25 May 2018

How to

Build An Independent Fashion Brand

Ahead of tomorrow's festival, the Bridge Co. founder Katie Rose gives young designers advice on where to start.

29 Oct 2017

Fashion Educators

Fleet Bigwood

"Trends to me are things that other people make up."

03 Jul 2017

Business Insiders

Jenny Meirens

Business and creativity merged with Jenny Meirens

23 Feb 2016

Graduate Shows

Central Saint Martins MA Fashion 2016

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The strength found in slowness with Barbara Grispini

Interview Aya Noël

Words Mahoro Seward

 

It’s no secret that a career in fashion demands the constant pouring-in of blood, sweat and tears, often for little to no gain. But are talent and hard work all it takes? The fabric of our industry is, after all, a curious marriage of the creative and the industrial, the social and the corporate—and success ultimately relies on knowing the rules of each of these spheres as well as the last. Someone with a better knowledge of the rules of these respective games, and of just how young designers should play them to their benefit, is Barbara Grispini, the woman at the helm of D/ARK, the London-based showroom for young brands like Delada, Kanghyuk, Vyner Articles and Craig Green.

Having witnessed the many rises, and many more falls, of fledgling designers trying to walk the industry tightrope, she has honed her own strategies for keeping balance. The components? Above all, she places emphasis on keeping things slow-and-low until everything is truly in place to take things to the next level, not to mention the need to foster professional relationships with kindness and courtesy—a key in an industry where the delineation between business and social relationships is blurred at best.

I had a conversation with a buyer this morning who was lamenting the lack of talent coming out of London. Mentioning Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, she wondered if that can ever happen again. To me, the situation is purely economical: if you have kids graduating tens of thousands of pounds in debt, there just isn’t the space to become an artist…

There is that, but there’s a couple of other things—we can’t forget that there’s only one John Galliano, one Lee McQueen. People like that don’t come along all the time, they’re special in their own right. It’s true that it’s more difficult now, the cost of education is incredible—people like Galliano and McQueen, they wouldn’t have been able to study nowadays! They wouldn’t actually be able to afford the beginnings of their careers. As you said, students are already thirty, forty, fifty thousand pounds in debt going in, then the course will cost another fifty or sixty, once fees and accommodation are taken into account… just how do you start a business with that debt already weighing you down? It’s tricky. But it’s tough everywhere, I don’t think that it’s any different if you try to set up a show or a label in Milan; any big city poses the same problems. But they are where you find the most opportunities, the most organisations that offer support, or most people that you can connect with: that’s just the cost of living in a metropolis.

In your experience, what do you look for in young designers that you want to support or work with? How important is this financial aspect? Do you ask designers if they have student debts to pay, for example? Or do you take their personal financial history into account?

No, we don’t look at that at all. Obviously, we would be very wary of someone who has sold to a store and didn’t deliver: we wouldn’t work with them. But their financial situation isn’t something we look into. What we do look at, however, is how well-rounded the individual is, how talented they are, bearing in mind, of course, how hard it is to produce samples to a certain standard when you don’t have the money. We look for a certain sensibility and attention-to-detail that shows they could compete with a big brand. We’re obviously not expecting the same make as a “Made in Italy”, but at D/ARK we are always looking for that sensitivity for making pristine garments, together with the talent of course. The third, equally important, component for us is personality. Yes, it’s great to be talented and to have a new or different way to say things, but so much comes down to personality. That entails reliability, being trustworthy, having your mind in the right place. Talent is about 50% of the equation, the rest is personality. If you have talent, but then you don’t behave well towards people, it’s wasted.

What should schools do differently? I wonder if that’s where the issue of personality comes into question. Are schools teaching the necessity of working together, or of being reliable? Is there anything else that you wish schools would teach their students?

