Last night, Teen Vogue Beauty and Health Director/Special Projects Director Eva Chen put together a panel of industry insiders for her alma mater Johns Hopkins University. Hosted at the Union League Club in New York City and moderated by our very own executive editor Leah Chernikoff, the panel was set to talk about the evolution of fashion and beauty in the digital age. It was a seriously impressive and accomplished group: Chen and Chernikoff, obviously, but also designer Joseph Altuzarra; Francesco Clark, founder of Clark’s Botanicals; and Shirley Cook, CEO of Proenza Schouler.
One of the subjects discussed was how to navigate the increasingly tricky waters of social media. In an age where September covers are leaked in July and products are copied and sold at fast fashion chains before collections can even hit stores, everyone present expressed a level of frustration with the globalization of the industry. “It’s kind of a strange line to toe at times,” admitted Altuzarra about the changing relationship between designer and customer. “To me it’s very confusing, because it sometimes feels like the core values of a luxury company, which are very much tied to exclusivity and an air of mystery can really be co-opted by [the openness of social media].” He pointed out that while in the past, the customer had a relationship with the designer through the clothes, today’s designer is almost “forced” to be active on Facebook or Twitter in a manner he likens to “entertainment.”
Francesco Clark and Eva Chen both confessed to feeling a constant need to share. Chen says she always feels “a little bit behind” when not on one of her many social media platforms (across those platforms, by the way, she has over a million followers). The problem unique to Clark, of course, is that it can take years to bring a beauty product from inception to production, yet he wants to share his excitement with his customer base immediately. “I’ll post 1/3 of a photo of the new packaging, and my PR team is like, ‘Take it down! Right now! Take that down right now!’”
Which segued nicely into the hot issue of the evening–one we discuss pretty frequently at Fashionista in our Adventures in Copyright series: The impact of fast fashion on designer business. While Cook feels that the digital age and immediate access to runway presentations have enabled customers to be closer to brands than ever–a good thing, she added–she has also worked with the CFDA to petition Congress for more rights that protect designers as part of the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act. She shared that Proenza Schouler has a new bag set to launch in November, and it is under a lock and key so tight, they wouldn’t even send it to Vogue. “That’s really our only defense,” she explained, “we don’t really release pictures.”
Cook referenced a moment where both Prada boutiques and Zara stores featured near-identical windows. All panelists agreed that the customer has been trained to look for “The Look” rather than an item that is both very beautiful and well made. “You do try to push yourself more so you become un-copyable,” Altuzarra said. But besides making garments more unique and detailed, what solutions are there for designers?
Cook says she wouldn’t mind being knocked off, if only the original designers would get a cut. It’s “the ethical thing to do,” she said. And Chen confesses that she often waits until the end of season to buy an item on sale, rather than buy an imitation. For business owners like Clark, Altuzarra, and Cook, it’s about much more than a pretty dress or a lip color; it’s about the team of people who rely on their business to get paid, to feed their kids, or to have insurance. Cook joked that she feels like she has 70 kids, that’s how responsible she feel for her team of people. Altuzarra mentioned the small family-owned factories he uses in Italy, telling the audience, “It’s about craft and passing things along from generation to generation, which I think is a very wonderful thing.”
There’s no question that the Internet is a moving target, but it sounds like there are members of the industry who are deftly adapting to the changing landscape. One thing is for sure: The old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore.