Showing Off

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Haphazardly finding old repeats of mint documentary on BBC iPlayer (TV and radio) is one of my favourite things to do at the moment.  Under the less-frequented Film section, The British Guide to Showing Off popped up.  I didn’t catch it the first time round when it was released in 2011 but just as I’ve been writing a think piece for a magazine about the corporatisation of fashion, it felt like appropriate viewing.  One line courtesy of Andrew Logan, who’s the main subject of the documentary, lingered on in my head…

“The alternative has been beaten out of people…”

The British Guide to Showing Off documents the anarchic world of eccentric British artist Andrew Logan and his extraordinary Alternative Miss World Show, which has just notched its 13th edition this year.  Director Jes Penstock and producer Dorigen Hammond, followed Logan and his partner as they prepared to mount the 2009 show and interwoven throughout the film are anecdotes and footage from past Alternative Miss World shows dating back to 1972.  Longstanding friends and supporters like Grayson Perry, Sandra Rhodes and Brian Eno pop up with their own AMW tales.  Contestants and patrons have included Leigh Bowery, Stephen Jones, Derek Jarman, David Hockney and Divine.  Logan presides over this congregation of outsiders, often as a half man, half woman ringmaster as contestants go through the conventional daywear, swimwear and evening wear categories in costumes that defy any pageant convention.  The documentary indulges in the event’s doo-lally, camp as Christmas and irreverently British traits as animation and collages are used to present Logan’s archive imagery and film footage.  It’s the video equivalent of an overdecorated and saccharine cake with some madcap flavour combos going on.  In other words, perfect viewing for rose-tinted inspiration of how fun and irreverent the past was.  There’s a danger in overindulging in the zane of it all, but you finish watching, feeling like there is some truth to Logan’s comment about the alternative being beaten out of people today.

If you haven’t seen it, the film is available on indie film pay-per-view site We Are Colony for a mere £3.99 along with extra footage and stills and obviously on BBC iPlayer for free if you’re in the UK (or know how to do clever things with proxy servers…).  Go on.  It’s nearly Christmas.  Work is winding down and the escapism for an hour and a half is well worth it.

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Sore Today, Strong Tomorrow

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I’m generally not the biggest fan of motivational quotes.  You know, the sort that flood social media updates and get people nodding along and saying “Wow, so true!”.  Can people’s complex, multi-layered and situational problems be uplifted and solved with a a snappy, cliche-ridden (and often nonsensical) statement written in a cool Sans Serif font, accompanied by a generic stock image?  The Nike Women’s showcase for S/S 15 in New York was exactly the type of event, from which said motivational statements are borne.  “Just Do It” is arguably the godfather of these sentiments.  They were dotted everywhere at the event and in their line of communication.    Mark Parker, CEO and president of Nike, took to the stage to kick off the showcase last week and said things like “We know how much crossing the finishing line matters but so does the collective joy of that journey.”

Except at Nike, I allow myself to drink all this proverbial kool aid because by physically going from couch potato/sitting lemon to running 5-10k, these are exactly the sort of sentiments that pump through your head whether you want them to or not.  Parker stated some facts that have vast significance to how women at large are changing their lifestyle and why statements like the ones below resonate increasingly.  For the first time, women outnumber men in gym memberships.  Health and fitness apps have grown faster than any other app category.  Nike’s women’s apparel is now worth $5 billion in revenue with a view to growing it to $7 billion by 2017.  With Nike alone, 65 million women engage through social media.  Women have downloaded the Nike+ Training Club app 16 million times.  The Just Do It slogan, which was originally rendered in a blocky heavy font in 1988 – on the occasion of this special showcase dedicated to women, was all brush-stroky and without wanting to give fonts sexual identities, more feminine.

