The Business of Fashion Podcast
Robin Givhan on the US Capitol Siege and Vogue’s Kamala Harris Cover

Robin Givhan on the US Capitol Siege and Vogue’s Kamala Harris Cover

January 14, 2021

Speaking with Imran Amed, the Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large shares her thoughts on the controversially ‘familiar’ image of the vice president-elect, and explains where it sits within the wider political climate of the United States as it is due to enter a new chapter.

When the cover of American Vogue’s February issue leaked on Saturday, January 9, a flurry of controversy ensued. Many took to social media to deride the image of vice president-elect Kamala Harris, lensed by Tyler Mitchell, for its casual styling, unflattering lighting and lack of gravitas. The criticism focused on the argument that the portrait lacked the stately deference they believed such a political figure — not least the first Black, South Asian female vice-president — should command.Among those to share their thoughts was Robin Givhan, The Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large who penned a column on January 11 in which she said “the cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect… It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation.” Givhan, who became the first fashion writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2006, sat down with Imran Amed in the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, to further discuss the cover’s significance and the wider tumultuous landscape of US politics. 
  • Debating Harris’ portrait is about more than just a critique of the technicalities and production value of a fashion glossy. Its release comes at a time of political division and fraught race relations, just days after a violent right-wing mob stormed Washington D.C.’s Capitol building, an event incited by President Trump, who now faces a second impeachment for his involvement in the incident. “The last few years have been an exhausting, emotionally draining time,” said Givhan. “I was very surprised that [the cover] became such an issue. I was really stunned that people were so exercised about it. When you think about it, it’s [like] pain from a thousand papercuts, and this was the 1001st papercut.”
  • The informality of the image chosen for the print cover carries greater historical significance and weight. Vogue and Anna Wintour defended it as an extension of the Biden-Harris campaign’s platform of accessibility, which Givhan described as a “legitimate” point of view. But, she said, “I think that the upset is rooted not so much in the current moment but its history. Throughout history, Black women in particular were not given the kind of respect that white women were. People had this familiarity with Black women that was not about friendship and equality but was condescending. Understanding the complicated nature of that would give one pause in presenting the first female vice president — a Black woman — in that way.”
  • While the alternative digital cover image, which depicts Harris in a more presidential light and formal style, offers some reprieve, this print issue has significance as a cultural souvenir (“you can’t give a screengrab to your grandchildren,” said Givhan), and there is no real opportunity for a do-over. “There’s no way to make people happy,” said Givhan, adding that it’s important to instead listen to criticism and “recognise where things went astray” in allowing this misstep to happen. “You just have to do better the next time, and the time after that and the time after that.”

External clips courtesy of Good Morning America and ABC7 News

 

Related Articles:
Anna Wintour Speaks on VP Cover Controversy, Amazon and Diversity Efforts
The Risks and Rewards of Dressing American Politicians 

 
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Big Tech’s Threat to Fashion

Big Tech’s Threat to Fashion

January 12, 2021
It’s hard to imagine running a successful brand in 2021 without advertising on Instagram, buying search ads on Google or selling on Amazon. At BoF VOICES, H&M’s Christopher Wylie and venture capitalist Roger McNamee talked about why that’s probably not a good thing — and how the industry can reduce its reliance on tech giants.
 
Before the pandemic, social media and e-commerce giants like Facebook and Amazon were ascendant. The physical isolation caused by the ongoing global health crisis has only consolidated their power. Nevertheless, fashion brands can’t rely on a handful of Silicon Valley firms to run their businesses, venture capitalist Roger McNamee said at BoF’s VOICES.
 
In an interview with Christopher Wylie, who blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica’s improper use of Facebook user data during the 2016 election, McNamee outlined how big tech has touched off a “cascading series of catastrophes going from the online world into the real world.”
In fashion, Facebook, Amazon and Google have inserted themselves between brands and their customers. Though they offer unparalleled marketing and commerce capabilities, McNamee noted their clients pay a steep price in the long run by ceding control of such crucial elements of their businesses. But all is not lost.
 
“The fashion industry has a superpower,” he said. “You’re actually connected to culture, so people care what you have to say. You have to recognise as an industry that these guys are changing the rules and you have to fight back.”
 
