Susie Lau attends 140 shows a season. From day one in New York to day 30 in Paris, that averages out to 4.66 shows a day, not including presentations and appointments. For Lau, there’s no asking a colleague to attend a show on her behalf so she can file a story for her 10-year-old site, Style Bubble. Since its launch Style Bubble has evolved from a personal style blog into a legit fashion news resource, but Lau remains the main event. “I don’t think it can be larger than me,” she’s said of the site, “it’s as large as I am.” In some parts she’s still known as Susie Bubble.
The name fit Lau, with her oft-photographed, eclectic wardrobe and her effervescent, always smiling personality, but it belies her influence. In addition to championing young, up-and-coming designers, and, when longtime Style Bubble followers demand it, documenting her quirky outfits with selfies, she does special projects for a long list of top-tier brands, among them Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Topshop, and Samsung. The London-based writer also crisscrosses the globe as a consultant, often working for apparel companies in China and Korea.
Unsurprisingly, Lau is thoughtful on the subject of fashion shows. Over tea at Hotel Regina during the recent Paris couture collections she revealed herself to be somewhat skeptical about see now/buy now initiatives, and rather weary of Instagram bait runways, but she’s supportive of public-facing shows. Hell, the entire system can splinter, if it means creativity trumps commerce. Creativity is the holy grail for Lau.
What follows are excerpts from our conversation.
This interview series was prompted by the CFDA report and all the shifts in the show system, be they see now/buy now collections or the combining of men’s and women’s lines. There’s been so much change this year.
It’s not all change in one solid direction, though. I guess that’s why that [CFDA] study was so inconclusive: because everybody seems to be doing their own thing, and deciding what’s best for them—either going completely off-piste without regard for the structure around them, or just trying to consolidate things because it makes more business sense. Like the men’s and women’s thing, I think that makes the most sense, especially when you already have this thing with men’s shows having women’s silhouettes seep into them anyway.
Play that out: What do you think will happen to men’s seasons?
I didn’t go [to the men’s shows] this season, but people were saying how in flux it felt. Not empty, but it didn’t feel solid or secure as it stands. You kind of wonder how long a full-blown men’s schedule will exist as it does today, in four cities as well. It’s so ambitious.
Ambitious, but worthwhile, no? Just by the social media hits alone.
I feel like we’ve been heading in this direction, where shows seem to only serve that [social media] purpose. The presence of VIPs, it’s their showboating moment. But that model doesn’t really work for smaller designers, where it’s important for them to get the feedback of journalists, editors, and buyers. They’re trying to figure out, how do they compete? How do they retain people’s attentions, in a schedule that’s bursting at the seams, and shows don’t necessarily feel very special, but they still feel like they have to go through the motions of the show?
Personally, do you still feel excited about fashion shows?
To be honest, there are a lot of brands today that don’t necessarily need a fashion show to showcase their collections. When you add it all up, even the special moments can get lost. I mean, I try to see everything. I like to try and see the young designers, and they jam a lot of those in, especially in New York and London. You always go with the hope that you’re going to see something special. It’s that unknown element, isn’t it? I have very, very bad show FOMO.
Is there anything you regret not seeing?
Maybe early, early Vetements shows. I love early moments of any designer, though. They’re special, and when you see their growth it feels quite rewarding. And you see a lot of that in London, you can track their careers from when they graduated.
Do you have young designers coming to you for advice?
With regards to fashion shows? Yeah, for sure. Especially young ones. It’s a huge commitment money-wise. They weigh up, is it right to do a show or a presentation? For a while, presentations were holding some kind of sway for designers, it felt they could get more out of it. People could take a photo, have the time to absorb it. But then in designers’ minds it always still goes back to that there’s this prestige attached to doing a show. That it makes you more noteworthy, or someone to pay attention to. They feel like they can maybe try and do something different within a show format. But when you’re on a limited budget, a show is a show. It seems quite difficult to disrupt that format in a way that feels new.
Although designers are trying to do that, with see now/buy now . . .
