KW How are you? Did you self-isolate before Boris Johnson announced the lockdown?
FB I am ok. I had a really weird experience. Because I have a lot of Italian friends around me and reading the news (about what was happening in Italy at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis) you could tell something really bad was about to happen. I went to Paris for fashion week but I felt so uncomfortable, I felt like what are we doing? It just felt completely insane. So, I came back and we went into isolation two weeks before lockdown.
KW Are you going back to shooting now?
FB Yeah, I am shooting this week. I am actually in my office today. I will be shooting for Love. Just me and my boyfriend Angelo (Pennetta) shooting Adwoa Aboah using only London based brands. It was like a nice opportunity to work with clothes which might not otherwise be seen. There are these amazing talents in London and this really was great chance to give a voice to people who haven’t been able to share their work in the way that they would.
KW I was also thinking about how we could support young London designers during this pandemic and doing a shoot using these young designers is definitely one way towards that.
FB Yeah, because I have been reflecting for the last six months about how to move forward with fashion in a better way. The industry now compared to when I started is so unrecognizable. I just love the creative freedom we have here in the UK and there has always been such a great institution for nurturing talents all over the world. These are the things that are important to me and one of the big questions is of sustainability. It’s impossible to make fashion sustainable in any capacity even though there are amazing brands doing great things. Last year I met this incredible woman, Nina Marenzi who runs Sustainable Angle and she was actually consulting at Sonia Rykiel where I was also consulting at the time as a stylist. Nina came to a design meeting and explained the life cycle of the fabrics we were considering. You pulled a certain type of fabric and she was like that will never ever go away. It will survive mankind. And the minute you start looking at fabrics and clothes that way your perspective completely changes. As a stylist I do not think we come into it with that sort of education, because we are just falling in love with the silhouette or sort of an idea. But you have to be responsible. If you got the opportunity just to ask the question where does this come from? What’s the process? It is just a huge subject to tackle and the responsibility is far beyond one can achieve. The design studios and the government have to get involved for it to really change.
KW One of the first things I thought of when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and travel was suspended was that we should get rid of Cruise shows and try to travel less.
FB I agree with you completely. I feel there has been a huge imbalance for a long time and the fashion industry has not necessarily been on the side of the designers. There is endless pressure to produce more and more collections and really it is not sustainable in any way. Too many designers experience burnout and there are terrible environmental consequences. Now I feel if I walk through a department store you can see how brands are under pressure to produce their own version of a popular product and in many ways this dilutes the brand identity.
KW I find the fact that overall sales at brands might depend on whether they have a hit sneaker so depressing…
FB Totally! And I think the line became so blurred recently especially with athleisure having such a huge influence. If we lose Cruise shows it will be a really great thing. Kering is a very innovative company and what they have set out for YSL and Gucci for the next season feels very exciting. You have to be really brave to go against the system. Change isn’t something that happens easily. People have to take risks and say ok enough is enough. We never hear from the creatives — we hear from CEOs and marketing people. But designers don’t come into fashion because they got a big corporate agenda. You come into fashion because it is this incredible platform where you can express yourself creatively. I think so much of that has got lost by this mass production. Even before I started to work on catwalk shows, I just fell in love with these things thinking about the imagination of the designers who come out with these ideas and how they put a collection together.
KW I always think about the business model of Azzedine Alaia where it was about doing only what’s necessary, only showing twice a year. Not overproducing so much. And now, maybe designers see that and recognize that it can be a sustainable model.
FB I think designers have always seen that. I am a big believer that ‘less is more’. Some people are able to navigate that kind of art and commerce alignment. But it’s really not easy. And I think that’s why Gucci has particularly been so extraordinary. Alessandro Michele is such an incredible dreamer. None of that vision and passion is lost. Everything he does is immersed in his ideas. When you go into the store it is amazing, as that aesthetic broken down is so diverse and so sellable. Few people have managed to get there.
