(advertisement)
(advertisement)
Q&A Kate Morris, winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2017

INTERVIEW London - Kate Morris, a graduate of Nottingham Trent University, was the last UK contestant to make it to the final round of the annual sustainable design competition, the EcoChic Design Award, but she managed to win over the international jury panel with her vibrant collection to win first place. After being named the winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2017 cycle during a catwalk show held during Hong Kong Fashion Week, the knitwear specialist is set to join the team at BYT, a new luxury brand founded by Redress founder Christina Dean, and create a capsule collection for the brand. FashionUnited spoke with the emerging designer to learn more about the inspiration behind her winning collection, her thoughts on sustainable fashion and her experience at the EcoChic Design Award.

Where did your interest in sustainable fashion first come from?

“I did a degree in fine arts, but I always was a fan of knitting - it was my hobby. The thing I love about knitwear is that you can control the surface, the weight, and the shape of a garment as you are making it. I love that it does not involve any cutting, you can shape the panels as you knit, so in a way it’s a zero-waste technique. But as my interest grew and I wanted to turn my hobby into a career, it coincidence with the Rana Plaza disaster. The tragedy really opened my eyes to the extent of the problems within the fashion industry and motivated me to want to be part of the change. Sustainable design has always been at the heart of my practice, I find it so rewarding. I can’t imagine designing any other way.”

Q&A Kate Morris, winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2017

When did you first hear about the EcoChic Design Award? And why did you apply?

“I heard about the design award at my university when I was doing my masters in fashion knitwear design. There was a day of workshops run by Redress on upcycling design techniques which gave me a view of what it was, as before it wasn’t necessarily something I was interested in. I was blown away by the broad spectrum of using waste and heard all about the competition. It inspired me and was something that I really wanted to challenge myself to do. I never designed a collection starting with waste as my start point.”

What was it like being a finalist in the competition?

“It was amazing, it felt like one of the biggest adventures that I had ever been on. I’ve never been to Asia and I felt incredibly lucky to be selected. While we were in Hong Kong we did a lot of activities - three design challenges - so it was also very educational for me. It was incredible meeting all the other finalists, it was great meeting a group of like-minded people and I made worldwide friends for life. It’s been a quite surreal experience. I never thought I’d get this far, as I focus on knitwear and have a different approach to design - I don’t have a traditional pattern cutting background. I wasn’t even sure I would have enough time getting my submission for competition in as it clashed with a deadline for my masters, so I am very glad I did make it and send it through!”

Q&A Kate Morris, winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2017

Can you tell us a bit more about your collection?

“My collection started with the materials that were available to me. I received a donation of slightly imperfect corns of yarn from Italian spinners, slightly imperfect dye lots, and a donation of jersey t-shirts from the UK charity Trade, who have clothing banks in the UK. I was really surprised at how easily I got such luxury materials, within a week I had it all. I’ve never made a collection which has been so low cost.”

“Half of the collection is made with fine gauge, using digital knit machinery, the other is handcrafted. It is quite a diverse collection, but I put handicraft elements back into the digitally produced knitwear. The silhouettes were determined by the zero-waste production techniques, all the pieces were made in one. The jumper, for example, has two seams and is made in one panel instead of the usual four or five for efficient and is joined from sleeve to sleeve. A lot of it is seamless, made from tubes of knitting to ensure no waste. The patterns were inspired by my fine art background. I looked at pop-art, David Hockney, as well as food, retro 70s recipes, and visuals and I painted patterns that went into the knitted jacquards.”

Most challenging moment of the competition?

“The timeframe. We only had six weeks from when heard we were going to be a finalist to finishing the collection. That coincidence with my masters hand-in as well, but my university was really supportive and I somehow got it done. But I think it is good to work on a tight deadline like that, as it can really push ideas forward, which is good practice for when you work in the industry.”

Q&A Kate Morris, winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2017

How did you feel when they called out your name as the winner?

“I was in such a shock. I couldn't believe it. It felt amazing, I didn’t realize I was capable of achieving first place. We were in private room in the back while the models were getting dressed in the winning collection. We had to listen to Christina, who was speaking on stage, real-time and then I heard my name and had to run out front. It was really exciting.”

