on amongst journalists and agitators who care to see little more than horribly thin models and designers with bumptious egos. You’ll never make people who think like that see any of the more romantic benefits of fashion – its role in reflecting contemporary moods, its penchant for accepting and promoting oddballs and mavericks – Leigh Bowery, Isabella Blow, Rei Kawakubo – in the face of an increasingly sanitised cultural landscape, it’s use as a vehicle for speaking without words. You certainly won’t see them acknowledge the huge number of people who rely on the industry for their daily bread because it doesn’t make for as good of a story as the accusations of environmental damage and sweatshops or the endless mocking of out-there catwalk looks and stupid, insensitive editorials (of which, I will admit, there are far too many).

girlshoeStill from SHOWstudio’s ‘Girly’ series

I’m tired of the argument that fashion is pointless. It’s lazy, patronising journalism. People, non-fashion people, queued through night and day to see the Alexander McQueen ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition at the Metropolitian Museum of Art because they felt something when looking at Lee McQueen’s clothes. They identified with something in the emotion of the work. It touched them. It was visceral.

Punk wouldn’t have happened without fashion. Neither would the Club Kids. Neither would the Riot Grrrls. Neither would pretty much every subculture. For people who don’t have the way with words Brooker does, a t-shirt or a safety pin can be a ticket to actually saying something. Sure, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ is a great record, but Johnny Rotten would have been nothing without a mohair jumper and a ripped, pornographic t-shirt from Sex on the King’s Road. Clothing is about self-expression – even if that expression is simply, ‘I don’t care about how I look’ – and to take that right away from people would be censorship. Brooker is the first to rile against conformity and standardisation so I’m surprised he wants us all in uniform smocks, in fact that sounds like something that would go in a ‘Black Mirror’ plot.

Girly
Still from SHOWstudio’s ‘Girly’ series

I’ve been musing a lot on the way feminists have interacted with, and on many occasions exploited, fashion to make their points, whether it’s by forgoing tops and bras, as with the Free the Nipple campaign, or by reclaiming certain looks, garments or styles as the aforementioned Riot Grrrls did. On SHOWstudio recently Nick Knight and I commissioned a series called ‘Girly’ that sought to investigate and analyse fashion’s relationship with overt, cartoon femininity using the recent work of designers like Ryan Lo and Meadham Kirchhoff as a starting point. I’m lucky enough to edit a platform where we can include a variety of strong, maybe even strident, options on the same subject and embrace the fact that some of them may contradict each other. Some women saw the fluff, florals and faux fur of the designers who fetishise girlishness as a tool for self-expression, a way to reject the male gaze and reclaim femininity – in summary, they saw it as a useful, important choice – others, maybe including myself looking back, saw it as something that is in someway or another reflective of regressive gender ideas, something that is subconsciously informed by the adverts and ideals of a patriarchal society, something that can reduce women to fantasies. Choice is certainly slippery – I will always think that – but what struck me most about the series was the individual passion and conviction with which women addressed and selected their clothing and fashion. I came away from the series not really sure how I felt – and in that confusion I felt excitement.

What I do think is that women need to make smart, conscious choices with their clothes. I’d love to say that we should be able to throw on whatever we want and not be viewed in a certain way. I hate the way women are forced to be extra careful when we make choices because of the behavior or prejudices of men – as the vital and oft-repeated argument goes, don’t teach women not to walk home alone, teach men not to rape – but I think we need to reconsider and reclaim that problem when it comes to fashion. We need to acknowledge that while it’s frustrating that our outfit choices will always be more discussed than those of men – I can’t imagine how annoying it is for female politicians to be reduced to dolls on the ‘Downing Street Catwalk’ when no one gives two hoots what dull tie or heinous leather loafers David Cameron wears – we can make a real statement with our clothes. We can say we want the planet to be more sustainable. We can say we don’t want to be viewed as sex objects. We can say we don’t accept conventional gender ideas. We can say we’re comfortable in our sexuality. We can say – like many of the women featured in our ‘Girly’ series are doing – that we don’t feel like we should dress like a man to be taken seriously. In summary, we can be optimistic, forceful and active in the consideration we have to put into our clothing. Sure not everyone may get it or understand what we’re saying, but that should never stop us from saying it in the first place. No great voice ever held back for fear their message would be too complex. In ‘Political Fashion’, a truly brilliant SHOWstudio project that was dreamed up long before I joined the team, Tamsin Blanchard sums it up perfectly when she says, ‘The ability to make a statement with your clothes, are as strong as ever. It is simply up to us to be as engaged with the issues or as blissfully ignorant as we like.’

