Aqua may have been on to something back in 1997. Their song “Barbie Girl” and its cheeky lyrics riled up Mattel so much so that they subsequently tried to sue Aqua’s record label for tarnishing the reputation of their most precious commodity. Fast forward fifteen years and Mattel are perhaps slyly acknowledging that maybe lead singer Lena Nystrøm had a point when she was sarcastically singing, “Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please.” Barbie doesn’t need Ken or any other male equivalent. And he sure as hell isn’t going to “make” her do anything. She is her own woman. Thus sets the scene for Sophia Webster‘s latest collaboration with Barbie, accompanied by a film and a look book starring Colombian singer/songwriter and Kali Uchis and a gang of Rinse FM girls, shot by Sharna Osbourne.

Back in May I went along to follow Webster’s own Barbie World and shoot behind the scenes. As Uchis switched from marabou-trimmed negligee to pleather leopard to Clueless-esque uniform (well done to Louby McLoughlin on her most excellent styling), it was clear that she was in control of all that pink that she was swathed in. The big *gasp* news is that Webster has given Barbie her first pair of flats. Not just flats but Webster’s Riko high-top trainers, doused in pastel and glitter so that her impossibly teetering tip-toe-y feet can get some respite. A self confessed Barbie aficionado, Webster didn’t stray too far off-piste though. There are sky high heels too, adorned with butterlies, bows, Webster’s signature speech bubbles and yes, plenty of that plastic fantastic.

Yet at the same time, Webster is adept at subverting those saccharine surfaces and the very act of indulging in candy-like shoes.  Her house is filled with pastel painted enlarged Barbie-esque house furniture, plenty of tulle tutus and of course, a ton of shoes.  Everything is hyper girly but Webster’s surfaces and aesthetic take on a different tone when worn with the right attitude.  That’s where Uchis and the Rinse FM crew come in giving more sass than sweetness.  Uchis, with her Latino/LA drawl and impossibly blonde beehiveis, was transplanted like a powder pink alien into the heart of the East End in London, as she and her girl gang hung out in Walthamstow institution pie and mash shop L. Manze and psychedelic sweet shop down the road (where you can find every flavour of Nerds in existence!).  The result is a trippy Super 8 meandering short shot by Osborne.  It’s Webster’s London colliding with Uchis’ genuine first time experience of these places.  Even I hadn’t been to a pie and mash shop in…. forever.  I loved that the girl working behind the counter at L. Manze was a veritable customer of Webster’s.  It’s easy to see how her shoes would appeal to a crowd beyond insider fashionistas.  And you can bet that women, whether they’re channelling their inner Barbie Girl or not, will be clamouring for these shoes.

Barbie x Sophia Webster available at Selfridges (London and Manchester) and on SophiaWebster.com now

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There are more pros than cons to having a boyfriend, who also writes in the digital fashion-y realm and.  The occasional con being that once in a while, we’ll find ourselves arguing about the most pointless and irrelevant (to our relationship that is) topics such as disagreeing over Ryan McGinley’s aesthetic or whether FKA Twigs’ i-D cover did in fact spawn baby hair mayhem.  The pros are though whilst weathering jet lagged sleeping patterns together in New York, we can get productive and spur each other on in our writing endeavours.  That’s how this article on i-D about the parallels between elite football managers and fashion’s top creative directors came about.  Steve typing away at the desk in our hotel room and reading his draft out loud to me.  Me interjecting with opinion and alternative turns of phrases from the shower.  Team work.  Yay!

I don’t normally repost other people’s content but technically I had more than a hand in this piece and plus… when do I ever get to indulge in my dual love of football and fashion simultaneously on the blog?

I’ve augmented the original article with two extra bonus manager-designer pairings because I just couldn’t help myself…

A game of two halves, an industry of two seasons.  Creative director musical chairs could similarly be compared to the shuffling of football managers.  At the top of the league of football’s premier competitions and in the crown jewels of fashion conglomerates, those positions are tenuous, enveloped by gossip, fraught with fear of dismissal and increasingly short term in their outlook of success.

Today, something as seemingly straightforward as kicking a ball into the net and constructing covetable clothes are propelled by the bottom line. It’s not entirely clear what the total size of the Premier League economy actually is, but it’s thought that its income tax and national insurance contribution alone is worth more than £1.3 billion per year to the British government and the Premier League recently sold television rights to its games for a record £5.136bn, 71% above last time.  Dwarfing those figures, in the UK alone, sales of clothing and footwear is expected to reach £19 billion by 2010.  Not short change then.