How do you foresee your future collaborative collection with BYT?

“It’s going be a knitwear collection, I already started brainstorming with Michelle (head of design). There are going to be elements of my EcoChic collection combined with BYT aesthetic. It’s all going to be made from upcycled yarns from very luxury brands, so that’s really exciting, I am going to be working with some amazing materials. The competition taught me that is really easy to get a hold of waste, as many companies are eager to get involved and it’s a low-cost way of creating a collection.”

Main piece of advice for other students participating in the Eco Chic Design Award?

“Don’t be afraid of the limitations - work with them. Use the waste as a starting point. Generally, if anyone is trying to design sustainably it can be quite overwhelming as there are so many issues, so start by picking 3 or 4 that are important to you and build on that.”

Photos: Courtesy of EcoChic Design Award

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

MoMA opens its doors this weekend to its first fashion exhibition since 1944 and only its second in the museum’s history, this being a subject more usually embraced by the Met. Items: Is Fashion Modern? is an exhaustive plumb of the last century to unearth some of its most iconic sartorial paraphernalia: from Rudi Gernreich’s genderless clothing of 1969 which boldly foresaw what we’re only just beginning to confront as a society or Colin Kaepernick’s number 7 jersey which, although acquired over a year ago, encapsulates our nation’s most up-to-the-minute concerns to YSL’s phenomenally successful Touche Eclat or Gossard’s Wonderbra, responses to society’s more intimate struggles. The cultural significance of the bandanna, the do-rag, and the sari, are explored next to fanny packs, Spanx, and Ginger Spice’s Buffalo boots.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

From the mass market white T to the most exclusive iterations of the little black dress; from Birkin bag to the biker jacket, from Dapper Dan’s logocentric Harlem streetwear to Elton John’s platformed stagewear, Items is a cabinet of curiosities.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

MoMA's Cabinet of Curiosities

The attire of women, whether burkinis or head wraps, provides eternal fodder for debate, but one particularly intriguing section presents a sculptor’s impressions of what the female form would look like if women’s physiques actually followed the more anatomically challenging silhouettes that have been imposed upon them: there’s the four-legged centaur created by the bustle of 1875, the overhanging mono-bosom of 1904, the one-legged top-heavy hourglass of 1913, and the twenties concave flapper.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

Items makes the case that fashion is always relevant, responsive, reactionary, at our service, and reflective of our politics, entertainment, environment. But we are also encouraged to view it as a character in our own personal narrative as well as within that of society at large; an active participant in our family life, adolescence, travels, romances, careers. Those other than the fashion enthusiast who might not previously have given it such credit will surely pause to revaluate. Fashion has been there, propping us up and protecting us, poking fun and pushing us forward. Items urges us to at least tag it in the album of our existence.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

This eclectic array of 111 articles is an ambitious and illuminating attempt to build our respect for the scope of how fashion has shaped our daily lives. Through archetype, stereotype and prototype, we not only gain an understanding of its historical significance but its place in tomorrow with many pieces incorporating the technology of the future having been commissioned especially for the exhibition.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

Items: Is Fashion Modern? runs from 1 October 2017 to 28 January 2018.

Photos author’s own.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Coterie and Parsons Presents ‘Next in Class’ Womenswear

Three womenswear graduates from Parsons 2017 BFA group have been awarded the opportunity to present and talk about their collections with retailers and exhibitors attending Coterie, the three-day trade fair which began on Sunday in the Javits Center.

Coterie and Parsons Presents ‘Next in Class’ Womenswear

Knitwear designer Panisa Busayanont’s thesis collection was born from studying the lifespan of the lotus flower of her native Thailand, watching it rot and eventually be eaten by a fungus. Following a personal experience of the loss of a loved one, her experiment prompted the question: Does every ending have to be filled with grief? She began to collect used sweaters from J Crew and other retailers, several that had shrunk in the laundry, from Brooklyn’s good will stores, and drape them on the body. She then introduced luxury Italian yarns that had been donated and wove them into the creations, combining the old and the new, the discarded and the desirable together. This form of upcycling is a concept upon which she would like to expand in the future by collaborating with brands and convincing them to donate their unused inventory so that she could produce more than just one-of-a-kind pieces.

