Daryoush Haj-Najafi’s life as a young adult started with studying economics and politics. Finding the people on the course a bit boring instead of writing reports analysing the markets, he decided to analyse real life East Londoners in Shoreditch bars, where he started working. He made many friends who were studying at Central Saint Martins; did work experience at The Face, got a job there, got fired there, and got hired at POP Magazine, working alongside Katie Grand as Associate Editor. He then went on to become VICE UK’s Fashion Editor and VICE Style Editor, before deciding to work as a freelance writer and Senior Editor at Complex UK. It’s a mouthful, really, and he explains more about it over breakfast, where his mouth is only full of words and coffee. A lot of both.
We meet at Evin in Dalston, a Turkish restaurant that definitely won’t win raving reviews for its decor, but exudes warmth. In hindsight, talking with Daryoush was refreshing for the fact that he understands contemporary culture and what’s happening around him, while having a solid background of experience that keeps his arguments and statements valid. We kickstart the conversation discussing newness.
“It’s about putting in the work and sticking to what you believe in and watching people catch on to that. It’s about how much you care about what you do. If your only value is your name in lots of places, you’re just Kim Kardashian, aren’t you?”
The whole point of what I do is to find out what’s new. Ultimately, I’m a newshound. I read a Bowie biography recently, and I found out that he was obsessed with the new. Even in the back of his limo in the 70s when in-car tape machines were rare, he was listening to new music. He always knew what the new band was. That’s how I see my job but with trends.
I’m 37 now, but I still go out three or four times a week and still go to a lot of clubs. I enjoy it. It’s my favourite part of the job and I see it as an important part of my job. It’s so important to be out, listening to music and watching people. Soundcloud and Instagram mean there’s no reason to lose touch. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. It ties into my political philosophy as well. I am mega liberal in the old-fashioned sense, whether it’s free trade, immigration or sexuality. If new people excite you, you’ll be excited by freedom because that’s where new fashion comes from. The most passionate people are the freest.
I’ve been always into young designers, streetwear, subcultures and fashion that’s connected to politics or new worldviews, because that’s where all the new stuff is. That doesn’t mean that I’m not into massive brands, because sometimes people underestimate how much of an artist somebody like Calvin Klein was, when he made those great advertisements that went across the world and had an effect on people. There are lots of times when big brands do exciting things.
Do you think this idea of newness is sometimes harmful for designers? Press gets so excited by someone new, but three or four seasons later, they are on to the next one.
Yes, that’s a problem, but Rei Kawakubo and Prada have managed to keep coming up with something new. Even though I love Kawakubo’s work, sometimes I wonder if she would get away with what she does if she was a student. It’s unlikely you’re going to make clothes that are entirely new every season. It’s problematic because if you believe in your clothes, how can you change your clothes constantly? It is your job to be fresh. But fashion is also a slower game than people think. It’s about putting in the work and sticking to what you believe in and watching people catch on to that. It’s about how much you care about what you do. If your only value is your name in lots of places, you’re just Kim Kardashian, aren’t you?
“There are two ways of burning out: a lot of people don’t like the social side, others eventually decide they don’t really like the clothing itself. I consider myself more of a writer than a fashion writer, and that’s how I keep my sanity.”
Daryoush in The Face magazine, 2000
In fashion, it is really easy to be burnt out, not because of the lack of energy, but the lack of interest.
There are two ways of burning out: a lot of people don’t like the social side, others eventually decide they don’t really like the clothing itself. I consider myself more of a writer than a fashion writer, and that’s how I keep my sanity. You have to do other things as well. I think that helps the work too though, look at someone like Tim Blanks who is insanely intelligent. He used to be a music writer and he reads a lot and knows a lot about the wider world. He is able to put all of these references within the context of fashion. Designers are often tired because they are working really hard.
There’s also an obsession over being ‘cool’. How do you define what’s ‘cool’?
Proper cool basically means whatever is new and authentic. It is generally anti-establishment, and based on freedom, and is truthful in what it is. It is empowering.
However, designers are often controlled by it.
These cool people you’re talking about are not truly radicals, because if they were truly radicals, they wouldn’t give a fuck. I think this isn’t cool this is something else actually, the social fear of being polite and of not being seen as a troublemaker. People are also very careful about their money. Maybe rightly they are very concerned that this is a business. They don’t want to offend other people, including their customers.
Some people are always going to find these things scary. If you try to be some sort of middle ground, it is difficult. But you can be radical and commercial, Dazed has been the holy grail of cool for the last twenty years. It is able to do that by showcasing radical ideas alongside young beautiful people while working in the fashion industry.
