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You don't need to be an expert to succeed in fashion

By Jackie Mallon

Dec 19, 2018


Designers, models, retailers, and professionals of all stripes in our industry might soon be questioning the value of their expensive educations, hard-won promotions, and patient ladder-climbing as career paths are not as straightforward as they once were.

Take now-household name, Virgil Abloh. This week he was announced as new Creative Advisor for Sustainable Innovation Design, not of a hip streetwear label but of natural spring water producer, Evian. Alongside this, Abloh has had an immensely popular collaboration with Nike, but also one with Ikea, Kith, Equinox, Sunglass Hut, Jimmy Choo, and Japanese fine artist Takashi Murakami, among others. With no formal fashion training but a degree in civil engineering and a Masters in architecture, he landed the high-profile artistic directorship of Louis Vuitton menswear, is CEO of his own streetwear label, Off-White, and is listed as one of Time magazine’s 2018 100 most influential people in the world. He DJs and produces music too.

Unmodel-like behavior

Models with agents find themselves at castings next to individuals who don’t even have a head shot but are confident of booking the job all the same. CFDA prizewinner, Rio Uribe, the brains behind Gypsy Sport has become known for inclusivity on his runways as a result of his street casting. His shows are a triumph of anarchic freedom, celebrating the irreverence and energy of the street culture which is the prime source of his inspiration. For Spring 18 he held a casting party in a Brooklyn gallery attended by 500 unknowns who hoped they possessed the right look after his website provided the minimal direction of “all different tribes, only good vibes.” Hopefuls were advised to bring their “style and skills,” whether that be in music, dance or poetry, and they will be given 15 seconds with a professional photographer, after which they are welcome to chill in the communal atmosphere.

Don’t stay in your lane is a modern maverick’s mantra. Open-mindedness and opportunism go hand in hand and worlds are colliding. Take basketball and fashion: The Jordan x Vogue collaboration involved Vogue’s perennially kitten-heeled Anna Wintour leaving her editor’s desk to put her stamp of approval on two styles of Air Jordans. A cultural shift for some, a natural progression of the streetwear/runway love affair for others.

Crystals and wellness have a long history together but add fashion and you have fledgling brand Advisory Board Crystals. Purveyors of casual pieces which bear their popular crystal-infused dyeing technique, the brand has already participated in sold-out collaborations with Grailed, Colette, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York. But struck by the privilege of enjoying information-sharing to promote wellbeing, the brand recently designed a t-shirt in collaboration with Wikipedia under the label abc x Wikipedia with all profits going to the non-profit online encyclopedia.

Dare to be normal

No one is advising that we forget everything we know. But the key to staying fresh in today’s marketplace, according to the Stylus team who hosted their Decoded Futures summit recently in NYC is to “adopt vibrant open source thinking and to embrace normal as the new face of brand cool.” Size inclusivity, ethnic diversity, the growth of modest fashion, functional fashion for the differently abled, these are all different stages along in being considered norms. So how brands dare to be different might involve how they authentically approach these distinct consumers.

To graduate after four intense years of studying fashion at Parsons only to find that an untrained upstart is taking over your turf is tough. But the fashion industry is changing so rapidly that only those who build versatility into their brand’s operations will stay the course. One way to do this is to understand the younger demographic’s entrepreneurial spirit. As traditional retailers and heritage brands are wiped out or left floundering, members of the younger generation are making a killing striking out on their own. Take 22-year-old Bella McFadden who goes by the name Internet Girl and, despite being a college dropout, for five years she has been selling clothes on the e-commerce resale app Depop to her hundreds of thousands of followers who can’t get enough of her uniquely styled thrifted gems from the 90s and 00s. Or Benjamin Kickz who started a sneaker resale business at the age of 16 while dealing with the day-to-day realities of high school, and who now counts rappers as friends and whose net worth is 1 million dollars.

Expertise is no longer a guarantee in this business and bachelors degrees and awards don’t always take you to the top. Sometimes boundless energy, street smarts, a killer idea and an iPhone are what it takes.

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos FashionUnited