"Even if there were no more designers, there would always be fashion," Diane von Furstenberg uttered on Tuesday night, speaking at the New York Times' TimesTalks. "Even if nobody bought anything new, there would be fashion. All of a sudden, the kids would wear something the same way."
Von Furstenberg, fellow designers Norma Kamali and Prabal Gurung and Fashion Week's creator Fern Mallis spoke to Times' reporter Eric WIlson about the state of the industry in conjunction with this summer's Sidewalk Catwalk launch, a fashion-meets-art installation that brings 32 differently-designed mannequins to the pedestrian mall on Broadway between Herald Square and Times Square. The three couturiers explained how they came up with their Sidewalk Catwalk creations--Gurung's serves as an homage to the late Alexander McQueen, Kamali's represents her affinity for technology, and von Furstenberg's leopard-print painted mannequin is, well, best explained by DVF herself.
"Leopard print is completely timeless," von Furstenberg cooed. "It was hot in the '30s, in the '40s, in the '50s, in the '60s, in the '70s, all the time. And, why? Why? Because there's nothing more beautiful than a leopard, the way the print comes and moves and goes up and down and narrows." She added, "There's something about a woman who feels feline. And it's kind of nice to feel feline," and quipped, "I guess that's why the leopards wear it."
Von Furstenberg also reflected on the popularity of her wrap dress, sometimes made in leopard print, noting, "It's a dress that always reflects the beginning of your life. It's like, 'Oh, I met my boyfriend,' 'Oh, I got my first job,' 'Oh, I just got laid.'"
Although the Times event quickly evolved into The Quotable Diane von Furstenberg (On It Bags: "You only know a bag is it, when it's it!"), Kamali and Gurung were able to get a few words in.
Kamali gave the history of her sleeping bag coat: "I used to camp a lot in the '70s, I would go every weekend and one night, having to go to the bathroom in the woods, it was freezing cold and I just dragged my sleeping bag with me. As I was running back, I thought I have to make a coat out of this." She shared that one season, someone ordered the wrong filler for the sleeves, causing them to be too thick to sell, so she donated them to a shelter in Minnesota.
Kamali also touched on why she doesn't show at fashion week, despite her huge success, saying "We know who we are and we know what we do best. I'm a background kind of person, I'm better kind of not being noticed.... I want to do what I want to do, so I've never had partners, never had investors. For me to do it, I have to find a way to do it my way."
Gurung, who informally represented the new generation designers, is virtually the poster boy of those living the fashion dream. "I wouldn't have had the courage, the guts to start on something if hadn't have known these things were out there," he said, referring to the Fashion Incubator and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund programs, two initiatives for up-and-coming designers exclusive to New York.
He's kept the city in mind as he's launched his own collection, explaining, "Ninety-five percent of my collection is done in New York and five percent is done in Nepal, because the cashmere is made in Nepal. For me it's a very conscious decision to make in New York. It's been a commitment from me as a designer, as a brand and it's my way of giving back to this country that gave me this dream." He also spent a large portion of the time allotted for the Q&As assuring a concerned audience member that many young designers share his Made In New York mentality.
While the fashion world might be synonymous with NYC, it doesn't mean that it hasn't had its problems within the city. On the topic of Fashion Week's move to Lincoln Center, Von Furstenberg revealed, "We would have stayed at Bryant Park, they didn't want us, and now of course they miss us." Mallis said, "We were evicted." But Mallis most accurately summed up the rise of the city's fashion industry with the phrase, "There's strength in numbers."
She continued, "I think the American fashion industry proved that a long time ago. When I was the director of the CFDA...no one was coming to America to see American designers. It was Paris, Milan...New York was second fiddle. Once everybody worked together to show in one location it completely changed the landscape."