Well, I think some do! It really depends on who is running the course. And so much of it comes down to the individual, it’s within the person. For sure, you can set examples—I’ve found that a lot of students from, say, RCA are actually quite connected with each other. At the same time, it’s really down to the individual. What I think schools could do better is to have more scholarships. It’s clear that they’re struggling as much as anybody else, otherwise they wouldn’t have the kind of fees that they do, but something needs to happen to address what’s going on with education in the UK.

On the point of training students directly for the industry, I think it’s a delicate issue. When you look at final year students especially, they’re on such a creative curve, really developing, or finding, their voice, their signature: that’s such a big task! To then have to think about business at the same time? It might work for some of them, but to others it would be like talking to a wall. And then to others, it could totally confuse them. In the real world, everything starts with a strong idea and a strong aesthetic; you then build around that. If it’s not there in the first place, what commercial ground is there to build on?

Of course, we’re talking about a certain type of designer, this isn’t high-street or contemporary. I just think that it’s better that they are introduced to the business side of things after they’ve graduated, in that period between coming from a school environment, where they have support and feedback, to working on their own.

Early July would be an ideal time. They’ve just done their shows, they’ve had a huge drop in adrenaline and are starting to wonder what they should do next—it would be good if schools could implement support programmes, a two-week preparation for business class, for example, just after the degree show. And it could still be part of the curriculum for those that have indicated their interest in it.

“Talent is about 50% of the equation, the rest is personality. If you have talent, but then you don’t behave well towards people, it’s wasted.”

London has a very strong network of support organisations, but most are focussed on the promotional aspect. With the young designers that you personally work with, do you notice that that’s something they need support with? What do young designers really need?

It’s just so broad! It’s crazy what a new designer needs. There’s the legal side, the registering of a brand’s name; there’s accounting, HR—it’s just so broad. Yes, I think that more could be done, no question about that, but if a designer doesn’t have a solid foundation, or is given the acceleration and exposure that showing with Fashion East or NEWGEN offers, it can be quite dangerous to increase business support in a hurry. Maybe it should come before, but because these are showcasing initiatives, it’s expected that there’s a selection of designers that are a part of it, and that some type of business support will be implemented once they’ve been selected. Or perhaps it would be great if there was a sort of incubator that was more business-support oriented. But also, you have to very carefully choose who you’re seeking advice from. Sometimes, you might get contrasting advice, which is normal! Even experts in the same field look at things from different angles; but it’s fundamentally important to match the right designer to the right professionals.

“You have to very carefully choose who you’re seeking advice from.”

PR companies can garner a bad reputation for working with young designers, because there are so many people desperate to become a designer. It’s almost easy to profit from them. We’ve heard stories of PRs driving around New York Fashion Week in limos at the designer’s cost, or taking an editor out for a Michelin-starred dinner, again, at the designer’s cost. Where do you see the line between charity and exploitation?

You really need to know the full extent of the story in order to understand what’s going on. If we’re talking about a mid-to-established designer, taking an editor for lunch in a starred restaurant is probably the right thing to do. If we’re talking about an emerging designer that doesn’t have money to get to the end of the month, or buy their own fabrics, then sure, it’s pretty extreme. But then you also have to see whether the designer’s paying for anything, as, very often, when they start to work with a PR company they won’t pay for anything at all; perhaps the only thing they’re being charged for is that lunch—that may then bring something more significant, like an actual review.

And I think that with PR, there’s very often quite a lot of confusion. PR agencies can only really promote what you give them. If you just give them a collection, and they invite the editors around, and the editors don’t pick up on it and don’t feature it… I mean, there are some really influential PRs that can push a bit, but in reality, just as in sales, if they don’t want it, they don’t want it.

What I see very often are designers going to PRs before they have content that the PR can use. Journalists need material to publish, they need assets: if they don’t have a good set of different types of images—no one wants to feature something that’s been seen already, unless you’re a fashion week designer that attracts a lot of coverage—they’re not going to be interested. There’s quite a bit of work to be done ahead from a marketing and content perspective. But look, exploitation happens in every angle of any business; and very often, you need to look at it as a spectrum. As a designer, you’re an entrepreneur—you need to choose the right partners and keep your eyes open. You need to evaluate everything you do at every step of the way, and your relationships have to be subject to that too.

