In this Second Look, we discuss the utter weirdness of press events, sanctioned interviews and presentations. Take a leap to see our observations during fashion week/month.
Fashion is fond of smoke and mirrors. It’s not the worst industry in that regard. Musicians regularly embellish their ages and the less said about the murky backwaters of the film industry, the better. But fashion excels in creating images that evoke the ultimate ‘man, I wish I was there!’ sighs. And nothing gets those sighs going like events that people haven’t attended. They’re going on in New York. They’ll continue on at London. And Paris. And Copenhagen. And (insert random city here). Your Instagram is filled with people having The Best Time Ever. Yes, full of people you’ve only seen on blogs, the kind of designers you’ve always wanted to say earth-shatteringly important things to like ‘I really like that coat you made’ and, on the odd occasion, a few models that are actually old enough to be there without adult supervision. Living the dream. Despite all these characteristics, the one unifying thread at all these events is that they’re really, really weird.
Firstly, let us break down the inherent weirdness of presentations with real models. If someone approached you in the street and said ‘hey, do you want to come to a random venue and watch a model stand in the same spot and pretend not to see you for two hours straight?’ your answer would (hopefully and after a while of wondering why this stranger has approached you) be ‘no, that sounds weird’. But that, in essence, is what presentations are. And the fact that it’s common practice doesn’t make it any less odd.
There are a number of unspoken rules at presentations. Amongst other things you will have to: stand close, but not too close. Don’t stand staring at one model for too long, even if they are pretending to stare in the middle distance. Don’t catch eyes with a model. When you do catch eyes with a model, give an awkward head nod and a faint smile. This is weirder for the model anyway, he has to stand here for three hours while people hover near him and avoid eye contact. The only thing that tops presentations is press trips.
Press evenings are casual affairs: you go there, meet someone you know and have a chat for about an hour before you leave slightly sozzled from the free drink. Press trips are another beast altogether. To paraphrase Tupac’s words that he paraphrased from someone else, the bigger the brand, the deeper the marketing boost. And, if you’ll allow a dramatic comparison, the experience is closest to a mixture of Clockwork Orange and the planetarium scene in The Mack.
The first rule of trips like these is to choose a venue that can be adequately described as ‘awe inspiring’ in write ups or, more increasingly, tweets and Instagram captions. Think auditoriums, museums and, oddly, the sort of club Jodie Marsh would call swanky and you’ve got three prime locations.
For one event, we visited a suitably awe-inspiring museum with a hall inside. So far, so vanilla. But this hall had a screen on the ceiling and chairs that reclined all way the back, leaving you with the sort of feeling that’ll lead you to mention Clockwork Orange and The Mack in quick succession. For those who haven’t seen The Mack, there’s a scene where Goldie, the protagonist pimp, is showing some prospective employees the benefits of working with Goldie via a speech at the planetarium. He invites his brother over to see his talk in action “you should see it, I got these bitches mind controlled” were his exact words. His brother, unsurprisingly, isn’t that into it. It’s not explained how often he holds these talks (weekly? monthly? just how strong was Goldie’s recruitment program?) but it’s clear that he’s done more than one.
During this speech, he plays the planetarium’s hypnotic solar system video while sitting in the control booth. From there he gives his speech via a booming microphone, one that makes him sound like God as seen in countless films. The speech goes like this:
“You are all here because you have successfully passed one of the requirements to become a member of Goldie’s illustrious family. This family is like a large corporation filled with qualified stockholders, or if you prefer, gifted actresses. But I’d rather call you professional ladies of leisure. Each playing a major role in this large production company and the whole world is our stage. In this organisation there is a president, a director and a teacher. All of these offices are held by me. In this family there is no room for confusion. Anyone or anything opposing my will must be and will be destroyed.”
Back to the auditorium. We’re sitting in there and I’m feeling more than a little like one of Goldie’s girls leaning back in this chair surrounded by images of the company. A faceless voice talks about the big steps the company has made towards working with local communities and how this shoe isn’t just improving your feet. It’s improving the community, one step at a time. After this experience, we’re given an open Q&A session (useless for me, no one ever says anything of value in an open Q&A) and then get to take pictures of the shoes. Then we’re all shuffled off to a drop off point and the event is over.
At one presentation I went to, for a large scale Japanese brand, I was allowed to interview the owner of the brand. He was an elusive figure, but only because he didn’t really do interviews for blogs at the time (I was interviewing him for a magazine I worked for). Inside their admittedly lovely smelling showroom (they have great incense), there were rails full of clothes and no security. Until I turned to look at one of their employees for slightly too long and realised that he had a thousand yard stare. Put it this way: judging from his face, if there was a crime within a fifty mile radius, he did that shit. So I worked out this was security. I was tempted to test my theory but decided I liked my face too much to see it mangled. I just kept leafing through the racks while waiting for the owner to appear.
When he did come around, he was as perfectly pleasant as anyone would be. Most of the time, he answered my questions and understood them well. But other times, he didn’t quite hear my questions and decided to answer a question he’d heard in his head. At first, I brushed this off as simple language barrier issues. Then I realised he didn’t understand any question that was vaguely challenging. And then I remembered that he went to school in America, so his English must be perfectly fine. I didn’t remember the latter point until I’d left the interview though. All that incense distracted me.
Most press events or interviews feel like this: a subtle way of sticking to the script that, when viewed with open eyes and hindsight, are more than a little weird. Not that I’m pretending I’m hard done by. Working in fashion is great. Far more enjoyable than writing news pieces about fathers who kill their children (my first ever byline, hurray for me). But it is surreal. And it’d be even weirder if I didn’t notice how surreal it all is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to comment ‘man, I wish I was here’ on someone’s Instagram.
Jason Dike is a london based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter at @jasondike.