There’s no real reason you can’t stand for something and not lose customers. If you don’t judge people—if you accept there are no good or bad people just good or bad ideas—you can do business with anyone. Obviously there might be some people you don’t want to do business with but that’s another matter.
“By accepting that you’re not going to invent something, you actually might.”
What do you think of the notion of the ‘new’?
You will cripple yourself if you think that ‘newness’ means nobody has ever seen it before. There are seven billion people in the world. It is likely somebody has had the same idea as you, but probably not in the same city and field with the same connections. By accepting that you’re not going to invent something, you actually might.
Do you think the press overthinks everything?
Yes. That’s my job to turn a sweatshirt into a text. Journalists need something to write about. If you want us journalists to write about something, you need to give us a story. Most designers don’t think in concepts, of course it is very difficult to conceptualise individual pieces unless you’re Vivienne Westwood doing the ‘Sex’ collection but a designer can at least sketch out how their brain works and where their ideas came from.
Many collections, nowadays, are not thoroughly researched and designed but rather ‘styled’. It seems to work well for those who work this way.
If you haven’t researched something new the results will be awful. Your research could be having a threesome with people from Tinder, eating in a restaurant or going on holiday. It doesn’t have to be reading books. Throwing it together isn’t going to work. It might look cool to you, but everybody else will think it’s boring.
Daryoush orders his third cup of coffee. It’s early morning, mind you. He mentioned that he’s 37, but he has an attitude and spirit of someone much younger. Perhaps the coffee helps with this. The conversation takes the turn to self promotion; what he personally thinks about it; what its importance is, and if it’s good or tacky?
I remember both before and after social media. You can be moralistic about social media but your competition won’t be. You have to do it with some class and try to believe in what you’re doing. If you don’t self-promote, the people who do get the job. Facebook has changed everything. It’s full of people who are showing off their clothes constantly. When you’re my age, people start posting pictures of their houses. I understand why people don’t like it, but the world has changed. Showing off is no longer bad manners. It’s part of life. If you don’t do it with your work, people think that you’re not working. People actually enjoy it. They want to see nice-looking pictures of you. They want to see you having fun. They want to see you on holiday. They want to see you wearing something expensive.
“At the end of the day fashion needs to sell to more and more people, it makes no sense for good capitalists to be racist or homophobic you don’t insult your customers so fashion will change.”
How do you take advantage of social media if you’re not blessed with model features?
Fashion is full of successful people who don’t look like models, Alexander McQueen was fat. Louise Wilson was fat. If you’re willing to believe that you’re beautiful, other people will. When I used to work in Shoreditch in the late nineties, we were all convinced that we were the coolest people that ever lived. I remember one-armed Claire. She only had one arm and the other one was plastic. Because she didn’t give a fuck nobody else did.
When people try and do fashion with a critical edge, it’s nearly always awful. The most subversive fashion simply shows that what you might think isn’t beautiful is beautiful. Think Diesel’s campaigns featuring Jillian Mercardo and Winnie Harlow. Did Diesel really feel strongly about changing the world? Or was it because the model was a special combination of something modern and beautiful? Does it even matter? The world is a better place thanks to that Diesel campaign.
The fashion industry is undoubtedly institutionally racist. Fashion is full of conservative people that are scared of everything, but fashion more than any other industry also wants to be relevant, modern whatever, ultimately fashion will eventually recognise that it has to be on the side of change, because ultimately fashion is about change.
At the end of the day fashion needs to sell to more and more people, it makes no sense for good capitalists to be racist or homophobic you don’t insult your customers so fashion will change. 30-40% of the world is going to be African by 2100 so you know the fashion brands need to think about that shit. Morals in fashion are not about some abstract Christian construct. It’s about being open to the new. In that way I don’t see morals and fashion as opposed.
Fashion is always trying to sell a dream of youth. They often use celebrities as a easy shoe in for youth and novelty. You know in a way I support what Olivier Rousteing has done at Balmain even if the clothes aren’t my bag. His rebranding has been a massive success. I like the fact he has Kanye fronting his campaign, I love Kanye, but if you are also using Kim Kardashian, what does it mean? Kanye makes incredible music but what does she stand for? I mean she’s beautiful and obviously smart at getting rich but she doesn’t stand for anything else unless she’s keeping it a secret. So with Kim it’s hard to differentiate Balmain. Maybe Balmain are just happy with the 50% of the world who buy clothes to try and look rich but the rest of us want to connect to something deeper than that, when we buy clothes I think. Same with Kendal Jenner.
