I'm a frantic mess at the moment attempting to pack a month's worth of viable clothing in preparation for my trip as I leave on Tuesday. I almost gave the inaugural Vogue Festival a miss if I'm honest but curiosity got the better of me. If you saw me wandering around the festival's Royal Georgraphical Society venue looking distinctly lost and wild-eyed, it's because there's genuine panic ravaging my brain.
I missed the yesterday's activities (you can read up about it all here and here) and so I headed down today to check out #VogueFest (that's my new name for it given that my entire twitter feed was fully rampant with HASHTAG Vogue Fest activity – whoever is responsible for @BritishVogue's twitter feed should get three gold stars and a Mulberry handbag hanging around in the fashion cupboard). Alexandra Shulman's initiative to bring the magazine to life with this two day "festival" wasn't exactly a surprise nor is it new in the history of print-to-physical events. Vogue Festival follows magazines like Teen Vogue which has made a real experience out of its Teen Vogue University, or Grazia engaging audiences through activities such as working in front of an audience in Westfield shopping centre or holding contests like Fash Factor. As for an actual familiar festival, Dazed & Confused launched Dazed Live last year, which combined a mixture of music acts, talks, film screenings and exhibitions and featured a not-yet-blow-up Grimes performance.
Vogue Festival is understandably a different beast. I can't really call it a "festival" as I understand the word, but it is an impressive gathering of industry heavyweights giving talks and doing Q&A sessions as well as sideline activities like make-overs. It's more like a very polite and educational fashion seminar. At ¬£75 a pop for a each morning and afternoon session, it damn right should be educational and predictably, many of the audience members that I saw were mostly students. Full disclosure, I didn't pay for my ticket and was lucky enough to get a press pass. If i did have to pay, I'd say that the morning session that I saw would have been well worth the moolah, as I got lucky with my trio of events and got to see Tim Walker & Kate Phelan talk through their collaborative work, Q&A's with the Y B D's (young British designers) and a thoroughly entertaining session with David Bailey.
First up, visually I thought perhaps Vogue could have made a better aesthetic use of the space. I'd put that down to this being their first time. Yes, there was Vogue imagery in abundance but it did feel a little flat. What it did do was emphasise Vogue's branding, which I suppose holds enough weight to entrance the audience.
What is a festival without merchandise?
One of the most popular sections at the festival was a photo studio, set up to take people's pictures to be mocked up into a Vogue cover, with make-up provided by Chanel. I liked this well enough but an even better photo opp would be to say try on a piece of Chanel couture or an Alexander McQueen dress for these mock-up covers. Wishful and unfeasible thinking perhaps and yes, I'm a sad act who's nit picking on a Saturday night.
The red lippie station was also quite popular.
Photographer Tim Walker's talk with ex-Vogue fashion editor Kate Phelan (now at Topshop) was so oversubscribed that they had to do it twice as the queue went around the venue. It was worth the wait though as Walker and Phelan took us behind the scenes of some of their most iconic shoots such as Lily Cole in India for the July 2005 issue or Sasha Pivovarova in Northern Russia for the January 2007 issue. If you own Walker's big coffee table tome, Pictures or you have seen a Tim Walker exhibition, you'll be familiar with his fascinating scrapbooks of sketched out shots and reference imagery for every shoot to get those visually stunning results, that remain some of my favourite imagery (not just fashion imagery), of all time. Phelan and Walker recounted stories of working under stressful conditions where you're carrying twelve suitcases on a rowing boat or shooting whilst there's a Russian family punch-up going on in the room.
I learnt a few surprising things such as the fact that Walker shoots entirely on film and that he doesn't rely on any sort of artificial light, reflectors or flash guns. He quite literally chases the perfect daylight to get his shots, which is an incredible feat considering the modern tools at his disposal. Phelan and Walker also grazed the topic of high fashion exotic locale photoshoots and being sensitive to their surroundings. Phelan noted that she didn't like the idea of taking all these luxurious clothes to poor countries and flaunting that contrast. Walker's photographs for me though never take advantage or shine a poor light on whatever far flung location he shoots in though. If anything he's incredibly respectful of where he's going even if he is looking to portray a fantasy and romantic notions of a country rather than a harsh reality. A lovely unexpected touch was when Walker showed us a clip from BBC's Planet Earth of the birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea, which inspired trip there for the Vogue August 2007 spread featuring Iekeliene Stange. It apparently affirmed for Walker why we as humans could be inherently drawn to wearing beautiful things because these male birds of paradise puff up their vividly coloured feathers to attract the females. Notice how the female birds are modestly dressed…
Then we had a fashion take on Question Time. No funny eyebrow moves from David Dimbleby though. We had a host of Young British Designers – Nicholas Kirkwood, Mary Katrantzou, Roksanda Ilincic, Holly Fulton and Henry Holland answer questions from the audience and from Twitter. This mostly consisted of solid business advice from Kirkwood, funny jibes from Holland and a wise words of encouragement from Katrantzou and Kane.