Ultimately, two crafts have evolved into billion pound industries and are now driven by similar shape-shifting beasts.  The result?  The merry-go-rounds of talent of creative directors and managerial makeweights are accelerating at an alarming rate.  Both worlds are besieged with rumour because they are beset by an insatiable appetite for newness.  The switching, shuffling and shifting of suits and signatures is expected, encouraged even.  As the betting hots up about who will replace Alexander Wang at Balenciaga, elsewhere odds tighten the noose around a manager’s neck whose team has struggled at the beginning of a new season – look at Sunderland’s Dick Advocaat for instance.  Last season, out of the twenty competing clubs in the English Premier League, a total of six managers lost their jobs, while Sam Allardyce, Dick Advocaat (who rejoined Sunderland), and John Carver left their posts following the final game.  And in fashion, the changes are even more dramatic.  From Frida Giannini’s premature exit at Gucci to Christophe Lemaire bidding adieu to Hermes and Marco Zanini stepping down at Schiaparelli to John Galliano’s triumphant return at Margiela, the last twelve months have been a roller coaster of fashion power moves with more intrigue yet to come.

“We live in a time now where the trend in our society is to always want something new,” noted Arsène Wenger, Arsenal’s manager of 19 years, “I still believe that longevity and cohesion and the history and the values of a club have to be carried by someone.”  He was discussing the management of football’s elite club but his words could easily be tweaked and applied to your favourite fashion houses. Both managers and designers today are well aware of the job requirements and expectations before they sign the dotted line.  Each have seen creative and tactical geniuses fall, and they understand that fashion is no longer just about creation but also about transactions, and football is not just about trophies but profit.

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Karl Lagerfeld and Arsène Wenger

Despite the whiff of Yves about his appearance, Arsène is Karl. Beyond the impressive longevity of their current positions in industries used to seeing such upheaval (Karl has been at Chanel since 1983 whilst Arsène has been at Arsenal since 1996), their shared proficiency of foreign tongues (Karl speaks seven, Arsène six), and their Franco-German heritage, it’s their philosophical pronouncements that see them paired here.  Both a press conference with Arsène and an interview with Karl, is an entertaining and enthralling duel.  The press love them both, because they’re intelligent, articulate and – crucially – always willing to share their opinion.  Each possess a wit and wisdom that extends far beyond the atelier and football pitch, with statements popping up like offbeat news flashes.  Don’t believe?  Here’s a selection of quotes from them – can you decipher who said what? (answers below but don’t cheat!)

1) “There is nothing worse than bringing up the ‘good old days.’ To me, that’s the ultimate acknowledgment of failure.”

2) “If you eat caviar every day it’s difficult to return to sausages.”

3) “I’ve always known that I was made to live this way, that I would be this sort of legend.”

4) “Any man who concentrates his energies totally on one passion is, by definition, someone who hurts the people close to him.”

5) “Nobody has enough talent to live on talent alone. Even when you have talent, a life without work goes nowhere.”

6) “The only love that I believe in is a mother’s love for her children.”

7) “The biggest things in life have been achieved by people who, at the start, we would have judged crazy. And yet if they had not had these crazy ideas the world would have been more stupid.”

8) “I am never satisfied with myself and that is what keeps me going – I have no post-satisfaction.”

9) “Why should I stop working? If I do, I’ll die and it’ll all be finished.”

10) “Retirement? Yes, it crosses my mind sometimes but for no longer than five seconds because I panic a little bit.”

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Hedi Slimane and José Mourinho

These two divisive figures court controversy and appear to thrive on the power of conflict.  At Chelsea and Saint Laurent respectively, their influence extends beyond the locker room and studio as they each have complete control.  “Every single detail seems important,” Hedi Slimane confessed in a recent interview with Style.com. “It is about consistency, an aesthetic equation that needs constantly to evolve.  It is quite overwhelming to design all those elements, but if the house wants to keep a distinct voice there is no other choice.  Every single block, from design to communication, needs to stay perfectly aligned.”  José Mourinho follows a similar mantra and his recent outburst around his medical team disobeying his orders to fulfil their job requirements, suggests that he dictates what happens both on and off the pitch.   Ultimately, both are fascinating characters that demand examination, which makes them a dream to write about.  As often as Slimane will seemingly take offence to a review and blacklist critics, Mourinho will storm out of press conferences.  They crave attention.  Their philosophies align too.  Despite their triumphs (Mourinho’s trophy cabinet is so full that he tosses runner’s up medals at the crowds and Saint Laurent’s sales figures defy the gravitational pull of industry trends and continue to skyrocket), they are criticised for succeeding in the wrong way.  Mourinho’s Chelsea team are often accused of parking the bus (a term coined by himself that refers to overly defensive play) and the major fashion critics seem to have a love-hate relationship with Hedi’s product-heavy, retail-friendly designs.  Success might outweigh theatre at times but they are far from a dull pair.

