Simon Doonan's Advice to Aspiring Designers: Don't Try to Follow Proenza Schouler's Success Model

As part of his promotional tour for his new book Asylum, Simon Doonan sat down with Fern Mallis at the 92Y for a highly personal (and, of course, hilarious) chat. He dished about his life--like that time he auditioned alongside Philip Bloch and Robert Verdi for the role of Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada--but Asylum being a book about fashion, he also discussed the state of the industry.
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As part of his promotional tour for his new book Asylum, Simon Doonan sat down with Fern Mallis at the 92Y for a highly personal (and, of course, hilarious) chat. He dished about his life--like that time he auditioned alongside Philip Bloch and Robert Verdi for the role of Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada--but Asylum being a book about fashion, he also discussed the state of the industry.
Albert Sanchez

Albert Sanchez

As part of his promotional tour for his new book Asylum, Simon Doonan sat down with Fern Mallis at the 92Y for a highly personal (and, of course, hilarious) chat. He dished about his life--like that time he auditioned alongside Philip Bloch and Robert Verdi for the role of Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada--but Asylum being a book about fashion, he also discussed the state of the industry.

Mallis asked him what he thought of the just-passed New York Fashion Week--and Doonan was brutally honest. "At a fashion show now, there's like 2,000 people, none of whom are playing a critical role except for the buyers," he told the audience. "They're the great unsung heroes of fashion, and I don't know why designers will put a buyer in the third row and some blogger in the first row who's still in diapers probably."

He went on to compare fashion week to Mardi Gras or a circus sideshow. "People have lost sight of the fact that it is, after all, a trade show," he bemoaned, adding, "It's become hard to see what the goals are; I guess maybe it gets people excited about the general idea of fashion, maybe they go out and buy something--I hope to Christ they do!"

"It's become content generation and a photo-op," he summarized.

One show that he didn't mind being completely over the top? Thom Browne's spring 2014 presentation, also themed as an asylum. Doonan accurately stated that American fashion is typically known for its practicality and wearability. "Cut to Thom Browne--his shows are so extraordinary and so insane," he said of the designer, about whom Doonan wrote an entire chapter. "God bless Thom, because it's good to have that in American fashion. If people are going to come to his show, he's going to give them a show."

On the other side of the spectrum is his other favorite show this season, the Proenza Schouler spring 2014 collection, which he said took the line to a "whole other level of sophistication." Barneys, of course, famously bought Proenza Schouler's thesis collection, which launched the design duo headfirst into the industry. But Doonan warns against other young designers trying to follow in the Proenza path.

"The Proenza Schouler arc has created a problem in a way--their graduating collection was bought and sold at Barneys so a lot of kids now think that's the model to succeed, but it's really not," Doonan explained. "What you really have to do is go and schlep for someone else for 15 years and then decide if you want to open your own company."

"They're special boys, really," he said fondly of Proenza designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. "They're unicorns."

Asylum is available now.