Sartorially Satanic: The Conde Nast School of Fashion and Design

I remember the evening I saw an advert in Vogue for the Conde Nast School.  I was an undergraduate tottering on the precipice of the adult world, knowing that I wanted to immerse myself in the industry of Chanel tweed suits and late nights at the Met, yet not quite knowing how.  A course led by the industry bible would surely be my gateway.  Yet after a quick Google, I perceived a major roadblock, in the form of £19,560. Excluding VAT.

£19,560 is over double what any average student would pay to study for a Masters at Oxford University.  I could give lectures on how courses like this, akin to the elitist world of internships at Conde Nast, are socially exclusionary and act as cognitive deterrents to poorer prospective editors, designers, stylists and press officers.  But what is particularly interesting here is the internal economics of the course.

The ‘Vogue Fashion Foundation Diploma’ runs alongside the university year, with one term of studying ‘within the context of the wider fashion industry’ before going on to specialize in a plethora of specialisms.  Term three involves working independently on a ‘major, final creative project.’

WWP may be an out-an-out cynic but I cannot be the only one who thinks this is a load of bollocks.  In depth study of ‘the entire spectrum of fashion’ in 8 weeks is something you could probably achieve yourself after reading a couple of hatchet job biographies, watching The September Issue and subscribing to Karla’s Closet.  Put simply, the internet has eradicated the appeal of ‘talks with industry experts.’ Term Two’s specialist focus is also questionable.  How can such a small college accommodate tutoring, expertise and guidance in every sector of the fashion industry?  The answer: work experience!  That’s right, ‘students on the one-year Vogue Fashion Foundation Diploma will spend a period of work experience on location in Europe or another part of the UK.’  They then finish this banquet of exploitation off with a an entire term without any teaching hours.

However snobbishly exclusive this course is, no student should have to pay this much for this little.  This is not a qualification, this is nearly £20,000 for substandard work experience. Even more ludicrous is the fact that the College itself does appear to deem the course worthy as a career-enabler.  Instead of advertising the incredible job prospects on offer after completion, Conde Nast claims their students will be ‘well placed to enter [another] degree programme’ but bewilderingly ‘cannot pledge work placements for all students at Condé Nast or at any other business.’

If you ever lamented the fact that only the rich and connected could work for Conde Nast, get ready to lament the fact that it will soon become the rich, connected, and economically wasteful.

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Politician Style Watch: Ed Miliband

In light of Wednesday’s egg-gate scandal, there never seemed like a better time to scrutinise the fashion choices of the leader of the opposition.  It comes as no surprise, however, that there really isn’t that much to scrutinise.  The guy appears to like red ties and nothing else.  After a particularly elusive parliamentary recess so far, out steps Ed into East Street Market wearing…a red tie. His face then came into contact with a mass of poultry by-products. Ring any bells?  Whilst the tabloids laboriously compared Prescott’s crazed reaction to Miliband’s slightly more laissez-faire approach, all WWP could see was the red tie.  Just as Woody Allen popped up at great historical moments in Zelig, so I feared the red tie will appear in Labour’s entire photographic history.

Credit where credit’s due, Miliband is able to mix it up every now and again. He is also capable of wearing purple.  And pink.  Yet following UKIP’s gradual rise in the polls, I sense that we may be seeing less and less of Ed’s ties that fall at the latter end of the rainbow spectrum.  It appears Miliband’s PR team think of the electorate as illiterate, drooling morons who, if presented with a Labour shadow minister wearing blue, will find themselves in a confused state in the voting booth.

You rarely see Miliband out of the red tie, but interestingly Clegg and Cameron do not – literally – follow suit.  David’s penchant for blue ranges from the lightest powder to the brightest indigo, whilst Nick appears to have done a tie-based supermarket sweep of Charles Tyrwhitt. Across the pond, Obama takes suit etiquette to entirely new level; regularly rolling up sleeves and loosening his neckwear to convey an aura of affability and, well, coolness. In contrast our politicians are ‘buttoned up’ in every sense of the world.

But Red Ed really takes it to another dimension.  Google ‘Ed Miliband on holiday’ and you simply get more pictures of his suit and red/purple tie combo. Perhaps this is because the press just don’t follow him on trips to the Balearics, or because he never really takes a holiday.  But whatever the case, he is never seen without his politician’s uniform: a strangely refreshing fact after countless pictures of Cameron in board shorts on the beach.

WAG Watch: Peng Liyuan

About a week ago, Vanity Fair released the 2013 International Best-Dressed List.  In true VP style the list is brimming with obscure Princesses (plus Kate Middleton), gallery curators and CEOs, yet includes just one fashion blogger (Hallie Swanson) and excludes Michelle Obama for the second year running. To many, this is  No Big Deal, perhaps Vanity Fair just hate Alexander Wang and Michael Kors.  But to the people in the world of WWP, this was a Really Big Deal, particularly because of the presence of the First Lady of China on the list. Us cynical, sartorial politicos ask questions such as: ‘does Vanity Fair have a secret allegiance with the Chinese government?’ and ‘could Peng Liyuan be the cause of World War Three?