“The young designer’s big problem is doing a collection straight out of college, that works brilliantly for some designers, but it’s complete insanity for a lot of people.”
The LOVE cover looked great. It was a striking image.
It made sense for LOVE to do that, but the race for traffic also means that magazines that normally try and push culture forward are instead pushing Kendal Jenner, but then what’s their USP?
Young designers nowadays are confused with all the information they receive from buyers and press. What advice would you give them?
As a journalist but not as an expert I’d say the young designer’s big problem is doing a collection straight out of college, that works brilliantly for some designers—Fashion East pretty much relaunched the British Fashion industry—but it’s complete insanity for a lot of people. A lot of people feel that if you don’t have a show right out of college, you’re not going anywhere. But if you look at who’s done well over the last few years like Gosha Rubchinskiy, Hood by Air, Telfar, Nasir Mazhar, Cottweiler these people were not raved about when they first graduated or the second they did their first presentation. They built up a viable customer base without all the overheads a show forces on them. Hype is good, but if you can’t fulfil the orders it’s unsustainable. Nowadays, in order to show your world, you can do it online, make films or curate a great Tumblr or something. So many designers are hugely successful in terms of press backing, produce brilliant clothes, but the show costs are crippling them, and it’s like they’re expected to progress from graduate to venture capital backed in the two years it takes the people like me to get bored.
“Just because you see a name in a magazine, doesn’t mean they’re making money.”
Are they hugely successful or popular?
They are hugely popular. People get that mixed-up with success. I always tell my students that just because you see a name in a magazine, doesn’t mean they’re making money. A lot of friends I’ve seen in Vogue I’ve known are simultaneously claiming housing benefit or just plain broke. You know are you prepared to be poor for years because if not you should probably go work for a brand. Find an item or a couple of things that you do well and sell those. Build up a business. Fashion is a business. I understand the temptation of putting your brand out there on the catwalk with the music and models. But for a lot of people it is going to be destructive financially. Take it slower. My advice would be to hold back on doing that collection.
Why is it so hard to find honest and frank opinion and criticism in fashion?
Fashion is a business that’s run by three or four big companies and two or three big publishing houses. Everybody is convinced that everybody else is looking at what they’re doing. Only rich, probably conservative people, can buy the clothes. It is annoying that people don’t talk frankly. If you want innovation, you need to be able to talk frankly. If you want to sell innovative clothes it’s kinda problematic that fashion is an industry based on selling extremely expensive clothing that most radicals and rebels cannot afford. Who can afford £500 for a shirt? People do confuse commerce and conservatism. They think that to be successful in fashion, you need to be conservative, because the people buying the clothes are. But most of the money in fashion comes from perfume, cosmetics and accessories. Most catwalk shows exist not to sell clothes, but bags and shoes. These things are bought by a larger group of people. If you genuinely believe that the fashion industry is about Dior frocks, you are a bit of an idiot.
“Online education is going to be a massive thing. People will realise that they want to carry on getting educated throughout their lives. It’s cheaper to do it online.”
What do you think about the business of fashion education?
It’s growing at an exponential rate. Opening up the creative industries is righteous and savvy it’s no coincidence that countries that educate the masses in the arts are good at pop, isolated aristocrats are unlikely to understand what most people want to spend their cash on. But society needs to take moral responsibility for the choices school kids make about a pretty much do or die, once in a life time chance at success that results in tonnes of debt. And students must ask if an institution has real connections to the industry they want to go into, if the staff have solid experience and if the alumni are successful.
People need to rethink interning too. It’s important but I wouldn’t assist for years if you’re not also creating. You don’t always need to intern to get access. Scoring a job is just as much about having an amazing blog these days it’s also proof that you can do something. If you’re a photographer, it’s good to assist but you should also take pictures. Interning costs a lot of time and money, interning full time and working almost part time in the evenings was tough when I did it and I’m sure not any easier today.
I’ve seen a lot of people do well by forgoing the focus on the dream job, doing any vaguely connected job, enjoying the spends and working the dream in their spare time, and thus being really free to do whatever they like in that role and be truly creative.
Do you think fashion education can work online?
Online education is going to be a massive thing. People will realise that they want to carry on getting educated throughout their lives. It’s cheaper to do it online. You only have to log on to Youtube to recognise that people love online learning. Well known names like Central Saint Martins will benefit massively as they can reach literally millions of avid fans. Imagine how worldwide famous the late Louise Wilson would have been online.
Interview by Olya Kuryshchuk