People were making all sorts of predictions about sweatpants taking over the world and the future of seasons, shows and sales — not to mention sustainability and social justice.
This week, as physical fashion shows return, we returned to that format, posing the question: “What, if anything, have we learned over the last 12 months, and where we are going?” Our panel included Anna Wintour, the chief content officer of Condé Nast (and honorary chairman of the Met gala, taking place the day after New York Fashion Week ends); Nicolas Ghesquière, the artistic director of women’s collections at Louis Vuitton; the actress, producer and entrepreneur behind the hair-care line Pattern, Tracee Ellis Ross; and José Neves, the creator of Farfetch, the global luxury online marketplace. Here is what they had to share.
This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Glamour and fashion and art are really important parts of being inspired as a human being.
Anna Wintour Before Covid, we were all saying there were way too many shows, too much product, too many hours, days, weeks, months spent on the road. But we’ve all been living in a kind of limbo, re-evaluating our lives and our communities, and an emotional connection has been very much missed and very much needed. We must be together to achieve that.
Everyone’s been super-creative with their films and their look books online, but it’s not the same as meeting people, talking to people and seeing clothes up close. It’s possible to do it in a safe and controlled manner that is accessible to everyone. Met gala’s date was chosen with great care. We really wanted to inspire communities — fashion communities or the food community or the arts and the theater — to think about coming back to life.
Nicolas Ghesquière This last year we had to learn how to reach people who were at home and give them a pure moment of fashion. It wasn’t always easy. To become visual artists, we had to learn quickly. It was fascinating, but there is no better audience than real people. The moment is extraordinary. I had the experience to be the last fashion show pre-Covid, and thank God, no one was sick after the presentation. Looking back at the responsibility that we had at the time, we must be vigilant for the month ahead and ensure everyone is safe.
Ms. Wintour I applaud Mayor de Blasio and the museums and the designers that are saying go to a museum or go to a fashion show or go to the theater, but vaccination is mandatory.
Tracee Ellis Ross I think all of us are trying to find: What’s the balance? How can you bring your whole self back into your life? And glamour and fashion and art are really important parts of being inspired as a human being.
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José Neves It may seem strange coming from someone primarily working in the online world, but I really believe in the physicality of fashion. Before Farfetch, I was a shoe designer for many, many years, and a boutique owner. I learned there’s something magical in the human relationship. I don’t think that can be replaced online. The convergence of the two worlds is the biggest opportunity. Because the online world will not disappear. Covid was a great platform for digital sales.
Ms. Wintour Covid has pushed us into making decisions and choices about how fashion has to move forward. I’m hopeful that designers are going to be much more focused on clothes that are extremely creative, clothes that last, the clothes that have an emotional connection to the wonderful people that wear them. We will make sure customers and readers understand that clothes are not disposable. They can last a lifetime. They can be a treasure that can be passed down to your children, just like a piece or jewelry. I’m hoping that all of us will encourage that kind of thinking.
It’s diversity, equity and inclusion.
Mr. Neves We have essentially two problems: One, we produce too much stuff. We produce too much of the wrong stuff. One way to address the first problem is to make sure clothes work harder for everyone. That means restoration services, rental, and resale.
Mr. Ghesquière Because there’s nothing better than to know the clothes will live long. As an artistic director, I have the responsibility to create new things. To be honest, I sometimes do things too quickly or too quickly. It’s a great challenge and I enjoy it. However, my true dream is to create timeless pieces that will last beyond a season. I’m old enough now to have collections I did more than 20 years ago become trendy again.
Ms. Ross I think there’s a narrative change that we need to have around the consumer and how we shop. My mom always said that you can spend a lot of cash on clothes if your clothes are well-used and taken care of. I’ve always repeated things. I feel like that’s what style is. If we allow that to be a part of the narrative of fashion, I think it allows so many more people the opportunity to feel enough and celebrate it.
Mr. Ghesquière It is very important that the entertainment industry is encouraging that by recycling all those gowns and dresses that we do for awards ceremonies or events. I love that people are more comfortable wearing clothes they already own and not being afraid to wear them twice.
Mr. Wintour It’s interesting. We’ve helping a number of different people with their looks for the Met gala, and many of our guests are asking for vintage. It’s maybe important sometimes for designers to take pieces from their past and put them out on the runway with something new, to re-emphasize the importance of creativity and craft and how it really lasts.
