Outsiders are changing the fashion industry.
That was the theme that resonated at Vogue’s second annual Forces of Fashion conference on Thursday — despite a stacked fashion A-list of headliners that included Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller and photographer Annie Leibovitz.
It was a reflection of the fashion industry as it stands. Direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker were present, as were unconventional fashion upstarts like Ambush, Gypsy Sport, Y/Project and Martine Rose. Even Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the ever-present Kardashian-Jenner clan, spoke about the early seeds of Kim Kardashian West’s and Kylie Jenner’s social omnipresence and their respective beauty lines — KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics — as well as Kendall Jenner’s modeling career.
It’s a theme that has been permeating fashion and beauty in bigger ways, too. For instance, Louis Vuitton enlisted Virgil Abloh, known for his brand Off-White, as men’s artistic director in March, and Kylie Jenner was on the cover of Forbes as the youngest self-made billionaire for her beauty line. Clearly, these industries are opening its arms to these disruptors and even tapping them for newness.
At the conference, Warby Parker’s Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa spoke about their path into the industry: “For us, we never had a goal of disrupting anything, we just wanted to solve our own problem,” said Gilboa, of the eight-year-old eyewear company. “We were frustrated consumers. We didn’t understand why, if you broke or lost a pair of glasses, to replace them was so expensive.” This week, Warby Parker tapped famous New Yorkers, like Iman, Fran Lebowitz, Humberto Leon, Chloë Sevigny and Gloria Steinem, for its Pupils Project collaboration, and they shared the stage with Iman at the Vogue event, suggesting the DTC brand is on equal playing field as the supermodel.
Elsewhere, even as streetwear becomes more of the norm in the fashion industry today, Yoon Ahn of Ambush stressed the changing tide in her panel: “We’ve always been the outsiders; everything was self-taught,” she said. “The way we grew as a business wasn’t the way that a lot of people have gotten into those big houses.”
Still, Yoon, like fellow streetwear stalwart Abloh, was appointed by a legacy designer house — she recently joined Dior as a director of jewelry and accessories for its menswear lines. Starting her own experimental line from the ground up had its advantages, even though she was at first intimidated by working with a heritage fashion label. “Once I went in and I realized that everything that I learned — starting the business from nothing and getting involved in every aspect of it — it’s the same principles. And I had so much that I could contribute to this big house that they didn’t realize.”
The theme of change from the outside in played well to a largely millennial and Gen-Z audience.
According to Vogue, the Forces of Fashion 2018 conference counted 400 attendees and about half were students – a departure from last year’s event, which was more suited to industry insiders. Tickets for the Thursday’s event were $3,000, but undisclosed discounted tickets were available to said students, who came from schools like the Pratt Institute and the Rhode Island School of Design.
Certainly, Vogue wanted to incorporate more wide-ranging perspectives and its readers into Forces of Fashion according to Mark Holgate, Vogue fashion news director, who planned the programming with Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour. This was not only reflected in the speakers, but also in the conversations on stage. Kris Jenner spoke candidly about how her family’s show, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which debuted in 2007, allowed her entree into fashion. “I just wanted to sell more T-shirts,” she said of signing on to benefit her now-defunct children’s clothing boutique Smooch.
Now, Jenner is instrumental in her daughters’ beauty and fashion careers, and even hinted at starting her own label: “I would love to do something in the near future. I really am thinking about it,” she said. “I think it’s important for women my age to realize that I get all my inspiration from my mom who’s 84; Mary Jo is a dream. I just want to pass that down to women everywhere, and remind them that we’re here because fashion is exciting and it’s expression and fun.”