Derek Lam and Emily Adams Bode opened up about sustainability, staying relevant and social media during a lengthy talk with Fern Mallis as part of The New School’s “Festival of New.”
Lam, who launched his own business in 2003 and introduced the diffusion line 10 Crosby in 2011, will introduce four new fragrances next year. He will be honored for Fashion Design at the Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Awards later this month. The Atlanta-born Bode whose résumé includes stops at Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs, won the 2019 CFDA’s Emerging Designer of the Year award. She started her signature label in 2016, relying on globally sourced antique fabrics. Cutting to the chase, Mallis asked them about the discussion’s theme, “Keeping it New in Fashion: A Talk between Generations.” For Lam, that is a matter of training. Here, a look at that topic and others they tackled.
Coming Up With the New
Derek Lam: Whether you are an athlete, a musician or go to school at Parsons, you have been trained very early to just use your memory muscle and to have the quality to explore, to always create and to to put something down on paper. I do think it’s gotten out of control. When I first started working with Michael Kors, it was two seasons a year and then the whole summer we sat on the floor of his office having pizza. Now it is four seasons and you have to do all of the other things — accessories, diffusion lines, blah, blah, blah. It’s gotten untenable to constantly produce especially when there are so many people doing the same thing. That is a conversation that we’re having now, ‘How much product can the world absorb and are we as designers part of the cog of the wheel?’”
‘Sustainability is the New Black’
Emily Adams Bode: When I launched, it was a collection comprised entirely of antique textiles. Now, we produce our textiles and do historical techniques like embroideries, appliqués and quilting. While we go to larger production runs and work with larger accounts, we assess how we can be sustainable in that way. How can we continue to preserve the narrative and not lose sight of where we started…some people like Matches are requiring traceability apps so that they can trace which factories [we use.] We are seeing that companies are getting dropped when they use sweatshops. If people aren’t doing their due diligence or factory visits, they might not catch it, which is hard when you are working with a new factory. You are not always going to have time to visit them first before you do your first production run or sampling. Knowing that our customers and our global accounts are interested [in that] is not just an American idea, it’s really become a global idea.
D.L.: It’s almost like having 10 shows — not in the same scale — but in the amount of attention, the cost. Constantly producing content is now part of our jobs, not me personally but at the company.
The Power of Instagram
E.A.B.: A huge percentage of our sales come from Instagram. It is a really easy way to tell the narrative of our brand. It feels less invasive than e-mailing. Just explaining what’s new in your product offerings and events seems more natural on Instagram. It’s also how we find a lot of our staff, our interns. We are able to share our inspiration, which keeps it quite personal to myself, which I think people are very interested in versus only putting your campaigns on.
Working With Influencers
D.L.: We can’t afford to pay for those kinds of deals. In most cases, [for us] it starts out organically. We see somebody who has posted something about Derek Lam and who has expressed that they like the brand or what they’re wearing. We then contact them to see if they would like to do something. But we are very clear about the fact that we don’t have the means to pay them. But you build a nice community of people that you don’t feel is mercenary.
Whether Influencers Influence
E.A.B.: Not for us. Men’s is a little bit different, especially clothing. We don’t see a direct correlation between our celebrities or influencers per se and then a conversion to sales. We also don’t invest in influencers and I don’t foresee us ever investing in influencers. It just doesn’t make sense. For men’s wear, I feel very strongly about us not doing it. It might help with getting your name out there but we don’t see a conversion.
D.L.: I used to do New York and then around the country. In New York, the New Yorkers didn’t even care. I would say, ‘Hi, I’m Derek Lam. Can I help you with that?’ They were like, ‘No, just get out of my way. I’m looking for stuff.’ You have to get out of town to get a little more excitement.
Showing in Paris
E.A.B.: For men’s, it made sense for us to show in Paris. When we were showing here, it was amazing. [Bode was the first female designer to show during NYFW: Men’s.] We had incredible support and great reviews. But it was primarily friends, family, some domestic buyers and domestic press. We couldn’t afford to justify that on that level.…Geographically, it makes so much more sense for the buyers. It’s a lot more expensive even for our Japanese buyers to come to New York.
The Fashion Show Debate
D.L.: I’m not good at routine. After 15 years of routine and that pressure and stress, I just needed to take a break and to figure out what could be a new and exciting way to represent the collection.
E.A.B.: Ralph Lauren — I’ve always loved that company. [D.L.: But you worked there.] I really like Cecilie Bahnsen. I was just in Paris with Aurora [James] from Brother Vellies. I like Kerby [Jean-Raymond] from Pyer Moss — people, who really know how to utilize social media for their voice and really engage with their audience. That’s such an inspiration.
D.L.: So many — Jonathan Anderson, Ralph Rucci — I think he’s amazing. I like what Marc Jacobs is doing. I have to say that I like people who survive. I still click on Yohji Yamamoto. I know it’s going to be black. I know there is going to be a wild tulle hat. It’s going to be slightly Victorian. I think he is amazing. The one that I don’t get is the Comme des Garçons runway show… I wish I could wear Comme, but I was not going to wear a fishnet vest over my poplin shirt with my culotte shorts. I was like, ‘Get over the fantasy, Derek.’ But I collect a lot of clothes that are relatively wild in that you would never expect me to wear them. I collect a lot of prints that Prada does. I don’t wear them yet. I’m waiting to be 70 and I’m just going to be the most amazing crazy older man. Honestly, I find fashion on older people just so cool.