Peng Liyuan’s style has been described as ‘trendy-yet-stately.’  Interestingly, I beg to disagree.  On-duty she’s all about oriental suit jackets, scarves and slightly weird, military-inspired costumes (she is well known as a contemporary folk singer and soprano), off-duty she loves a pink puffa jacket.  And more scarves.  Her outfits are a perfectly coordinated mix of traditional Chinese dress and the pearls-and-chignon of Western First Ladies, which put simply, look boring at best and strange at worst.  The outfit pin-pointed by Vanity Fair as her ‘notable ensemble of 2013’? A navy wool coat and sky-blue scarf.  My 89 year-old grandma could have put that together.  

As the Chinese Fashion Bloggersphere declares Peng as ‘China’s Business Card’ and her style as ‘glory for the motherland,’ other less excitable commentators question the repercussions of her inclusion.  She may be ‘winning credit for China’ but to what ends?  To be accepted on the worldwide fashion landscape is, lamentably, to be accepted by the West: has Vanity Fair unknowingly written the prequel to a stronger relationship between the US and China, just as US-Russian relations are crumbling?  

As one Chinese ‘netizen’ articulated on Twitter: “Only when China’s environment and the people’s livelihood make the world’s best list can it be called strong.” In a country of such breadth, depth and censorship, we must remember how easy it is to put Peng Liyuan – Aids activist, entertainer and best-dressed First Lady – on the Chinese cover.  Inside the country, it is hard to believe there is much in the way of designer labels, soprano solos, and soft, domestic bliss.

Politician Style Watch: Oona King

WWP could have fallen in love with this woman simply after hearing her name.  Through all the Peters and Andrews that clog up the House of Lords at the moment, to hear ‘Baroness Oona King of Bow’ ring through the chamber is entirely refreshing.  She also serves refreshment in the form of background and expertise.  Born to a black, politically-active father and Jewish mother, King’s life experiences – from being forcibly taken to Nairobi to her twenty year marriage to an Italian film producer – moulded her into just the person an East End London borough needs as a representative.  The calibre of her select committee choices is wonderfully suited to her own experiences too: the Adoption Selection Committee in the Lords (Metro News professed she adopts children ‘the Angelina Jolie way’) and Urban Affairs Subcommittee in the commons to name a few.

Yet her seemingly-seamless political career (notwithstanding a miscalculated stance on Iraq, followed by an electoral defeat at the mercy of George Galloway) may have meant she often plays it safe.  Today it was revealed that her memoirs – now available in eBook form to all you radical traitors – could be the slowest selling political diaries ever…’with the exception of David Blunkett’s.’  If this apparent lack of popularity is down to her humdrum success in Westminster, I cannot help but feel it is also mirrored in her wardrobe.  Sure, the girl can rock a statement necklace, but she missed a trick by not bringing her own sartorial culture into the chamber.  She could have stood at PMQs in colours, prints and a magnificent afro, yet went instead for the dreary open-collared white shirt.

Of course, King can wear what she likes.  Yet fashion is all about image, and many forget that an image can convey powerful messages.  A photo composition of the House of Commons’ fashion choices would reveal a huge mass of grey, black and navy suits, dotted with the occasional (badly judged) colourful skirt-and-jacket combos from Teresa May and the like. That surely says more about the diversity of representation in British politics than a Hansard report ever could.

As for Oona’s slow book sales?  In my opinion, she was ultimately too good at her job to create a scandal, yet not good enough to gain fame within the political sphere or media. The Daily Mail brands her as the ‘Bridget Jones of the Commons’ – but I doubt even Daily Mail readers will really believe that.

National Style Watch: Cuba Libre!

WWP was on her travels last summer. In June I packed up my backpack and flew to Havana with Friend From University, where we traversed the top half of the island by coach. Cuba was many things to me.  Communist (obviously), sexual (unashamedly), joyful (largely). Yet the description which has been stuck on the end of my tongue every time friends ask, is time-warped.  Cars run on black smoke and gaffa-taped exhausts, computers run on Windows ’98 and the people run on rum, salsa and cigars.  No, really.  The radio plays Greenday and Kelly Clarkson circa 2001.  And the women dress from a time WWP is struggling to pinpoint.

A typical Cuban chica’s daywear wardrobe would consist of: cotton shorts – strictly half an inch too long or five inches too short; an emporium of jersey halterneck tops embellished with diamante (delete as appropriate) Playboy bunny/’Sexy Bitch’/marijuana leaf; a selection of brightly coloured bras with thick straps (to be worn with the halternecks); an assortment of footwear, ranging from plastic white gladiator sandals to plastic white stilettos; and a jewellery box filled with even more diamante for good measure. A night spent at the Casa de la Musica? Never before have hemlines tested the boundaries modesty like they have been in Havana.

After spending only two weeks travelling through the country, it is impossible to grasp how exactly a communist system dictates lives.  I know that people queue for their bread in the morning and I know that the tax rate is incredibly high. I know that there is a prominent commodity-based black market, and I know that Cubans, who are generally the most gregarious and welcoming of people, will do almost anything to scam a few Pesos from an unsuspecting couple of English tourists.

