WWD: Please sum up the state of American fashion.
Diane von Furstenberg: It’s beyond American fashion. It’s that we live in such a fast-changing world. Everything — publishing, magazines closing, merging — it’s a very, very different scenery, and we are right in the middle of it. As an industry, it’s very important…that we all discuss it together and see how we can best help each other, but thinking that everybody has to do what is right for them.
The thing that has changed so much, and it’s not [just] American fashion, is the fact that the shows used to be trade-oriented. You would cover it, you would run a picture or two, a review, but the [full] show wasn’t exposed to the consumer to the level that it is now. Now, everybody is online and everybody has to write for what is online.
It’s a very, very, very different world. And we started to see that a few years ago when we decided to commission the Boston Consulting Group to make an evaluation. Because the role of the CFDA is to help American designers to promote themselves, right? To get them clients and to promote themselves in the world. That is the mission statement of the organization, and what we’re supposed to do.
The truth is that we are in a moment of everything moving. It’s very difficult while you are changing to be able to identify the changes and what is right and what is wrong, because by the time you finish a sentence, your words become obsolete. I think that we should get together as an industry and we should have these open discussions and because everybody is stressed.
It’s a very unsettling moment. And then there are some great opportunities. For example, this year the finalists of the CFDA/Vogue Fund, we have an amazing, talented group, probably the most talented group we’ve had in years. When I asked them, what are you doing for fashion week, fashion week is not what it used to represent for designers because [the finalists] all are trying to go directly to the consumer. The contestants are very, very young and yet very experienced, they were almost teaching the juries. They seemed more in tune than the juries. I don’t mean it in a bad way, but do you see what I mean? It’s time to be extremely considerate and extremely cautious and extremely understanding of everyone, so that we can identify a new norm that is good for the time.
WWD: Each brand must do what’s best for itself, and yet everyone should work together in search of a new norm. Is there any one single new norm that’s out there to be discovered?
D.V.F.: I think something will emerge. Remember when after 2008 and retail had suffered and we created something called Fashion Night Out? To create momentum. And then it became like a huge disgusting party in the street and we stopped doing it. I think there should be a fashion week. There should be one thing for trade with very serious reviewers and then something more at the consumer level. I think everybody has to be very careful and do this in the right way. But I think that we are in a state of transition — every industry is in transition, which is a good thing in a sense because we have more understanding for one another.
I don’t know what else to say. Is there talent? Yes, there is talent. There is a lot of talent. There’s always talent. And talent is a very mysterious thing. It comes out of nowhere, you don’t know what it is. Why does one thing all of a sudden take up and become iconic? That is the mystery of what talent is. Thank God for that.
So that still exists and we want to nourish that. When designers say, “Oh, we want to show in June — fine, let’s just all think about it. But I mean, please don’t show 10 months ahead of time. If you are talented, everyone else copies you before you can even deliver.
People have to be more discriminating to whom they show, how they show and work much more in tandem with the press, the serious press and with retailers, thinking together of things that they can prepare [in advance].
I also think that London and New York should work together because London and New York are different. When you talk [about] Paris, you’re talking about three companies, huge companies. They really run the industry. They are so powerful and so, so good at what they do, they run their business and everybody follows. They can do this, they can do that. They are very robust.
That’s fine, that’s great, that’s wonderful. Paris is Paris and will always be Paris, thank God. But London and New York are different because the talent that comes out of there is younger and fresher and maybe more experimental or unexpected. So I think New York and London should spend time together. We had a very nice meeting with the head of the British Fashion Council [Stephanie Phair]. The Anglo-Saxon approach is a little different. Designers and their organizations, the CFDA, the British Council, should sit together with retailers and talk about whether there’s a way that some retailers can sponsor or at least identify the designers that they believe in so that they can work in advance, so that [that fashion] can come out for the public at the right time so consumers can buy it and those poor designers don’t get copied immediately by Zara.
WWD: You said New York and London are a little more experimental. But a complaint about New York is that there’s not enough fashion return for the number of shows. How do you think New York rates creatively?
D.V.F.: That’s not for me to say. The minute you say it’s not creating, all of a sudden something happens and it’s creating. Think about what is happening — the athleticwear and the streetwear. That comes from America. It doesn’t come from France.
WWD: It comes from America. Yet other than Supreme, the companies being celebrated for it now are European — Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci. It’s an American concept, but Europe is getting the attention.
D.V.F.: Yes, that’s true. And that’s a very good point. It’s a question of identifying who we are and standing for what we are and not trying to be French, since everybody else is trying to be American.