Coterie and Parsons Presents ‘Next in Class’ Womenswear

Sijia Wu considers herself a minimalist and found inspiration from the subject of a Tang dynasty poem: a storm brewing in mountains. The subtle atmospheric shifts and precarious balance before the chaos is captured effectively in a sandy blazer of which the torso is held together by the merest slivers of thread so that the two halves appear suspended in the air.

Coterie and Parsons Presents ‘Next in Class’ Womenswear

Hayley Qu tackles through her collection that often awkward and polemic issue: women’s sizing. She looked at how throughout history women’s bodies have been modified for fashion: in Africa, the neck lengthened with rings; in Europe, the waist shrunk through corsetry; in Asia, the feet bound, whereas today What size are you? is the mundane, practical question that strikes terror into the hearts of many. Female sizing is riddled with power and meaning, and Qu seeks to go beyond unisex, entitling her collection ‘Non-Sized’ because through a process of wrapping, replacing side seams with zippers, and incorporating ‘sandwiching’ layers, the pieces are designed to be worn by women of all sizes.

Coterie and Parsons Presents ‘Next in Class’ Womenswear

The production of one garment is more ethical than replicating the same style all the way from 0 to size 22, she adds, before proceeding to demonstrate how an elegant and extremely roomy––by society’s current standards––pant envelops the body to become a neat-waisted bi-color two-tiered palazzo. The back overlaps the front, she explains, and non-sized means the same garment adapts to different bodies. ‘We should not have to change our body to fit. Our body should be served by our garments, not the other way, and the beauty of the body should be as it is.’

Some photos author’s own; homepage image SijiaWu.com; Knit image bpanisa.com

Coterie and Parsons Presents ‘Next in Class’ Womenswear The international Fashion Week season for women's ready-to-wear kicks off in the month of September, with all eyes set on New York, Paris, London and Milan for next seasons latest trends. For all the women's wear catwalk season must reads, click here.
Beyond the Runway: Parsons Presents Paths to Progress

As NYFW enters its third act, a group of insiders break away to occupy a different stage. Parsons in conjunction with diversity advocating designer, Becca McCharen of Chromat, presents as part of their Nth Degree Series a panel discussion on the topic ‘Fashion, Culture and Justice; A NYFW Dialogue.’ Not only did they feel it was imperative to hold it during fashion week but it poignantly coincides with the anniversary of 9/11. Before a young and diverse audience of curious minds, Elaine Welteroth, editor in chief of Teen Vogue, wearing Dries Van Noten’s Fall white boots and an Afro that recalls Mahogany era Diana Ross (‘It’s the biggest it’s ever been!”); Aurora James, designer and founder of Brother Vellies; runway hairstylist Amy Farid; photographer Anastasia Garcia, and moderator and Parsons professor, Kim Jenkins, launch a much-needed conversation.

Beyond the Runway: Parsons Presents Paths to Progress

Welteroth, who is of mixed race but grew up in a mostly white neighborhood, begins by revealing an early failure to embrace her cultural identity when she had her heart set on a certain doll but, upon opening the package, her heart sank and she rejected the doll. Her mother had bought her the black one. The white doll was clearly presented as the superior, an early sign that the power of imagery already had her in its thrall. When she joined Conde Nast, headlines blared ‘First black beauty director’ and she explains, ‘my race steps into the room before I do.’ From this she now takes her power.

Coachella and a Festival of Ignorance

The marketing of festival looks has become a huge fashion moneymaker, but cornrows and feathered headdresses seem to be the headlining act each summer. Amy Farid, a Native American, explains that the correct word to use is ‘regalia’, not ‘costume’ which she still hears to her dismay, and the headresses are ‘war bonnets’ which are earned in her culture where the eagle feather is viewed as sacred. “Do your research,” she says. “Google it. There’s no excuse.”

