Fashion

Three generations of fashion experts break down what’s new


The quest for the new is what drives fashion, and motivates the three
individuals on stage at a centennial event at Parsons The New School,
entitled “Keeping It New in Fashion; A Talk Between Generations.” Fern
Mallis the creator of New York Fashion Week and industry gamechanger for 35
years, Derek Lam, CFDA award winner who created his eponymous line in 2003,
now designing contemporary line 10 Crosby, and Emily Bode, Parsons grad
2013, known for her menswear using globally sourced repurposed vintage
textiles under label Bode. FashionUnited compiles their advice on keeping
it new.

New is training

“It’s training, like an athlete,” Lam says. “You’re using a memory
muscle. It’s just what you do. But it’s gotten out of control, too
accelerated. It’s gotten untenable. That’s the conversation we’re having
now: how much product can the world absorb, especially when so many are
doing the same thing?”

New is exclusivity

To compensate for this homogenous product landscape, Bode finds that
stores want exclusive mini capsules. “But for us creating something new
also has so much to do with looking back to focus on our individual
narrative,” she says, “rather than looking at a trend, like ruffles.”

New is signature

Bode has two main shirt styles, and the details might change seasonally,
but the customer who comes in attracted by a print or patchwork often
returns and buys fifteen of that one shape. Bode likens it to how women
might shop for shoes. “Change the fabrication and it reads as a different
piece,” she says. “I don’t know if our customer knows that.”

New is the preservation of history

Bode launched entirely on antique textiles, and is now focused on
reproducing not just the textiles but the historical techniques,
embroideries, appliqués, quilting, so scaling up must involve preserving
that narrative.

New is “sustainability on speed-dial”

So says Mallis. Lam agrees but believes the Europeans are doing a better
job at addressing the eco-friendly. For him knitwear is the easiest
category to tackle. “You don’t have to do it alone,” he says. “You can work
with someone like Cradle To Cradle. It’s impossible for a small company to
visit all the factories, or tackle all categories at once. We’re not
Walmart.” From the position of a small company, Bode fills in endless
paperwork around traceability and says, “brands are getting dropped if the
company is not doing due diligence on their supply chain. Matches is an
example of a retailer who requires this, and Europe is our biggest market.”
But collaboration is also key to her sustainability efforts: “A lot of
bigger brands are having to backtrack, but we’re trying to partner with
companies ready to support emerging designers.”

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New is less

Bode finds stores with racks crammed with clothing upsetting. Lam
recognizes he doesn’t need to design anything ever again. So where does
that leave us? Lam calls it a conundrum, but all agree the answer lies in
educating consumers. Mallis recommends everyone read Fashionopolis by
Dana Thomas. “Make what you buy last longer,” says Lam.

New is getting noticed through content.

“I was found on Instagram,” says Bode. “Someone saw I was working on
something from a photograph I posted and that’s how Bode came to be.” She
continues to rely on the social media site which has an 86 percent referral
rate for the brand, for storytelling which she finds less invasive than
emails, for finding staff and interns, to such an extent that she invests
in photography exclusively for Instagram.

New is not influencers

Asked if he works with influencers, Lam says, “We can’t afford to. It
starts more organically, if someone posts something about their love of the
brand, we reach out but make clear that we can’t pay, but we build a nice
community. It’s not mercenary. There’s a halo effect, brand awareness.”
When Mallis asks if influencers influence, Bode responds, “Not for us, but
menswear is a little different. We don’t see a direct corollary between
celebrities wearing our clothes and conversion to sales.” She does not
foresee investing in influencers in the future. “We’re all influencers,”
states Lam. “It’s just a new name for something that’s existed on a
different scale and format. Now it’s monetized with social media which has
turned it into a much bigger industry.”

New is old-fashioned trunk shows

Bode has one planned for next month in Tokyo, but has yet to do any in
the U.S. Lam used to do them New York but says, “New Yorkers don’t even
care, they’re so jaded. Do it out of town, get a little more excitement.
But being able to speak to a client is important, having a face to the
name.”