WWD: You noted that there’s a lot of talent out there, and the CFDA remains committed to nurturing talent. But the amount of stuff available seems at the saturation point.
D.V.F.: I agree, I agree. There is so much of everything. And then you hear about people burning clothes and things like that. At some point all of this is the reality that needs to be addressed.
WWD: Is there an answer to the saturation issue? Everyone always talks about being more environmentally sound and we produce too much, but not many brands or groups commit to producing less themselves. It seems that often, cutting back is for the other guy.
D.V.F.: You’re right. Because people want to sell, sell, sell. You have to increase your numbers, increase your numbers, increase your numbers. And everything exists wherever you go on the Internet and whatever you want, you find it, at every price range. That is the reality. It is a different world and, therefore, everything needs to be re-addressed and re-identified.
WWD: Can the American market do luxury?
D.V.F.: I think so. I mean, [if] you’re really talking luxury, you talk about Hermès, right? But look at a company like Shinola in Detroit. Here, there are things that come out of necessity. Patagonia is a fantastic company. It was born as something and it stands for something. Our role is to understand where the American talent is and how do we promote it.
WWD: Your role is to promote American fashion and the designers are your constituency. I’ve been critical about NYFW, because it seems so overloaded. But after talking to so many people, I’m now sympathetic. You cannot keep everyone happy.
D.V.F.: No, no, no, no. At this moment, isn’t the only way you can fight all the ugliness and the mediocrity is by being authentic? Isn’t the only way that you can fight everything is by being humane? Everybody talks about the danger of AI [artificial intelligence], but nobody talks about the danger of HI, which is human intelligence. Human intelligence makes a lot of mistakes and has created a lot of chaos.
Being authentic is more important than ever, for every designer, for every store, for every publication, every editor, to say and to do what you believe. That’s the only way you can be saved. It is about being authentic, about going back to the core: What do I stand for? What is my brand supposed to be? How did it become a brand? Did I think when I was 23 years old that I was going to sell tens of millions of that little jersey wrap dress? I didn’t create it, it created me. I was a young girl and at the time and I thought something easy, da da da. I identified with it and people identified with it and along the way there was the liberated woman and that became my mission.
The point is that we all have to be very true to ourselves, very understanding of others and of others’ difficulties, and try to find somehow a way to collaborate because we work together, we live together and we depend on each other.
WWD: Let’s go back to fashion week. You said people shouldn’t show 10 months in advance. Are you advocating for more brands to go back to the see-now-wear-now thing? That didn’t really seem to work.
D.V.F.: No. Listen, if you sell wholesale, you have to show people a long time in advance. You have to get your orders, you have to plan it. But maybe it’s about showing it maybe a little more privately and then [later], something else, a little more publicly.
We used to depend on press. Press was the most powerful things for designers. What they would say about you, how they would say it, they could destroy you, they could make you. Now with social media, everyone is media of some kind. So it’s different. We have to adapt differently and respect the trade.
WWD: The impact of social media. I talked to Marc Jacobs for this piece and on the luxury question he said he wonders if people care anymore. When everything now is about Instagram, and purely about the look, does it matter how clothes feel? I hope people care. I mean, I care.
D.V.F.: I do think people care. Junk is junk and will remain junk, and things that are well made are well made. They last. I’ve always said about my clothes, even though they weren’t very expensive, people don’t throw them out. They remain your friends in your closet. And they do so well in vintage stores.
WWD: Anything else?
D.V.F.: I think everybody has to respect more. Even the value of design. A few years ago, I went to Washington, D.C., to pass this law so that we could protect design and this and that. That didn’t go anywhere. But what did go somewhere is that we raised the value of designers, and therefore the mass merchants started to use designers instead of just copy, copy, copy. So we add value by bringing out issues.
WWD: You make a great deal of sense. This is an important topic, and I appreciate that you’re taking the time to talk — from vacation.
D.V.F.: I care. You care. America has done so much for fashion in the world. We have to be proud of what it is and not constantly say, “Oh, American fashion, this and that.” The CFDA was born because we have very talented designers in America and they were all hidden in the back rooms of Seventh Avenue by people who made a lot of money by selling the clothes. And that’s when Eleanor Lambert said, you know what, let’s expose these people. Let’s expose Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta and Norman Norell. And that’s when it happened.
It was a different time. Now is a different time, too. All I’m saying is that, please, let us be all together and respectful of who we are. That doesn’t mean that we have to be delusional and think we are better than we are. But also by the same token, we shouldn’t be less than what we are.