Anna Wintour descended from the lofty floors of Condé Nast to dispense some “off-the-record” advice to aspiring designers and students at Central Saint Martins earlier this month. Alongside the newly appointed International Editor, Suzy Menkes, the American Vogue editor imparted some tough-love advice on how to make it in fashion to an audience that included CSM students and past graduates and designers like Simone Rocha.
Given that Wintour has guided Alexander Wang, Rodarte and Proenza Schouler and a long list of others to success over her 25-year tenure at Vogue, following her advice might give you a good chance of following suit. Here’s what we learned:
STARTING YOUR OWN LINE DOESN’T GUARANTEE SUCCESS
"I do think there is a tradition in England, that you can do anything with nothing,” Wintour noted. “The only thing I worry a little bit about, going straight from school to starting your own business, is not that many succeed… I personally would advise you to think carefully before you start your own business, and consider possibly working for a designer or a company whose work you admire.” Or, as Simone Rocha added from the audience: “It’s not just about one road.”
FOR GOD’S SAKE, FIND SOME GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT
“Go get a job,” Wintour stated in no uncertain terms. “Whether it’s working as a designer or working in a restaurant and then doing your own thing in your own time, it’s a reality of life. In the end it’s going to be helpful to you and so many others.” And once you’ve established your brand, don’t sniff at mid-season collections. “The basic truth of the matter is that 80% of what sells in the stores are the mid-season collections: resort and pre-fall. So when you’re ready, don’t ignore it, because it’s going to be something that will help you pay the bills.”
DON’T FORK OUT THOUSANDS ON A RUNWAY SHOW
"Please listen to me when I say: an interesting creative presentation is just as effective as a fashion show," Wintour pleaded. "I see people who are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for fashion shows, which I simply don’t think is necessary. A presentation gives us all an opportunity to meet you, rather than to go and sit in some dark room somewhere and wait for you to start, then (have) no time to say ‘hello’, and rush off to the next one." Considering fashion students are already lumped with over £50,000 worth of student debt, it's good to know you don't need to take out a loan the size of a small country's GDP to put on your graduate show.
DON’T BE SHY
Wintour might rarely appear without her trademark sunglasses and scarper as soon as a show finishes, but wannabe designers need to put themselves out there as much as possible. “We started a fashion fund back in 2001 after 9/11 to support young designers in the States (and) what we’ve done recently is that when they have an application form we also ask for a video," Wintour said. "How they present themselves publicly is important. In today’s world you have to interact. You can’t be some difficult, shy person who is not able to look somebody in the face; you have to present yourself. You have to know how to talk about your vision, your focus and what you believe in.”
... BUT DON’T BE AN INSTAGRAM EXHIBITIONIST
Wintour may have been the first to put a hashtag on the front cover of Vogue (shoutout to #worldsmosttalkedaboutcouple), but she was quick to advise against equating Instagram likes and Twitter follows with sustainable success. “It’s possible in today’s world to be instantly famous, whether it’s through Instagram or whatever platform it may be, but it’s a very different matter to be successful financially and in the long-term,” she noted.
BUDDY UP FOR THE SAKE OF BUSINESS
“It’s unusual, in my experience, for a creative designer to also be good at understanding facts and figures,” Wintour observed. “It’s important to have someone to talk to and discuss everything with and bounce ideas off. I have not seen too many successful designers who’ve managed alone, without their business partner.” After all, it’s worked for Alexander Wang and his brother, Dennis; Marc Jacobs and Robert Duffy, and Christopher Kane and his sister, Tammy.
Watch Anna Wintour in The September Issue below:
Follow Sara McAlpine on Twitter here @1granary