After the inaugural Vogue Festival organised by British Vogue had ended last year, people were already asking when the dates for the next one had been set, such was the success of that first fesival, which I reviewed here. It has been a year for Cond√© Nast to expand their scope beyond publishing magazines – a ¬£20m investment in FarFetch.com, a fully fledged Cond√© Nast College that is offering Vogue Fashion diplomas and certificates (yes, my eyebrows did shoot up when I saw the tuition fees figures… will investigate further…) – and now a second Vogue Festival has just come to an end. In essence the structure was similar to last year – a series of talks and discussions with a stellar line-up of speakers, a Cover Shoot set-up where everyone gets to play with the latest bits of S/S 13 Chanel (lots of hula-hoop and lego bag action) and get a faux-Vogue cover, beauty and hair stations, a Vogue Shop with plenty of merch (this time it was the humble grey sweatshirt that got the Vogue treatment and they were flying off the shelves) and one-to-one time with Vogue staffers and industry figures on topics of styling, writing and modelling. Except everything was greatly amplified by the new venue of South Bank Centre, with its much larger capacity, with over 9,000 tickets sold this year (most talks sold out within an hour of going on sale despite each talk costing ¬£45 a ticket) compared to the 2,000 last year. Vogue's editorial images wrapping around the foyer windows contrasted beautifully with the brutalist architecture of Queen Elizabeth Hall and the attached Purcell Room. There was more merch than before with coffee cup holders, Versace tees, Coach clutches and like I said, a Gap grey sweatshirt, doing brisk business.
The mood was more serious too. Last year, it felt like there were many lighthearted fashion enthusiasts present who simply wanted to pick up a goodie bag, get a free makeover and maybe drop into a talk or two. They were many of that type of Vogue festival-goer here this year too but I noticed a lot more networking, business-card swapping and "industry" led questioning in the talks that gave the weekend more of a professional vibe. There were times when Vogue Festival could also be called Vogue Careers Fair because of the abundance of students and those starting out in the industry, who really were after solid advice, The number of "How do I start my own business?" questions in the talks seemed to reflect an entrepeneurial spirit of the times – if companies aren't hiring, then perhaps we need to take matters into our own hands. Personally, I had had many people come up to me with quite indepth fashion career dilemmas in equal measure to those that just wanted a selfie photo taken (note to self: say NO to selfies – you SUCK at them!)
What of the talks though? First up, thanks to everyone who bought tickets to see me, Anna dello Russo and Garance Dore basically have a good old natter up on stage because we have known each for a long time. The topic was supposed to be about street style but it rather veered off course to blogging and the digital sphere in general. Deputy editor of Vogue Emily Sheffield was doing all the questioning and it was good to cover some bases – why street style felt like this whole new language from the perspective of Anna, who has been in the industry for a long time, why blogs became popular, how it's changing now with both Garance and myself musing about feeling the need to stay excited about what we do. Alas, with an hour's worth of chit-chat and questioning, it's never going to be super in-depth. I could bang on and on for hours on the subject with the risk of it boring those that aren't bloggers or in digital media but Vogue Festival isn't really the correct platform for that sort of discussion. It will be interesting whether Vogue adds more specific topics regarding digital to next year's line-up.
Mega highlight of the day was getting our portrait taken by *gasp* David Bailey, who hates Twitter, doesn't understand how bloggers make a living and thinks I look a little bit like Penelope Tree. Cue a lot of "Fuck this", "Fuck that" banter, which was highly amusing. To Bailey, we were "Italy" (Anna), "America" (Garance – she kept explaining she was French but lived in NY but all the same…) and "China" (Me) and we were jigging around to Sixto Rodriguez's I Wonder for Bailey to nail the shot.
It was once again an impressive group of speakers on a wide range of topics, which sadly may not have hit the nitty gritty of the weighty subject matter at hand. Issues such as sustainability, body dysmorphia in fashion and how to be a fashion designer are almost too broad to cover off effectively in an hour. Similarly the designer profile talks were also never going to wade too deep although some speakers were better than others at warming up the audience and getting positive reactions. As a journalist or someone within the industry, you might not have learnt anything that was particularly new from the talks but for students, those starting out in the industry and enthusiasts, there were definitely heaps of key points to take away to then plant further seeds about their careers and their own particular interest in fashion. The one-to-one seminars with the likes of Francesca Burns and Jaime Perlman from Vogue, Erin O'Connor and model bookers were also a brilliant addition to the talks, as you could get advice in a less intimidating setting compared with say standing up with a mic and voicing your question in a big theatre. Here are my personal take-away points from the talks that I did go and see.