Beyond the Runway: Parsons Presents Paths to Progress

At 38, Farid admits she is still so unused to seeing her culture represented correctly in media that upon catching a glimpse of an image from a now-famous Teen Vogue shoot entitled ‘Cultural Appreciation’ which featured a model with eagle feather in hair, she assumed the worst. Upon closer inspection, she discovered that Welteroth had ‘streetcast' a native model and the realization brought her to tears. This was also, interjects Welteroth, the first time a beauty story went viral, becoming ‘a Twitter moment.’

Before you drag, do your research

Farid’s anecdote leads to an interesting discussion on the problematic nature of our headline driven culture. “I cannot afford to be misunderstood,” says Welteroth. “I am here to represent.” But she recounts how her well-meaning efforts put her in the line of fire. After a visit to Rwanda, she appeared in the office with her hair in Senegalese twists. Colleagues’ reactions so took her aback that it inspired her to organize a photoshoot featuring a brown-skinned girl, like herself, with braids. One Twitter user took the imagery out of context, and the online outrage traveled like a bush fire all the way to the Daily Mail which published headlines slamming the magazine for its anti-black stance. The matter was only put to rest when the model herself tweeted, “”For the record, if anyone cares…I’m half black and half French.” But the implication remained that the model, and therefore Welteroth, was not black enough to wear braids. “Nuance does not translate very well on social media” she cautions, “Before you retweet, drag, call out, do your research.”

Beyond the Runway: Parsons Presents Paths to Progress

Colorism and Throwing Shade

The idea of beauty as activism is one to which all five panelists are committed, but the issue is so much more than just black and white. Is your hair natural enough, your eyes dark enough, your body plus-size enough, your beauty pure? are questions that permeate society. Garcia who is Hispanic but refers to herself as ‘white presenting’ cannot count the number of times she has been told she doesn’t look Spanish, but each time she feels the sting of it. But as a plus-size female she is “cognizant of representing all diversity, bodies and race because it’s intersectional. As an imagemaker I don’t want to create imagery to damage people the way I have been damaged.’

Beyond self identifying, human identify

Aurora James, whose mother was adopted, grew up in Canada believing she was half-Trinidadian until her mother took a dna test which revealed she was half-Inuit, half-Irish. James was blindsided, but her mother asked, “And what does it matter?” Although she denies possessing strong cultural identification, she knew early on that she didn’t feel better about herself looking through fashion magazines nor did she feel empowered by their imagery. On a trip to Africa in her 20s, she was surprised by how the natives undervalued their traditional crafted shoes, more interested in footwear that Kanye or Beyonce would wear. James, who saw the beauty in their artisanal shoe, assured them “But Kanye would wear this.” Eventually he did, and she gains empowerment from the knowledge that she helps local craftspeople appreciate and make a living from their own artistry and highly values their creative input in her business.

Beyond the Runway: Parsons Presents Paths to Progress

Marc Jacobs and the Glare of White Privilege

To audible groans an image of an Isabel Marant blouse appears on screen next to one of Oaxacan natives in their indigenous dress from which the designer plagiarized the garment and reportedly sought to copyright it. But the above quote by Marc Jacobs, who has come under regular fire for cultural appropriation, ignites the conversation. “It’s just so whiny,” says Farid. “Get over yourself.” James remarks thoughtfully, “I’m a literal person so when I look at that quote, I think cross-pollination suggests a tangible exchange. Equality involves those people getting something out of it too. What he’s talking about is stealing.” Welteroth notes the glaring white privilege behind his remarks, and says, “The world hasn’t made you face the discriminations others have faced, but you can research it and understand someone else’s plight.” She turns to the other panelists, and says, “He has the power. We should feel incentivized to reach out him, even by personal message, because he can speak to the masses. We need allies. We must be able to sit at the table with people we disagree with, provide a safe space, hear them out, and then share our experiences.”

Graduating from being woke

According to Welteroth, we need to find a new word for ‘woke.’ If her white father is using it, she jokes, that’s a sign we need to retire it for something else. I leave wondering if the word no longer applies because we have progressed to the next level, whatever that’s to be called. What next for this solutions-hungry, open and galvanized, new generation of fashion creators who see the power of activism through the vehicle of an industry once considered frivolous? They are already on the march, led by some impressive pioneers.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

All images author’s own.