I don’t buy the argument that fashion is forced upon women. I actually think that’s sexist and presents us as ill informed and passive. Sure, too many women don’t have the freedom of choice they deserve in lots of areas of their lives, but the idea that lots of women can’t make their voices heard with their clothes is simplistic. It’s offensive both to men and women to repeat tired old arguments like the one that gay male designers design for fantasy not reality so aren’t sympathetic to the female form or women’s lives and so on. We’re not forced to buy clothes if they’re regressive – women can buy new or vintage, highstreet or designer, we can customise or make our own stuff from scratch. The ability to find clothes that reflect your worldview and ideas has never been greater. We can tell shops and brands we don’t like their ethos by simply not shopping and we can certainly kill off regressive trends over time by not buying into them. Sometimes that process can be difficult or tiring; the messages we create and cultivate with our clothes can get confused or be misunderstood. But that’s fashion, isn’t it? It matters because it is complex, full of subtlety and nuance, intrigue and mystery. Always walking a fine line between one idea or mood and something totally different – romance and darkness, simplicity and mess, serenity and chaos. Even when it’s streamlined and minimal, as fashion so often is these days, it’s never simple.

Lou_Stoppard_01_lg
Lou Stoppard, writer and Editor of SHOWstudio

http://showstudio.com/project/girly

November 11, 2014 

Neals Yard Annual Lecture 2014

I invited Prof. Avner Offer and Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, two renowned thinkers and doers to talk at this lecture. This year the topic of conversation was addictive behavior and myopia, or nearsightedness, and provided an very interesting debate for our students interested in psychology, sustainability and social responsibility.

Neal Yard

This exciting Lecture will bring together two renowned thinkers and continue the debate on how we use our creative and design talent to work towards sustainable solutions for the social and environmental problems in our world today.

Professor Avner Offer is a leading authority on social and economic history at the University of Oxford. He challenged the assumptions we make about how the world works and open our eyes to new ways of thinking. Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones is a Psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher at Imperial College London. She is a specialist in behavioural addictions and decision making, and challenged us to re-consider the reasons for why we do things like impulse buying.

Students are offered a unique opportunity to author their own brief in response to the lecture, and there is the chance to win £1000 for the winning submission. Find out more…

Read more here – written by one of our BA Fashion Journalism students, Fi Anderson…

November 7, 2014 

The Art of Dress and Dubai

I recently returned from Dubai for the opening of a selection of work from our Art of Dress exhibition. We were also hosting a series of panel discussions with Caspian Arts Foundation as part of the Creative Circle Symposium.
art-of-dress_10

The whole experience was a revelation. In many ways Dubai is a city where there are many preconceived ideas and misconceptions and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was fascinated to go and it didn’t disappoint. Yes, there were the soaring skyscrapers, major freeways, building sites, marble, fast cars and over 70 shopping malls. There was also great hospitality, thoughtfulness and energy. It is a city that like Shanghai is positioning itself to have a major global impact into the rest of the century. Dubai is a major transport hub with a projected 200 million visitors through its airport by 2020. It has the largest retail space of any airport in the world and is a major architectural, business and trading city.

With a history of trading in pearls and gold it is nevertheless focused on creating the infrastructure that will make sure it is a key city on the 21st century Silk Road of major fashion cities.

It has recently established a Dubai Design and Fashion Council and has regional impact and increasing global presence through its Fashion Forward events. This year Chanel has shown its cruise collection and a series of Vogue Fashion talks hosted by Italian Vogues editor Franca Sozzani had taken place just before we arrived.