KW There have been some magazines out now whose images have been created during the lockdown. Has anything that you’ve seen been inspiring? Like photographers and stylists working within the restrictions that we are all currently facing?
FB I was asked to do a few things during lockdown at the beginning. But I think it was such a personal process, and it’s not like you can’t create but the gravitas of the situation was so enormous that getting in that headspace where you can create something authentic was actually not possible for me at that time. If people kind of had something to say then it’s wonderful that they were able to say it within the constrictions of lockdown. I think the Italian Vogue white cover was great and really poignant. My favorite picture in all that portfolio was that of Joe McKenna who took a photograph of a tree in blossom. Having traveled my entire working life, I have never spent this long home, so things like Spring happening were quite extraordinary. I saw Joe’s picture and I felt like it really represented how I have experienced this past few weeks. A tree in blossom spoke more to me than a fashion picture, but that has been my experience. But it’s great that there are people who have been able to find a way to find inspiration and be excited and make a fashion picture. It was just too much for me.
KW There are some that are calling this a reset, while some others say it’s going back to normal. What do you think?
FB I think it’s 50/50. It has been a huge time of reflection for everybody. But equally our habits die really hard and we have a very established system. It has been obvious that after such a long time things have to change and it is exciting to hear with these announcements about the calendar changing and no fashion week. Actually, it was a necessity for these things to change. Like you were saying, individuals that need to express themselves, now are feeling very frustrated and they want to get out of this and start doing things. But I think the big conversation for all of us is what have we learned that we can hang on to? What are we gonna keep from this experience? Will we keep in mind questions like how can I make more time for myself? How can I slow down? How can I travel less?
For a lot of people, the travel has been the main thing. And even in conversation with magazines and photographers people just want to go home and sleep in their own bed. And I think that is very important as well.
KW I tuned into an Instagram Live where the photographer Ethan James Green was saying shoots for the next year would be very local with very little air travel involved. That did make me a little nostalgic for the days when Diana Vreeland would commission a shoot in exotic locations that took 2 weeks. But those days are long gone.
FB I watched the Diana Vreeland documentary during the lockdown, which was fantastic. And you kind of thing that was just another time. Travel really was a luxury and you were abroad for like two or three weeks for just eight pictures. I thought, ok this is a more sustainable way to do it. It’s all this rushing from a place to another which we have really taken for granted. You know, I love to travel. But I do really want to have a responsible attitude towards the way that I work. And this has been a great opportunity to redefine what wealth means to you and what’s the true joy in life. It is so easy to be seduced when you’re asked to do so many exciting things, and it is hard to say no. Before you know it, years fly by and you have traveled millions of miles and you feel like What’s happened? And I have been thinking about this for a while in terms of how to make my business function in a more sustainable way, how to make better choices as a stylist, but it is hard to implement without any real support from the industry. This will make everybody look at the way they do things. If you want to work with some people, but you are not in the same country, how can you do it? What’s the better way to do it? And that’s something I hope will have a hugely positive influence on all of us, because you can’t do it alone. You need collective consciousness to push it. And I feel everybody want to change. I was reading an interview with Bella Hadid saying how she has been like constantly traveling. She usually left a shoot and got on a plane to go back to America or somewhere else. And I was like, even at that age, when you are 21, is that how you want to live? It is so hard on your body. It completely messes you up.
This is a wonderful, wonderful industry and I believe that fashion has always allowed people to make great changes. It has enormous power as it is big business. It has got all the right ingredients to do something really important.
I do really want to have a responsible attitude towards the way that I work. And this has been a great opportunity to redefine what wealth means to you and what’s the true joy in life.
KW And how were you keeping inspired and sane during the lockdown?
