“Speed Up / Slow Down”: Meditations on Time, Scale, and Assessing Value From Francesco Risso, Benjamin Kirchhoff, and More

Laird Borrelli-Persson

Way back in 1979, the Buggles noted “video killed the radio star.” The internet, specifically Instagram, has similarly disrupted the fashion system, which has grown exponentially in size and speed. Time is of the essence like never before—for better or for worse. As much as the industry needs to wake up PDQ to the effects of its production on the environment, time needs to be taken for research and development and for putting new systems in place. It seems to be a catch-22. Time was the overarching theme of “Speed Up / Slow Down,” a seminar organized in Helsinki by Aalto University and Juni Communication & Production. A selection of fashion professionals spoke on five panels moderated by A Magazine’s Dan Thawley, creative consultant Alban Adam, and Chris Vidal Tenomaa of SSAW magazine on topics ranging from sustainability to cultural preservation.

The takeaways? Less is more. Practicing a craft takes time. We need new ways to assign value beyond social media followings or “likes.” Fashion is about emotion. There is no substitute for experience and action. Read on for excerpts from these thought-provoking sessions.

From “Chaos & Craft”: Francesco Risso, creative director, Marni; in conversation with Dan Thawley.

Plus ça change
[Risso recounts his first attempts at crafting clothes.] “I literally started to cut my sisters’ clothes. Of course, they weren’t happy at all because they would find jackets without sleeves, or pants without legs, but now we laugh a lot about it. It sounds quite psychotic in a way, but nothing’s changed, it’s still part of my mornings. If I’m not satisfied with what I’m wearing when I wake up I just cut a piece out of it.”

Off Tempo
[Risso spent 10 years at Prada before joining Marni.] “I never represented the Prada soldiers, which sometimes was a problem for me and for them. Prada has this incredible organized way of being and people get in this sort of following mode, which is great because it’s almost like the goddess and her own army and it’s actually beautiful to see. I’ve always been quite disruptive in the factory. [Prada CEO] Patrizio Bertelli changed my office probably 100 times because he liked to try to put order into my chaos.”

Making Connections
“[Our collaborations are] about small productions or very controlled things, it’s not about massive sales. So for us [they’re] another little jewel, and of course being part of little projects here and there makes us happy, that’s all. When I hear that word ‘sustainability’ I get a bit [uncertain], because I don’t think anybody can be [wholly] sustainable—not even Greta Thunberg with her yellow plastic raincoat. At the end of the day I think each one has to make their own story in [sustainability] and try to share and connect and try to make things in different ways; for us it’s about working with different communities [around the world].”

Aide-Memoires
“I have spent a fortune on clothes. I realized it was becoming a problem because I didn’t have any more space—not in a wardrobe but actually in a room. [It was] then I realized that I was starting a collection. Now I have this fantastic warehouse, [which] literally is in the same building as my psychiatrist, where sometimes I go back to see my old obsessive moments of collections. Of course I collect my masters; Azzedine Alaïa’s [work is] always one of the main things I’ve collected, but also Comme des Garçons and Margiela. I’ve always also collected, like, cowboy shirts or sailor pants or uniforms: I shouldn’t go too much into the details—there are some things that are disgusting!

From “Subcultures & Fashion”: Benjamin Kirchhoff, fashion editor, designer and stylist; Jordan Hemingway, photographer and director; in conversation with Alban Adam.

Make Time
Benjamin Kirchhoff: “I think that fashion and subcultures are two different things, and for too long fashion has looked at subcultures to feed [itself]. I don’t believe that subcultures actually exist with the internet. At the beginning the internet helped to push the idea of identity, and we are now getting at the stage where identity has been replaced by individualism. There is talk and communication among like-minded people across the world; that’s globalization. The internet has helped to create communities that are not necessarily geographically located…but the sense of doing is something that seems to be lacking. A lot of the subcultural [appeal] was people getting together and doing shit and producing. I don’t see that any longer and I think that if I don’t see it, and if it does exist, may they stay quiet and be pure and do their shit, and please keep out of it.”