Parsons MFA Show Signals Hope for Future of Creativity

‘Generation Six,’ a group of nine students from Parsons’ illustrious Masters of Fashion and Society program showed their collections during New York Fashion Week providing a nourishing dose of creativity to editors and bloggers now staring down a looming month of fashion shows across the globe.

Parsons MFA Show Signals Hope for Future of Creativity

Nihl took stereotypical notions of masculinity to task subverting them through beading on shirting, shiny boxing shorts from which shirt tails protrude, and dressing one model in an eyewateringly high cut one-piece once the exclusive domain of only the most amazonian of 80s supermodels.

Parsons MFA Show Signals Hope for Future of Creativity

Australian knitwear designer, Zoe Champion, explored the emotional responses triggered by the clothing of others, particularly her recently passed grandmother, and the idea of holding garments up to the body to imagine inhabiting them.

Parsons MFA Show Signals Hope for Future of Creativity

Shanel Campbell’s collection strived to open a dialogue around the female body and celebrate today’s independent woman by juxtaposing nakedness with armor. Chinese designer Tingyue Jiang re-evaluated how textile application can challenge the silhouette as he translated inspiration about what is happening culturally and politically in his country of birth into bright bluntly patched knits for the NYC runway.

Parsons MFA Show Signals Hope for Future of Creativity

Shizhe He is interested in the mundane, the everyday, and the routine, and her attempts to subtly disrupt these elements formed the basis of her layered menswear collection. Her love of fine arts and devotion to patternmaking married wonderfully in a slouchy suit topped with overcoat in a shade of cornflower blue straight out of a Johannes Vermeer work.

Di Gao took crochet techniques into new frontiers creating semi-transparent dresses in colors of henna, charcoal and rust with white stripes and dangling drawstring toggles that evoked the eternal charm of traditional African tribalwear.

Parsons MFA Show Signals Hope for Future of Creativity

A current finalist for the Dorothy Waxman International Textile Prize, run by Li Edelkoort Inc, Venus Lo’s menswear collection was inspired by her hoarder father and incorporated felting and knitting with unwanted scraps and donations of everyday items into unique new assemblages because she believes perfection can be ugly.

Parsons MFA Show Signals Hope for Future of Creativity

For the finale, Caroline Hu, who makes no bones about calling herself a romantic designer whipped tulle into such a blizzard that it seemed to have scooped up everything else in the sewing room on its way out: froths of net, ribbons, beading, knit, frills and lace sponsored by French fabric company, Sophie Hallette.

All photos Monica Feudi, Parsons, Homepage image: author’s own.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

The 10th Annual Supima Design Competition

7 designers. 7 schools. 1 winner. 10,000 dollars. This NYFW marks the 10th anniversary of the Supima Design Competition, the contest that pits students from the country’s leading fashion schools against each other to design a five-look collection using the same five core fabrics––shirting, knit, velveteen, twill and denim––the winner of which is announced after the runway show. This year’s judges included Fern Mallis, the founder of fashion week, and a roster of professionals from Allure, Elle, WWD, and the New York Observer among others. The student’s mentor for the third year running was acclaimed designer, Bibhu Mohapatra.

First up representing Drexel University Lela Thompson worked in rich maroons and teal creating cascades of laser cut ruffles and bustles on floor length gowns and layered appliques onto knee length red denim so that the casual wear fabric came to resemble something closer to luxury brocade.

The 10th Annual Supima Design Competition

From L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Nancy Hennessey crafted black-tie-occasion corsetry and built roses into sleeve heads or constructed them into the narrowest of pencil skirts. Cinematic allure arrived in the form of a scarlet floor-length twill coat with a sculpted rose blooming ripely from the hip.

Abigail Griswold from Rhode Island School of Design who after injury had to renounce her professional gymnast ambition found a way to stir this now-slumbering passion into her collection through the use of performance mesh, cording, and neoprene, but the contrast of a super-slouchy zippered jumpsuit in breezy shirting was a pleasant addition.