I apologise for this rather demented looking picture of David Bailey. I promise you he was a lot more personable than this picture makes him out to be. I suspect the red facedness was down to a jolly drink or two. Still, that only made for a rollocking session where Bailey candidly went off into wild tangents, averted questions from Vogue features editor Jo Ellison who he was in conversation with and constantly talked about the importance of shooting on a white background, sprinkled with a ton of expletives. A few of my favourite lines…
"Don't ever sign anything over to Conde Nast, Hearst…"
When describing what he's wearing…"This shirt is… what's it called… David Lawrence, no Sarah Lawrence, oh… Ralph Lauren, that's it."
"Cecil Beaton was a great photographer but he was a horrible snob."
What he said to Diana Vreeland once… "I told her she was a blind old bat."
On the rise of digital photography… "Everyone's suddenly Irving Penn now."
Enfant terrible is terribly overused as a phrase but it certainly applies to Bailey, who is a self-confessed megalomaniac. His disarming and direct bluntness though has created some iconic imagery and still does, as he genuinely enjoys the act of engaging in a dialogue-based (unless we're talking about beautiful models in the 60s and 70s) wooing of his subjects, before quickly taking their picture. He says he'd love to take a picture of everyone in the world. "Everyone's got a story."
Oh, and he let slip that he didn't really approve of Karan Gillian playing his ex-lover and model Jean Shrimpton in the stunted-and-vaguely-terrible We'll Take Manhattan film. "I'd rather sleep with him (Aneurin Barnard, the actor who played Bailey)."
The big event of the day was unsurprisingly Tom Ford in conversation with Alex Shulman and it drew the biggest crowd. From the moment he stepped in, there was an audible collective swoon and cooing from the mainly female audience and by the end of the talk, I'm sure a few people hopped over to Harvey Nichols to buy a Tom Ford lippie just because he really did charm the socks off everyone. When answering questions from the audience, he'd flirtatiously say things like "You should show everyone those lips", "You've got a great look" or "You look very Toulouse Lautrec from here". His natural repartee and his fluid approach towards sexuality (he doesn't believe in boxed in terms of "gay" or "straight") really makes you see why Tom Ford has seduced women (and men) with his work at Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and now with his own line and cosmetics brand. Although he did show a bit of a blunt edge as just before the talk he said directly to a Vogue editor "You know, your eyebrows could be a little darker" which is indicative of one of his self-confessed defects – his raging perfectionism. I know. Perfectionism as a personality weakness is a bit of a cop-out. In Ford's case, this perfectionism coupled with his workaholic nature has meant that he is heavily involved with every aspect of his business, from physically starring in and shooting his own campaigns to designing the interiors of his stores to trying on his own cosmetics to see how it feels. "When you buy something with someone's name on it, you should know that they had their hand in it."
The talk peaked and troughed with Ford making some interesting commentary on the fashion industry at the moment as well as having a bit of light hearted banter with Shulman…
Tom Ford: You're not wearing my (nail) polish.
Alex Shulman: No, it's Chanel.
Tom Ford: *Looks at audience and shrugs* I was reading your book.
Inevitably there were questions about Ford's intimate way of showing his collections, which appears to shun the internet and immediate coverage. Ford does concede though that it may not be this way forever even if he feels that fashion has become a "giant snowball rolling down the hill" and that "fashion doesn't need to change as often as it does."
When talking about film and the way he view everything with cinematic reference, that's when Ford really seems empassioned. It seems a second film to follow up A Single Man could be on its way and he's sure to hold audiences once again in his perfect palm (he was hired by one employer on account of his "pretty hands"), just as he did today.
Finally, I stopped off at the How to Customise session with David Koma, J.W. Anderson, James Long and Christopher Raeburn in the hot seats. I do have to say that I wished there was an actual "how to" element to this talk. There was a brief video at the beginning showing quickly how all the designers took their grey marl American Apparel sweatshirts to create their customised pieces but it's nowhere to be found on the internetz and it wasn't exactly explanatory. I suppose the point was to talk up the designers' aesthetic signature rather than showing any actual customisation. There were some great questions directed at the designers though talking about surviving as young designers in London. The gist is that basically London is creatively awesome, there's a lot of camraderie and that Made in Britain needs to be supported. All good sentiments to leave this first edition of Vogue Fest with.
**EDIT** In my midnight posting haze, I should have added a more conclusive paragraph although I was hoping those that went would like to add their thoughts in the comments. Did Vogue Festival succeed as a branding excercise? Yes, and it was clear that the brand resonated highly with those attending as they excitedly queued up to get their mock-up Vogue cover or clutched their Vogue-branded plastic bags of books and merchandise. Did Vogue Festival bring their audience closer into their world and thus was an invaluable experience for those wishing to break into the fashion industry? I think so. The entire editorial staff were onboard helping out in all areas of the event and were up for speaking with guests. The guest speakers were also up for answering questions privately after the talks were finished and Tim Walker and Kate Phelan even looked through prospective photograph portfolios. I'd still conclude that ¬£75 for each morning and afternoon session ticket is a little pricy and may have priced out a lot of other students who wanted to go. Perhaps there should be a student pricing structure set in place, if Vogue do decide to do it again. Like I said though, I speak with a comped press ticket wristband on my arm. I'd like to hear what people who paid and went really thought about it. Answers on postcards!