29 March, 2011


(blue sky thinking!!)

there's been a lot of discussion these last few weeks about what it takes to be a fashion designer. there have been some really great articles questioning the amount of pressure under which the head designers of global fashion houses work.

alexander mcqueen, john galliano and balmain's designer christophe decarnin have been the names most commonly mentioned in this discourse- is the pressure of the fashion industry literally ruining the lives of these folks?

it's a subject that i've thought about broaching here, on this blog for the past few weeks. it's something that i think about a lot, being a designer myself. but, i couldn't quite get my head around my thoughts, in order to form a coherent post. so, at the risk of losing sight of the subject all together, i let myself off the hook on putting it into words, and allowed things to stew a little more...


... and now i've finally come back around to it.

last week, i spent the week in los angeles, a city where fashion is not king. los angeles is, at best, a secondary fashion city. it is not new york, paris, milan or london. it's not even berlin, tokyo, copenhagen or barcelona. it is the city of cinema, and there's no two ways about that.

los angeles plays a supporting role in the fashion industry, and fashion plays a supporting role in the industry of los angeles. so, i had the opportunity to stop. thinking. about fashion. for a whole week.

now is probably a good a time as any to lay out something here on this blog that i’ve felt a bit cagey about until now:

i don’t have a job. i’ve been a professional footwear designer for the past six years, and in that time, i’ve had to opportunity to work for a number of different companies. i’ve worked for high end companies where the designer whose name is on the door is a huge diva, terrible manager and giant bitch. i’ve worked for high end design companies where the designers are incredibly talented, wonderful collaborators and a joy to work for.

i’ve worked for more commercial and “fast fashion” companies with the same kind of dichotomy of personalities that i’ve described above.

the last job i had didn’t work out. i worked really hard for a very small company, but in the end it just didn’t work out.

it’s ok.

and it’s also an opportunity for me to really think about what the next step for me might be. it’s a good time to sort of take a step back and think about what i’ve done and what i want to do.

and think about the industry in general.

and so, los angeles was a really nice clean-slate kind of a place to do that. to just think. and relax. and not necessarily think about mcqueen, galiano and whether the fashion industry grounds the down the emotions and stability of those who are most influential, and what that means to the rest of us who work in it, and what we want, and aspire to, and can expect from our careers.

nah, i just decided to look at the palm trees…

… and then i boarded the plane, to come back to nyc. and i watched a film called picture me.

and i can't stop thinking about how it kind of connects the dots in the conversation that i've been having with myself about working in the fashion industry. or, connects them at least enough to start to see a shape. unfortunately, not enough to be able to see what the shape actually might become.

i've never been a model. i've never been as recognized or as accomplished as sara ziff, the model that is at the center of the movie. but her experience reminds me so much of what it's like to be a cog in the fashion machine.

we designers who work for someone-whose-name-you-know are just like the models that show the clothes every season- we're replaceable. we fill the slots, the positions that large companies need filled in order to make sure that a certain number of styles are designed, so that a certain number can be produced, so that a certain number can be sold in department stores and boutiques around the world.

it's a job. and it's an amazing job, and it's a fun job. but it's also a job that makes you start to wonder how worthwhile you are if you've not got your own name over the door. if the marquee doesn't have your name in lights. how meaningful are you, if, like sara ziff says- you're only "a prop in someone else's story" instead of "telling your own"?

it's almost like you're not supposed to work in this industry without wanting a name, without the drive to want to see your name up there in lights. it's not enough just to love clothing, shoes, or style. you have to want to win!

why do we all have to want to be a galliano? why isn't there more opportunity for us to tell our own story?

and then we can talk about a lot of practical reasons that it's very difficult for young designers to start their own lines (particularly american ones), but that's boring. and it involves many of the conversations about outsourcing and customs legalities, and all sorts of mundanities that are, nonetheless significant.

but i am starting to come to the conclusion that they're not as significant as many of the psychological boundaries that we've set up for ourselves in this industry. that we've convinced ourselves are the reason that we're not good enough.

because we really can't all be the head designers of a global fashion house. but does that mean that we can't contribute to a conversation about fashion? and style? and culture?