The 10th Annual Supima Design Competition

Evolving an idea she began for her final year collection at Parsons, Margaret Kwon worked dazzling Swarovski crystals into a palette of pastels, deep forest green, and sky blue. A red shirting evening dress with multi-ruffled train drew admiring gasps.

New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology presented Alyssa Wardrop whose artful creations proved to be the most avant-garde of the evening. She hand painted and stitched onto large-scale squares like an artist approaching a canvas. Despite this potentially cumbersome shape, the garments wafted. Oversized twill tunics with dropped shoulders and top stitching, and dresses with arm straps outlined in graphic black evoked Rothko in their controlled placement of color always anchored by a white ground.

The 10th Annual Supima Design Competition

With parents who are engineers, it’s perhaps to be expected that Sarah Johnson from Kent State University cites the importance of attention to detail in her work which featured an abundance of handcraft. A knit draped halter dress in liquidy saffron demonstrated a sophisticated taste level while extensive cartridge pleating suspended on rope and widelegged pants with double pockets and an obi-like belt added exoticism.

Last year’s winning school, Savannah College of Art and Design, nominated Alexandra Pijut to carry the torch this time. She created an airy floor-length asymmetrically draped dress of knit printed in pastel tartan, tucked a prim smocked dress under a tailored blazer, and layered a lemon-hued smocked and corseted dress over a white organza collared shirt for a cute and refined result.

The 10th Annual Supima Design Competition

As the lights went up, Supima’s V.P. of Marketing and Promotions, Buxton Midyette joined by his co-host, stylist, June Ambrose, announced with pride the winner of the 10th Annual Supima Design Competition and the prize of 10,000 dollars: Alyssa Wardrop from Fashion Institute of Technology.

The 10th Annual Supima Design Competition

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos author’s own.

The Importance of A Designer’s Tribe

The modern designer does not operate alone. When he is poached from one house by another, he installs a coterie of friends around him in his new workplace, but those bold headlines trumpeting his arrival rarely mention the importance of this traveling entourage.

The recent case of Raf Simons’s appointment at Calvin Klein is a prime example. He made Pieter Mulier, his scene-stealing right hand man from the documentary, Dior And I, with whom he has worked since 2002, Creative Director, and Mulier’s boyfriend, Mattieu Blazy, Design Director of Womenswear; he enlisted the services of photographer Willy Vanderperre whom he has known since his 90s Antwerp club days to continue to shoot his ad campaigns, and Vanderperre’s boyfriend, Olivier Rizzo, to style them; he brought in L.A. artist Sterling Ruby with whom he has a 10-year friendship and set him to redesign the Madison Avenue Calvin Klein flagship store; Simons’s boyfriend, Jean-Georges d’Orazio, was also brought from Europe to assume the role of Senior Director of brand experience, whatever that is.

“My old studio manager called Raf my brother from another mother,” Sterling Ruby told the New York Times. “I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania; he grew up in a very small town in a rural area on the Flemish side of Belgium. We both wanted out. . . . And now we’re both walking on tightropes, trying to figure out what we’re doing.”

The Importance of A Designer’s Tribe

Making magic happen

The stakes are indeed high in these mergers of star designer and established house, and sometimes nothing less than wizardry is expected to turn the sleeping brand around and make it relevant again. Therefore, not unreasonably, the chosen one has a trusted cloister of Hermiones, Rons, Hagrids and Dumbledores to buoy him against the relentless, and possibly alien, corporate pressure that threatens to snuff out his creativity with the swiftness of one of Voldemort’s DeathEaters.

