On Wednesday night, native San Francisco designer Derek Lam, along with Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth, visited San Francisco’s Barneys New York for a private philanthropic event for the city’s Raphael House, which aids homeless and at-risk families. Between mingling with the stylish crowd, including philanthropists Susan Atherton and Vanessa Getty, the two spoke about San Francisco style and current projects.
Neuwirth, who was just nominated for an award from the CFDA, said she “felt like a little kid.”
Lam, who was jetting off for Thailand for a vacation after touching down in the city by the Bay, shared his thoughts on his changing hometown — and the changing fashion cycle.
WWD: How has San Francisco changed since you were a child here?
Derek Lam: I think it’s changed in so many more ways than I’m able to understand because I’ve been away for 25 years. But when I left San Francisco, it felt like it was kind of a city that was getting a little sleepy, that its glory days were in the past. It was seeping into a bit of nostalgia, and was great for tourism.
What I find now is that there’s just this incredible reboot of energy. It’s like a new gold rush. It enlivens the whole landscape, and not only just the money and the change in neighborhoods and bringing young people here. The art community is growing and expanding, the [modern art] museum is reopening. I think all of that is so positive. A city that is so loved by so many people can easily be stuck in amber and doesn’t feel living, and can be encased in nostalgia.
WWD: That’s a really positive spin, as I feel like there’s a lot of conflict here between old and new.
D.L.: Obviously, it’s always about a balance. It happens in Manhattan, it happens in all the key cities in the world: How do we maintain a space that allows culture and youth to thrive and not turn into vacation homes for people to drop in and drop out? I think San Francisco has so much to offer, so many different dimensions, that I think it can find its way to being a little more of a balanced place — more so than even, maybe, Manhattan.
WWD: What are your thoughts on San Francisco style? Mark Zuckerberg’s gray T-shirt and jeans, for example, get a lot of commentary.
D.L.: I find that women who love fashion and like what I do are the same everywhere. They are busy women who are looking for clothing that shows that they are in touch with what’s happening in the world and speak with a certain intelligence. She goes through her day not having to be overwhelmed by, “Am I wearing the right thing or am I able to function in what I’m wearing?”
In the past people have complained that, “Oh, San Francisco, no one really cares about fashion.” But I think that when you put fashion in the context of, it’s about culture in general, then you definitely see the pluses more than the minuses.
WWD: Do you have any dream tech clients?
D.L.: I never really think of that. I think that in that world, people are very obviously involved in their work and we are not patting each other on the backs about how great they are in tech or how great they are in fashion. It’s mutual admiration but it’s kind of like, I have to move on with my life. [laughs]
WWD: Let’s talk about the changing fashion cycle, and the idea of “see-now-buy-now-wear-now.” Any thoughts on that?
D.L.: For us, we are dialing back on the pre-collections. We will still offer the pre-collections for stores and it will be available to the press to see, but we’re not really promoting it. We used to do presentations and shows, and we’re dialing that back down. We feel like there are too many seasons being explained over the course of a year, and you become confused. Am I looking at fall, am I looking at spring — what the hell is pre-spring? These nomenclatures are so strange.
I’ve been thinking about how we make the shows themselves more intimate. We’ve done things in galleries where we have limited the audience.
WWD: And still allow social media posting?
D.L.: I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that and wondering if it’s possible to say listen, try to refrain from posting, but that kind of defeats the modernity of modern communication. So it will be interesting to see.
WWD: Would you consider doing something like Everlane, which just comes out with pieces, rather than collections?
D.L.: You know, I do that already with our stores, and we do exclusives for a store like Barneys, so that avenue is definitely being explored.
I think what Everlane is doing is really incredible. I think that people can get into that and understand that kind of business, but I think there is a place for designers to talk about a story, to talk about point of view, that isn’t just driven by cost or convenience or the more pragmatic approach to design. It’s a form of communication. I sometimes compare it to — if you have the opportunity to buy a real painting, or you can download and print it and frame it. It’s the same painting, but how do you value it and what does it give you?