However how this trailer trash look started, I do not know.  ‘Time-warped’ doesn’t cover it – the ’90s in the Western world may have been a decade of fashion sloth and purgatory, but at least we matched our underwear accordingly to our crop tops and distressed flares.  Cuba, I love you, but surely Communism is no excuse for looking like a ho.  And if it is, let’s hope an Iron Curtain is never dropped over us again.

N.B.: The picture above is from the website cubaabsolutely.com.  Another blog about life in Cuba that’s well worth a read is hereishavana.com/, written by an American woman living in the capital.

Tales of the Recession: ASOS

Every time I walk past a closed-down Jessops, HMV or Habitat, I inwardly mourn a little.  And if the Financial Times is to be believed, I will soon be entering into a deep emotional depression for the next half a decade.  4th June’s headline read: UK High Streets to lose 5000 shops in next five years.  Despite the best efforts of town councils and Mary Portas, it appears that people are no longer interested in shopping any more.  “It’s the recession!” WWP hears you cry, “no-one can afford new clothes!”  This really isn’t true.  Firstly, you cannot sacrifice buying clothes in the same way as you can sacrifice your weekly five bottles of Merlot. Secondly, there is the story of ASOS.

As Seen On Screen.com was first launched in 2000; 13 years on it has acronym-ised its name, won a billion retail awards and truthfully calls itself the UK’s largest independent online fashion beauty retailer.  More to the point, it is making money in a retail landscape strewn with tumbleweed and ‘Final Markdown’ signs.   In merely a year, it has expanded its international market by 45%, whilst it has categorically never made less than a profit for nine years.

WWP has neither the knowledge nor the tenacity to launch into an economic analysis of ASOS’s success.  But what I can ask is this: was does it mean for fashion?

In an interview with the Telegraph, the company’s co-founder Nick Robertson (below) pronounced it was ASOS’s diversity of products that made it a success.  He’s certainly got a point, search for ‘Black Dress’ on ASOS and you are presented with 957 to choose from.  Perhaps this ‘stock more, sell more’ approach is why we are seeing a gross diversification amongst our more traditional retailers: Marks and Spencer’s Autograph and Limited Collections appeal to affluent young women, whilst Next now sell 7 For All Mankind Jeans alongside LK Bennett shoes.  To some, this new variety will appear as an exciting upshot of retailers putting more thought into what their customers actually want.  To others (WWP included) it is worrying: horizontal expansion can mean standards in fabric and tailoring fall as the amount of stock for sale becomes more important than the quality of goods.

The fact of the matter is, the internet is the new way to shop.  Companies that failed to realise this 5 years ago are now in trouble, yet those that jumped on board with gusto are doing okay.  And the final ironic upshot of the death of the high street? Independent retailers are taking over the boarded over Woolworths’ and Blockbusters, and, being businesses born of the 21st century, concurrently thriving online.  Now that’s diversity.

(Supposedly) Sartorially Satanic: Vera Wang

How do I love thee Vera Wang?  Let me count the ways.  WWP was never ‘that girl’ who used to make a wedding gown out of tissue paper at the age of 5 and have every detail of the predestined nuptials planned before pubity.  Yet if there is one thing I do know, it is that if I am ever to get married and I am in a financially stable position (i.e. rich beyond my wildest dreams), I want to own a Vera Wang wedding dress.  It doesn’t have to be couture, hell, it doesn’t even need to be new, but being the slave to the fashion world that I am, it has to be Wang.

This level of worship from the fash-pack isn’t, unsurprisingly, due to the fact that Wang designed Kim Kardashian’s wedding dress, but because her designs are ultimately very, very good.  Hence, there is a very high demand.  So in China, Wang’s boutique implemented a ‘try-on charge’ of around £317, to discourage those “crazy, random chicks!” who try on wedding dresses for fun.  Fun because (a) they either cannot afford them, and/or (b) aren’t even engaged.  A couple of months ago, the power of Twitter meant a campaign of anti-discrimination zipped its way to Vera Wang PR, on the grounds that charging to try on wedding dresses is unfair.  In the words of the ever-thoughtful and charmingly eloquent Daily Mail Online readers: “Beautiful dresses, but what a greedy woman!” (cornishpixie) and “Money makes people do crazy things” (HP18).

‘Vera Wang’ is not one ‘greedy’, 63 year-old woman who makes dresses on a Brother sewing machine in her garden shed. It is a global company, which, just like any business, aims to make a profit by eliminating unnecessary costs.  If you are trying on a multi-thousand pound dress – that you have no intention of buying – for free, you are an unnecessary cost. Moreover, the fee was redeemable if you bought a dress, and let’s face it, if you’re serious about buying Wang, you’ve got £317 to spare.  Anyone’s need to transform this into a debate about egalitarianism will stem from an underlying problem with capitalism. There really is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is certainly no such thing as a free 90-minute dress fitting with afternoon tea.