‘Social media is the most anti-social form of communication’

In an interview with Made To Pleasure, Fern Mallis, international fashion industry consultant and creator of New York Fashion Week talks about the impact of social media on fashion and the popularity of trans-seasonal offerings…

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Clothes are increasingly becoming trans-seasonal. Spring looks like Fall and vice versa. Please comment.
There are some obvious fall winter and spring summer clothes. When I was growing up in New York, I always had a small apartment, we didn’t have big closet space. My parents lived in suburbs. I remember every season, my dad would come into the city and would take my winter clothes, put my clothes into the car, put them in the closet.
As you grow older, you realise, once you start to travel, you need your summer clothes everywhere you go. As time has evolved, I’ve realised that there are clearly sweaters and bulky things in my closet but there are summer things, which I wear all the year round. With air conditioning and heating, it’s not how it used to be. You can put a bunch of layers on. Of course, there are days, when we have blizzards in New York and horrible snowstorms. You pull out the emergency clothes – big boots. Two days later, it’s sunny and warm. It’s crazy.

‘Nobody is looking at the clothes’

Do you agree that social media has made fashion democratic?
Social media has changed everybody’s life and fashion is no longer a close secret. Fashion has become content for everybody. What I find completely maddening is – going to fashion shows and nobody is looking at the clothes. Everybody is taking pictures and taking notes and when you look up, the looks have come and gone. You’ve missed some great looks on the runway. I have an assistant, who’s snapchatting, who posts videos, edits them and I’m like, ‘Stop that. Do that later’. People have a low attention span. It can wait for 10 minutes. Who are you beating? Who are you trying to get the message out before? When I get back to my room after the show, I wonder should I still put that on my Instagram because Instagram is supposed to be instant. That’s crazy!
I did an address three years ago. There were 4000 FIT grad students and families. I told them, you all have the world on the palm of your hand. It used to be a really nice expression but it’s now taken on a completely new meaning. I said, in the palm of your hand, you can bring down the government in the Middle East, you can have a dictator destroyed, you can book a plain ticket, you can open a garage door and shop for groceries, you can get a car anywhere in the world. You can transfer money and pay bills. It’s extraordinary what you can do on the palm of your hand. Social media to me is the most anti-social form of communication in the world because you go to a dinner, they are all busy on social media and nobody is talking to each other. They are not liking, linking or sharing anything. They have really bad grammar, not want to spell anymore. I looked at this group, they’re all in their caps and gowns of graduation and I said while while I’m talking to you, how many of you have tweeted something or tweeting. All the hands went up. I asked, how many of you have Instagrammed something? How many people posted things on Facebook? Then I asked, how many of you picked up a real phone, a landline and called your parents and had a real conversation, listened to what they said, paused and came back with an answer? A text is not a conversation. It’s quite an interesting phenomenon. My grandnephews – they see something, they touch it and move it on screen. It’s interesting where this is all going.

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‘Need standardised sizing, standardised fabric label’
India has always been a country of embroideries and embellishments but none of the India designers have known to be great cutters. Why is that so?
You tell me. I don’t know. I have been trying to figure that out for 15 years. I don’t know if schools aren’t just teaching it here. A lot of designers think they have a label and they don’t work for other people. All the big designers all over the world worked for somebody – they learnt how to manufacture, how to cut, produce and sell. These people have talent and skill and they’re learning as they go. There are businesses which need structure. When I used to bring buyers here from Saks Avenue, they loved some of the things. What they need to do, in order to do business with them – at that scale internationally, they need standardised sizing, standardised fabric label, how to take care of them, wash and launder them. You need compliant factories, fair trade laws which are worldwide. They need to have a business partner, who picks up the phone and responds to emails. I can tell you how many people here (in India).. mailboxes are full and nobody responds. If you’re doing business with Neiman Marcus, you better respond to that email, if you want to be on their vendor list. You need to tell them you’re going to ship it. You can’t screw around. It’s a real business.

Do you think Indian designers lack originality?  
Things are always recycled and reinvented. What’s original anymore? It’s how you do it? There’s talent here. It’s frustrating that you don’t get it overseas. Whenever I wear anything from here, people always ask me – ‘where did you get that?’ I think there’s still an opportunity.

Unisex has emerged to be the next big category.
Athelisure is the biggest category happening now. All you see now everywhere in Mumbai – Puma and Adidas shops, Nike stores. You can take gym wear to a party if you know how to pull it off.

Do you think labels like Dior will follow the Gucci – Alessandro Michele template? 
Gucci seems to be a successful model of that but we’ll see how long they’re doing that.

‘We cleaned up the runway’
What have been your key learnings over the years?  
When I was working with Lakme Fashion Week, I’d bring in new ideas, ‘let’s try this and that’, even changing some of the seasons of showing. Focus more on resort than fall and winter. We slowly but really cleaned up the runway and production value. I haven’t been here in six years so I can’t comment on how they’re doing it. Getting better lighting on runway, trying to make shows run on time.

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