 
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Who Will Win De-Globalisation?

Who Will Win De-Globalisation?

January 7, 2021

At BoF VOICES, Axios journalist Felix Salmon, economist Dr Dambisa Moyo and Sinovation Ventures chief executive Kai-Fu Lee discussed how fashion can navigate challenging economic times.

The current global outlook of mounting debt levels, contracting global trade and rising nationalism bear more than a passing resemblance to conditions in 1929, at the onset of the Great Depression. But that alarming trajectory is not set in stone, panelists at BoF VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers, said. Dr Dambisa Moyo, an economist and author who drew the comparison, said she was “optimistic in many respects,” and sees technological innovation as one way out of the global economy’s current troubles. That’s not to downplay the challenges. Journalist Felix Salmon described an economic “balkanisation” that was making it more difficult for cross-border business, while noting that China’s rapid rebound from Covid-19 could power global markets.

Related Articles:


Hans Ulrich Obrist: The Antidote to Globalisation
VOICES 2020: Finding Opportunity in a Global Crisis

 

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How to Master Sleep During the Pandemic

How to Master Sleep During the Pandemic

December 3, 2020
Good sleeping habits have been linked to higher productivity and better health. At BoF VOICES, Imran Amed discusses the secrets to a good night’s rest with neuroscience Professor Matthew Walker and Oura Founder Harpreet Singh Rai.
 
Thanks to the pandemic, people are spending more time in their pyjamas, but their sleep patterns are worse than ever. Job loss or worry about job loss and general anxiety surrounding staying healthy are among the chief causes for why sleep, on the whole, has become worse both in quality and quantity for so many.With “sleep hygiene” more important than ever, BoF’s CEO and founder Imran Amed spoke with Dr. Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California Berkeley, and Harpreet Singh Rai, CEO of wearable technology company Oura, as part of BoF’s 2020 VOICES conference.Deep sleep is when you refresh your “immune weaponry in your health arsenal,” Walker said. And better sleep has also been linked to making individuals more receptive to vaccines.
  • Singh Rai — whose wearable product, the Oura Ring, helps track sleep and other health information — explained that international stay-at-home orders during the pandemic have made many people less active. That’s bad for sleep quality, especially when coupled with an increase in screen time. “All of us are sleeping less on average and we’re more distracted than ever before,” said Singh Rai. Sleep progress should really be tracked like diet or a workout regimen because “whatever gets measured gets mastered,” he said.
  • A cavalier attitude to sleep can be costly because it is intimately linked to health and productivity. For example, Walker cited a study that found insufficient sleep costs most nations about two percent of their gross domestic product, amounting to $411 billion in the US. “If we could solve the sleep loss crisis within most first-world nations, [we] could almost double the budget for health care or for education,” Walker said. He added: People should consider sleep to be an “investment in tomorrow” rather than a cost on one’s time.
  • Among Walker and Singh Rai’s top sleep hacks: saunas and warm baths are highly effective at helping the body expel heat once you exit those environments, and help set ideal conditions for sleep; setting sleep alarms (those reminders that nudge you to bed at roughly the same time every evening) is just as important as an alarm to help you wake up in the morning; avoiding naps during the day, caffeine in the afternoon and alcohol in the evening allow people to grow tired enough for sleep at night; and finally, abide by the 25-minute rule: if you’re lying in bed for longer than that trying to sleep, then go and do something else (that does not include screen time or food) until your body is tired. “You would never sit at a dinner table waiting to get hungry. Why would you lie in bed waiting to get sleepy?” Walker said. “The answer is, you shouldn’t.”
 
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Tremaine Emory on Mixing Politics and Fashion

Tremaine Emory on Mixing Politics and Fashion

November 12, 2020
Imran Amed talks to the designer, also known as Denim Tears, about the US election and putting conditions on his collaboration with Converse.
 
This is just the beginning for designer Tremaine Emory. Following the US election, the designer, who is also known as Denim Tears, spoke to BoF’s Imran Amed about negotiating with big brands, leading with purpose and the work still ahead. “It’s been an incredible week and there’s a lot more work to do,” said Emory. “I hope this is the start.”
 