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John Galliano and Louis van Gaal

Both have achieved so much in their glittering careers but are relative unknown quantities in their new positions.  Whilst Van Gaal struggled in his first season at Manchester United and Galliano’s Margiela debut had positive yet subdued reviews, the feeling that either sheer triumph or complete disaster lurks around each corner, follows these two powerhouses.  Every possible action and eventual outcome is analysed to death.  Will Galliano take his bow at the end of the runway?  Will Louis Van Gaal make sense at a press conference?  Will both come good at their respective positions?  Who knows?  One thing is for certain, these are two to watch.

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Raf Simons and Pep Guardiola

These two are paired, not just because they are my two man crushes but because they both evolved by challenging themselves in new positions.  As Raf Simons moved to Dior and Pep Guardiola to Bayern Munich, the pressures, demands and expectations of their new endeavours have pushed them even higher.  Whereas Simons has challenged himself by adding haute couture to his oeuvre, Guardiola is pushing for Bayern’s bid to win the Champions League.  They are without doubt, the two leaders of their fields, seducing all that cross their paths.  Hugely likeable, they manage to combine commerce and success with style and panache, they are critic proof, golden boys.  Watch and learn in wonder.

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Alessandro di Michele and Luis Enrique

Both were recently promoted from back-room staff into the top jobs and excelled under the weight of the heightened expectation.  Whilst high profiles names were linked to the vacant positions at Gucci and Barcelona, the hierarchies of both powerhouses plumped for new and unfamiliar faces.  Di Michele joined Gucci in 2002, initially working in London with Tom Ford, working in the shadows and quietly impressing the powers that be.  Likewise Enrique joined Barcelona initially as a versatile midfielder in 1996 before returning to taking the reigns at Barcelona B in his first managerial position.  Both are seeing the fruits of their successful seasons with Gucci recently announcing on-the-rise profits and Barcelona coming off the back of a treble-winning season.

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Jonathan Anderson and Brendan Rodgers

Ignoring the fact that Brendan Rodgers and Jonathan Anderson are both from small towns in Northern Ireland, what unites these two are their perceived youth and comparatively rapid ascent to the upper echelons of their fields.  They both started their managerial and design careers in 2008 and currently Rodgers is manager of Liverpool,  one of the world’s biggest clubs that comes heavy with history and Anderson is helming Loewe, a once-traditional Spanish house belonging to LVMH.  They might be “young” (at 42, Rodgers is actually one of the youngest managers around) but they’re ambitious and their new “projects” are intriguing to say the least as Rodgers attempts to mould a Liverpool team to his system and Anderson’s dramatic overhaul of Loewe is nothing short of astonishing.  And yet the proof in the pudding remains to be seen, as Rodgers awaits his first trophy at Liverpool and it’s still too early to tell whether Loewe has become a commercial success.  Time will tell.

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Marc Jacobs and Jürgen Klopp

What do you do when you’ve achieved success by building something up from scratch?  You leave on a high and bide your time until the right gig comes along.  Jürgen Klopp was responsible for guiding Borussia Dortmund from mid-table mediocrity to two Bundesliga wins before announcing last year that he would be taking a sabbatical from football management.  Louis Vuitton had no ready to wear entity before Marc Jacobs came along in 1997 and injected his own pop cultural zest with successful collaborations with Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami.  After handing the LV reins over to Nicolas Ghesquière, Jacobs has been concentrating on his own brand.  You get the feeling though that Jacobs is waiting for the house of his dreams to come along just as Klopp might be flying solo before a big enough club comes a calling.  The rumours have circulated that Jacobs could wind up at Chanel, and Klopp at Arsenal when the current incumbents retire.  Further down the line, one manager-designer pairing might well replace another.

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Yves Saint Laurent and Alex Ferguson

As the clock chimes midnight and the mists roll in at the Theatre of Dreams, home of Manchester United Football Club and along the Rive Gauche in the 8th arrondissement where YSL’s ateliers once stood, you can see the ghosts of these two icons haunt the halls of their respective houses.  Like rattling chains and cries of “boo,” their achievements terrify all that attempt to follow in their footsteps.  Every successor is, and will forever be, compared to the greatness achieved by these two luminaries.  All you have to do is look into the eyes of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal or Stefano Pilati and Hedi Slimane, and see that it’s a tough mantle to bear.  After all, It ain’t YSL without Yves and Sir Alex Ferguson had the power to make the impossible dream a reality.

Answers to the Karl Said/Arsène Said quiz:

Karl Lagerfeld – 1, 3, 6, 8, 9
Arsène Wenger – 2, 4, 5, 7,10

Original text mostly by Steve Salter for i-D with a few adjustments/additions by me.  Messy byline but that’s the truth.