It is a city hungry to learn about how fashion works and to explore ways it can begin to define its own approach. It was this questioning and exploration that formed the basis of all the discussions from how to nurture and support the emerging designers of the Middle East, to what sort of creative educational system should be established. The panels drew on the expertise of panelists from across the region. Issues about modest fashion, skills, how fashion is crucial at a time of conflict and dispossession, the empowerment of women and the establishment of an approach to Middle Eastern fashion design that recognized and built on its culture, history and global presence it was stimulating visit, and we are already planning our next visit.

October 30, 2014 

Kering and Sustainability

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion and Kering, the world leader in apparel and accessories, have announced a five-year partnership to support sustainable practices and innovation in the fashion industry. Engaging LCF students, as well as designers, teaching staff, researchers and industry experts, the partnership will play a key role as an incubator for new ways of thinking about sustainable fashion.

Read more…

Read my speech here…

October 28, 2014 

My Kering Talk

In welcoming Francois Henri Pinault to the College, I want to take a few minutes to show why the collaboration between London College of Fashion and Kering is a match that will not only be a unity of complementary strengths but means together we can lead the way to give fashion a sustainable future.

Neither side of this partnership lacks ambition: we want to change the world and possibly save it. This is no empty rhetoric: looking to the future we know that we have to take action now.

Alexander McQueen RTW S/S 2015 Paris
Alexander McQueen – A Kering Brand

Geologists say that we are living in the Anthropocene age – which means that human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Since the industrial revolution people have had more effect on the atmosphere than it has had on us. In the last 50 years we have stepped up our use of energy and plundering of the earth’s resources and are now pushing at planetary boundaries.

At our peril we are interfering, with a delicate, incredible, life-reliant design system developed over millions of years, unable to predict the scale of devastating effects of our actions on our planet – or even ourselves.

We know that we must act and that education has a critical and urgent role to play in the challenges and possibilities of our times.

We also know that human ingenuity has no such boundaries and that it’s up to us – to those teaching and learning now – to mark a path for our collective futures. Ingenuity needs the space to conceive, develop and apply its possibilities in considered ways. The university environment creates the conditions for critical thought, informed decision making and cross pollination of ideas. Education is vital in order to develop the skills, mindsets and focus needed to make appropriate, creative decisions that will develop the abilities to change culture, economy and society.

At its best, fashion is a means to connect, create and fulfil – individually, economically and culturally. We see this vividly through the designing, making and communicating of distinctions and connections of fashion. Providing livelihoods for millions of women, fashion has the ability to create independence.

Yet, at its worst, fashion takes away dignity, freedom, safety and wellbeing.

As fashion educators, it is our ambition and duty to prepare students to be contributors to all that fashion might be, not to its negative elements.

The ethos that underpins our approach, practices and creative ventures is based on the contribution that fashion can make to individual lives, to communities and our wider cultures and societies. Our ambition – as a leading educator for fashion, as part of Europe’s largest specialist arts and design university – is to ground our curriculum, research and outreach in fashioning the future through sustainability principles such as holism, empathy and resilience using a range of ecological and social design methods.

Christopher Kane A/W 2015 London Mens
Christopher Kane – A Kering Brand

We understood that this meant far more than hoping our students would put their skills and talent to good use – so we established the Centre for Sustainable Fashion to offer vital leadership and commitment to society now and in the future, thereby creating a new starting point for fashion.

The centre’s creative quest involves questioning our current ways of seeing, knowing and doing, to explore the possibilities for fashion through a sustainability lens. We have worked hard – some might say struggled – to match the centre’s clear and bold purpose of dealing with the ecological and social impact of resourcing fashion while honouring the complexity of fashion’s artistic and business practices.

I came to this college because I believe that fashion is a delightful and vital part of our lives, in both the pleasure and identity that clothes gives us. I do not want to make fashion dull – far from it. The very point of it is to encourage innovative and creative thinking. In developing new ideas about fashion and sustainability, the centre finds itself in a network of the leading idea makers of the world from locations across the globe and across disciplines, working with a plethora of organisations, governments, media creators and product makers.