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And so we got a lot of “she” power that was bound to psyche even the hardiest of cynics.  27 powerful and inspiring sportswomen to be precise, which included the likes of marathon legends Paula Radcliffe and Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympics gold medalists Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ,and Allyson Felix and tennis star Li Na.  More importantly it was also a multi-generational line-up that asserted Nike’s position in the women’s activewear – they’ve been doing this for years and they’ll carry on doing it bigger and better than anyone else was the main missive.  It was interesting that I arrived in New York to hear Alexander Wang talk about performance and a lifestyle where gym merges into nightclub and that a woman is ultimately more active today and then towards the end of my trip, Nike were declaring the same.  Only their product has a conviction that is hard to fault.  The fashion world may be trying to get a slice of the fitness pie but how do you gain a woman’s trust when it comes to apparel and footwear that need to support, perform and also look good?

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The looking good was answered with a fashion show – a bit of a surprise move from Nike.  When I interviewed Parker at the event, he once again asserted that fashion is never the primary goal and that it’s the subsidiary effect.  “Often times we solve problems in unique ways that could become fashionable.  It’s not the purpose or the intent to create a fashion statement.  Performance solutions have interesting aesthetic outcomes.”  To debut a collaboration with Brazilian designer Pedro Lourenço in women’s training, both female athletes and models walked the catwalk amongst flora and fauna and new Nike campaign star Karlie Kloss (who admittedly is a bona fide runner, ballet dancer and yoga aficionado) descended from the ceiling on a platform with Joan Smalls, Damaris Lewis and Jeneil Williams behind her.  This was significant on more than one accounts.  There’s much to be said for enticing the female customer with the format of fashion – a show, the models and an editorial worthy campaign.  In this instance though, Nike have worked with Kloss for her fitness credentials though as opposed to her aesthetic ones, which rings true.  If fashion has been co-opting the surface of performance and sportswear without the technological prowess, then Nike can surely flip reverse that and borrow a few things from the fashion world, without compromising what is at the core of their product which is innovation gained from athlete interaction.  “Performance is our foundation ultimately,” said Parker.  “We had 27 athletes today – they’re 27 out of of hundreds, and really out of of millions.  From world class to everyday athletes, we have the ability with them and dig out insights that fuel the innovation.”

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0E5A9715The 1994 Nike Women “Statistics Lie” campaign (which was accompanied by a picture of Marilyn Monroe at the time)

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0E5A9731A showcase of all of Nike’s past achievements with female athletes from Paula Radcliffe’s record breaking marathon time to Cathy Freeman’s hooded “Swift Suit”

Nike’s new womenswear collaborations was the big story of the day but we were also presented with an overview of  S/S 15 product where once again aesthetics took centre stage.  Or to be more specific, the idea that aesthetics and performance can be combined so that you can wear these clothes and go from the gym out to wherever you’re going afterwards.   The printed “tights” (not sure why Nike shirk from calling them leggings) equipped with waistbands and pockets for runners and jazzed up with saturated digital prints that are placed strategically on the body, took centre stage in a myriad of patterns.

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Nike’s Flyknit, three years after its groundbreaking debut is getting wilder in colour palette and being applied to an increasing number of styles such as the popular Roshe (I’m a recent Roshe convert…).  Parker hinted at Flyknit’s yet-to-be-tapped potential for the future.  “The advancement in the type of knitting that we can do in one shoe and to o see where it’s going is incredibly exciting.  It’s in the infancy stage really.  We’ll be able to scan your foot, knit right to your foot… and you’ll see printing and digital technology come together so that the ability to customise will be very exciting.”  Like Apple, people will look to Nike expecting the next big thing, but for Parker, what is “big” to him is to evolve what he already has and move it forward into new realms.  Flyknit’s possibilities within apparel for instance is still something that I personally get excited about.  Watch this Flyknitted space…