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There are few instances from the last decade that I can recall where a fashion collection has truly gone viral in reality.  By “viral” I mean actually spotting multiple instances of one fashion collection on the streets – and by “streets”, I don’t mean Tommy Ton’s street style images shot in the heightened environment of fashion weeks.  I mean sightings on yer’ average street, occurring in mathematically improbable numbers.  One such example that struck me this week was the perceivable popularity of Gosha Rubchinskiy’s A/W 15-6 “Sport” collection.  Or to use the Russian and Chinese characters, which are a central graphic focus of the collection – Спорт or 運動. 

Specifically, it’s the t-shirts and hoodies featuring a mash-up of the Russian and Chinese national flag, which then segues into a Tommy Hilfiger logo riff-off that have been selling like hotcakes.  Pieces bearing Rubchinskiy’s AW15 headline graphics on Oki-Ni, Goodhood and of course Dover Street Market (Rubchinskiy’s production is supported by Comme des Garçons) are all showing up as Sold Out.  At Machine-A in Soho, owner Stavros Karelis was also reporting an insane hunger for the collection, with the t-shirts being the first pieces to sell out.  When I popped in for a fringe trim at The Lounge, my hairdresser Mark was also expressing his love of all things Gosha, tipping me off on to sites where one could still get hold of key pieces (I learnt that The End, based in Newcastle upon Tyne of all places, has also bought into the collection).  And just in case you think Rubchinskiy’s appeal is contained within trendy areas of London, lo and behold, in my own hood of the humble Seven Sisters, Steve spotted a Gosha-clad lad.

An interest in Rubchinskiy’s work has been bubbling up for a few years now amongst an in-the-know menswear crowd.  His ability to articulate his post-Soviet upbringing and Muscovite youth subculture into his clothes has opened a wearable gateway into a society that is largely unknown to the West.  A post-Cold War Eastern Bloc fascination if you will.  In Rubchinsky’s 運動 Спорт graphics, throwing China into this superpower mix only strengthens the visual message.  These are two countries who have both used the arena of sports as a way of demonstrating their prowess on the world stage, which Rubchinskiy then juxtaposes with a play on the Tommy Hilfiger logo.  And so in one fell swoop sums up the present state of affairs where two countries with former communist ideologies now openly embrace capitalism.

Is that therefore the reason of appeal of these graphic t-shirts?  Is the socio-economic-political significance behind Rubchinskiy’s collections even relevant to feverish buyers?  One could also argue that the reasonable price points make these pieces a boon to buy.  The buying demographic also segues with other male-centric street wear hoarding waves (Supreme, BBH, Kanye x adidas – anything that causes block long queues).  Rubchinskiy’s work deserves deeper analysis, especially when combined with his preoccupation with underground Russian subculture, but the rise of people emblazoned with his Sino-Russo flag?  It comes down to that simple but inexplicable reasoning behind most trends: “It’s just cool, innit?” 

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>> eBay crawling is a dangerous slippery slope.  eBay crawling at 3am in the morning when you’re awake with jet lag having just landed into New York leads you from looking at things that you actually wanted (search terms “Balenciaga runway”, “Junya Watanabe” and “John Galliano”) to looking at things you never knew you wanted… like these Disney Parks shoe ornaments.  No, Disney haven’t collaborated with a ton of shoe designers to create these bijoux tributes to both well known and obscure characters.  For a few years, their in-house team have been creating little 3 x 3.5 inch ornaments, applying glitter, jewels and princess/villain appropriate embellishments, so much so that you could well be tricked into thinking that were these a real adult shoe, you’d be tempted into spanking more than the $22 that these little trinkets cost (you can buy them exclusively at Disney Parks and resorts).

From an initial eBay search, I then found rabid Disney merch aficionado sites like Disney Fashionista or this crazily detailed Flickr profile, where sentences like “I started singing “Colors of the Wind” as soon as I saw this Pocahontas runway shoe” and “(This) shoe is one that has nuances the non-Disney lover may not notice” are par for course.  Those nuances may well be lost on the majority of non-Disney loving people but the actual aesthetic make-up of these mini shoe-jects are fascinating.  Over the top, garish and almost grotesque, they remind me of over decorated crazily coloured cupcakes that I wouldn’t ever actually want to put in my mouth.  Excepting perhaps the Cruella DeVille  pointy pump and the Mulan flower sandal, were these to be enlarged and made into a wearable reality,  the overwhelming kitschness would probably deter me from wearing them for real.  Then again, the same could be said for many of the OTT shoes that I’ve collected over the years (Giles AW 08 bolted heels?  Meadham Kirchhoff S/S 12 glitter layer cake platforms?) bought for far more than $22, that now languish on my shelves as nothing more than pretty objects.  Perhaps diverting my decorative shoe fixation to these little plastic charms wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.*

*3am crazy cola-fuelled jet lagged brain speaking

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