So You Think You Want to be a Designer? (with J.W. Anderson, Erdem, Mary Katrantzou and Jonathan Saunders) – It's always good to hear about how solid London's fashion industry is now looking with these starry names headlining LFW and interesting to hear them speak with language such as "we" and "our" – they're building brands that potentially could by eyed up by conglomerates and they're in it for the long haul.
Can Fashion Change the World? (with Livia Firth, Katherine Hamnett, Tom Craig and Vivenne Westwood) – This talk could have been broken up into so many sub topics – how fashion is connected with culture, issues of sustainability, organic materials in textiles, the effects of fashion on the environment and most pertinently labour conditions, as Katherine Hamnett pointed out in her powerful and short presentation, relating to the recent factory fire in Bangladesh. Her words rang loud, true and clear and as she said, let's hope that now is the turning point in the industry.
Natalie Massenet: The Woman Who Changed the Way We Shop - My favourite of both days and you already know why.
Victoria Beckham: My Fashion Life – I like the way Vicky B is super conscious about emphasising the fact that she is very involved in every process of her business but at the same time, you wish she could let her guard down a bit. We already know she's a successful designer with growth year on year and it still feels like she wants to prove her position within the industry, when in fact she doesn't really need to. I liked it best when she got a bit cute or funny with the crowd.
The Secrets of Creating a British Brand (with Anya Hindmarch, Jonathan Akeroyd, Christopher Kane and Tamara Mellon) – An unsurprisingly business-focused panel with some great questions at the end. It's well-timed with Kering Group (still can't get used to that…)'s investment in Kane's brand and so there were a lot of PPR/Kering questions – it was nice to see Akeroyd, CEO of Alexander McQueen give his perspective as someone we a) don't hear a lot about and b) has witnessed the transformation of McQueen during the difficult period of Lee McQueen's death and Sarah Burton's subsequent appointment. I liked the discussions about what inherently makes a brand "British" and someone in the audience quite rightly asked whether a product that is designed by British designers, but made overseas can be called "British". Mellon answered in affirmative. "As long as the thought process and creativitity is British, then it's British." Oh, and to answer the burning question of why Kane hasn't got a website? They haven't had the time or resources to devote to web but they will have one eventually.
Too Fat Too Thin…Will we ever be content? (with Christa d'Souza, Daisy Lowe, David Gandy and Patsy Kensit) - Alex Shulman introduced this talk by emphasising that this wasn't a discussion about ideal bodies in fashion but how we as women (and men) personally relate to the subject of weight. This for me skirted the issue of what exactly is the media's responsibility in this (excuse the pun) heavy topic but it was nice to take away the message that we as women in particular, need to love ourselves and have more respect for our sex so that we can have a less fractured relationship with our image and body shape. It was a conversation that could have gone on for hours judging by the questions.
Alber Elbaz: The Dream and Reality of Fashion - Undoubtedly of all the talks, Alber Elbaz got the loudest cheers and the most number of spontaneous bouts of applause. He is a natural charmer and like I said before, even backstage after his shows, serious buttoned-up journalists swoon at his feet, enraptured by his thoughtful answers. He's a great story teller and has a cheeky sense of humour which were instant crowd-pleasers. Lines such as "I love first class but I hate the people travelling in it. I prefer coach." and "I wanted to ask my psychiatrist why I can't ever resist a sandwich." were always going to be memorable. Elbaz got serious though when talking about his respect for process, craftsmenship and the "hands" that make clothes. He was also balanced and diplomatic when asked what he thought about Hedi Slimane's work for Saint Laurent, having worked with him previously, insisting that Slimane needed time to settle into the house.
As a final word, I do have to apologise for being a bit out of it if you tried to speak to me. I was battling with a cold, intermittent hearing and a croaky voice this weekend. It felt like I was walking around wrapped up in plastic so most of the Vogue Festival hustle and bustle was a bit of a muffled blur for me. I tried to combat the illin' with some tried and tested neon hues, thanks to one of my favourite vintage pieces from Merchant Archive, a Stella McCartney jumper (thanks Net-a-Porter Premier – you are TOPS) and my Six London collab shoes.