Led by Professor Dilys Williams, CSF starts where it counts; in developing new ideas about what it means to be alive here and now and to develop ways to represent ourselves individually and collectively so that we can thrive in the world.

Importantly for the College, these ideas permeate across our courses and practices so that we can offer each student here the opportunity to learn about sustainability and so engage new thinking in a range of ways.

Collaboration is vital to our work. So we are delighted to partner a visionary, world leading and hugely inspirational ‘organisation.’ Kering represents the integrity, artistry and acumen that best defines fashion’s role in contemporary life. Our students and graduates aspire to practice their professional skills in environments that can empower their imagination. They want their future employers to act with sustainability and integrity.

The far sightedness of Kering is far from usual in business. Their distinction is not only in a vision and commitment to a system’s view of life as a basis for prosperity, but also in its ability to shape sustainability in distinctive ways across its brands. This demonstrates leadership in business, in the arts, in society and for our times.

This partnership will offer unique learning outcomes for both of us.

We are proud that the leading experts in fashion and sustainability in this creative business – Kering – and the leading researchers and tutors in design for sustainability – ourselves – are coming together to influence the world’s leading creative and conscious minds – our students. For our future lies with them.

This collaboration brings to the college a balance between possibility, equity, viability, desirability and feasibility. We are sure it will bring informed design for better fashion systems, practices, collections and experiences. It will allow us to offer an innovative and ground-breaking curriculum which will act as a marker to educators and businesses across the world. And will provide our graduates with the skills and abilities to navigate a contingent world. We see it as part of a process that will change culture towards a more resilient society.

This partnership is a critical opportunity to shape and respond to the real context of our times. Its legacy will be in the creativity that conceives and realises the better lives that we can make for ourselves and for our descendants.

Together with Kering, we are fashioning the future – a sustainable future.

Thank you so much to Francois Henri Pinault, and everyone at Kering for making it happen.

Watch the video of the talk here…

October 21, 2014 

Discussing the Future of British Manufacturing

This morning I was at the Westminster Media Forum: Prospects for the British fashion industry – domestic manufacturing, skills and wearable technology We will examine the next steps for policy and business practice to ensure continued economic and creative growth in the British fashion industry.

It will be a timely opportunity to consider how the British fashion industry can maintain, grow and widen its markets – particularly in terms of facilitating the return of manufacturing to Britain.

cfe - foyodor-golan-aw13-11
Foyodor Golan – Centre for Fashion Enterprise

This is a topic which is central to my work at the college, as demonstrated through some of the enterprise initiatives we have set up such as The Centre for Fashion Enterprise, and the Designer – Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre

October 14, 2014 

The Business of Fashion

This evening I will be inconversation with Imran Amed, Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion.

Imran

Bringing a unique understanding of the creative and commercial sides of fashion, Imran Amed has emerged as one of the fashion industry’s leading writers, thinkers and commentators. In 2007, he started up The Business of Fashion (BoF) from his sofa just as social media and smartphones were about to explode onto the scene, new markets were rapidly emerging in China, India and Brazil, and the financial crisis threw the industry into a tailspin. Five years on, with its award-winning editorial franchises and a global reputation for intelligent, analytical content, BoF has grown into the pre-eminent daily destination for the global fashion community.

As well as being named one of GQ’s 100 Most Influential Men in Britain, Imran’s name also appears in British Vogue’s 25 New Fashion Faces to Watch, Wired UK’s 100 Most Influential Figures in Britain’s Digital Economy and GQ India’s 50 Most Influential Global Indians.

Have a look at our business related courses here.

October 11, 2014 

Fashion Matters Gala 2014

Last night we had a successful Fashion Matters Gala dinner to celebrate our Fashion Matters fundraising campaign – an initiative that raises money for scholarships and bursaries. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who contributed to this campaign, your involvement will help to support future generations of designers, makers, entrepreneurs, commentators and industry specialists.

Gala

BFC chairman Caroline Rush, ASOS non-executive director Hilary Riva, and Whistles chief executive Jane Shepherdson.


© 2014 Frances Corner