The problems of the celebrity "designed" fashion collection

A recent blog post I wrote on future vintage got me thinking a lot about the craft/ practice of fashion design as a whole and the fact that now it seems that anyone believes they can design a fashion collection, despite no formal training. One of my favourite comments on the topic came from a twitter follower geckocomms who stated:  it’s interesting no one would expect to just design a house / a plane / a – well anything, except fashion.”
So first off where did this trend begin?
Well it seems the trend for celebrities designing their own collections kicked in back in 1998 with Sean Combs/ Puff Daddy/ P Diddy’s sportswear range, which in 2010 had an annual turnover of 500million. On into the noughties we marched forward with more celebrities introducing their own fashion brands, Jenifer Lopez started her J-Lo collection in 2001 which at the time was pretty popular in the states. I have particular issues with her attitude towards her more recent (2011) collaboration with Kohl’s, suggesting that designs for the collection were based on those from her closet.

Although, these examples I’ve mentioned so far are US based, I think it was 2007 when the trend really kicked in, in the UK with the Lily Allen Loves collection for New Look, Kate Moss for Topshop and Madonna for H and M.
I mentioned Kate Moss in my previous blog post which I think was one of the most successful fashion collaborations and really saw this trend increase, unfortunately this seemed to have the effect of suggesting that design can just mean ripping off pieces from your own wardrobe. Not cool, not cool at all.
I LOVE this quote from Jeff Banks about her first Topshop collection ” “Can Kate sharpen a pencil or draw a matchstick man? Banks asked. “I wouldn’t put money on it. I’ll bet [Kate Moss] just grabbed one of her many Prada bags, rifled through her wardrobe … and turned up at Topshop’s head office in Oxford Street for a quick hour’s briefing with the in-house designers and buying staff.” 

A few key examples of the “wardrobe copy” (from the Daily Fail I’m afraid) – The original hacked Bus Stop dress also sends shivers down my spine, and I wrote about it extensively in my dissertation.

You can also read more about the Bus stop copy on Liz Eggleston’s blog

In the UK at least I think this all came off the back of a huge surge of what I call high/low collaborations. Popularised I feel by the Karl Lagerfeld collection for H and M in 2004.
The thing is the effect seems to have snowballed to insane levels now. I can see the design merit of Victoria Beckham’s collections but examples from the past year alone are seeing the trend getting out of hand with the likes of:
Rihanna for Emporio Armani
Agyness Deyn for  Dr Martens
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for Marks & Spencer
Kelly Brook for New Look
So why do I think this is such a bad idea? There are a few reasons (and I will say I have no problem with high/ low collaborations. I appreciate that this a chance for a little bit of infiltration of high end designers down)
My main problem is it devalues the work of a real fashion designer. As a former fashion student I will tell you that fashion is HARD. Doing  a degree in fashion design was the toughest thing I have ever done, I had to work my socks off to even get a mediocre grade. Not only do you have to be able to draw clothes, but you need to be able to research effectively and ideally pattern cut and actually make clothes (saying that some of the best know designers of all time ahem Dior couldn’t pattern cut, but his desing skills negated the need for this skill).
Studying fashion properly teaches you the importance of  RESEARCH. Research is not copying, yes the greatest designers often take inspiration from designs of the past (John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood are perfect examples of this) but they didn’t copy. By UNDERSTANDING THE CRAFT of design they were able to draw inspiration from other pieces but make them their own.
And finally my problem that the celebrity collection seems to suggest the acceptability of copying to all.
I’ll also draw on an interesting comment recently made on Facebook by incredibly talented handbag designer Karina Hesketh (you can see her bags here) She stated.
So many people ask me if I would make up their designs…a design is not a picture from a magazine, that is plagarism and infringement of someone elses copyright. A design is a good technical drawing accompanied by an accurate pattern with a specification sheet of stress points, cutting instructions and a host of other pointers… can take years to learn how to become a good pattern maker, it is the very essence of all design! “
Well put Karina
The problem is that I think the celebrity effect has caused this idea that anyone can be a designer, and, I’m sorry but this just isn’t the case. This almost gripes me as much as the misuse of the term curator… but again I’ll save that for another post.
So overall I’ll finish on this. To the celebrities out there who think they are designers, in a good 90% of cases you’re not, rather you are just a very well paid canny marketing ploy : )

Fashion meets the challenge of war

A few weeks ago I did a talk about fashion during WW2 and whilst researching for it I  came across this amazing piece from Vogue November 1939 (i had scanned it whilst working at Hampshire Museums service and forgotten I had it!) Not only is it very informative as to attitudes towards war, but also the writing style is incredibly interesting. As someone who studied English at A-level I couldn’t stop myself from “lexical device spotting” as I read it.