New is not always a fashion show

“It depends on the business,” says Bode. “For me a fashion show elevated
Bode to a global scale. We show in Paris now. But in other businesses, a
trade show or pop-up is sufficient. There are a million different ways.”
But Lam admits, “I miss doing a show sometimes. I miss that moment when you
see the clothes, put together, moving in real time. Now everything is on a
screen and my clothing is not about what makes a great picture but how a
woman moves through life, through choices I made, fabrication and cut. But
I’m not good with routine and that was fifteen years of routine and
stress.”

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New is Paris

For Bode it made more sense to invest in showing twice a year in Paris
rather than the US where she would have to show on the men’s calendar with
fewer buyers in attendance. “Even for Japanese buyers, it’s so expensive to
come to New York,” she says, whereas, “Paris attracts everyone in one week,
in one city, the entire industry is there. There is that old-school method
of going to appointments, and viewing your collection, not just on screens,
but in person. That experience doesn’t compare.”

New is peer support

Mallis asks which designers they admire and Bode mentions
Copenhagen-based Cecilie Bahnsen, then says, “I was just in Paris with
Aurora from Brother Vellies, Kerby from Pyer Moss, people who know how to
utilize social media with their voice, are an inspiration.” She also values
many designers she graduated with, saying, “The support is insane.” Lam
likes Jonathan Anderson, Ralph Rucci, Marc Jacobs, Yohji Yamamoto, but
admits sheepishly he doesn’t always get the references on Comme Des Garçons
runways, although he loves the menswear. But he adds, “I like and admire
people who survive.”

New is older

Lam collects clothes he considers “relatively wild” including many Prada
prints. “I don’t wear them yet,” he says, “I’m waiting to be seventy, and
I’ll be this amazing crazy older man. I find fashion on older people so
cool,” to which Mallis replies, “That’s new and refreshing.”

New is Asian retail

“I think the Japanese are doing the best job,” says Bode. “I always like
their buys the best. Some of our North American buys I wish I could just
add a few pieces, but that’ll come, and they will trust us more. We had
stores in Paris that asked us to pick everything, said we just trust your
whole aesthetic. I don’t see that in North America.” Lam agrees, naming the
Japanese and Koreans as very sophisticated buyers, focused, and eager to
represent the brand, not just looking for a black turtleneck. “It’s a
different way of seeing,” he says. “They have extremely loyal customers and
I feel there is a very strong sense of wanting to be connoisseurs.” Mallis,
a regular at Seoul Fashion Week agrees, “The way they put themselves
together from head to toe, the joy that they express in their clothing, is
palpable.”

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New is hope for Barneys

“I’m heartbroken. I love it so much,” says Lam. “I always felt, this is
my people, this is my kind of place. I worked there when I was at Parsons.
I really want to believe they will survive. We took a little bit of a hit
but I really want them to succeed.” Bode also took the risk and sent the
beloved and struggling retailer new merchandise this season.

New is questioning the traditional trajectory

“The trajectory for most designer of my generation was that you start
your company, get publicity, stores support you and you grow,” says Lam.
“Then you go international, you think about four seasons instead of two to
fill more space on the floor, then selling shoes and bags, then opening
stores to take advantage of better margins.” But when it levels off or
dips, what then? In a post-recession climate he found himself making
increasing amount of product, questioning his motivations, or if it was
time to sell his company. “I started to dislike this distraction. The
clothes, all made in Italy and air shipped, were getting so expensive. I
didn’t want to sell a pair of pants at 1200 dollars.” He has not closed his
collection, only put it on hiatus: “The tunnel gets more and more narrow
and the only way we can slip through was to go on a diet.” While 30-40
percent of her business is still one-of-a-kind, Bode’s five-year plan
involves scaling up gradually, working with select Indian and Peruvian
manufacturers, and investing in retail.

New is being prepared to pivot

“Change is out of your control and you can count on that,” says Lam. “Be
ready to take either a sidestep or even a u-turn. Nothing is guaranteed.

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



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