Vogue Festival day 2 dawned sunny and bright. Feeling distinctly smug for having left the AMAZING opening party at an uncharacteristically sensible hour the previous night, I donned one of my favourite Spring-in-the-city ensembles and trotted down to the South Bank, via Starbucks of course. It was perhaps not quite sunny enough for shorts. Naturally I wore them anyway and my knees were blue by the time I arrived but I’d be damned if I was going to put tights on. First up was British Vogue Editor, Alexandra Shulman in conversation with Victoria Beckham, easily one of the most hotly anticipated sessions of the weekend.
The sheer excitement surrounding Victoria’s appearance was a true testament both to the marketing genius that is brand Beckham and the unequivocal success of her eponymous fashion label. Cast your mind back a decade or so, could you imagine a WAG taking center stage at such an event? Then again, no one expected her designs to be so brilliant. I can imagine that this was a thought going through many minds in that auditorium. As Alexandra Shulman introduced Victoria as “a phenomena” you could practically feel a ripple of agreement pass through the audience.
I have the upmost respect for Victoria Beckham, both as a designer and master of self-reinvention. I’ve also heard from countless sources that despite what her pap shots might indicate, Victoria is actually charming, funny and really rather lovely. While we did get the (no doubt accurate) impression that every word uttered, picture taken and question posed had been very carefully scrutinised, Victoria’s self deprecating sense of humour and total passion for her work was plain to see. I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favourite talk of the weekend but Mrs Beckham still delivered a few pearls of wisdom, not to mention witty one liners.
“Ultimately I’m designing clothes that I want to wear myself”
“There were a lot of raised eyebrows… Those that could raise their eyebrows that is” – on her critics
“I’m very aware of how much the fabrics cost, how much the details cost… Yes I like to be creative BUT I am running a business and I’d like to be here in 20 years time” – on creativity Vs commerce
“When I’m in bed I visualise what I’m going to wear the next day… I had this conversation with David and he said he does the same with football…” – on wardrobe planning
“I want to make women feel empowered and confident and beautiful… A lot of attention goes into every detail that makes women feel good”
“Be prepared to start at the bottom up, put in a lot of hours… But you’ve got to be passionate about it” – on cracking the fashion industry
After leaving the auditorium we all filed out and made our way straight to talk number two, “Building a British Brand”. This was another session I was particularly looking forward to, not least because of the incredible panelists: Alexander McQueen CEO Jonathan Akeroyd, accessories Queen, Anya Hindmarch, Jimmy Choo Co-Founder Tamara Mellon and designer-of-the-moment Christopher Kane.
As Alexandra Shulman explained once we had taken our, “despite having innovative design talent, Britain historically hasn’t been one to build big brands.” However all that has started to change in recent years thanks, in part, to these four sartorial pioneers. I’ve probably said this five or six times by now so apologies for the repetition but this was yet another talk that reinforced the fact that these days, creativity is nothing without business sense. Not since the heady days of the nineties has cool Brittania been so, well, cool and it’s not surprising that homegrown brands are embracing their heritage as an integral part of their identity and marketing strategy. But is there even such thing as a truly “British brand”? What makes said brands special? And how did Jonathan, Anya, Tamara and Christopher grow their businesses from low-key London start-up to global fashion player? These were just a few of the questions that cropped up during a fascinating forty five minutes…
On being a British brand:
“Being British as a brand has a real DNA and people recognise that” – Anya Hindmarch
“The talent from the art schools is really great here” – Christopher Kane
“If we tried to stick to having everything made here we wouldn’t grow as businesses. We need the different skills… But that doesn’t stop (our brands) being British” – Jonathan Akeroyd
On balancing creativity and commerce:
“Creativity without business doesn’t really work and vice versa… They’re equally important” – Anya Hindmarch
“We’ve always seen its a business and that you have to have desirable product… We want it to be profitable… It’s half and half” – Christopher Kane
“Whenever I go with data over my gut it’s been a bad thing… There is a battle between the suits and the creatives” – Tamara Mellon