I meant disruption to the actual format of the show itself, rather than the way they sell their collections. The commerce side of things has added a whole different element, which maybe is detrimental to the show element in itself. If you’re concerned with selling this product that’s ready to go, is it the most exciting product that you can get out there, or is just the product you can get to market quickly, and use the show to sell? If they’re being honest with themselves, is that the most exciting thing they’re doing on an aesthetic and innovation level? When you see a lot of the see now/buy now, it’s about selling stuff. There’s already a lot of stuff.
So, you’re not for consumer-facing shows, then?
I don’t have an objection to that, the problem is, when you’re trying to get two different things out of a show. To give the more experienced, jaded fashion professional an experience, an emotive thing, and then trying to sell a T-shirt or a simple jacket to a consumer that’s ready to go on the e-commerce site. I’m a fan of, for instance, down in Melbourne, when they do a fashion festival, and it’s completely consumer-facing, and people buy tickets, and designers show their current collection. I like that as a format, but it doesn’t really exist within our system. There is a way of feeding product to consumers in an exciting way and a fashion show is a great way of doing that; it excites people because it’s not their day-to-day experience. It’s why things like that Givenchy show were exciting, because 1,000 people got to attend a really incredible open-air show, but trying to fit those two experiences into one thing to cater to all of us doesn’t really work. Which is why some designers just retreat from showing altogether, or go in the opposite direction and shun any kind of social media presence. The crux of it is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, every designer is different.
For a long time though, it has been a one-size-fits-all system.
It has. But the industry has grown, it’s bursting at the seams. I wouldn’t prescribe an editing process because that goes against the motion of things, we’ve come up with an industry that has become so evocative that everybody wants to get into it, everyone wants to be a part of it. It’s been globalized, as well. I’d never want to impede that; I’m all for that. But I think we need to individually find more innovative and imaginative ways of showcasing the work. Whether it’s justfocusing on e-commerce, whether it’s through presentations, whether it’s through Instagram lookbooks, a Periscope show.
Do you feel the live element is important?
No, not really. The thing I’ve always been baffled by with this obsession with social moments is, a collection lives on longer than the 15 minutes that we’re there. But these social moments seem to be the most important thing to brands. I feel like brands and designers could do better in making that story last longer, you know, holding people’s attention longer. That’s why they’ve gone to that see-now/buy-now concept, they’re trying to alleviate, solve the problem of how do you capture that moment. But, why is it that they haven’t been able to make that moment last long enough?
It almost requires an editorial team to manage that content.
That’s what’s happening. Brands creating their own content, creating their stories, pushing their agendas; without the help of traditional media, that’s happening. But it’s more like, we don’t know how to go back to that feeling, of looking at a collection and still being excited about it six months later. We saw that Prada collection six months ago and I’m still thinking about it. I’m quite excited that it’s going to be dropping into stores soon. It was a really powerful show. It’s just that it doesn’t happen enough, those kinds of moments that have a longer lifespan.
There are these forces working against each other. We want this constant feed of information, but it’s hard to create content, i.e., collections, at that speed.
I’m not sure about this rhetoric around the constant need for newness. I question that quite a bit. A good idea is a good idea, it doesn’t need to be a new one. I don’t need a new one every three months to feed me. I don’t know where this assumption came from that the customer feels this way as well. Has somebody polled every one of them and asked? Dover Street Market does a seasonal change twice a year, New Beginning they call it, and you’re always really excited when you go in. I don’t mind rediscovering a nice Junya piece, you know?
Talk about that. What else do you believe in?
I want to promote creativity, people who have amazing ideas, things that I feel are adding something to a bigger conversation.
I see people who are making businesses outside the proper way of doing things. Even like Etsy shops, you might not call it fashion, but they’re selling stuff and making people happy. Instagram is a huge talent opener. When Instagram introduces a shoppable element, that could be a real game changer, in terms of how businesses, even established designers could get their things out there. Making that connection between the designer and the public is something I’m really fascinated with, and I don’t mean selling a bajillion sweatshirts. I mean, how does a visionary get their work across to the average person.
How does somebody all the way in Seoul see me and go, “oh, Molly Goddard.” Amazing! Incredible. It wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago. How do we foster that—get what’s good out there, out there?
