It’s an autumnal afternoon in London’s Soho and I’m meeting porn-legend Buck Angel. I must admit, I’m more than a little nervous. Very few contemporary porn stars have inspired as much discussion – both academic and journalistic – as Buck Angel. As someone who was born female, and worked as a professional model, but then changed sex and pursued a career in pornography, Buck challenges many cultural and social expectations. Buck is, arguably, one of the first Female to Male (FtM) transsexual performers in the adult entertainment world and could even be credited with starting a new genre of pornography. Known as ‘the hunk with a pussy,’ he coined the phrase ‘It’s not what’s between your legs that defines you’ and the erotic potential of his films all stress that gender performance exerts as much sexual allure as what is (or is not) between the legs.
My role model when I was six was my aunt Dorothy. She was 5 ft tall with a 1 ft black beehive, red lips, a black skin-tight suit, high heels and a boyfriend who was bald and 6 ft 2. And I still remember when I first saw them – looking at her in awe and looking at him and screaming. This memory is indelible.
‘We’ve had few failures that can compare to John Galliano’s recent one. I guess the best way to describe it is as a private failure committed in public. People hypothesised that LVMH weren’t sorry to get rid of him. His business had been stagnant for a while and at least from an editorial point of view he had peaked a long time ago. And now he has taken on another very visible job at Margiela, and he’s back on the stage. He failed, but he’s managed to come back.’
Nicole Phelps in part three of a narrative interview conducted by Anja Aronowsky Cronberg for Vestoj ‘On Failure.’
I’ve been in the bridal business for twenty-two years now. My father is a farmer and a singer and we hail from the Howrah district in West Bengal. I initially began as an embroiderer for a small workshop and I trained for fourteen years under Miss Zeenat, a designer who had been in the business for decades. Soon after, her daughter became engaged, and I had the opportunity to design her wedding outfit: a powder pink Saree with silver Dabka work.
‘Fashion is like a banana. No, don’t laugh. I’ll tell you what I mean. Sometimes designers complain to me that a competitor has copied one of their ideas and is making a killing with it. I tell them, tant pis! If you presented that idea two seasons ago and nobody noticed, it’s because the world wasn’t ready. That was your mistake. An idea in fashion is like a banana; if you eat it too soon, it’s green and tastes bad. And if you eat it too late, it’s brown and the taste is still bad. It has to be just perfect. That’s your job as a designer – to put your ideas out there when they’re ripe.’
Jean Jacques Picart in part two of a narrative interview conducted by Anja Aronowsky Cronberg for Vestoj ‘On Failure.’
A handful of centimetres can have a lot of power in the business of shoes. Recognising a market for well-designed, well-made men’s ‘heels’, Jennen Ngiau-Keng’s began his company Taller Shoes in 2007 and now offers a range of over one hundred elevated men’s shoes. The company stocks a range, from black formalwear shoes to boating loafers, each of which add between five and thirteen centimetres to the wearer’s height with a reinforced insole.
‘The system is what it is and fashion can’t change that. Are you going to change the world with fashion? I don’t think so. Fashion is just a reflection of society at large. We live in a culture where poor people can dress up in nice things for cheap, and where rich people want to know that they’re the only ones to have what they have. That’s not new. Some people have yachts in the Caribbean; others have a shack to sleep in if they’re lucky. My point is that we need everything – ultimately it’s about balance.’
Adrian Joffe in the first part of a long narrative interview conducted by Anja Aronowsky Cronberg for Vestoj ‘On Failure.’
In a business where designers often become figureheads for large corporations, to be rolled out when a perfume or handbag needs promoting, Christophe Lemaire is an unusually outspoken exception to the rule.
Hussein Chalayan became known as a ‘conceptual designer’ in the 1990s and it’s been bugging him ever since. Rather than getting attention for his more extraordinary designs (there have been dresses made of giant plastic bubbles, a table turning into a skirt, LED lights and lasers incorporated into garments as well as black chadors either covering or exposing the naked bodies of his models), he would like the focus to be on his wearable clothes, the stuff that people actually buy.
In 2009 FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, exhibited Betsy Bloomingdale’s vast collection of haute couture, donated to the museum over some forty years. The wardrobe, amassed between 1961 and 1996, includes pieces from Marc Bohan for Dior, Oscar De La Renta, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent and André Courrèges, among others. For Vestoj’s inaugural issue, On Material Memories, the collector is interviewed by Kevin Jones, Curator and Christina Johnson, Collections Manager at the museum.
Dries Van Noten speaks with care and reserve, like someone well aware of his privileged position in the fashion industry. In Dries’ case this is a standing that has been deftly and meticulously carved over the years, a feat which, in the eyes of many, makes it even more well deserved. Today he is one of the few remaining independent designers, an accomplishment that makes his brand somewhat of an anomaly in the contemporary fashion industry. Nevertheless, Dries, as the designer himself coyly intimates, has to start thinking about his future. Could it be that another of the enduring bastions of fashion sovereignty is about to end up in the hands of a business conglomerate?
‘Idealistically power should lie in the origins of creativity. A true and clear vision is ultimately a source of power. Realistically however, we’re dealing with a much more complicated organism. Fashion has its own ecology, built on a hierarchy of psychological and cultural relationships, with a bit of internal politics thrown in for good measure.’
Mary Ping from Slow And Steady Wins the Race on power politics in fashion.