Jean François Carly

It might also be hard for a young designer to judge how much they’re supposed to get out of such a relationship, and I imagine that their expectations can be very high, with thoughts like: “Oh, I hired this PR company, why is my garment not on the cover of Vogue?” And there must be a lot of mismatched expectations, fuelled by what you see in the media. It’s easy to think: “This designer graduated six months ago and now they’re everywhere, this could be me if I pay the right person!”

Well, the right person will put the right people in front of you—that’s something that you should check. After that, though, it all comes down to the material that you give them. Of course, there’s an extent to which designers really need to be there to provide images and information, to be professional, to be present; but, now more than ever, I don’t think there’s any PR that can simply harass buyers into buying, or editors into writing features. When you’re a professional in the industry, you have to treat these relationships with care—imagine going into a shop that didn’t let you step out without buying something: would you want to return? An editor or buyer feels just the same. It’s therefore important to manage expectations to some degree; you can say where you see the potential, where you think things are likely to happen. But, deep down, it always comes back to how good your last collection was and how good your most recent imagery is. But of course, the right representative will be able to bring the right people before you. If that doesn’t happen, then there’s a problem. And sometimes, what you’re offering just isn’t what the press, or buyers, are looking for that season. Very often, they’re looking for something specific.

Is this in terms of trends? Does it depend on who the ‘hottest’ designer is at the moment, and then editors and buyers go looking for something similar?

For PR, there’s a little bit of that, a bit of where the designer is coming from, where they studied and who they’re connected with. Very often, the tribe of people that support the brand is very important. For sales, I think it’s a little bit different; so much is dictated by what the customer is looking for. Are they looking for flares? Or sequins? Or streetwear? Are the streetwear kids looking for something a little more sophisticated? It’s an information-heavy process, and, naturally, when you look at a new collection, you’re computing all of that in the back of your head. It’s the same case from the PR side: personal taste aside, we do also decipher things from that point of view, we like something because we understand that it’s something being searched for at that precise moment. In any case, it’s an approach you see more of on the sales side, while the press focuses more on the design, the meaning of a collection in terms of the progression of fashion, and new offerings it brings to the table, which is difficult nowadays.

“It’s not really the press’ role to support the longevity of a designer’s career.”

You’ve mentioned, a few times now, the importance of designers producing content and imagery. It’s one of the things that designers we know struggle most with. They often feel that they already have so much to do, and that it’s not necessarily their main skill. We’ve also been thinking about how young talent is somehow perceived as entertainment: the press loves to talk about ‘the hot new thing’ and want exclusive imagery, but it’s not necessarily to the advantage of the designer.

Of course, but it’s not really the press’ role to support the longevity of a designer’s career—moreover, it’s always been like that. I do get frustrated when I see a designer that’s past their novelty seasons and is actually cementing a customer base, but the press has lost interest. But from their side, they’re asking: “What’s new?” They are, at the end of the day, there to feature news, which, by definition, is new. They need to maintain the interest of their readers with exciting new designers and new ideas. Very often, if there’s a sense of commercial consolidation, it becomes boring. It’s a frustrating element, but can the press really say: “So-and-so presented incredible streetwear with a hint of tailoring,” and then say the same thing next season? There needs to be a fresh angle to make it news. Editorial is a bit different, as it’s aesthetic—things need to match up to what that specific publication is looking to do. But news is news: with young designers, coming from nowhere, that criterion is easily fulfilled. Coming back to content, aside from strong design and brand identity, it’s the most important thing. It’s not just about the clothes, it’s about what they say, who wears them, and the entourage of people wearing the garments. And don’t forget that news can come from content! Any good PR should be able to advise on how to create news, or things that are newsworthy, that can interest editors. It doesn’t need to be a case of reinventing the wheel, but there needs to be something to say that’s not been said last season.