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The main “fashion-focused” takeaway from the day would have been Nike’s collaboration with Lourenço, which will soon be available online and is currently in Nike Lab stores now.  One of my questions to Parker was how he chooses collaborators for Nike and more to the point, why doesn’t he go for the obvious (as in the biggest designer likely to generate hype) – “It’s less the name and more the approach to what they do,” he said simply.  Lourenço seems like an idiosyncratic choice from the outside but when he met with Nike, both parties found they had a common interest in innovation and technology.  “I wanted to add a sense of luxury to work out gear and I had always in mind a collection that you could merge elements from two different worlds,” said Lourenço.  Parker is equally effusive.  “In the case of Pedro Lourenço, he comes from a more luxury standpoint.  There is an awareness of performance and to function but he’ll interpret it in a way that makes it more appropriate for moving the clothes into a lifestyle mode.”  Whilst this young Brazilian designer is rethinking the way he presents his own mainline, with Nike he has come up with a beautiful collection that combines his aesthetic with Nike’s technological aspects.  You wouldn’t expect to see nude and black as a colour combo at Nike, leggings with an attached skirt across the front or flocked pixel dots on mesh but Lourenço and Nike collectively came up with a combination detailing and silhouettes that reflect both parties.  This synergy is best seen in a croc embossed neoprene jacket, originally based on a 1960s croc jacket that Lourenço had found, which Nike have transformed into a performance piece.   “Sportswear feels like such a luxury – today, it’s a luxury to being able to test new ways to manufacture clothes and to find function to find new aesthetics,”  The process of working with Nike has also made Lourenço think about the current state of fashion’s manufacture and stagnation.   “As the industry develops itself, it’s a great move for fashion to incorporate more of these elements that I’ve seen at Nike.” said Lourenço.  “Ideally for me, if I think about how fashion is established today, pret-a-porter should become something like high-tech haute couture, mixing the old and the new.  The contemporary market is what people buy and pret-a-porter should be pushing things forward.”  He wasn’t the only one to pass similar comment.  A British fashion journalist, who had never been to a Nike media trip, wondered why the fashion world doesn’t borrow more from a company like Nike.  That points to a bigger discussion about innovation within the industry, which perhaps Nike is instigating.

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unnamedThe entirely reflective outer of Pedro Lourenço’s Nike shoe

Another collaboration that was partially unveiled was even more left field than the one with Lourenço.  Try Googling Joanna F.  Schneider.  You’ll find little about this German designer who has worked for numerous sportswear and activewear brands over the years.  Schneider also works out heavily with a regular regime that means she has developed personal needs and requirements for her clothes.  This is essentially a personal collection of modular pieces that Schneider is connected with, offering something different to the world of women’s training from fold-up capes that can be worn as a warm-up piece to loose culottes with air vents.  We only got a sneak preview here of a few pieces but the full collection will drop in different stages in February and April.  It’s an interesting collaboration to get your teeth into as you wonder why it is Nike would choose to work with someone who is essentially a behind-the-scenes designer.  Basically though, Schneider knows what she’s talking about as someone who regularly works out and wears performance gear and her insight as a designer is more valuable to Nike than having a razzle dazzle profile.  It goes back to this idea of authenticity that Nike emphasises time and time again.

On the subject of collaboration, Parker’s words reveal more about why he chooses the collaborators that he does and why the projects are normally so specific and not in the fashion-norm of going for market-driven hype.  “The most important collaboration is obviously with the athlete but in terms of with fashion and industrial design – you get different perspectives which you might not have gotten on your own, which I love.  We don’t have pre-conceived notions of where things should go when we collaborate.  We don’t try to brief collaborators.  I love this kind of cross-pollination of ideas.  It’s not that the result is something we couldn’t have done but that we might not have done it.”

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Once we had gone around and done our media duties interviewing and taking notes, it was time to move.  I mean, really move.  Truth be told, I had been lagging in a couch potato mode following my New York tech disaster where I basically sat in my hotel room bed, scanning and trying to recover SD cards, watching SATC E! channel marathons and ordering too much room service.  I was desperate to break into a neuron-driven sweat.  Cue a mass collective of 300 media folk participating in a high intensity NTC Live class held at the Cunard Building, a venue that I’m familiar with because I’m normally there attending fashion shows.  This beautiful space was transformed into a church of work-out where you’d look up to see a neon-clad motivators moving atop a digital cube, flanked by more neon-clad work-out instructors.  This is where all that “fitspiration” came in handy, like the one I’ve used as the title of this post, which @NikeWomen tweeted me with.  I did emerge sore and yes, I felt stronger the next day.  Mainly because I hadn’t spent the day wallowing in my bed eating an odd combo of room service fries and longans from Chinatown.  But also because it does strengthen and empower you to see a massive group of people high-fiving each other throughout the session, cheering each other on and yes, feel some vague feeling of sisterhood.  It didn’t matter that we couldn’t follow the instructors’ moves with precision and pace.  It wasn’t about competing with each other or doing this to attain a level of physical perfection that defines who we are.  It’s about doing it for self-gratification and moving to feel good.  Here comes a quote to better summarise the experience.   And it’s a believable one courtesy of basketball star Skylar Diggins.  “It’s not about being the best.  It’s about being your best.”

