In a career spanning over 40 years, with clients ranging from Prada to Coca-Cola, and from the Swiss Bankers Association to Nissan, Edelkoort is constantly on the lookout for catalysts that are already out there influencing how the world will be in a few years’ time, and consequently how we will be living, behaving, dressing, eating and spending our money. Alongside consulting for leading brands and companies in pretty much any sector you can think of, Edelkoort creates trend books looking two or more years into the future with her company Trend Union, and publishes three different magazines including Bloom Magazine, which responds to trends in flowers, plants and gardening and their relationship to other industries. Edelkoort held the position of chairwoman at the prestigious Design Academy in Eindhoven from 1998 until 2008 and has curated numerous exhibitions all over the world. She has been named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for her contribution to French and international culture, and has received many other awards and honours.
Dezeen interviewed Edelkoort about it afterwards and the response has been overwhelming.
The level of frustration in the fashion industry is high and Edelkoort verbalised what many were thinking but didn’t dare say.
A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to attend a reading of Edelkoort’s ANTI_FASHION Manifesto in London and sat down with her during the break to pick her brain on greed in the fashion industry, why magazines are irrelevant and what needs to be changed about the education system.
“The system needs to be completely revised.”
Why is fashion, an industry that is supposedly about newness at its very core, so scared of change?
There are multiple reasons I think, but the basic reason is greed. The need to make more and more and more money kills innovation in the industry, because it diminishes the idea of taking risks. So in fact the market should invent new shares, innovation shares, in which we take account of curves of success and research. You know, the ups and downs of this métier should be provided for in terms of finance. That’s the only way. And you would only attract and accept investors who would accept going up and down.
How would that work?
The system needs to be completely revised. But this will happen because everything is tumbling, so at one point people will be forced to reinvent. If you look at the smartphone industry, it’s just made up of innovation. It never stops. It’s very popular, very successful.
You always speak about different disciplines merging together, within education and the industry. At 1 Granary lately we’ve been reflecting on how different courses and disciplines don’t collaborate that much at CSM – we need cards to get into parts of the building used by other disciplines, so it’s hard to physically mix with people from other courses. And some people have got into trouble because their work differs from what most people on their course do. What is your opinion on this?
You can quote me on this: that’s insane. Because I think this is very, very much what it’s about now: what is happening is that students don’t want to stay in their quarter. In the Design Academy the communication students were embroidering, and the textiles students were making films, and everyone was sitting on each other’s stool. That has never stopped and it’s becoming stronger and stronger. Also in design and art; you now see designers who design, who do storytelling, who draw, who film, you know. All in one work. And this is where it’s really becoming very interesting.
“All the old glamour stories of how to do things are obsolete.”
In your ANTI_FASHION Manifesto you speak about what is wrong with the fashion industry but also with what is at the root of it. Everyone is still trained to become a catwalk designer even though many people end up designing denim; there is very little time to design as so much time is spent on photographing and presenting the work. How do you think fashion education should be changed?
Not everything needs to be abolished but we need to add many layers. The skills in textiles need to come back; otherwise we might as well stop. I think that people should be taught to work together in teams, because that is what the industry is all about. People should also learn how to do start-ups. In the few years of education they have they should learn how to go about it. All the old glamour stories of how to do things are obsolete. So it’s also going to be hard to find professors, because how many successful start-ups are there? And the people involved are very young, so do they want to become professors? Because that’s another ballgame. And then of course there are start-ups in every single domain except in fashion, because fashion is old-fashioned. And it’s so bizarre, because it used to be the profession which was running ahead of the pack.
We actually had the CEO of two big fashion brands in school a few weeks ago, and he said he would never invest in start-ups as they couldn’t guarantee huge amounts of profit.
Well you see, it’s the same thing again: “It will not make me enough money”. Why is everything centred on money? It could be centred on product, it could be centred on making, it could be centred on creating jobs, it could be centred on social cohesion, it could be centred on giving… It could be centred on so many other values than just money.
“There are start-ups in every single domain except in fashion, because fashion is old-fashioned.”
And the issue of sustainability and climate change, a reality that affects everything on this planet: how do you see that being tackled within the fashion industry?
It’s a very, very difficult problem, because for big corporations it takes a lot of courage and money to do so. Many processes in the end also become economic. So when ecological equals economical, then people will go for it. I think the best way to think about it is to make pieces which have longevity, which you can give to your best friend or your child or your grandchild. Pieces which will have a long life, which are able to give us long-term happiness, and which will become more of a partner again, like a pet or something. You have a relationship with your coat, or a relationship with your skirt, or your shoes or whatever. And I think it’s about time that we go back to building those relationships again. Now it’s all so throwaway that we don’t even open the shopping bags anymore. You’ve been shopping, you come home, you don’t even open the bag. It can wait until the day after tomorrow. That is quite terrible. So we have lost the appetite. But I think it can be rekindled, because it’s still deeply engrained in your childhood and so on. People don’t think of fashion as a polluting industry, because it’s small pieces. It flies under the radar in a way. When you buy a car it’s bad news, but when you buy a bag you think “Ah, it’s made by hand”. And then go and look at how the tannery is abusing water…You might not want to buy the same bag or the same colour.