or is the only way to really count in this industry to be a butt in a seat on a design team, or a body* on a runway every september or february, supposedly working our way up to our fabulous pinnacle of being at the "top"? is the only other choice to get burned out, or used up, and give up on fashion all together?

is there no other way to be a part of the conversation?

and that brings me back to los angeles... a blank slate on the fashion landscape. home to a few large, commercial brands, yes. but also home to a number of small (tiny, even) fashion lines and companies that actually survive. who don't have to compete against the guccis and the pradas of the world.

places like iko iko:

where tiny lines share space with tinier works of art, and plants. in a weird and off-the-beaten-path neighborhood called angelino heights, where the store has been thriving for the past two years.

yes, in this economy.

sigh. it seemed pretty god damned dreamy. this is not the side of the fashion industry where the first thoughts are of profit margins, or sell-through. the first thought is of creating work that is authentic and personal.

the pressure of which, i think, is part of what killed lee mcqueen, sent galliano so far over the edge and may have been the reason that christophe decarnin was or wasn't being committed to a mental facility at the same time that his fall collection was shown in paris last month.

i don't think that we can really ask designers to do their best work under these kinds of conditions, and i am wondering if there's another way to work.

fashion has become such a huge spectator sport over the past 15 or so years. i wonder if all of the "fashionistas" out there are really interested in seeing designers put out new ideas and new concepts? are they willing to see a designer try something new, and fail? or do they just want a shiny new celebrity genre to idolize, now that tmz and other media have tarnished the image of every star in hollywood?

we can't be surprised to see our stars fall, if we set the up so high and expect them to deliver the heavens, season after season.

we all love fashion- john galliano, sara ziff and i. and everyone else who is working in the industry. i just kind of wonder why we think the industry will love us back?


so, i haven't answered the question for myself- i haven't exactly been able to figure out what role i want to play in this crazy, fabulous semi-destructive circus of an industry. but i'm glad to think about the questions, and feel like there are other folks out there who are really thinking about what this industry means to the consumer, and what it does to the people who are involved.

i'm hoping there's a middle ground, with some sanity. the likelihood that that sane middle ground actually resides in los angeles seems pretty low.

but, i'm trying to be open to finding it, wherever it may be....

edit: ok, she approached it from a totally different angle, but i think it's kinda funny that garance dore touched on some of these same ideas in her own blog today. (in a much more hilarious, and not so self-indulgent way. if you got through reading all of the above, you can just read her sweeter version in order to clean all that angst off yourself.)

*i recently learned that the word in russian for "model" is the same word as the one for "mannequin". there's no distinction made between the kind that are made of plaster and the kind that are made of flesh and blood. hunh, interesting.


  1. I think that your post can be extended to life in general. There is a sense that we are all meant to be special, have our name in some sort of light. Facebook and Twitter and blogs just heighten that. We can't all be "famous" though. And I think recognizing that being a cog can be just as meaningful to conversations as the stars. We can call carve out small niches and be special within those, even if no one ever knows it. Trying to be special for yourself is the hardest life lesson. I'm nowhere near there, but hope I could be one day.
    You're a star to me, however.

  2. thanks :)
    but what i mean to say here, or, at least, what i'm struggling with is- what if one doesn't want to be a star but still wants to feel a measure of success? or wants to feel creatively fulfilled? personally, i'm much happier NOT being a personality. i know i won't be able to do my best work, if that ever happens....
    but if that's not the goal, how does one ever get support for doing work that seems meaningful?

  3. This was a fascinating post, and it is something I think we can all relate to in life. Like you, I'm not driven by the idea of my name on a door. I just want to be part of something I love and contribute to it in my own way. You wouldn't think it would be so difficult.

    Good luck figuring it all out. Keep us posted. :-)

  4. It's all in how you measure success personally, I suppose. You don't have to be a personality to be a contributor, a creator. You just need to level out your own sense of success with the crap being fed to you by reality shows and the rags.

    But yeah...... I don't know how to get support for doing what is meaningful to you. I think that somewhere, somehow, it'll be meaningful to someone else as well. Kindred spirits, so to speak.