Fashion food for thought

GIAMBATTISTA VALLI HAUTE COUTURE 12 - LOOK 24
Giambattista Valli

Milan is a brilliant place to go for work: the food is so good, no matter how bad your day has been, dinner will lift your spirits.

So the most important thing I took away from covering a week of fashion shows for the first time was how a concentrated veal-bone stock can lift some ravioli ai porcini to celestial levels of mushroomy intensity. Read my review of the restaurant concerned here.

The catwalk shenanigans were instructive too.

I covered the 2015 spring/summer womenswear collections (SS15 as we say in the business) in September, 2014. It was  just after I had arrived in Italy for a few years stint as a correspondent for AFP. I wasn’t that happy about being away from home at a time when we were still unpacking removal boxes. But it turned out to be an interesting week.

The reputation is deserved: The fashion world is full of truly obnoxious people. Or, perhaps, regular people behaving truly obnoxiously in an obnoxious-friendly environment.

Whatever. Thing is they are so obnoxious that a. it ends up being amusing and b. the evolutionary principle means you just adapt, accept that the PR dragons are higher up the food chain than you are and get on with the humiliating daily ritual of begging for access to designers who are alarmingly fond of referring to themselves in the third person.

For example, from my interview with up-and-coming Greek designer Angelos Bratis: “So you ask me who is Bratis? (I didn’t). People want to know who is Bratis (well perhaps but can we get to the point). To me Bratis is cut. That’s it, just the cut. That is Bratis.”

At least the very nice and talented Mr Bratis deigned to speak to me. Access to most of those who Sir Alex Ferguson would refer to as top, top (ie. Steven Gerrard+) designers is subject to the same catenaccio tactics that have made Italian football a byword for defensive sterility.

AFP has the power to put a designer’s comments and images of their products into hundreds of media outlets around the world. We should have FREE WORLDWIDE ADVERTISING stamped on our accreditation badges. But there is still a chance of us being passed over in terms of access in favour of a blogger who knows Paris Hilton.

For an industry worth billions, the sheer lack of professionalism in some of the companies’  press operations can be flabbergasting and there is a good piece to be written about the remarkable number of airheads who manage to acquire these highly sought-after jobs.

Yet, the flaks are not the worst offenders when it comes to snootiness. That distinction is retained by sections of the specialist fashion press, some of whom are so conceited newcomers would be forgiven for assuming they’d actually been up all night stitching the effing frocks together themselves.

One of the great redeeming qualities of journalism is the camaraderie that usually exists between colleagues on the same reporting job. Packs get quickly formed, tips get shared and, before you know where you are, an appointment has been made for communal ravioli scoffing on expenses.

Many members of the fashion press respect time-honoured traditions. But others are like the 20-something chap I sat next to at the Ports 1961 show. Killing time waiting for it to start (I now know where the phrase fashionably late comes from) I tried to cut the ice with a breezy: “So who are you covering this for?”

Cue theatrically-extended intake of breath, disdainful up-and-down of my Dad’s old suit jacket and the rest of my, admittedly not very 2014, attire.

Then the response: “Paris!” Lengthy pause for dramatic effect before delivery of what I imagine he thought was a killer blow: “Vogue.” And with that he literally swivelled 180 degrees on his (off-trend chubby) backside and didn’t talk to me again.

NIPPLES SO NOW

Sadly I didn’t have the space to include that little episode in my final wrap of the week which had to address the far more important issue of:  Why nipples are the new cleavage

I’m told one of my French colleagues in the AFP network read the story and announced to the office: “So what exactly are theese neeples Angus is writing about?”

Some other Milan fashion week stuff included a piece on Dolce & Gabbana’s working partnership flourishing after the demise of their love affair.

D&G have some of the smartest PRs in the industry and I don’t think it was an accident that Gabbana’s post-split love letter to his long-standing business partner was made public during the week.

There is only so much you can write about hemlines and embroidery, so any kind of narrative, like Giorgio Armani talking about Scottish independence, is PR gold: if the so-called marketing experts understood that they would organise proper press conferences or, at least, comprehensible press releases featuring (wait for it: a revolutionary suggestion this) actual quotes from the, you know, like, actual designers .

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Until Gorgeous Giorgio piped up in favour of a tartan (subtle and understated, of course) vision of Scotland’s future, it had been one of those days where I was wondering what I was going to write.

And it did make me think that fashion journalism ultimately is not that different from sports journalism, which I have spent just under half my career doing.

In the end what counts is access to the stars and recounting what they have to say, which makes a more general point about the relative merits of being a specialist rather than a generalist.

There will always be some reporters who can spot a bias cut or a switch to zonal marking more quickly than others: it won’t necessarily lead to better copy. Or as old-school subs liked to say: “Just send us the bloody quotes and we’ll sort it out.”

Just like every journalist should have a go at filing on the whistle at the end of a football match, it would also be a good thing to have trainees sent to the catwalks to try and decipher some sense from the prevailing madness.

As with any step outside the comfort zone, you will always pick up something useful, as I found when George Clooney got married in Venice a few weeks after my trip to Milan. I spotted  ‘That Dress’ his bride was wearing on the eve of the nuptials and had a story on the wire quicker than you could say ‘Mrs Clooney has got the perfect thighs for a drop hemline’.

The catwalks were good fun but the best bit of the week for me was being wined and dined and then interviewing Italy’s cashmere king Brunello Cucinelli  who revealed that he, like Armani, backed Scottish independence.

So two billionaire Italians who have made their fortunes from adding value to luxury textiles like cashmere, linen and tweed think Scotland would prosper on its own. Gives you food for thought this fashion business!

Follow me on Twitter @angusm1966 and check out my Beach Cottage on the Isle of Islay, Scotland

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