Should you be unfortunate enough to follow me on twitter, Facebook, instagram or any of the other zillion social platforms I use (loser alert!) you will no doubt know that I spent my weekend covering the second ever Vogue Festival. Having attended and thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural event last year, I was excited to see what Conde Nast would deliver this time around. The first and most obvious update was the change of venue. This year the festival was held in the Southbank Centre which, while perhaps not as traditionally charming as the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, provided a larger, slicker and infinitely more convenient location.
After getting thoroughly chilly walking across the river thanks to my foolish decision to dress for the (fashion) season rather than the weather, I arrived – Starbucks latte in hand – half an hour early for my first talk. Generally speaking I’m not one for arriving quite so promptly but seeing as said talk was to be given by none other than Net-a-Porter Founder and British Fashion Council Chairwoman, Natalie Massenet, I wasn’t taking any chances. When it comes to major girl crushes, there is possibly no girl – or rather woman – more “crushed on” than Natalie. Beautiful, intelligent, stylish and utterly inspiring, this is a woman who built a £350 million business up from nothing, started a luxury e-retail revolution, changed the way we consume fashion forever and managed to have two children and look damn good while doing it. On this occasion she was particularly radient in a figure hugging black number by Victoria Beckham but Natalie’s gorgeousness paled in comparison to what she had to say. Rather than giving a purely business based lecture on the genius that is Net-a-Porter, Ms Massenet treated us to a rather more personal account of her professional journey via a specially created Instagram profile, @nataporter_mystorysofar.
To introduce her tale, Natalie attributed both her attitude to work and the idea that would go on to make millions, to her parents. Her father was a journalist who “taught me not to have any fear in life”, while her mother worked as model for the likes of Chanel and later on in life “took her passion for fashion and worked in exclusive boutiques”. Together they were “content and commerce”, a combination of creativity and business savvy the importance of which would punctuate not just Natalie’s talk, but virtually all those I heard over the weekend. The hour that followed was both my favourite Vogue Festival talk and frankly one of the most inspiring I’ve spent, ever. Rest assured it’s got my mind whirring and will hopefully result in a few interesting posts to come but for now, here are a few of the best life lessons I garnered from Natalie Massinet…
“You can have absolutely no fashion sense as a child and still work in the fashion industry” – On her teenage fashion disasters
“Sometimes you may have a plan for yourself but that is not the plan” – On being rejected from Princeton University
“Some of the things I had to do were rather humbling… Those things, hugely embarrassing to do at the time, build character… Gives you a really good 360 degree view of what it means to be in this business” – On modelling in Japan
“No matter what your job is, you have to make yourself indispensable… And certainly don’t sleep on the job” – On making an impact in a junior role
“Be nice to everybody because you will run into them in your future”
“The only limits in life are the ones we put on ourselves”
“I’d like anyone who enters fashion industry to day to keep on being creative but also understand that this is a competitive market and you have to have a strong business understanding” – On the importance of understanding business
I left Natalie’s talk with even more respect and admiration for her than I had already and a quick chat with my fellow Vogue Festival bloggers – Ella of Coco’s Tea Party, Navaz of Disney Roller Girl, Emily of Fashion Foie Gras and Monica of The Elgin Avenue – confirmed that everyone else felt just as awe struck I did. With an hour to kill until my next session I hot, or rather cold, footed it back over Waterloo Bridge for spot of sushi at Itsu.
One “Super Salmon Three Ways” box later (if you like Salmon you’ll LOVE this bad boy) I made my way back to the Southbank in time to grab a quick cuppa at the Vogue Cafe before taking my seat for talk number two with Sir Paul Smith and Alexa Chung.
When Alexandra Shulman introduces the next speaker as “simply Britain’s most successful fashion designer” you know you’re about to witness something good. Then again with Paul Smith‘s name on the programme, a fascinating talk was pretty much guaranteed. Whenever I think my fashion knowledge is halfway decent I’m inevitably proved wrong. While obviously I’ve always known that Sir Paul Smith is a BIG deal and religiously given my Dad his iconic striped socks every Christmas, I didn’t know
much anything about his life story or quite how crucial he’s been in terms of raising the profile of British fashion internationally. Just too add to the fabulousness of the situation, Paul was to be interviewed by the “beautiful, keen and shrewd” (Alexandra Shulman’s words) Alexa Chung.