  • For Emory, principles come first when it comes to working with big brands, especially if they are using corporate activism in their marketing. The designer notably withheld the release of a collaboration with Converse earlier this year, posting a set of conditions for parent company Nike on Instagram that ranged from disclosing the number of Black employees in leadership roles to stopping all support for the Republican party. “I can’t put these sneakers out if all the company is doing is donating money,” said Emory. “I need to know specifically what they’re doing to combat police brutality in Black neighbourhoods… Who are we protecting with this money?” In negotiations with brands, Emory delineated the tango that comes with corporate partnerships: “Their number one thing is making money... how can I dance their bottom line with my bottom line?”
  • Reflecting on the results of the election, Emory emphasised the importance of registering young voters and getting them excited about the upcoming senate elections, particularly in his home state of Georgia. “We’re going to work to get people to vote and get Democrats in those seats,” he said.
  • Emory also hopes to introduce young consumers to new ideas and ways of thinking about American history and civil rights. “That’s probably my favourite part of my practice is being a bridge of knowledge between generations,” he said. “How can I condense... a James Baldwin book [or] a Black Panther book into a T-shirt?”
 
Watch and listen to more #BoFLIVE conversations here.
 
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Gareth Pugh on Returning to Fashion in Extraordinary Times

Gareth Pugh on Returning to Fashion in Extraordinary Times

November 3, 2020
The British designer tells Tim Blanks about his latest creative endeavour, a documentary about creating his first collection in two years.
 
LONDON, United Kingdom — Acclaimed designer Gareth Pugh showed his last collection in September 2018. Two years on, he has returned to the industry at a time of global tumult. Its effects are clearly reflected in “The Reconstruction,” a documentary made by Pugh, his husband Carson McColl and Showstudio director Nick Knight showcasing 13 new designs and the inspiration behind them.
 
“This project really has been born out of some insane historical moments,” said Pugh. “2020’s been a shitty year and so much has gone on,” he continued, and he would be remiss “not to look it in the face and acknowledge its presence.”
 
  • No stranger to the medium, Pugh has previously released films of his designs in lieu of a fashion show, and in 2019 made a documentary with McColl about the fight for LGBTQ+ rights across the UK. In the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, Pugh discussed what the current state of the industry means for young designers, and how he considers film to be a medium loaded with potential depth. The “new normal” can also mean opportunities. “The playing field is now level; you don’t have that established way of having to do things. like young designers being forced into this idea that ’we have to spend a load of money doing a show,’” said Pugh. “You never had to do that anyway, but now more than ever you really don’t.”
  • For many designers, film has been the go-to medium in the absence of in-person fashion shows, but it presents its own challenges. “Once you have that physical exchange taken away, you have that hole, that vacuum that you need to fill,” said Pugh. That said, alternative art forms allow for a more profound exploration of themes. “In a [fashion] show context it’s very difficult to dig down deep… simply because you’ve got this tennis match-esque way of presenting things,” he added.
  • “The Reconstruction” is a meditation on permanence, longevity and wider political significance as it pertains to creativity — from the “monumental” looks showcased in the film, to an entire section documenting the Black Lives Matter movement and activism of trans women of colour. “Wanting to build something really febrile and really temporal doesn’t sit with me,” said Pugh, admitting that he “never did very well with playing that commercial game” as a designer. “Fashion for me is part of the wider cultural conversation and does link to so many things we are part of… [It] doesn’t exist within a vacuum.”

 

Related Articles:
Gareth Pugh's Fashion Battlefield
Gareth Pugh's Macabre Movie
A Life in Extreme Style: Michèle Lamy

 

Watch and listen to more #BoFLIVE conversations here.
 
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Lulu Kennedy on London’s Young Creatives

Lulu Kennedy on London’s Young Creatives

September 24, 2020

BoF’s Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks speaks with the Fashion East Founder about the future of London’s emerging designers.

 

LONDON, United Kingdom — For twenty years, London's Fashion East has helped incubate and support emerging designers hoping to establish themselves as the industry’s next big thing. The imperative to nurture emerging talent is even more urgent now, as young designers enter an increasingly uncertain industry. In the latest episode of the BoF Podcast, BoF Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks speaks with Fashion East Founder Lulu Kennedy about what the future of fashion might look like for emerging creatives and independent designers.