Of course, fashion is a business like any other and the highly paid, in-demand creative must perform, but when he is bombarded by opposing demands––create the “it” handbag, develop a formidable social media presence, dress celebrities, prepare the company for an IPO, then become beholden to stock market fluctuations, all while making the brand as cool as (insert competitor’s name here)–– it is often only one of his insiders who can utter that gentle reminder to trust his instincts and shut out the voices that don’t ring true. When the designer feels like he is so far out on a limb he no longer recognizes himself or what he stands for, this confidant can present him with a mirror while his new bosses will simply present him with more figures. No matter how much the designer now earns, if he jumped about on a dancefloor with someone twenty years ago, and that person is still by his side, then chances are that person’s worth to him cannot be translated into dollars. The designer’s tribe is no mere Warhol Factory. It is not an assemblage of interesting people hoping to be seen, but a fashion family, in which each one has the other’s back.

The Importance of A Designer’s Tribe

We are family

Often the tight circle has immediate family members at it's core: Demna Gvasalia began Vetements with his business-minded brother Guram, before stylist Lotta Volkova came on board. Then, arm-in-arm, the plucky trio trotted on over to the esteemed luxury house of Balenciaga to bestow their charm on it. “Lotta is a walking source of energy,” Gvasalia told Vogue, “We met at some party four years ago, and then she came over to see the first Vetements collection and told me, ‘I want to wear some of these things, but the styling is terrible.’ So she’s been working with us ever since.” This method of team-building has little to do with the human resources department but is not a new phenomenon. At the heart of Giorgio Armani’s billion dollar enterprise, which he started with his now deceased boyfriend, Sergio Galeotti in 1975, are his nieces Silvana and Roberta Armani, although it has been strengthened over the decades with a band of loyal followers. “Because he has no friends,” Armani’s sister, Rosanna, told Vanity Fair. When the magazine asked Armani about her comment, his response was: “Tell me: when do I have time to make myself friends?” But the essence of his motivation is revealed in this sentiment: “Whatever I did in work was done for Sergio. And Sergio did everything for me. So that was the heart.”

The king’s court

Often the job titles of a designer’s court members can be more difficult to pin down that those of Raf Simons’s Calvin Klein team. Amanda Harlech, who had worked with John Galliano since his graduation but famously defected to Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel because she reportedly needed a better salary upon her divorce, told the Sunday Times Style Section. "Karl doesn't have a muse - he has a very close knit family who are incredibly loyal.” She explained her role as best she could: “If I do have a gift, it is as a map-reader, a pathfinder. I don't think I'm a muse. A muse inspires - but Karl is inspired by a lot of other women, men, books, a piece of furniture, a piece of music…’” Alexander McQueen kept two females at the center of his court: Isabella Blow who championed his graduate collection, persuading stores and editors to buy into his vision, and Sarah Burton, the young design assistant who apprenticed under him, eventually tasked with the company’s creative direction upon his untimely death.

The Importance of A Designer’s Tribe

For creatives, the building of a design empire is more than just a business. Emotional attachments override business strategies and growth projections. Current headlines suggest designers can be swapped out like outfits, but the designer’s tribe often has to be accounted for in negotiations. That bond is difficult to replicate in a new situation, but having his cherished people about him undoubtedly sets the heralded designer up to thrive. Tribe members shield designers from becoming poor isolated Icarus creatures flying too close to the sun. They bolster and protect. They inspire, invigorate, bathe wounds, and lift spirits. The designer is the lead figure fronting the charge for the house’s dominance over competitors, but it is the tribe whose arms he falls into as he returns backstage after taking his bow at the end of each show.

#TribeGoalz

“Squad” is an Instagram word used by celebrities to describe the elite crew they run with: Taylor Swift’s includes a bunch of Victoria’s Secret models and Lena Dunham, all of which she invites onstage at concerts. Leonardo di Caprio’s modern day Hollywood Brat Pack, which includes Orlando Bloom and Toby Maguire, enjoys hanging out with models on boats. The designer’s tribe isn’t basking in the sun or spotlit onstage or even being stalked by paparazzi. Its members are happiest being useful behind the scenes. Yves Saint Laurent described the essence of this unique relationship perfectly when referring to his longtime right-hand man, Pierre Bergé: “His strength meant I could rest on him when I was out of breath.”

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

The Importance of A Designer’s Tribe During the month of August FashionUnited will focus on Work in Fashion. For all reads on the theme, click here.

Photos from Calvin Klein, Armani, and Chanel Facebook pages.