And how important is it, then, to be featured? Ego and prestige that come with it aside, does it really influence what a young brand’s consumers think?

It’s important to be out there, it’s important to be featured, it is. I’d probably say that it’s more important for the images to be out there, rather than to have texts written about you, unless you have a raving review from Sarah Mower, Tim Blanks, Alexander Fury, or Angelo Flaccavento. But the most important thing is that the images are out there. It doesn’t need to be a super influential platform, they just need to be out there, because having it on multiple platforms is what gets people talking. And that gives people, like buyers, confidence in a brand.

Absolutely, it’s really interesting how important the image is—it’s pretty bad news for me as a writer…

Well, not entirely… I think that with writing, if you develop your following, then you’ll have people that simply read all your work, which is why I was mentioning people like Sarah, or Tim. They make you see things that you might not necessarily have seen. This aspect of reviewing is really powerful. But it’s still critical that the images are there, that there’s multiple content, by which I mean that you have more than one set of images: one may be more lookbook-oriented, another from an installation at a store.

I always think that in fashion there are two obvious circles, one is the industry itself, including your peers. It’s very important to make sure you get approval from them.

For sure!

And then there are the people who actually buy those clothes. It’s often confusing who we’re actually talking about.

A journalist’s review is probably most effective for getting shortlisted for awards, prizes, and for gaining the respect of the industry, as well as the trust of some retailers. The majority of end-consumers, however, have less of a genuine interest in fashion, they’re more interested in images: who posted it on Instagram? Think about yourself before you really got into fashion, I’m sure you looked mainly at images, I certainly did…

Because designers are the creatives, we all want to do everything for them, and anyone who tries to touch them is considered the most evil person on the planet. I’m one of those people.

What do you mean?

Obviously, we love creativity, and we want to support designers, so whenever anyone does anything to hurt designers, we want to kill them! But at the same time, you have to understand what somebody needs in order to get the most out of that relationship. It’s really important.

One thing that really gets to me though, and I think it’s something you see a lot of in London, even though it’s one of the places with the most support and opportunities, is the complaints designers make about the most minor things. It shows a real lack of appreciation for the big picture behind it all. It’s very dangerous, I often think it happens when you’re given too much at once. You don’t really have any perspective of what reality is elsewhere, you just have a sense of entitlement. It really isn’t pretty, and it ends up demoralising the people trying to offer support. There’s obviously always room for improvement, and conversation is always positive, but it’s always a bit of a downer to hear a young, talented person complain about something they’ve been given just because they didn’t get that little bit extra. Why should the people that have already done so much do any more, when all you notice is what you haven’t received? It’s quite a prevalent culture, and I’m not sure how it can be broken.

“It’s always a bit of a downer to hear a young, talented person complain about something they’ve been given just because they didn’t get that little bit extra. Why should the people that have already done so much do any more, when all you notice is what you haven’t received? It’s quite a prevalent culture, and I’m not sure how it can be broken.”

Do you think that’s London-specific? Or perhaps to fashion in general? Or maybe expectations are too high? I think a lot of people come into the industry thinking it’s going to be fabulous…

In London, expectations are high because nobody appreciates Milan, and I don’t expect anything from New York either. But in the end, being a designer or having your own label is not a job that you’re paid to do. There’s no one out there saying, “You should be paid to design, you bring so much to the city”—I mean, you do, of course, but if you want to run your own label anywhere in the world, you need to have hundreds of thousands of pounds available, not only to do your sampling, but to have your slot on the calendar to be able to do a show. The fact that there are initiatives here that are allowing you to have that access, and then you’re complaining about the fact that the seats aren’t how you like them, for example…come on! You just had a show for free and the whole world was watching.