It’s a Numbers Game
Kirchhoff: “I think that arts and applied arts are an important contribution to the world but it’s important to scale back. Not everything needs to be global. Not everything needs to be seen and liked by hundreds of thousands—or however many people. I think we need to start taking a break from this search for validation. It’s very strange that your success is validated by the stores that you sell to, by the editors that you are acquainted with, and not by your work, and not by your talent. Nowadays I notice a trend of the good-looking sort of fronting designer; there is designer casting. I don’t know that if Alber Elbaz was to happen today he would necessarily have success. Do you think that Alexander McQueen with his point of view, with his mouth, with his looks, with his aesthetic output, would be able to survive or to exist today? It’s demonstrative of the time we live in: There is fear, there is a lack of awareness, and there are blinders. It’s a tunnel vision that is really dangerous.”

Jordan Hemingway: “[Everything’s] made worse by this algorithm. With my work [editor’s note: Hemingway shoots with film], craft is a very big thing. It’s a funny time because this sort of validation that people are given is not based on merit—it’s based on a number, a super irrelevant and useless number of followers. I so often see people getting jobs [based on number of followers]. It’s a frustrating state of affairs, and because that’s what we’re being judged on, it’s no wonder that we see that everything sort of looks the same.”

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Photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, October 15, 1942

From “Conservation as Cultural Preservation”: Miren Arzalluz, curator and director, Palais Galliera; in conversation with by Dan Thawley.

In It for the Long Term
“When you talk about historic dress collecting…it’s a huge responsibility to identify what is worth preserving, what’s most interesting. What’s influential? Is it influential to have more likes on Instagram, or is it influential to have [a big designer name], for example, when you acquire contemporary fashion? It’s the same as when you acquire contemporary art, it is difficult because you don’t have the historical perspective. Today it’s even more difficult because of the speed of creation, just the number of designers all over the world, because of the speed of creation in every single house in every single country. It’s difficult to have the space to breathe and to think about what’s happening and what is relevant. We do what we can. But there’s always a risk, especially when you are working in a public museum; Galliera is a city museum. It’s very interesting the transition—it happens in every discipline, but in fashion it’s more acute—how a dress that has been sold in stores, which has been publicized on Instagram, which has been worn by a celebrity at a gala, the moment it enters a museum collection it acquires a completely different sort it of [value]; it becomes a sacred object. It becomes part of national heritage, in this case. You interpret it in a completely different way, you present it in a completely different way. You wonder if you’ve—I don’t know how to say this—you’re given it more importance or if you’re also sort of emptying its soul.”

Church and State
“Fashion exhibitions are a trend of the moment. They’ve become blockbusters, you know. Not only fashion museums, but art museums around the world want to do fashion exhibitions because that draws lots of visitors. We feel a sort of competition between museums to show the most spectacular fashion exhibitions. The problem for me is not that [fashion houses] are doing exhibitions—they’re free to do whatever they want, and I’m super interested in seeing what they have to tell and how they interpret their own heritage. The problem is that they have a lot more money than we do, and they’re accustoming the public to experience fashion in an exhibition in a completely different way from a museum. Not only because of the money, because of course they are capable of doing incredible productions that we cannot even begin to dream of. Very often I think they’ve become another way of showcasing the work of a designer or the so-called history of the house, and so it’s much closer to a fashion show than it is a fashion exhibition in a museum, which has in theory other objectives. A museum is there—and I don’t want to sound patronizing—but a museum is there to preserve and to create what we consider heritage, but also to interpret it, to educate, and to inspire—and to do it from a very objective point of view. We’re not a marketing tool for any house. So the problem is because we feel this competition, and we also have our own political pressure to make numbers in terms of visitors, this is a drama for us, [because] nobody seems to find another way of evaluating the success of an exhibition but with numbers of visitors. Well, in my opinion, a good exhibition is not necessarily the one that makes more visitors.”

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Photographed by Franco Rubartelli, Vogue, February 15, 1970

From “The Future of Nostalgia & Where Did the Love Go?”: This editor; Azza Yousif, fashion editor, Vogue Hommes; Olya Kuryshchuk, founder, editor-in-chief, 1 Granary; in conversation with Chris Vidal Tenomaa.

New Beginnings?
Olya Kuryshchuk: “I think it starts more from fashion education. As students we look so much at old things. And then I think we’re pushed way too much to look only at aesthetics at the moment and that’s what stumbles fashion from really going forward. There are some schools where 80% of the stuff that comes out is a new version of John Galliano, as if the school is trying to find a new John or Alexander McQueen. It’s not that much about seeing 2019 and what’s happening around us and [if] can we really push design forward—it’s all aesthetics, and a specific type of aesthetics.”

