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Why fashion "It Girl" Garance Doré quit fashion week

Garance Doré speaks during #BoFVOICES on November 21, 2019 in Oxfordshire, England.
Credit: Samir Hussein/Getty Images Europe/Samir Hussein/Getty Images for T
Why fashion "It Girl" Garance Doré quit fashion week
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This is an edited excerpt from a talk Garance Doré gave during Voices, an annual conference by The Business of Fashion. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author.
In 2006, I was working as an illustrator and booking very few jobs. In a last-ditch attempt to do something with my life, I started a blog and posted my illustrations online.
Until then, it seemed like my life and career involved a lot of poking around in the dark. But it felt like, suddenly, my destiny had opened up.
A few weeks after launching the blog, my work started getting noticed and people started calling to book me for jobs. I quickly moved from the south of France to Paris, where I first encountered fashion week.
Although I wasn't a stranger to fashion, a new set of cool people, who I never knew existed, came into my life. I started publishing photos of fashion editors and fashion week attendees on my blog. I shot on the streets all year round, but the fashion weeks became special moments -- a rendezvous with my audience, if you will.

More authentic times

They felt like more authentic times. The people I was photographing outside shows were mostly wearing their own clothes, rather than looks loaned to them by brands. It was also a smaller world. Back then, there were very few people doing this kind of street-style photography. There was Scott Schuman (The Satorialist), Tommy Ton and me -- and we were helping to make the editors we photographed famous.
But my audience also seemed fascinated by my own story. My universe and profile were both expanding.
Garance Doré at Paris Fashion Week in 2015.
Garance Doré at Paris Fashion Week in 2015. Credit: Christian Vierig/French Select/Getty Images
People liked my photos, my drawings and my "rags-to-riches" story. I was the innocent, unknown soul thrown into this glamorous world. It all felt too good to be true. I didn't really realize at the time, but I was pushing boundaries by talking about luxury online. Long before luxury e-commerce sites became the norm, I was using my digital platform to tell high-fashion stories -- and converting them into sales.
At the time, there were no real tools measuring my audience, but I started hearing from brands. They would tell me, "Garance, your last post about our pants made them sell out! People came into our store with the photo!"
I always thought of the web as being equal, if not superior, to print. I loved the way images looked online, as if they were on a light box. I also loved the immediacy of the internet and, of course, the potential for boundless reach. My growing audience came from Brazil, France, Japan, Australia and beyond.
Soon, my life became a whirlwind of photos and travel as I moved up the fashion ranks. I went from sneaking into shows without a ticket to sitting on the front row, and winning a CFDA award.
It wasn't easy. Fashion was still a closed world, and each step forward entailed many hidden struggles. People at the helm of magazines and high-end department stores were often basking in their own unquestioned power. Despite my successes, I didn't fit into any of their established categories.
A short history of the fashion show
I was seen as an anomaly that would soon disappear -- and I was often treated as one.
So when I got offered a job at a pretty important magazine, I almost took it. I wanted to say yes to money, status and power... to finally stop being treated like s**t. But as I was negotiating with the publisher, I could already feel the weight of bureaucracy. And I wasn't even on the payroll yet.

'Making it'

I realized that in return for a little bit of fashion week power (that no one outside the industry cares about), I would have to give up so much freedom. So, I didn't take the job and kept doing things my way.
It was a hard decision, but eventually I realized that I'd "made it" without the help of a major publisher. Suddenly people at shows were walking me to my front row seat.
I get bored easily and I'm the kind of storyteller who needs to keep moving. Every season, I tried to attack fashion week from a different angle. I started by photographing street style but soon I was taking my readers backstage, interviewing designers and producing videos. I was doing everything I could do to keep it things interesting for my audience, and, more importantly, for myself.
But the world around me was changing. A new crop of bloggers had seen the first generation's success -- and they were not kidding around.
For them, it was all about building a personal brand. I found myself caught in a changing fashion ecosystem that I didn't really care for. I played in this new world for a few seasons. I would get flown to shows and dressed in labels' clothes. In return, I'd say nice things about them, shake hands. I'd make some money and then do it all over again with the next brand.

A breakdown

My fantastic love story with fashion had somehow transformed into a really weird job. And I was starting to see through the system. I felt heartbroken and miserable.
I remember one trip to Shanghai with Dior. The fashion house had flown me out, first class, to interview its creative director John Galliano -- or what was left of him at the time. The discrepancy between the image they had presented -- that of a creative genius -- and the actual, poor man who I was barely able to have a conversation with that day broke my heart.
When I told Dior that I wouldn't publish the interview, out of respect for the brand and the its creator, I got pushback, which I understand. A lot of money had been spent on the press trip and PR executives, are under pressure to show a return.
I knew that by saying no I was risking my relationship with one of the world's most powerful luxury brands. But Dior was smart, and eventually got it. I think, deep down, they knew they was a serious problem. A few months later, the Galliano scandal -- an anti-semitic outburst that the designer later blamed on work-related stress and multiple addictions -- unfolded in Paris.
My experiences in the fashion industry continued to worsen. The fakeness, the waste, the egos. The endless cycle. And, just like that, I had breakdown.
Garance Doré, sitting front row at fashion week in 2015 where she admits she was unhappy.
Garance Doré, sitting front row at fashion week in 2015 where she admits she was unhappy. Credit: Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan/Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan
It was the day before the Chloé show in March 2016. That particular show was one of the year's bigger events, and the excitement was running high.
For a few seasons, I had been seated with all the new influencers on the front row, and which was, to be honest, a quite dreadful experience. As individuals, everyone on the front row is was so nice. But the fight for power was exhausting, empty and ridiculous. I had also run out of stories to tell. But I wanted to be a good girl, so I pushed, pushed and pushed.
And then, the day before the Chloé show, in my bedroom surrounded by designer clothes, I broke down. I started crying, and I couldn't stop.
I had tried to talk to friends about these feelings that I'd been having for years. All I would hear back in response was, "You have a dream life, don't let it go." So I called the only person who I knew would listen: my business partner, Emily.
"Put yourself to bed and we're going to figure it out," she told me. "You never have to go to another show."
And so, that was it. We let go of the fear that the industry would discarding us if we didn't play the game. We refocused on what we love, and changed the way we work. I let go of fashion weeks, leaving it them to people who enjoy it them.

A new way to work in fashion

I still work in fashion, creating content and working with brands to sell clothes. But our approach is more personal and we only showcase things we believe in.
So what do I think about fashion weeks now? To be honest, I don't pay much attention to it them. Nor do my friends -- and they love fashion. I still follow the designers I love, of course, but fashion week is no longer where I check the industry's pulse.
The fashion world has changed. The hierarchy has broken down -- we don't have to wait for designers to tell us what to wear, or for magazines to tell us what to think.
I work with brands to develop their strategies, and I think -- in most cases -- fashion weeks is are, today, the least interesting places for them to invest their resources. Through this my difficult experiences I've learned that there are other ways to be successful.
All you need to do is dare to let go of the fear, and do what you believe in. That's how you, too, can become a boundary-pusher.


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