I used to be someone who always jumped on the ‘fund-our-designers’ bandwagon, but you dig a bit deeper and see that every organisation has its limits. I think it’s important to know that a lot of people are working like crazy behind the scenes to try to give the best they can—it’s not going to be everything, nobody can give that, not even a big luxury group can; there’s a lot you have to take care of yourself.

Most aspiring designers decide what they want to do before the age of 18. But, as you said, the reality of being a designer is that you’re an entrepreneur—not a lot of people realise what a designer’s day-to-day life is like, it’s not very glamorous.

No, it really isn’t. But most designers don’t really care about that, as long as they can continue doing what they love. Maybe there should be more information about this. I guess that designers do receive it from others that have graduated before them… it’s just really difficult, how do you brief somebody without demoralising them? And everybody’s different, so you might end up scaring somebody from doing their own thing when it actually might’ve gone really well for them.

At the same, yes, perhaps there are some elements that should be mentioned post-graduation, and I mean literally a couple of weeks after graduation, once the glitter and lashes of the show have settled. It’s a simple question of saying that if this is the path you’re going to pursue, these are the things you need to think about: Are you going to be a sole trader, or are you going to be a limited company? And what about production? Where will you be sourcing your fabric? What’s your price point going to be? What do you need to think about when shipping to different countries? These things should be mentioned to them so that they know what to look at. And then you need to explain the reality that they’re going to be broke for at least five years after graduation. But can you tell them that?

I think you can!

Well, but just because it’s the reality for 99% of people, doesn’t mean it’s the case for absolutely everyone. Perhaps that’s what should be made clear, that this is the reality for the overwhelming majority.

I think it might be similar in fashion journalism; it’s very easy, when you admire and follow certain writers, to think that it’s all about fancy dinners, drinking champagne and travelling the world… but those are just little perks you get to mask a completely broke lifestyle behind the scenes.

Yes, of course! It is very much like that. And it’s something you notice whenever somebody has an investor from outside the fashion space, they get very restless because they don’t see an immediate return on their investment. In fashion, you shouldn’t expect a return for at least five years—that’s pretty standard. There will, of course, be the rare explosion, but the first five years are always pretty tough.

“What’s quite dangerous is that, because everything is so media exposed, everyone coming out of college wants to be a big star straight away. Sometimes, the greater the hype, the greater the fall.”

Do you believe there’s still a place for independent designers?

Yes! Yes, I do. What’s quite dangerous is that, because everything is so media exposed, everyone coming out of college wants to be a big star straight away. Sometimes, the greater the hype, the greater the fall. For many, obviously, things never go to either extreme, but when you have a skyrocket exposure and hype, you also have very, very little time to figure things out, you have to take advantages of the opportunities that come your way, which in those cases are a lot. It doesn’t really allow you the time or space to lay proper foundations. I think there’s actually quite an underappreciation of slowly building a solid foundation, and then blowing up when everything is in place. There have been a few brands that have done that very successfully, they’ve kept things super small, almost unreachable until they had things figured out, and then they turned their brands into quite big success stories.

Have you ever advised a label to take a step back?

Yes, in most cases. But once you start selling and drawing in a certain level of revenue, the forecast is always going to be twenty-percent more than the previous season. In reality, you should never compare one season to the next, you should, rather, compare spring/summer with spring/summer. The same goes for autumn/winter. Sometimes, you’re just not going to hit that twenty-percent, simply because the sell-through in stores isn’t good. A lot of brands expect to have 100% growth season-on-season—in order to keep achieving that, you have to make compromises that really jeopardise the longevity of your brand. And actually, there’s nothing wrong in having a small business that grows organically, year-on-year. With the right products, at the right prices, at the right fit, it could eventually grow into quite a solid business with enough stores that really believe in the brand, because the designer really works with the stores and listens to their feedback. Sometimes ten stores can give you the same income as fifty, simply because they’re able to grow into volumes, because you’re able to offer them something that is the right fit and quality. Very often, when things are shooting off, you keep doing more and more, but you have no time to fine-tune—so many stores buy it, because they hear it’s the next hot thing, but then there’s too much product on the market, and the brand dies all of a sudden. You just can’t come back from that. There are plenty of cases of that happening. The whole cash flow is based on increasing projections, which you have to meet, and then it means that you have to say yes to five stores in the same city with a similar selection, and nobody can sell it, there’s too much of it. The supply should be lower than the demand, always. That’s the recipe for luxury and desirability! But very often, when you’re trying to keep up with this expected growth, you end up actually cannibalising the brand before you’ve even managed to establish it.

