Edinburgh International Fashion Festival 2013- Symposium
Photo by Scott Trindle
Described by director Jonathan Freemantle as the core event of 2013’s festival, Symposium consisted of a day of interesting, complementary and contrasting talks on this year’s main themes: storytelling and performance. Fittingly held in the dissecting room at Summerhall various fashion subjects were opened up to investigation to show how the internal workings of the industry and its peoples create the outer subject matter with which we are so familiar without giving too much thought as to its origins. The talks ranged from the doyenne of American Vogue, the indomitable and indefatigable Diana Vreeland, to Amanda Harlech performing a piece wherein choice outfits from her life created a history of its own.
The first talk of the day was delivered by author Amanda Mackenzie Stuart who read select passages from her biography about the legendary Diana Vreeland who established herself in the 1930’s with her ‘Why Don’t You’ column in Harpers Bazaar wherein she pointed her readers toward a glamorous lifestyle with some outlandishly ludicrous- and some not so –suggestions. From here she was promoted to editor before defecting to Vogue as editor in chief during the extremely culturally shape-shifting sixties which she promoted with ruthless abandon whilst embracing the decade’s spirit wholeheartedly.
Mackenzie Stuart read passages which took us on this journey and her talk was tinged with Vreeland’s acerbic wit and observations but at the same time also made clear she was not to be dismissed as some relic as she also brought to the fore the ideas that style had little to do with money and everything to do with ‘the divine spark’ that comes from within.
The divine spark was a phrase which resonated throughout this day of talks and her biography Diana Vreeland Empress of Fashion is certainly an interesting work making an excellent companion piece to the 2012 documentary The Eye has to Travel about Vreeland which whilst not so insightful manages to provide some footage of Vreeland herself and thus provides the important voice which Mackenzie Stuart didn’t dare attempt to replicate to accompany much of this fascinating material.
Photos by Igor Termenon
The second talk of the day was a chaired discussion between the author of Fashion Scandinavia Dorothea Gundtoft, Lauren Dyer Amazeen and Jonathan Freemantle which threw up such topics as the high street as art and fashion gallery and how fashion is perhaps moving too fast as the seasons are all melding into one and having a wardrobe which is exclusive to a particular season is no longer necessary or even viable. The trio also discussed how many people look at clothes and cannot distinguish the art form contained within as they are too busy looking at the product or, in more extreme cases, no further than the label.
One topic which I found particularly interesting was when they discussed the creative culture which actually exists in Edinburgh but so many locals seem to be unaware of as they are too busy complaining that nothing goes on. This is something I have always maintained and Freemantle summarised it perfectly when he said ‘Edinburgh never received the memo’ when it came to how much is going on here behind the scenes. The fact it has a climate and space which removes itself from clutter and noise-the fringe and festival not withstanding- allows art to grow and artists to consider what they are doing without their visions being influenced or compromised by the whirlwind and expense of a city like London or New York.
The last talk of the morning session was delivered by Professor Sandy Black who authored The Sustainable Fashion Handbook. This discussion opened up issues about unnecessary wastefulness, landfill and how the fashion industry can do something to help these grave issues which affect the future of the planet. We already all know about recycling but there are many other ways we can help and Vivienne Westwood’s DIY ethos is something she supports as Westwood was the first major big name designer to recognise the problem whilst promoting it within her range. It is anathema to a fashion designer to suggest the public buys less clothes and this is what Westwood did but, of course, she would prefer if you bought less clothes then she would prefer that they were more of hers. An interesting and humorous talk about a very serious subject, it provided food for thought before breaking up the morning round of events.
Afternoon was kicked off-in the highest, most stylish heels obviously-by shoe designer Georgina Goodman in conversational mode with journalist Jackie McGlone.
Georgina Goodman by Igor Termenon
Mentored by Manolo Blahnik, Goodman made an interesting raconteur who described shoes as being weapons accessing emotions. She made a convincing point concerning this argument and her style was intriguingly captivating but simultaneously down to earth whilst she delivered anecdotes which throughout never failed to fully engage.
Next up was Bella Freud who, also in conversation with McGlone, somehow made her whole career sound so effortless. Whether it was deciding to start up a knitwear company or make a film it seemed she had no qualms about embarking on these projects and utilised whatever skills she had at her disposal to make them succeed. The fact she has been a name ‘brand’ since the early nineties indicate it is not all as haphazard as it initially seems and a strong artistic vision lies at her core as well as some serious ‘editing’ which was another key word of the day.
Bella Freud by Igir Termenon
Of particular interest was a clip from her debut film ‘A Day at the Races’ which emerged as some statement of intent with its slinky soundtrack-The Stooges and Bryan Ferry’s malignantly malevolent but sashaying ‘Casanova’ were highlights- accompanying images of supermodels all driven around in her family Bentley. The grainy homemade feel only made it more glamorous and otherworldly.
Amanda Harlech then gave a short but captivating performance which was simply entrancing. Pulling out select pieces from a large trunk, to create a narrative, which included baby clothes, Westwood, Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel each item took us on a very personal journey which was hers alone but told the story of all our fashion evolvements, albeit with different garments. It was a truly mesmerising piece and one which brought a reverent hush to the hall.
Amanda Harlech by Igor Termenon
Concluding with a panel discussion –think Question Time for glamorous people- where the afternoon’s participants were joined by David Lindsay-Net A Porter- and Paula Goldstein-digital editor of Purple.fr- it was a fitting and more relaxed finish to a highly innovative and enjoyable day which never once allowed the pace to drag or its audience to flag. It is about time fashion was discussed and appreciated as a serious art form which, whether we like it or not, plays an important part in all our daily lives and days like these merely provide conclusive evidence of this.