Well, how do you foster it?
I still absolutely think the in-person experience is crucial. It gives you a completely different perspective. I’m always trolling through comments on Instagram and Twitter after a show, or on the The Fashion Spot, because that’s a really honest barometer, and you’re always really surprised how different those opinions are from what you just saw, what you’ve discussed with other people who saw it too.
The Fashion Spot is an honest barometer?
It’s unfiltered. It’s looking for faults, rather than fishing for positives. It’s that detachment element. I think front-on pics are the most unhelpful indication of what a collection looks like, they say nothing to me. Those in person experiences are really important. How does that connect with the see now/buy now? You’re relying on an audience to see now/buy now from quite static imagery. Does that convey the true essence of that piece?
For see now/buy now you can’t beat what Kanye did at MSG with the merch booths.
That’s not really see now/buy now. That’s part of an experiential thing, which obviously consumers love.
It’s every designer’s dream to have people lining up for product like that. The celebrity factor—in five years will all designers be working for celebrities?
How do we get people to see that what they were buying was a crappy Fruit of the Loom T-shirt/sweatshirt, printed quite cheaply, how do we get people to see the true value of that thing, vs. something that’s infinitely better but maybe not led by a celebrity?
It’s hard to fight the power of a celebrity.
It’s something I’m not personally interested in. I’m not a snob about it, it’s more if I’m not impressed by the product, I’m not impressed by the product. I love The Row. That’s good product, things you want to wear. It’s not that it can’t be done, the emperor’s new clothing element is a bit off-putting. Not that it’s not clever, but I’m not going to buy into it.
I’m curious what you said about comment streams before. Do you engage with your readers?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially on Instagram. The commentary has moved from blogs—back in 2005, I’d get 50, 60, 100 comments and I’d respond to every one of them—now it’s moved to Instagram and Twitter, where people can argue things out with you, bring up contrasting points, and I love that.
Do you find your readers are most excited by big brands?
The detail, the close-up of a Chanel couture piece is always going to be popular, because that’s work that you can’t fault. Things like going to Lesage, Lemarié, a video of that went wild [on Style Bubble]. But, I also think it’s my responsibility, if I’m talking about new designers and promoting creativity, I have to ask what are the really new things on the horizon, not just on an aesthetic level, but what’s actually new. Who’s proposing a solution. I’m interested in the solutions. I don’t have it, but it’s good to know that people are trying to do different things, even if it’s not on a wide enough scale yet. Ten years ago, with the advent of blogs, the industry changed fundamentally. Ten years later it can change again.
So, after a decade in the business how optimistic are you?
I think people need to be prepared for a lot of change, a lot of splintering going on.
If you could change anything about fashion shows, what would you change?
Start on time. Get your celebrities in their spots quickly. Time is of the essence. You’re asking us to see lots of things, but you’re [the PRs] not making it happen. It puts a lot of pressure on us. That’s probably why I’m for the splintering, and the spreading out of things, rather than concentrating everything within a specific period of time. To be honest, I’m just generally for creativity, dropping it as and when it’s creative, rather than a fixed schedule of I must deliver this, and I must tick these boxes. That’s really my utopia would be.
Sounds like the Alaïa model.
Creating freely, and as naturally as they can. I don’t think these things can come on tap.
But that’s the system.
I don’t think that system is producing the revenue benefits they’re after. Trying to do everything, or please everyone that’s another thing that really bugs me, when people are going against their identity, against how they started, to try and fit arbitrary demands. I see that a lot. A weird elastic trainer coming out of nowhere from an Italian glamourpuss brand. This isn’t you. If I took this to the designer, and said, would you wear this, would you condone this? They didn’t design it, someone on the team did. I find it really sad. People are savvy at detecting disingenuous things. And it’s really easy to call people out now. For some people I think the jig is up. What makes you, you? These brands all did mostly start from individuals. Of course brands evolve. It’s complicated, and I could go on and on, and probably contradict myself. I do fundamentally believe that identity, and being true to it, is the most important thing.
[By: Nicole Phelps] [Vogue] [Read More]