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The fall of fashion

Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2010

Writer and lecturer at the London College of Fashion, Charty Durrant, explains why she left the glitz and glamour of dressing A-list celebrities in order to expose the sinister side of the fashion industry.

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Fashion and climate Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Charty Durrant Copyright The Open University


Charty Durrant: My name’s Charty Durrant, I’m a writer. I’m a lecturer at the London College of Fashion and I’m a cultural psychologist. My specialist area is fashion, but I’m coming at fashion from an unusual angle which is deeply human. But I’m particularly interested in how we refashion fashion.

Interviewer: How did you get to this point? You had a long history of engagement in the industry as a commentator, as a writer, an editor, how did you come to this sort of outside looking in critical role?

Charty Durrant: I was deeply involved in the industry. I was at British Vogue. I was at The Observer Magazine and Sunday Times really leading fashion and having a very interesting time. And over the years I felt a growing unease, a dis-ease about what I saw and about the industry and how there seemed to be a different set of rules in the deep inside echelons. Then started working with celebrities about ten years ago, and I was doing celebrity styling in the early days of the celebrity, and one of the interesting things, if you look now, and here we are in the Autumn of ‘09 where we’ve now got D-list celebrities mostly, you don’t see that many Hollywood stars.

But when I was doing it, it was the super A-list, and I was making a great deal of money dressing people for red carpets and finding it very complicated and, but going along with it because I was making a lot of money. I then got a phone call from Claudia Schiffer’s people, in hysterics, saying she had to have a dress for that evening and it was an emergency. And they were all behaving like it was an emergency. And I had an epiphany, there and then on the phone, and I said to them, a tsunami is an emergency, an earthquake is an emergency, a heart attack is an emergency, Claudia is a very wealthy woman with a wardrobe full of clothes, this is not an emergency – and I knew at that point that I had to walk away from the industry.

So I walked away from fashion completely for three years and spent a great deal of time thinking and reading and pondering and going very deeply into deep ecology, and that side of it, and re-educating myself. I then realised that I had the skills and the connections to go back in to the industry, into the fashion industry, but through a side door. And that because of my very privileged connections and my ability to speak and write I could perhaps change people’s ways and thoughts around fashion. So what I’ve done is I’ve come back in. But because I’ve left the industry I’m not frightened to speak the truth and I’m not frightened to challenge the status quo. So I see myself as a maverick, a thorn in the side of a very sinister industry. You know, it is a sinister industry.

Interviewer: Looking one year out, five years out, ten years out, how do you see first of all your own engagement with the industry? What do you see your work as over that timescale? What do you anticipate happening within the industry as a whole?

Charty Durrant: Okay. Well let’s start with the industry. It’s coming down like every other system. We’re already seeing it across shops, across the whole of Europe, particularly Britain at the moment, you know, you start to see a new landscape, and in that new landscape shops are shutting left, right and centre. Our high streets are going to start looking very, very different, very, very quickly. I see this as a very exciting opportunity. I think a lot of artists and artisans will start moving into shops in the way that charity shops were not the norm ten years ago, they’re now everywhere. I think that there’s going to be a hybrid new creativity made out of all these old empty shops. But I think the industry is, everything is going to grind to a halt, people are just not going to shop. It’s already starting.

So they’re going to be forced very fast and very severely to look at themselves and how they can mend and attract, but it will have to be done in a very different way. Industry’s going to implode. I mean one of the interesting things from a publishing point of view is we’re already seeing it in America where one newspaper a day is going down. We’ve got too many publications; we’ve got too many fashion designers; we’ve got too many fashion outlets; we’ve got too many articles of clothing. There’s going to be a vast paring down, and I think fashion magazines are going to change so at the moment the emphasis is on the advertiser.

So the advertiser is all powerful. For instance when I worked at Vogue in the early days we could use any garment we wanted for a shoot. Then we got to a point where we were told we had to shoot Chanel because they’d put a lot of advertising in. Then now we’re at a point where Chanel will tell us what to shoot because they’re that powerful. So I see that turning on its head now. But in the same way that the city’s resisting and is a wounded beast, so the fashion industry is.

Interviewer: And what do you see is your own role personally in the transformations you want to enact? Looking out ten years?

Charty Durrant: Okay. Yes, I see my role as really working from the inside out. So I’m interested in people’s wellness, their spiritual wellness and bringing a spiritual dimension to fashion. Which sounds ludicrous but I know is possible so that we all know how great we feel when we’re wearing something that comforts us or supports us and expresses who we are. So bringing back fair practice, good design but a new system that is efficient but is based on entirely new principles. I’m particularly interested in Morrisonian principles, which I’ve looked at how William Morris works and that I think can be reworked in a modern way. So speaking, talking, consulting, writing, getting people to change completely how they view clothing and how it’s made and how we put it together.

Interviewer: My last question, simple in some sense, is difficult in another, where would you place yourself on a sliding scale between optimism and pessimism about our capacity to cope with environmental change issues, looking ten years out?

Charty Durrant: Hugely optimistic. I would say on a scale of one to ten I’m nine. I think we’re looking at a full collapse, and I welcome it. I think that it’s going to need some very brave solid souls, and I’ve elected to be one of those to hold tight while it falls apart, but I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, and I’m looking forward to being there when it all falls down and putting something much better in its place.

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