Do you think there should be more transparency within that whole process?
That will have to come, like with food. But it will all hopefully become part of European legislation.
“It’s all so throwaway that we don’t even open the shopping bags anymore. You’ve been shopping, you come home, you don’t even open the bag.”
The blurring of the gender binary is slowly but surely happening, but in fashion menswear and womenswear are still two separate things, with their own fashion weeks and shops. Do you think that will be abolished at some point?
Yeah, already I think there is a sort of overlap. A brand like The Kooples is very successful because the core of the collection is for both, and then you have the periphery: the girly and the boyish things. That could be expanded, I guess. Most couples now share a central wardrobe: sweaters, white shirts, denims and so on. And then you make it your own with specific, maybe more gender-based, things. But now the man can have the petticoat and the girl can have the boots. I don’t think it’s relevant anymore, this gender divide.
But will it take a while?
Well, in society it’s getting less and less relevant. But once again, I’m sad to say, fashion is lagging behind. Normally fashion should already have told us that this is coming. It should have told us that men now have babies. It should have told us that there’s no longer a big division between older and younger people. Fashion should have told us that I want to look like my grandmother and she like me. Fashion should have told us all these things. And it has not.
You used to be the chairwoman of the Design Academy in Eindhoven?
Yes, and I’m also working with a new school in Poland now.
What school is that?
It’s called the School of Form, it’s a brand new private school which has a very interesting programme, because it offers the humanities together with design. So in the first year you learn philosophy, anthropology, social studies and psychology. And you learn fashion, communication, industrial design and domestic design. And from there you make your choices, so the whole institute is embedded in the humanities. It’s very good.
“You don’t have the right to do anything – to sketch or start – as long as you don’t have an idea.”
Starting an entire design school from scratch, was that difficult?
It wasn’t. We have the first graduation this year, so let’s wait and see… But what I’ve seen so far is that the best 10 or 15 students are better by far than students from another bachelor’s, and their thesis and the way they express themselves is almost at master’s level. And it’s because they have the theory and know about human behaviour and human reflection. It’s really working.
It’s funny how it’s not like that in other design schools – you’d think they’d teach students more about human beings, because design is meant to be for human beings, isn’t it?
It’s strange, isn’t it? What happens normally is that you sprinkle an hour of philosophy here, if you’re lucky an hour of anthropology there, like some salt and pepper on top of the food. Whereas in this case I thought “Ah! I can embed it in the humanities! Wow, this is the chance!” And it’s not easy of course, to find the right teachers… Much needs to be done still, but it’s super promising.
“Even in the so-called avant garde, everything follows a recipe.”
And your personal approach to working with students, what’s that like?
I give them assignments which I mostly request to be conceptual first. You don’t have the right to do anything – to sketch or start – as long as you don’t have an idea. ’Cause once the idea is there and it’s also embedded in the history of products and it has a future vision, then the design almost comes by itself. Because the whole thought process is anticipating form and function and so on. So then suddenly I can see even mediocre students being able to design stuff. It’s a good skill to learn.
Is that how you work within your practice as well?
I guess so. Everything comes from thought processes: I never look at images, I never look at film, I never look at anything. I just consult my brain, actually. And then I script a whole season, and we start finding all those beautiful images.
And you have a whole team who work with you on that?
Yes. But I never use magazines or anything.
Do you think magazines are still relevant?
No. Completely irrelevant.
Well, take one and look at it. It’s all on a grid which I think is more than a century old. So the fashion is in one camp, and the travel is in another camp. And the beauty is in another camp, and the food is in another camp. Whereas continuously, every day, we mix those things. And then now you have all those idiot shopping pages, but the pages don’t move. You cannot order anything. So it’s actually very frustrating. They’re very cheap pages to make, but for us consumers they have no value: you cannot see material, you cannot see shape, you can hardly see colour. There is not even an effort to make it graphically interesting. Sometimes when I travel I buy a couple of magazines just to take the pulse. And then all these sort of young underground magazines, they also all look the same: somebody floating on the surface of the water, somebody crouching on an old couch in an old hotel, somebody smoking a cigarette, a bit blurred, somebody with a raincoat over a nude body walking in nature…They’re all the same pictures. Even there, in the so-called avant garde, everything follows a recipe. It’s quite desperate, I’m sorry to say. So students should wake up. It’s for them to invent the 21st century. As a student, it’s the only time in your life that you’re in the ivory tower of creation. The only moment that you can freewheel. It’s what you rely on for the rest of your life, so who cares about what the school wants?! What do YOU want? Act out, I would say. Revolt.
Words by Julia van IJken
Photography courtesy of Lidewij Edelkoort