“The supply should be lower than the demand, always.”

It’s interesting because I feel like Vetements was always celebrated for that, for taking this more sustainable approach, but actually, it was just a common-sense strategy. In all of the press, you read of how it was ‘so smart’ of Guram Gvasalia to limit the supply but…

…that’s what you should do! That’s exactly what you should do, I mean that’s what Apple does! They promote a device, they have a tiny release, and there are hour-long queues outside. Or the Supreme model… I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple as a principle, but I see 95% of designers falling into the trap where they think that growth and selling more comes from selling to more stores. But it comes from going and checking what you need to do to sell more to the stores you’re already in, and taking some time to develop those relationships. Once that’s in place, then you can think about selling to more stores. What does having more stores that can’t sell mean? What does that leave you with?

Is it easy as a consultant to advise designers? Do they usually take your advice to heart?

Some will, some won’t. We obviously try to tailor our work to their needs, because they will obviously need to hire more people, and there is a certain growth that’s necessary. And the majority of the designers do listen, but we work a little bit differently to how a sales agency would typically work. So sometimes they listen, but sometimes they’ll go with someone who’ll promise them they can do three times as much, regardless of what that means in the long run.

I don’t really feel that there is a right or wrong: you don’t have to run your own brand for 10, 20 or 50 years, you can also do a really great brand, sell the shit out of it, make your money, and then go and do something else. That’s actually a very palatable prospect for a lot of people.

You mentioned the importance of awards and prizes, and it seems to me, more from a promotional aspect, that it is still really important for designers to get that recognition.

I think it’s a very powerful PR tool, no question. I mean, of course, you get the money etcetera, but it’s good exposure. It’s somebody else talking about you, not you just talking about yourself. And there will often be a panel of experts selecting the nominees, so it means that you have the endorsement of multiple experts in the field. I think it’s really good, because, unfortunate as it is, who among press and buyers has the time to go to every school graduation, every fashion week, even if they would love to? These kinds of awards tell us who’s being looked at and who finds what interesting, both from creative and business perspectives.

Who is the LVMH prize serving? Is it the 20 designers, sometimes picked when they’re still really young. Or does it just help LVMH achieve a young image?

Yes, but it has to help both, otherwise it’d be a government body! LVMH is not the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. They’re doing something which is of huge benefit to the designers, but is of benefit to their image too. In the end, it’s a business. But they invest time, not just money, in the designers, from having the people involved in the panel look at the designers’ work, to reviewing their applications. Is their image better for it? Yes! But how much are they spending, and what does the designer get out of it? I’m sure we’re talking about millions here. So, does it really matter that LVMH’s image benefits from it? If you want to remove the support, because you think LVMH shouldn’t benefit, then you’re left with nothing. Why do companies sponsor things? It’s where they choose to put their money that matters, and thank God they invest at all.

I think, for us, we’re quite young and new in the business, and we get a bit discouraged by how quickly something can go up and back down again. But you were saying how that’s not necessarily a bad thing, that it can be exciting to have something new arrive on the scene.

I mean, I do think that there should be a celebration for people who are building a signature, sticking to something and evolving and making it better. I completely agree there.

