Taking place in the hallowed Union Debate Chamber, Oxford Fashion Week continued its campaign on fashion with its Forum. After a break on Sunday following the successful Style Show, the event brought five well-renowned members of the fashion industry all the way to Oxford on a Bank Holiday Monday evening: Dolly Jones- editor of Vogue.com, Frances Card- Brand Consultant, Claire Wilcox- curator of Fashion and Textiles at the V&A, Tony McGee- Photographer, and finally – perhaps the female favourite – David Gandy, Britain’s number one male model. We popped along, as any other budding fashionista would, to hear about what OFW dubbed their “Fashionable Lives” forum, and also to have a good look at Mr Gandy, thank you very much.
Unlike last year’s event focusing around the debate “Fashion is an unnecessary luxury” and which featured an enigmatic performance by Sebastian Horsely, this year’s Forum modelled itself around a talk followed by a ‘Q&A’, allowing the audience to get just as involved as the speakers. It was thus a surprise, and what we believed ultimately to be a shame, that the event on the whole wasn’t more popular. On entering the hall just before the talk began, only the front few rows had been taken and there was still space for us and a few more fashion conscious students before any of the rows looked full. However this had no bearing on what would be a truly fascinating talk, something quite different from your typical term card fair. The five panellists had all experienced the fashion industry in their own way: from how they got into the business, how they saw it from their own unique viewpoint and their predictions for the future of fashion, the talks covered followed their fashion journeys whilst the question and answer provided an opportunity to ask those burning questions, some that revealed more that we wanted to know!
David Gandy, Dolly Jones & Frances Card
Yet what we saw as the most poignant question asked, especially given the week, was whether fashion has a point, or is it as superficial and irrelevant as the empty seats suggested? For many of those attending (and organising) the event, fashion is an industry of great interest, but is it one that students with an Oxford degree should be so eager to enter, or should we pursue more “worthwhile” or “serious” careers, be it doctors, lawyers or teachers? It is true to say fashion is often not taken seriously: associated with frivolous shopping habits, irrational expenditure and impractical purchases (do we really need another pair of 6 inch heels?), it is appears wasteful, and referring back to the empty seats, not worth our time. However as Dolly Jones stated “fashion is a form of communication: it is what people judged you on before you even open your mouth,” fashion is certainly more than clothes, it is about identity, it is about personality and it is about culture. Furthermore, as Claire Wilcox described her learning of fashion through the history of textiles, fashion maybe mutative but it also synthesises our history, our political, social and cultural relations and expresses them through a form we can all understand. Yet, Francis Card argued during the talk that it is often the fear of fashion that creates a misunderstanding that consequently stops people from participating within it, leading to this criticism: yet as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada argues about cerulean blue, what David Gandy stated, why you choose to wear a certain thing today, and what Dolly Jones so aptly asks: why do you get dressed in the morning?
Dolly Jones, Editor of Vogue.com
Now, we each will have our own interpretation to the question, we each dress a way for different needs, different purposes and to achieve different goals, but what it does show is that fashion is intelligent. Thus whilst we are not here to justify our own devout following of fashion (and hero worship of the panel and what they stand for), we want to argue that fashion is worthy of our time. During the talk, the panel dealt with questions on the influence of art, the role of Web 2.0 and the usage of social networking, the impact of the internet and the recession.Furthermore, they all recognised the role of smart decisions, such as the expansion of fashion onto the internet (highlighted by he recent sale of Net-A-Porter, which was valued near to $350 million) but also unexpected misfortunes including the loss of the brand, Luella, in the last year. The debate and issues covered thus showed how competitive and volatile fashion is – but it also acknowledged that it is through creativity and, if inadvertently, sense that it continues to survive. For those who attended, the event provided a platform for a formal but informative discussion of what appears so often to be an exclusive industry. The event producers, Lindsey Meyers and Alyx Barker, should be proud of the discussion (if not the turnout): the panellists were well chosen by their team, the range prevented viewpoints and ideas from clashing whilst the dynamics of the guests certainly worked well overall. Not only was it aesthetically pleasing in certain ways, but intellectually challenging. Whilst it is most likely to be the least attended event on OFW’s programme, we don’t and wouldn’t want it to go. The event needs a shake-up, but it will be hard to know what to sacrifice: as Francis Card concluded, “it displays what fashion is about for Oxford”.
For all those that missed the talk, we will be updating the page with our favourite snippets from the talk, plus our own exclusive interview with the panellists (and David Gandy’s faux pas, no fear!).
Photography: Sonali Campion