“For me it’s all about the product, if you’ve got the best designers and the best team… It’s your job to support that” – Jonathan Akeroyd
“Everyone has to commercialise their business at some point but it’s all about keeping the integrity” – Tamara Mellon
On embracing the internet:
“At the very beginning I was nervous… Now I think that (the internet) is incredibly important simply because its extra distribution and extra communication… it’s immediate contact with the customer” – Anya Hindmarch
“The website’s on hold… They cost a lot of money but in the meantime we want to do the best collections we can afford to…” – Christopher Kane
On launching your own brand:
“Keep strong… Be flexible… Get some good experience in brands… To do it on your own these days is very difficult… It’s all about experience and sticking with it” – Jonathan Akeroyd
“It’s a bit like juggling with one leg blindfolded… But excitement and fear as a state of normal is addictive” – Anya Hindmarch
I left the auditorium feeling inspired and, I’ll admit, ever-so-slightly patriotic. By this point my stomach was rumbling pretty aggressively so I decided a trip to itsu was in order. One “Health and Happiness” sushi box later (crab, tuna, salmon numerous other assorted treats, I’d definitely recommend it) I made my way back to the Southbank Centre for what I’m sad to say would be my last session of the Vogue Festival. While it was evident from the lack of mile-long queue outside that “Too Fat, Too Thin… Will We Ever Be Content?” wasn’t quite such a hot ticket as some of the other talks, personally I was very intrigued to see how Vogue’s chosen speakers would broach this inherently sensitive subject. With supermodels David Gandy and Daisy Lowe on the panel, it would be tempting to dismiss whatever opinions they voiced due to their own physical perfection. Then again, we all know deep down that a flat stomach wont really bring you eternal happiness and any girl, no matter how gorgeous, who claims to have no body hang-ups whatsoever is either uncommonly lucky or a bloody liar.
David and Daisy were joined on stage by actress and current face of Weight Watchers, Patsy Kensit and Vogue Contributing Editor, Christa D’Souza. While some of the panelist’s contributions were very interesting (especially Christa’s) what really struck with me most was the impassioned reaction of the audience. It was very clear to see that this was a topic everyone could directly relate to in a way they couldn’t to Natalie Massenet or Victoria Beckham’s life story. Ultimately the session didn’t bring any sort of conclusion as to whether any of us can ever hope to be “content” but I thought it addressed some complicated issues and, at the very least, confirmed that we all feel horrid sometimes. So, without further ado here are a few of the highlights…
“I’ve been sent home from a show in Milan for being too big… I was 16… It’s hard being young and having that on you” – Daisy Lowe
“I’ve never been told that I was fat but certainly that I was heavy by my father. It’s sort of been an issue ever since. Now I’m in my 50s I’ve found a modicum of peace and serenity… But I’m still working on it” – Christa D’Souza
“Eating something and feeling awful about it is a form of self hatred” – Daisy Lowe
“60 miles out of london it’s a completely different mindset, a different body… We put way too much pressure on ourselves” – Patsy Kensit
“I think to a certain extent I have broken eyes… Some of us are hard wired to be neurotic about weight” - Christa D’Souza
“There aren’t many high end designers who cater for a curvier woman. If a beautiful size 16 woman wants to go to a ball she can’t go to the high end designers… That doesn’t seem fair to me” – Daisy Lowe
“I think we live in a culture of dissatisfaction… Self love should be part of the curriculum at school” – Christa D’Souza
“I work with the most beautiful women in the world but there’s so much more than that…. Someone could be the most beautiful woman im the world and if I don’t have a laugh with her we don’t connect, I don’t see the beauty” – David Gandy
“When there is so much food around what’s fashionable can be choosing the path of most resistance… It becomes a moral issue” – Christa D’Souza
Much as I adore my university course, it does occasionally prevent me from going to things I really, really want to attend. My tutor probably wouldn’t agree with me on this and to be honest, he’d probably have a point. But on this occasion I had to skip out on the final two sessions (Alber Elbaz and Donatella Versace… Boo!) in order to finish some left-to-the-last-minute work for the following morning. All in all, I thought the Vogue Festival 2013 was a fantastic, fascinating, fun way to spend a weekend. I definitely hope to go again next year and strongly recommend booking yourself a ticket.
Love Ella. X