Well, what about somebody like Rick Owens: I wonder if he could still exist today, if he could build his brand from scratch, or someone like Dries Van Noten, who for decades now has been…

…but do they get a lot of press? Their shows get featured, and if they do a special retrospective or installation, they get featured. But beyond their shows, do they get much press coverage? I don’t think so! They get very little credit for how established they are, and what amazing businesses they have. You mentioned Rick; he gets given little credit for being the reason behind the fact that we’re now wearing more comfortable clothes; even from a fashion perspective, it started there. He went a bit further than fashion itself. Rick Owens became a real lifestyle brand, same with Dries, but in a different way. But they also need to produce content, so they have to do a retrospective or an exhibition, something more newsworthy outside of the show.

But we’re talking about two brands with some of the most loyal consumers on the planet, repeat customers that just buy over and over again, that’s amazing.

Do you think that’s something to strive for as a designer?

Yes, for sure. That’s real longevity. What does being established mean to you? Does it mean having all of the glory? Or all of the time you want? Very often, that doesn’t match up to what you need for a sustainable business, if you retain that glory, you might pay less attention to developing your product. Having repeat customers that come over and over again, having someone that buys a jacket every season in every variation ‒ that’s the money formula. That’s how you stay in business until you yourself decide that you don’t want to do it anymore. Though it all depends on what thrills you about being a designer.

“Having repeat customers that come over and over again, having someone that buys a jacket every season in every variation ‒ that’s the money formula.”

I’m honestly surprised that you’re so positive; there aren’t many people we interview that can speak with the same energy. I think there’s now a certain generation that entered during the golden age of designer fashion, when there was a very specific middle-class clientele. With both the growth of these luxury conglomerates and social media, it feels like there’s been a sort of power shift, where the industry is dominated by bigger brands, owned by LVMH or Kering. There appears to be less space for discovery, and less taste for something new.

Yes, but I do believe that the more you’re suffocated by something, the more things come back around. When there’s too much of something, you want something else. That’s just the way it is. Let’s be frank, in the 80s people were super logo-driven, it was about Gucci, then Tom Ford in the 90s, D&G in the 00s, etc. So that’s always been there. Perhaps one of the biggest parts of the problem is that there’s now a fast-fashion culture that wasn’t there before.

Of course, you do need to contemplate what lifestyle you’re trying to sell. A person might be into the concept, but at the end of the day it’s not art or design, it’s not a piece of furniture that you can keep in your living room for 10, 20 or 50 years. It’s still fashion, it still needs to integrate into someone’s everyday reality. Can you do a plain white tee-shirt for £1000? No, because there is Zara, there is Uniqlo and everything else. It’s not the designer’s job to do that, but there’s always going to be the need for something different, to twist the silhouette, for example. It’s not an easy road.

Adaptability is a huge thing, it travels with peoples’ age, their lifestyle, their income. And we live in the most rapidly changing times ever seen, we’re going to be dominated by AI in a minute, let’s talk about that! But it won’t be able to replicate a particular twist in a silhouette that really captures a moment, or how people are living. It’s a question of adapting to the different challenges, methods and environments of the times we live in: adaptability, being dynamic and in tune with things, is just so important. There was a bit more space and time before, but that’s now changed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of what we do, and how working with clothes can be justified in a world where so much is going on. And I think this very basic happiness of dressing up, or looking at other people dressed up, is something so instinctive.

Yes! And look, I think fashion gets such a superficial stick, and I understand to a certain degree. Working in fashion might be more superficial than being a brain surgeon, sure, but I think it’s the most primordial form of expression. Dressing is ingrained in the human psyche. Language, as a means of expression, can be so limiting. You notice it particularly when you learn other languages, and you realise that there are certain things you can express in English, but not in your own language and vice versa.

We’re very complicated creatures, and self-expression is the thing that goes beyond words, it talks to us on another level. It’s the way you communicate something deeper, it gives people the power to be who they want to be. Before Instagram, you would bond with people because they were wearing the same thing as you. That’s what was powerful in the punk or goth communities, you have these codes that immediately bond you, purely by the way you dress: you no longer feel like a lost child.

Photography Jean François Carly