FB I really loved walking around. Being in London has been extraordinary because it has been so beautiful with this endless sunshine, so I just walked around my neighborhood seeing things I had never ever seen before. One of my favorite things I did was this free guide tree walk, which sounds ridiculous. [laugh]
I followed the map from the website to look at all these significant trees in the city of London. It was a Thursday afternoon and there was none around and suddenly you see things you have already passed a million times, but you have never seen before. It sounds crazy, but actually to see the city that I have lived in for so many years and I have never seen before, has been quite amazing. I have an everyday routine — I get up and I have to do some journaling before I do anything else. And then just sort of help people and reach out to people who need help and knock on the door and ask if there’s anything I can do. Just be present. I’ve not been on my phone and on social that much, which has been quite good even if it is one of my bad habits. Trying to be in the day, taking one day at a time, and sort of surrender to what’s happening.
KW Since you mentioned the Diana Vreeland documentary… Have you done a lot of research for potential shoots or really just taking each day as it comes?
FB Just before lockdown I had done a few weeks of season planning and research of shoots I wanted to do. The Autumn Winter collections were so strong I was so excited and couldn’t wait to go. But when the lockdown happened, it was quite difficult to come into a place where I was imagining a picture because I couldn’t even imagine what the world was gonna look like. Putting a shoot together is such an emotional part of it. I just did not want to put that kind of pressure on myself. I just wanted to sit and be present.
KW It’s interesting to see young designers adapt to the lockdown
FB What is happening now is giving young talents a completely new opportunity. I loved what Supriya Lele did going with Jamie Hawkesworth to India. It is so important to connect with the emotions behind clothes otherwise we just forget about the most meaningful side. So, storytelling around a collection doesn’t have to be putting it on models. I was talking with Ben Reardon who works with Westminster graduate students and he was telling me how the students had to do a campaign for their final collection during the lockdown and he said it was amazing how people thought differently about it – like one girl wrote a song. It made me realize that we are just so conditioned to think a certain way that actually you have to be brave to break it.
KW What I really like about your career is that you balance consulting for big brands like Kenzo with younger designers like Nensi Djoka and A Sai Ta. Tell me a little bit about supporting these young designers and how you got involved with them.
FB With Nensi, I saw some of her pieces at CSM and borrowed some for a shoot. I just really loved her work and Lulu Kennedy (of Fashion East) asked me if I was interested in helping her, which was really an honor. She is so talented and diligent it blows my mind. She does everything herself, It’s a tiny team, but the attention to details and the love that goes into every piece is just mind-blowing. And that’s pure joy to me, to work with someone you actually feel you can help realizing an idea. The great thing about working with young designers is just that the point of view is so authentic because they are coming from a place where they are not thinking about the commercial collection and will this sell or will I have to make this in brown?
KW Were you working on PRINT (the cult magazine she makes with Christopher Simmonds) when the whole lockdown happened?
FB Yes we were, and we put that on pause and we’ll pick up the conversation when we are all out and about. Because it’s entirely self-funded by me and Chris, it’s run like a cooperative so to ask people to invest at the time posed the question of what feels right and what people want to do. I love image-making though and the idea of image-making from an emotional point of view is so important. Actually, I really want to make one now, I was thinking about doing it during the lockdown and that this is really interesting time to make something with no holds barred.
KW I think that will be the future of publishing going forward. People would just make less, but what they make is very special. Within all this period of lockdown when all the newsagent were closed there were still magazines I wanted and went out of my way to get so I think people have still a hunger for physical things.
FB I hope so. I was looking at past issues of PRINT during the last few weeks. The goal was always to create images that always felt timeless and while I was looking at the first issue I thought oh my God if this came out today, I would still find it really exciting. You just have to give people good reasons to want to look at something.
KW What was the inspiration for starting PRINT?
FB Chris and I both come from a background in magazines and PRINT was born out of a desire to create something with total freedom. We wanted to make something completely authentic and sensitive and personal. It was liberating – and really made me remember why I do what I do. PRINT created an opportunity to collaborate with people we love and admire and to engage in a visual dialogue about fashion, people, image-making, and what excites us.
KW Your first issue remained me of when Joe McKenna came out with his own magazine, Joe’s in the early 90’s.