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To feel that extra bit of soreness that surely means strength is on its way, kitted out in our new Pedro Lourenco pieces and in a more intimate environment, we did an intense modelFIT class.  Dubbed the class in New York that trains Victoria’s Secret models, this class was less about pace but more about stretching out those muscles you never knew you had to sculpt, tone and work on your core strength.  Being a complete newbie to such a class, neon rubber bands, light weights and sliding discs were all a novelty to me.  And my muscles are feeling the pain benefit as we speak.  I’m surprisingly keen to do it again or find something similar in London, to compliment my lonesome runs to M83.  Can you tell that the kool-aid has gone right to my head?  You’ll soon see “Strong alone, unstoppable together” popping up on my Instagram.  Accompanied by a blurry picture of a female group hug of course.

0E5A0111modelFIT – where you work out to the scent of Diptyque candles… 

0E5A0063Lou Stoppard of SHOWstudio wearing her new Pedro Lourenço x Nike jacket well

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P.S. Last time I posted about Nike, a few commenters had a LOT to say about their CSR and sustainability policy.  I have an interesting follow-up as I briefly interviewed Hannah Jones, vice president of sustainable business & innovation at Nike, aka my new favourite person because everything she said at the Nike event and in our interview was so salient and inspiring.  It will continue on from my own take on “Half-Arsed Ethics”.

Molly's Party

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Yesterday at Christopher Kane’s show, for the first time ever (I think) he had written a lengthy press release.  The reason being is that it was dedicated to his former mentor at Central Saint Martins Louise Wilson.  He talked about looking back to the past to get to the future.  Many designers have paid homage to Wilson in the wake of her death in May.  Kane’s was the most prominent as one of Wilson’s starriest proteges.  Spare a thought though for the current crop of MA students at CSM, who lost a key tutor and at a crucial time in their design education.  It’s not just the loss of the tour de force that was Louise but it’s the loss of a guiding educator which will have possible ramifcations on their final year collections, to be presented in February next year.

Molly Goddard won’t be a stranger to some of you.  She was a star graduate of the Central Saint Martins BA course in 2012 and that led to a collaboration with ASOS where her shamelessly whimsical tulle shell dresses were paired with embroidered slip dresses.  After deferring for one year, Goddard embarked on the CSM MA course and was on course to show her final MA collection next February.   After Wilson’s death in May, everything changed.  Goddard decided that she wouldn’t stay on to complete her MA.  And in a matter of months, she left CSM and decided to pull together a collection to show quite casually this season at London Fashion Week.

I say casual.  The clothes were anything but.  Eschewing formal presentation style, Goddard got together a group of her personal friends to wear her collection of beautifully smocked frocks and basically have a fun fun fun party.  No silly posing.  No models looking awkward as they meander around a set.  Just a gang of girls necking beers (for real), chatting,  having a laugh and dancing. Some wore the dresses in shades of coral, duck egg blue and deep yellow on their own.  Some had band t-shirts and jeans underneath.  Like Goddard’s pieces for ASOS, these dresses showed versatility, despite the fact that they are dramatically constructed out of multiple layers of tulle.  Tegan Wlliams, one of Molly’s friends, who I had met on an Elle Collections shoot, is a tomboy in real life but she looked totally at ease all trussed up in voluminous pink.  If you’re not into frou frou, tulle or pink then Goddard has also introduced some really beautiful dark indigo taffeta smocked dresses which were a bit shorter too.