Living It
Azza Yousif: “Nostalgia for me also is experience. The pre-internet generation, we had to hustle to get information, to get magazines. If I couldn’t afford to buy them I would stay for hours at WH Smith and just go through everything. You really just had to go out of your way to get any information. And I think all of those experiences stayed in my head and I use them as a library of experience. And it’s interesting how from all the talks [at the seminar], most people have been giving the advice: go out in the street, go meet people, go talk to people. I think fashion is about emotion, and maybe that’s why people are nostalgic—because they’re going back to that emotion. To create emotion and creativity you need a proper time of gestation to come up with a new idea, live through it, and then express it to the world.”

Film Forum
Yousif: “The way I interpret [young photographers returning to using film] is that it is kind of a way for them to take control back of the image on set because when you’re shooting digital, [the image] is there immediately on the screen and you have so many people giving their opinion and it’s really hard to focus. It’s part of them wanting to regain control on set and the image truly becoming their point of view of this atmosphere that we’ve all created together.”

Don’t Look Back
Kuryshchuk: “I think [my lack of nostalgia] is not so much tied to my age as it is to where I came from, the Ukraine. It’s really hard for me to be nostalgic; I fell into fashion because I saw one thing and it became a rabbit hole. I’m daily discovering things, so nothing is a nostalgia for me, everything is new. I’m an immigrant, like many students are, and we didn’t see any of this [history], we were not exposed to this. It’s something we discovered way later when Tumblr exploded and all those blogs. I think, again coming from a place where for me it was all new and then used so many times again and again and again, going on accounts of stylists and it’s constantly Kate Moss pictures, it gets really tiring, for me personally. You almost want to say, ‘Okay, we’ve been there, can we just move forward?’ There are a lot of things I learned so I see that [nostalgia] is educational too. I guess for me the most nostalgic moment was when Demna, Gosha, and Lotta used so many symbols that none of us being young thought had any value, and they brought that all to their work, but again after two or three years it was so overused that it killed any nostalgia for anything I’ve seen in my childhood. All the post–Soviet Union things, literally my whole childhood from food to music to artists to visuals, was exhausted in those few years. I think design is so much about progress, maybe not creating something totally new, but just pushing things.”

From “Sports & Sustainability”: Spencer Phipps, designer, Phipps International; in conversation with Dan Thawley.

Pace Yourself
[Phipps is a Paris-based American who worked with Dries Van Noten before launching his own eco-menswear line, which is informed by his passion for climbing and the outdoors.] “The summary of [what we’re after] is what we’ve started to call purposeful luxury: stuff that is obviously made responsibly, but also things that are useful, whether that’s through technical functionality or just helping you on an emotional level. Things that are creating a purpose, that have a reason to be brought into this world. [It’s about] this idea of creating a whole universe about preservation and getting customers excited about their role in the preservation of the planet and being able to take part in that [in their purchasing]. For me, sustainability is a lot about intention. I mean, a sustainable product is a bit of an oxymoron honestly, because there’s enough stuff in the world that we could all never, ever buy anything new and just go to thrift shops and be fine. If you are going to do something new, I think it’s a responsible thing to see if you can do it in the most responsible way that you can. And if the one thing you can do is just [design a piece where] the lining isn’t made of plastic, then start there. It’s small choices. Doing what you can do and acknowledging what you can’t do helps. Have a goal [but] give yourself a little bit of slack.”

Rewriting Fashion History
“Blockchain technology, it’s basically this traceability software; it’s like Bitcoin for your clothes. LVMH is going to be doing a lot with this, it’s the thing that’s going to be coming into the forefront in the next couple of years. It’s a chip or a code or a label that goes inside of any piece of clothing; when you buy something it tells you, like down to the cow, the full process [of production]. It all of a sudden gives clothes almost like a DNA and you can trace [a garment] all the way back to its origins.”

Go Big or Go Home?
[Phipps on how much messaging a sustainable company should do.] “The big question is the Adidas versus Nike dilemma, or even the LVMH versus Kering thing, where everybody’s working toward sustainability but one of them communicates and the other one doesn’t at all. There’s a really big debate about who is doing more, and what. Sustainability is an interesting thing to talk about, but it’s not really the focus of our brand. I don’t want people to buy Phipps International because it’s environmentally friendly, I want them to buy it because it makes your butt look good, because you feel cute. Fashion is an emotional purchase at the end of the day; it’s not something you buy to do penance.”

These excerpts have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Originally Appeared on Vogue