Fashion designers, they are just like us in a lot of ways- they have opinions and are not afraid to air them. Even those that should be left for kitchen table talk, in the wise words of Wendy Williams.
Dolce and Gabbana are the latest designers to let their lips loose and the recipient of their snipe is none other than Victoria Beckham, their one time bosom buddy and brand ambassador. Speaking at the opening of The Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition at the V&A, Stefano Gabbana was loathe to attribute the term “designer” to Beckham,
“She’s a friend. She make good job but…for us, she don’t make the same way like a fashion designer. She became after many, many, many different things. She’s a designer but it’s different. John Galliano is a designer, Alexander McQueen…”
They went on to categorise her with high street contemporary brands like Zara, calling her a “professional designer”. Whatever that is.
This is a comment that, in a round about way, applies to the fashion industry as a whole.
I read the piece with an eye roll at the elitism and fashion bitchery, you know, just your typical back chat after frontal kiss, kiss rubbish. Although I wasn’t surprised that these remarks came from a duo not typically known for their subtlety, even in their design aesthetic, it still left one with some distaste not least because these two are friends of Victoria Beckham and she was a lucrative ambassador for their brand before setting up shop on her own.
Still, the context of their statement did get me thinking about; who is a fashion designer? Setting all sentiment aside, I understand where Dolce & Gabbana are coming from. They are of a different era of design; they live in a city with a different attitude towards fashion and design. You could argue, a more superior attitude because Europe is where the masters are when it comes to the vision and artistry of fashion and they have gone on to parlay these skills into commercial success without losing that essence. The Europeans are chiefs in their craft, with decades of history to back that up and Dolce & Gabbana have grown their business learning from that school of thought.
Victoria Beckham has not.
Her trajectory is of a different era and culture. Passion notwithstanding. Even after several critically acclaimed seasons some still won’t take her seriously. Her fame did nothing to endear her critics; one half of a famous celebrity couple, former pop star, chief WAG, hot pants wearing, weave piling, perma tanned, fake breasts, French white tip manicure…the works. She epitomised chav culture, blingtastic and gauche and the industry heavy weights were having none of that. This is Posh Spice after all; she should be nothing more than a former Spice Girl not a designer. A serious high fashion one at that. It is a hard pill for the doubters to swallow.
For all its globalisation, the fashion industry remains very closed and the guardians do not take disruption to that status quo, lightly. Today’s industry is rife with flash in the pan types, celebrity designers who do nothing but put their names on products, every reality TV starlet calling themselves designer, being a complete nuisance and unsettling the equilibrium of an industry that has its identity enmeshed in history, particular to craft and talent. Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, to name a few, are design houses built from an era that characterises success as a direct result of talent. Designers that have earned a place in fashion history by creating signatures and silhouettes that have become cornerstones of the industry – Le Smoking tuxedo from YSL, the Bar jacket from Dior, the Essentials from Donna Karan, the Chanel boucle jacket etc. Not through fame and fortune but the old fashion way- either by gaining an education in their craft or learning at the hands of masters, or both. And then there is the staying power they posses; these brands have decades of history in their DNA.
Mrs Beckham is still trying to pin point her point of view, she is too easily comparable to the likes of Céline and Mouret, as is often done with regards her collection. She is yet to ascend that level where her garments are immediately recognisable, as lovely and well crafted as they are, there is that identity yet to be identified. She is so close.
Basically, its old money-new money snobbery all over again.
However, history is written over time. Fashion houses are being revived by new talents with new points of view, whilst still respecting the brand’s heritage-Tom Ford and the Gucci years, Ghesquiére at Balenciaga, now being spearheaded by Alexander Wang, Labelux’s acquisition and rejuvenation of Belstaff…what’s old is new again. All this goes to prove the indisputable fact; the ultimate determiner of relevance is, and always will be, talent and I have a feeling Mrs B will be sticking around for a long while yet. Her journey has not been without its hurdles, regardless of capital, but there is a certain grace she possesses and more important, self awareness of what she is up against and you gotta respect a woman who is, above all else, absolutely certain of where she wants to be; earning her stripes and place in the books. Fashion designer.