Goddard isn’t quite sure where Molly Goddard – “the brand” – will go next.  She’s sure to have interest from buyers but it’s whether she’s ready for the challenge of setting up her own label, so soon after she’s left education.  In any case I’m grateful for Goddard’s off-off-schedule presence at London.  I loved that it wasn’t entirely serious and that Goddard was kind of winging it.  That’s often when creative expression is at its freeest.  Planning every step meticulously has become the modus operandi for designers everywhere as they’re coached to become brands very quickly.  Less planning and more doing would suffice for me.  In a flurry of two months, Goddard just wanted to create.  And create she did.

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100% Engaged

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Nearly five days and three separate half hour conversations with different editors later and I’m still sort of pondering the Opening Ceremony one act play, 100% Lost Cott, which took place last Sunday evening in a brilliantly conceived reverse set in the Metropolitan Opera House.  The play, directed by Spike Jonze and co-written with Jonah Hill, runs in tandem with the other “happenings” that occurred in NYFW.  Gareth Pugh’s immersive experience courtesy of Lexus.  Ralph Lauren Polo’s holographic projection on the lake in Central Park.  Then the usual slew of performances, parties and goings-ons that are the bloodline of NYFW’s existence.

It all begged the question of whether seeing the clothes in a simple setting is enough to satisfy an audience?  Or do we need the extra bells and whistles now to grab attention, secure that news story and of course add to the social media chatter (I totted it up… over 70% of shows I saw in New York came with a handy hashtag).  Let’s talk OC seeing as I’ve already analysed it to death with peers.  If only I had recorded those conversations.  You might have already read the premise of the play.  Elle Fanning plays a doe-eyed wannabe model new to New York City.  She meets Bella, a self-proclaimed IT girl, played by Dree Hemingway at a fitting for Opening Ceremony.  Humberto Leon and Carol Lim’s characters are given ludicrous alter egos played wonderfully by John Cameron Mitchell and Catherine Keener and Bobby Cannavale plays the tortured stylist.  I’ll give you a few choice lines just to illustrate the gist of the satire

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Bella talking about errr… the arbitrary role of a muse…

“I also do musing – you know, it’s when designers look at you to get inspired.”

Humbeto screaming at Brian, the stylist as they work out final looks…

“Look at this hem – it looks very normal, it looks very safe, it reeks of fear!”

Bella talking about Karlie Kloss’ age…

“She’s in her late early twenties – she’s an old pro!”

… Humberto greets Karlie with…

“Karlie fucking Kloss – tower over me bitch!”

Humberto describing the latest Opening Ceremony collection to Lisa Love, played by Rashida Jones…

“We’re using new technologies to push the boundary of print… and therefore rem… completely different.  Using new technologies is actually… ironic.  It’s very pre-internet and post-nostalgia… errr… post-punk, pre-grunge and totally … pre-Twit-ter.”

Bella breaking down to Julie about the realities of the industry…

“People say you don’t judge a a book by its cover… but when you first meet someone, you totally judge a book by its cover.”

“I’m going to all the parties that I used to look at on my computer.  I’m on the Tumblrs that I used to look at.  It’s so great…but I still feel like shit – it’s just a whole new set of things that make you feel shitty.”

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Vanessa Friedmann took it down with one properly harsh review.  She resented the cliches and the exaggerated silliness of it all.  Another editor I spoke to didn’t appreciate being told off about the fashion industry.  Whilst Hill and Jonze may have amped up the f-bombs and OTT lines to get the laughs but by and large, what they portrayed on stage isn’t too far from the truth.  That people in the industry can be false and disingenuous?  That models feel rubbish at castings when they’re judged for their looks in 30 seconds?  That designers spew made-up drivel when describing their collections? That when you’re bogged down in the industry, what made you love it in the first place can quickly sour and you can become jaded?  Tick, tick, tick and another tick.  Cliches are cliches for a reason and having witnessed all the aforementioned behaviour, albeit maybe in less dramatic fashion,  there were surely a few people squirming in their seats.

The most telling set of lines in the play belonged to ditz-slash-sage young Julie.  She had this set of options for the suffering Bella…

“One you quit.