Fashion meets the challenge of war
London, all set in September for a fresh fashion season of wasp waists and fragility, now, with the brilliance of an acrobatic somersault, turns a new fashion face towards the future. There’s immense chic in restrained evening elegance. There’s immense charm in the robustness and shrewd common sense of day clothes. New factors-new fashions. Playtime hours are 5pm to 11pm instead of 8pm to 2a.m. The Berkley has launched tea dances (shades of 1916). Afternoon dresses and hats are booming. Not black, with khaki- which conditions colour as clan tartans at peace-time balls. Besides, we’ve had enough black with black-outs. Instead raspberry, prune, cocoa and sage.
Cut off from the continent, isolated in our island, we have suddenly swung round to continental technique and, in London, dress more like Parisians than ever in Paris…For restaurant dining and dancing, we’re women of the world. If we dress at night, we dress down. Bright wool for warmth; jersey in silk or wool- supreme among fabrics- clinging to throat, wrist, ankle. Each diner dress with its own short jacket. Already a picture gown looks as démodé as a picture hat.
Town clothes tend towards the tweed end of the fabric scale. Nutria replaces Persia lamb. Coats are caught to swallow up suits without trace; loose sleeves, loose backs. Suits have an air of imperturbable ease. They don’t look lost the moment they leave town. They don’t look like country cousins up for the day. They are tough but not rough; chic but not slick.
Country clothes look as if at any moment they might bestride a bicycle, or walk over the hill to see a neighbour.
In town we walk- not totter, but neither stride- in solid-soled square heeled shoes; the curse has been taken away from the word “sensible” Shoes are built for business- and have therby acquires an integrity denied to the skeleton sandal of the summer.
Hats have put away foolishness- and fit. It’s part of a campaign for common sense- as distinct from dowdiness. A flighty hat, tugged by the wind, is as incongruous in town, with gas mask satchel and flat shoes, as it ever was in the country. Even fur hats (lively survivals of the pre-war mode) clasp the head with snoods.
We must have warmth. There is nothing so plain as a bluenose. We keep snug, even when fuel is rationed, with fleece line ankle-boots, cosy hoods, fur mitts, coddling the extremes.
“Fashion, like the woman it clothes, is proving no good-time girl, thrown into confusion by the shock of war, but a staunch support, an invaluable ally”

Iris Apfel and Tavi Gevinson at the Met

A couple of weeks ago, whilst I was in New York, I was luck enough to go to a talk with the amazing Iris Apfel and Tavi Gevinison called Impossible conversations: Ugly Chic”. Here are some of the incredibly interesting thoughts on style and how these two women young and old dress.
(Terribly blurry pic from the talk, apologies)
Iris:  “ I am organised only in my own way. I don’t intellectualise about clothes, I can’t give any can’t give any rules. I  think they’ll go together and I throw them on”
Iris” I am the worlds oldest living teenager’
Tavi: “ A lot of my clothes have some kind of motif or print. Getting dresses is a form of play- it should be great fun.”
Iris: ‘When the fun goes out of it you might as well be dead. You shouldn’t work with rules and regulations. Persue your own style”
Tavi: ” Taste and style are like a sense of humour. What you find funny is what you find funny. I wish people had more of a sense of humour about style. There is now a more acceptable kind of weird- the vintage, cutsey look”.
Iris: “ Much more freedom today. I remember when I was wearing old clothes not vintage. Terrible time with my husband when he stated I can afford to buy new clothes, why do you want old things.”
Iris: “Personal style evolves for yourself, and personal style is all about curiosity of oneself. Not give a damn about what anyone else thinks.
Tavi: “Fashion is about fantasy, You have to have self confidence or you can’t pull it off. Fantasy is powerful”
Iris: ‘ In the 40s I was one of the first women to wear jeans. My outfit was a gingham turban, crisp shirt and blue jeans. I had this idea in my head and I HAD to get a pair of jeans. I tried the Army and Navy store and they stated, “ don’t you know that young ladies don’t wear jeans”. Eventually after persistence I managed to get a pair of boys jeans to wear.
Iris : “I’m not a rebel. The New look was smashing. I don’t live to be trendy. You can’t be trendy and have personal style. Nobody can wear everything, and every designer has a particular person in mind”
Iris: My favourite designers at the moment are Ralph Rucci and Dries Van Noten. I like architectural clothing that can be embellished with jewellery”.
Tavi: My favourite designers are Medham Kirchoff, Rodarte and Prada. Their clothes exist in a vacuum. I like that for Medham Kirchoff music is so important`. I also think Alexander McQueen is important. His was mutant fashion. He was a mad scientist of fashion, but Schiaparelli was the mother of all of this.
Iris: “Schiaparelli worked on a womans body. Hers was intellectual rather than just fashion. Her designs were practical and could be worn. Why pay a fortune and look like a freak?  Having bumps all over is not the most attractive thought (referencing Comme de Garcons). I can look ugly on my own and it won’t cost me a penny.
Iris Apfel “ There is nothing like a good old bathrobe” (ahem, my former housemates, if Iris Apfel says this I MUST be cool).
Tavi “Getting dressed is a form of performance art. You assume a persona when you get dressed”
Iris “Clothes should not be the primary thing you do. There is more than clothing to life. You should have curiosity about yourself”.
Iris “ There is an undercover revolution of the old. Age does not make you invisible. Just because you are a certain age does not mean you have to walk around in widows weaves. Why should you be stopped because of a number”
Iris “ I never felt constricted because I dressed a certain way. Right now there is no counterculture. The way to be rebellious is to get old”
What I think came from this is that there is a hell of a lot of great and creative fashion going on with older ladies at the moment. You just have to look at advanced style to see this (there were a lot of ladies in the audience who have been featured on this website). There was discussion at the end of the talk that there might well be an exhibition upcoming for advanced style featuring outfits worn by some of these fabulously stylish older ladies.
I think both Iris and Tavi made some great points about style and the way we dress. Most importantly dressing should be about self expression and enjoying what you wear. Don’t get driven by trends, and just dress in a way that makes you happy.