Ms. Ross The truth is that we are all a product of our lived experiences, and you want to feel seen and heard in what you spend your money on as well as have a sense of selfhood. My experience as a C.E.O. with Pattern was that there’s so much data left off the table. There was a huge community, a demographic, and a customer that wasn’t being tracked properly. There was no data to prove that these were actually people who were planning to shop.
It is important to really look at the consumers to find the gaps and make sure they feel heard and seen.
Ms. Wintour The more open and honest and direct you can be, taking responsibility for mistakes that you’ve made and how you intend to improve in the future, is part of the process we’ve all been going. The Zoom has brought us together in a new, more humane, and open way. That’s the most important thing to me, that we don’t close the door on this time.
Ms. Ross The doors should not be closed. That is part of what I do with DEI. I always remind people it’s not just diversity and inclusion. It’s diversity, equity and inclusion. The equity part of it is where we can see fundamental change. It’s how do we change the pipeline? How can we open up the doors and make it more accessible? How do we open those doors and create a space where all of us can be around the table or other tables can be built because the ones that exist don’t actually match the world we live in. I think that’s the responsibility for all of us who have power, who have voices where we can make changes.
Mr. Neves I think the digitalization of the industry has democratized access to audiences and also wallets. This is a very exciting time. Back in 1996, as a designer, I had to convince the department store to have any chance to reach a consumer. Now a designer can come out of Parsons and in six months start selling direct on their own platforms, on Shopify or on Farfetch.
Ms. Wintour If something is well-made and crafted well, it does not necessarily have to be the most expensive. I think over 70 percent of the designers in the Costume Institute exhibition are young designers that represent the future of American fashion. I’m so grateful to Andrew Bolton, the curator at the Met, for really spotlighting that. It has never been more inclusive, especially from an American perspective.
Mr. Neves At Farfetch, we have 3,500 designers. The top 100 designers are not necessarily household names or large companies. However, the vast majority of them are new designers and, often, family businesses. We can’t save lives. That’s not what we’re supposed to do or what we can do, but we can save businesses.
We launched a campaign called “#hashtagsupportboutiques” in April 2020. We didn’t know it was going to resonate with consumers. But people really, really loved the idea of shopping online. They knew it was coming directly from an Italian boutique. This boutique belonged to three generations of family business owners and they were going out business without this online flow. Customers are really paying attention.
Ms. Ross I think the digital age has given us all access to each other in a really incredible way in the beauty industry, in Hollywood and in the fashion industry. One of the things that I thought was really beautiful during this pandemic was that having digital fashion shows meant people were able to have access to fashion and luxury in a different way. People that aren’t usually front row.
But there’s a part of us catching up and going: “OK, this has been the benefit of it. How do we continue to connect to our humanity in a way that makes it better and not just takes us away from things like a photograph or a book or a magazine, that are an expression of who we are?”
Mr. Ghesquière I think it’s true that, you know, we all could use new things all the time. But there are also many ways that this fashion proposition can evolve, in reinterpreting, in reusing elements. Transparency in the production of things is crucial. But it is equally important not to overproduce. If you don’t control your inventory, you do excess and you make waste.
And I think it’s a call for everyone to try to control how much they will sell the best they can. What we want is a great story from every designer, every house, that will be fun and inspiring to share by individuals. So that everyone can be themselves with their clothes.
Ms. Wintour I think we’re going to see people really dressing up, having fun with fashion —- what Andrew Bolton describes as a patchwork of fashion. I think we’re going to see not one thing, not one trend, not one idea, but self-expression everywhere we go.
Ms. Ross As a virtual person, I’ve still been doing the earrings and the whole thing. I had sweatpants but they were still very stylish. There’s nothing that’s going to keep me away from looking glamorous. I’m so excited to be wearing beautiful clothes again that the world can see not just through Instagram.
Ms. Neves We all are listening to the same soundtrack or watching the same series on Netflix, but we’re all dressing differently. The future of fashion? To be honest, I don’t know. That’s one of the amazing things about fashion. It’s so unpredictable. And that’s absolutely part of the mystery, part of the fascination with this industry.