Why The U.S. Is Trailing The Dutch in the Future of Denim

Statistics show that the people of the Netherlands wear the most denim per capital in the world, with Americans coming in second place. It’s surprising when one considers denim’s importance as a symbol of Americana, from cowboys to rock and roll; from James Dean’s rebel image to John Wayne’s rugged horseman to Obama’s “dad jeans”, all encapsulated in Raf Simon’s denim-on-denim debut for Calvin Klein. Even outside of its celebrity profile, the fabric has been integral to American workers’ uniforms for 200 years, increasing in popularity during the 1800s gold mining boom when a young German immigrant by the name of Strauss patented the riveted hardwearing cloth, and Levi’s was born. Still, it is acknowledged that the small central European country with no hills to speak of dominates the denim frontier, with its capital, Amsterdam, home to G-Star RAW, part-owned by Pharrell Williams, Tommy Hilfiger Europe, Levi’s Vintage, Kings of indigo, Denham, Tenue de Nîmes, and Kuyichi to name a few.

Why The U.S. Is Trailing The Dutch in the Future of Denim

But perhaps what’s more surprising is that it’s already five years since Amsterdam opened the world’s first Jean School, and the U.S. still does not have such a facility. With so many fashion schools in existence and more students graduating into our field than ever before, streaming some of the flow into this popular sector would surely provide career opportunities for young designers with ambitions in denim. I recently visited the campus located in Amsterdam’s House of Denim and toured the workroom, the laundries, and the archives containing commissions they’ve created for different international clients. Inside a glass case a copy of a pair of black denims created for Karl Lagerfeld is emblazoned with the silhouette of the designer’s head. The Jeans School is preparing to open its doors next week to this year’s incoming group of students, and I learn enrollment is at capacity, with more international students than ever before.

Why The U.S. Is Trailing The Dutch in the Future of Denim

The Netherlands wear the most denim per capital

As a fashion educator here at home I’m aware of the absence of knowledge among students regarding denim, yet their hunger to understand more. As a former designer I’m also aware of the avid interest from companies in candidates with an in-depth knowledge of the washes, processes and innovations that infuse a simple pair of jeans with the power to fuel a global business. Red carpet gowns and runway drama is not necessarily what all fashion students aspire to create, but often under the banner heading of ready-to-wear, those are the avenues they’re obliged to pursue in fashion programs. Many young designers want to create for their age group, their peers, their lifestyle, but entry into the specialized world of denim requires more than the ability to design a five-pocket pant or riff on a traditional jean jacket. If the product is to seem authentic, possess the inherent swagger history has attributed to it, and exploit the durable no-nonsense aspect of the twill weave in a competitive marketplace, a profound understanding of the fabric's characteristics and potential is required. How are students expected to achieve this if their exposure to denim in school is so limited?

Some U.S. schools offer industry collaborations with denim companies which allows one or two students the opportunity to enjoy some on the job training. Amsterdam Fashion Institute offers a Bachelors in Fashion with Denim Minor. But the Jean School’s one or three-year course leading to a qualification of Denim Developer allows the student to drill deep into the world of mills, sewing rooms, laundries, as well as into the area of design. The students begin portfolio building from the first day and the curriculum places “emphasis on craftsmanship and sustainability across all steps in the production process ‘from crop to shop.’” This, combined with guest lectures from external professionals and the expertise of co-founder (and former organizer of Amsterdam Fashion Week, James Veenhoff, who now organizes globally-recognized denim trade fair, Kingpins) results in worldwide interest in graduates and a high employment rate. It helps that the co-founder, Mariette Hoitink, also operates the world’s only denim-focused recruitment firm, thereby closing the loop of denim connoisseurship within Amsterdam and ensuring its continued success.

Why The U.S. Is Trailing The Dutch in the Future of Denim

Denim's ubiquity shows no sign of dying, the focus on sustainability setting the scene for a whole new wave of innovation. There’s the potential for a new gold rush so why aren’t we in the U.S. digging, mining our homegrown talent? There’s indigo in them there hills.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos FashionUnited, curriculum image from Houseofdenim.org