Aside from confirming that Sir Paul is impressive and endearing in equal measure, the hour that ensued offered a fascinating insight into the creative process and business nous essential for creating a successful fashion brand. As I mentioned earlier, this all-important balance between design and business was something of a theme throughout Vogue Festival. If I took one lesson away from the talks I attended it was that if you want to run a company in today’s fashion industry, an understanding of everything from hemlines to visual merchandising is necessary. So without further ado, here are a few of Paul Smith’s choicest pearls of wisdom…
“There are a lot of designers out there… You’ve got to have a point of view, we don’t need anymore designers so you’ve got to stand out”
“In about 14 minutes and half a million quid you’ve got to show the press you’ve got new ideas, things for the catwalk, for the magazines, for celebrities to wear… And you’ve got to show the buyers they can pay there rent”
“As human beings on the earth I think we should all respect each other. We’re all born equal, all people… It’s not about being falsely nice… Be interested and interesting”
“As a designer your job is not just about design… In today’s world it’s not, there’s a major recession on”
“Continuity is what I love… Having something for 5 minutes is easy but having it for 108 years, like me, that’s harder”
As I’m sure you all know by now, I have a leeeetle bit of a Starbucks obsession. I’m not pretending it’s the finest coffee in the world but there’s something so darned comforting about ordering your “usual”. With half an hour to spare and the nearest Starbucks roughly ten minutes power walk away I decided that it could be done. After legging it to embankment and back, spilling large amounts of coffee on myself and getting embarrassingly out of breath I was just in time to smuggle my latte into the Purcell Room for my first panel discussion “Mad About the Girl” with Anna Dello Russo, Susie “Bubble” Lau and Garance Dore.
Seeing that the talk was on “The World of Women who Dominate Modern Street Style and the Effect of the Blogosphere on Fashion and the Media”, I had a vested interest in what the panelists would have to say. I won’t write too much about it now because I’m planning a separate piece next week so just to give you a peek into the lives, minds and wardrobes of these three digital pioneers…
“I felt that fashion was a thing to be worn, by just objectified” – Susie Lau
“It’s about being 20 people in your own personality” – Anna Dello Russo
“Anna has two apartments, one for her and one for her clothes” – Garance Dore on Anna Dello Russo
“I just shoot the things that inspire me… When I see something that makes me dream or makes me think that I want to really be that girl… Then I take a picture” – Garance Dore
“It’s about keeping that enthusiasm and not becoming too jaded… I still find things to get excited about everyday… New designers, creatives, styles in different places of the world” – Susie Lau
I have to say, one of the most riveting parts of this particular talk was the audience questions. Anna Dello Russo provokes a pretty strong reaction and between one girl standing up and saying she’d made her a dress, to an Italian fellow’s slightly confusing proclamation that his best friend lives in the same apartment building as Anna, the whole thing was entertaining in an ever-so-slightly awkward sort of way. To her credit, Anna handled the stranger questions with dignity and charm, had I not already been a stalwart ADR fan, that would have converted me. After a quick break during which we all squabbled over the only two non-occupied plug sockets in the building (iPhone battery life is the bane of every blogger’s existence) it was time to make our way back inside the auditorium for the final session of day 1, Michael Kors.
Remember how we all fell head-over-heels in love with Tom Ford at last year’s Vogue Festival? Well this time around it was Michael who had us swooning in our seats. I’ve often heard it said that Mr Kors is the funniest men in fashion and an hour of him in conversation with his old friend Yasmin le Bon confirmed it. But besides being almost too charming for words, Michael Kors is also one of the smartest businessmen in the industry who, since his early days working in a New York store and partying at Studio 54, has built up an international empire based on the principle of making women look and feel both comfortable and beautiful. I took a fair few things away from the talk, not least that the fashion world was a wild place to be in the 80’s. Here are a few more choice quotes from the wonderful Michael Kors…
“When I was 5 years old my mom was getting remarried. I went with her for the fitting and when she put the dress on it was covered in bows, zillions of bows… I said, “there are so many bows” and my mom was like “I think he’s got a point”… The next thing I know the tailor came in and started snipping off the bows… The dress ended up being very classic, she didnt stay married but the pictures looked great” – Michael Kors on his first fashion memory
“I have a lot of kids say to me “I can’t get a design job” and I say just go work in a store!”
“Whether its a model in a fashion show, a celebrity on the red carpet or a woman on the street… It’s all about who’s wearing the clothes”
“We used to wear crazy outfits when I was a teenager in the hope he’d shoot us… And he’s still doing it” – Michael Kors on street style legend Bill Cunningham
“You’re the picture, I’m the frame, I’m here to set you up in the best way possible”
“I’m watching people at all times… The good the bad the ugly… When people started wearing sweatsuits on planes I thought there must be a better way to cut them” – Michael Kors on looking for inspiration
I could easily go on quoting Michael Kors FOREVER but this post is getting scarily near the 2000 word mark (sorry!) so I think I’ll call it a day for now. More Vogue Festival details coming your way soon!
Love Ella. X