Two, you change the way the whole fashion world thinks, behaves and acts.

Three, you stay and just enjoy the moments that you love.  Maybe just ignore all the bad parts.”

One suspects that option three is what we all do as we trundle along.  The system is too big and too set in its ways to change in its entirety and you can only do your part to contribute positively.  It wasn’t a telling off.  It was merely a reminder that we all need to check ourselves from time to time and that yes, laughing at ourselves can only be a good thing.

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But the clothes?  What of the clothes?  Well, does Opening Ceremony, a brand that had only recently began to show really need to spell out the clothes in minute detail?  The gist was clear enough.  Pre-internet graphics and bygone faded pastel colours placed on easy-to-wear silhouettes.  They definitely spell themselves out when they’re on the rails.  What they excel at is the happening, the vibes, the associations, the people, the connections and well… the coolness of it all.  I’d whine if I felt like I was being told “I am way cooler than thou” which is all too easy, when you have that much cool clout in your arsenal, but I just emerged out of the play thinking “I really enjoyed that.”  And days later, it’s still on my mind.  How many shows at NYFW can say they achieved the same thing?

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From a play that deliberately did all it can to showcase a collection to a performance that purposely had no clothes at all and you get another piece of food for thought that is entirely refreshing during fashion week.  Olivier Saillard’s performance pieces are extraordinary.  They celebrate an essence of fashion that perhaps more and more people forget about.  Remember the incredible Impossible Wardrobe performance featuring Tilda Swinton?  Saillard came to New York and categorically floored the editors, who took a break from usual show routine to sit at Milk Studios for this forty minute performance

As with the Opening Ceremony play, I wondered what fashion “happening” can actually sustain a jaded fashion industry’s attention span for more than half an hour.   Saillard certainly had his audience spellbound as he had former French supermodels – Anne Rohart, Charlotte Flossaut, Axelle Doué, Christine Bergstrom, Claudia Huidobro, Amalia Vairelli, and Violeta Sanchez – all inhabit garments that they modelled for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia and Comme des Garcons.  

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Dressed in black tights and black polo necks, we were invited to imagine as they described and made gestures to suggest every item of clothing.  For instance Vairelli’s hands would hold the collar of her YSL Le Smoking suit down with an assured strut.  Huidobro kicked off her heels in a dramatic motion when reenacting an early Comme des Garcons show – “No heels!” she declared.  Axelle Doué recounts what Madame Grès said about her in 1980: “Too tall, too curvy, too much bottom!” whilst moving her way down the seams of a draped dress which instantly gave her this elegant gait.  

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These women really knew those clothes.  They also recalled the designers well and had real lasting relationships with them.  They weren’t anonymous faces walking in and out of a conveyor belt of casting calls.  Their presence was powerful and the fact that Saillard chose the specific designers and garments that he did only serves to emphasise that model slash muse was an intensive and immersive experience back then.  In every interview I’ve done with Saillard, he always has on-point comments about today’s overstuffed fashion week calendars that lack conviction and he has a similar viewpoint about today’s indistinguishable faces on the runway.   You could tell that these models weren’t faking it.  They really made us feel physically entranced by the clothes they were embodying, present in spirit and in our heads.  There was even one instance when just as Rohart began to move, I had already guessed what designer she was talking about… it had to be Dior by John Galliano.  It was something in the fantastical sensuality conveyed in her hands and the expression on her face.

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To form a conclusion to this performance, this power bevy of former models walked up and down in unison, smirking at each other.  Was it the competition and rat race nature of modelling today that inspired this?  Then each model lay an image of themselves in their younger model glory years on the floor and looked at it longingly.  They remembered those moments with crystal clear vision and together with Saillard, who orchestrated the whole thing, they gave themselves a voice.

It felt like an indulgence to take up two opportunities arising during New York Fashion Week, to think about fashion, not in terms of silhouettes, colour and trends but its ethics, practises and schools of thought.  There are mountains of clothes everywhere but a chance to really think about the industry that we proclaim to love is a luxury indeed.