Well look who it is! And it I’d have known you were coming I’d have baked a cake. I apologise for my journey into the fashion wilderness but I’m back and… better for having a day to recover from the Vogue Festival. Yes, like everyone worth their stylish salt, I made my journey to the home of Made in Chelsea, West London, this weekend to join the fashionista fervour that was hosted at the Royal Geographical Society courtesy of the world’s most fabulous fashion tome. Altogether now, ‘hello lover….’
It’s safe to say that upon seeing the line-up for Vogue Fest, I instantly salivated at the impressive mix of speakers – Bailey and Katrantzou and Erdem? Oh my! And such fashion talent sat alongside a wide range of eclectic names, from Mary Portas and Nigella Lawson to Edie Campbell and Pixie Geldof. I was, of course, champing at the bit to see Rachel Zoe up close and personal, simply to gauge just how teeny weeny she was – Nicole Richie or Borrower sized? You’d better believe I had an office sweepstake on her weight in edamame beans before I left the office on Friday night. Jackpot: ding – ding- don’t eat anything but dust or air!
It was, however, Tom Ford’s name that I found most arresting – the chance to hear the King of glamour, gorgeousness and – well, godlike genius after his star turn directing A Single Man- talk in close proximity. And it seemed that Vogue took this priceless opportunity to hear such key fashion names speak live… and matched this incredibly impressive lineup with a similarly impressive price tag.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but we live in financially unstable times. The Great British High Street is struggling and brands from entry level to luxury are consistently discounting. If the press are to believed, we as a nation are reigning in our spending (I must have missed that memo), and yet, Vogue priced their event tickets at a not so size zero £75. For half a day. A quick glance round the event assured me that a considerable amount of attendees were lucky enough to work in the fashion industry and therefore perhaps, like myself and my colleague, able to expense their ticket under the guise of a sartorial school trip. But another look round the room (and not just to gawp at the extraordinary outfits), made it abundantly clear that a similar number were fashion students relying on their student loan. And for them, despite the fact many stayed for the whole day, would find £75 (or even £150), a tricky price to style out.
I was interested to read a quote from Vogue Editor Alexandra Shulman, via the Business of Fashion, explaining, ‘Right from the get go, this was about making it affordable for the general public’. Well, congratulations for showing that Vogue has such little grasp on reality – whilst I understand that the magazine is an aspirational bible for fashion and style, in this particular climate, fashion publications, whatever their format, need to grasp the reality of our current landscape. Bravo to ELLE who mix and match the high to low end – and so, too, to Look, Grazia and a whole other host of glossies who succeed in showcasing that money can’t buy you style (but it can certainly help…). In the case of Look, it’s particularly interesting that their seasonal fashion shows are accessible via a datacapture and competition mechanic – no money exchanges hands for these tickets. And, ironically, an attendee would certainly get more bang for their buck – a full fashion show, canapés, drinks and a goodybag to finish. Not bad for free…
So whilst the speakers at Vogue were inspirational, and unequivocally industry leading, I found it hard to understand what the £75 entrance fee covered – the venue hire and exquisite décor? For I wonder how many of these names were paid to be interviewed live and how many did it as a mutually beneficial promotional tool, and to score all important brownie points with Vogue’s PR and editorial team? If the magazine were trying to position this as an educational event, enriching the lives of its readers and offering a full lifestyle experience, they’d have done well to offer a richer experience for the money, and less of the feeling that we might have been paying to enrich their brand… the additional activity of a handful of lacklustre cosmetic stands and a paid-for café didn’t really lift this event to anything you wouldn’t see at any run of the mill fashion bash or – dare I say it – the hell on earth that is The Clothes Show and fashion frenzy that is London Fashion Weekend.
Vogue Festival was an opportunity for the brand to assert itself and to mark its point of difference. The idea of creating a ‘live’ experience, a chance to watch Vogue interviews in action and draw behind the fashion curtain was admirable… but there was a lack of closeness to the brand or any kind of intimacy – indeed, despite arriving over 45 minutes early to watch Tom Ford’s interview, there was no room to watch unless on the balcony, which quickly became packed to the rafters, many attendees standing throughout the duration in their sky high heels. So not chic. Similarly, news travelled that the smaller workshops were heavily oversubscribed (we were warned to leave Tom Ford early in order to watch a customisation class – not over your White Patchouli, sweetheart) and by midday on Saturday, the queue of people waiting to watch the talk between photographer Tim Walker and former Vogue fashion director Kate Phelan (now at Topshop) had snaked all the way around the building.
If this was a chance to be intimate with a brand, it had, albeit spectacularly, failed. Why not more realistically cap the number of tickets for the space? Why not host the event for more than 4 sessions? Why not allow customers a real taste of the fashion lifestyle and host a fabulous fashion show – no doubt there would have been brands clamouring to sponsor a style platform like that?
So whilst goodwill amongst attendees seemed to be akin to finding a Mulberry half price on the first day of Sale, I couldn’t help but be a little sceptical. Could the Vogue office not have decamped to the venue to really show a ‘live’ scene direct from Vogue HQ, with the editors fiercely writing their next article? Shulman insisted, ‘All along I was very keen that it would have other things, that it would not just be talks. I wanted it to have events going on around it’, however, the opportunity to have your photo appear on the front of your very own Vogue cover – whilst fun and kitsch – did, in this landscape of digital innovation, just feel a little passé. Whilst Vogue were ahead of the curve with their iPad app and Vogue Night Out initiative, couldn’t they have done something a little more exciting at such a key event for them? Could it have been the perfect opportunity to exploit geo-location marketing, or explore online video? What fantastic content could have been created to go viral afterwards? What might have been if the fashionable speakers had been allowed to generate their own content to host online at Vogue.com? And why weren’t the interviews live streamed but made exclusive by an RSVP mechanic beforehand therefore creating a real time event for those who wanted to participate outside of the event’s four walls? I find it incredibly hard to believe this would have jeopardised ticket sales.
The Vogue Festival was undoubtedly a success in terms of attendees – the four sessions completely sold out and, apart from a sense of overcrowding throughout the day, there was a real buzz in the air. However, for Vogue to position themselves as a credible and forward thinking fashion brand who don’t rely solely on their heritage, reputation and contacts, the next event needs to not simply bank its success on the names on stage. Similarly, there needs to be a concentrated effort on what could maintain the exclusive nature of proceedings without the hefty price tag (it was noticeable that the headline sponsor was luxury mobile phone company Vertu – not exactly the to-go to brand for the average 18 – 30 year old fashion fan. Unless they accessorised their latest outfit with a hefty trust fund). Whilst I had huge fun watching the irrepressibly charming, and genuinely inspiring Tom Ford talk during his Q and A session, it was the lack of other activity, innovation and simply space to move and explore other areas of the Vogue brand that meant for me, this event fell short of a runaway (or should that be runway?) success. I would, however, like to thank Vogue for creating the most pointless and fruitless epic crush of all time in the shape of Tom Ford. CALL ME.
…And here’s what I wore! As street snapped by the lovely blogger Ashley the Fashionista…
ASOS playsuit, customised leather gilet with H&M faux fur collar, Mulberry Bayswater handbag, Michael Kors watch, Miss Selfridge necklace, Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses and Topshop boots.