  • One major change in the last twenty years is the decline in funding available to stage grandiose fashion shows. “Sponsorship was very good [20 years ago],” Kennedy said. “It’s not as easy now; you have to work harder with the budgets you have.” While strict financial limitations can help foster creativity, it also adds pressure on young designers hoping to compete with more established players.
  • When asked why London remains a central hub of exciting new design talent, Kennedy points to its stellar colleges and powerful and pervasive youth culture. But London-based designers also face specific challenges. “There is a lot of frustration with designers trying to get stuff made on time, in budget and that’s good quality,” Kennedy said. “Going forward with Fashion East, I would love to secure some manufacturing partnership.”
  • Lookbooks and short films have become crucial for designers during the pandemic, when real-life shows are restricted. But standing out amid the social media noise is no easy feat. In fact, the best advice Kennedy has to offer is authenticity: “Be true to yourself. Don’t be second guessing and looking at what other people are doing over your shoulder. Just do you.”

 

Related Articles:

In London, Emerging Designers Face a Critical Season

Where Do Independent Fashion Brands Go From Here?

How to Break Into Fashion When You Don’t Already Have Money

 

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Welcome to Retail Reborn from The Business of Fashion | Trailer

Welcome to Retail Reborn from The Business of Fashion | Trailer

September 14, 2020

In an exclusive new series from The Business of Fashion in partnership with Brookfield Properties, Doug Stephens and BoF investigate the seismic shifts transforming the retail ecosystem. From the post-pandemic consumer psyches to increased risk and growing calls for responsibility, BoF identifies the forces transforming the retail market and what they mean for the global industry.

The Retail Reborn Podcast launches on Tuesday 15 September. Subscribe now to never miss an episode.

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The Fate of the Physical Runway Show

The Fate of the Physical Runway Show

September 10, 2020

BoF Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks, The Washington Post’s fashion critic Robin Givhan and GQ’s Rachel Tashjian explore the past, present and the future of the event that makes the industry go round — the fashion show.

 

LONDON, United Kingdom — Do fashion shows still matter? In the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, BoF Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks, The Washington Post’s fashion critic Robin Givhan and GQ Magazine writer Rachel Tashjian join BoF Executive Editor Lauren Sherman in a virtual panel discussion on how the pandemic tested designers’ ability to captivate buyers, media and consumers through creativity and the use of digital tool. What happens next?
  • For Blanks, in order to look forward, you must look back. Fashion shows have always “[meant] almost everything in fashion to an enormous degree… They challenge, they provoke, they’re disturbing, they’re overwhelming,” he said. However, over the years, people have looked at the shows of the past as “a world that’s gone in a way… it has that kind of poignant tug.”
  • As industry commentators, Blanks, Givhan and Tashjian have taken note of how designers pivoted their strategies following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and what set them apart. For Givhan, JW Anderson’s “show in a box” tapped into “the desire for something tactile, the desire for something that felt personal… that you could hold, that wasn’t a digital... distant thing.” Although livestreams have a way of broadening a brand’s reach, as a critic, Givhan finds being “forced to look in one particular direction” hinders the experience. “Sometimes I find the most interesting element to be something that’s over in a corner, but that’s not the main thing that’s walking down the runway towards me,” she said.
  • In the future, Givhan hopes designers will use technology to “tell a story about their clothing, to weave a narrative in some way… to evoke emotion,” instead of carbon-copying a traditional runway in a digital way. “It [just] feels… like something that… doesn’t really quite fit,” she said. For Blanks, what has come out of this period of uncertainty — and the modes of communication adopted — shouldn’t be forgotten. “I hope that there will be this immediate contact, this sort of intimacy,” he said. “I find that more interesting than maybe the way that we used to deal with things. I don’t want a press release, I want to talk to people.”

 

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Rebuilding Lebanon’s Fashion Industry

Rebuilding Lebanon’s Fashion Industry

August 20, 2020

Elie Saab Jr, chief executive of Elie Saab Group, and Lebanese designers Roni Helou and Amine Jreissati speak about the urgent need for global solidarity in the face of crisis.

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