Authentic Radicalism: Altering Fashion’s System
The Maison Assouline, with its antique wood panelling, Piccadilly location, and connection to ‘luxury’ art-related books, seemed an odd place for a meeting of anarchists. Yet it was here that Not Just A Label, a designer platform and key ‘disruptor’ of the fashion industry today, chose to hold the launch of its educational series Authentic Radicalism on 31st May 2016.
The word ‘radical’ is often thrown around in relation to fashion, be it in design, academic, or museum settings. Rarely does it signify something other than creative or aesthetic innovation. However, on the 31st, NJAL used it to describe the systemic changes they seek to make. This is not the first time professionals worked to change the fashion industry, as my own research into shifting constructions of fashion in 1950s and 60s France can attest. Just as ready-to-wear manufacturers and designers sought to enter a system that functioned around haute couture, NJAL was founded with the intention of creating opportunity for emerging creators. Its Authentic Radical series might be considered an extension of this mission, and as a means to reassert the organisation’s disruptive position.
NJAL Founder Stefan Siegel and Head of Product Anna Telcs signalled this tone at the evening’s start, using the terms ‘manifesto’ and ‘call to arms’ in their introductions. They were followed by a panel discussion on ways to radically alter the fashion system to better professionals, consumers and the wider community. Moderated by Angela McRobbie, Cultural Theorist and Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths University, the panel included Martin Raymond (co-founder of The Future Laboratory and editor-in-chief of Viewpoint and LS:N Global), Orsola de Castro (founder and director of Fashion Revolution), Hugh Devlin (haute couture fashion lawyer), and Sophie Hackford (director, Wired Consulting). Over the course of the evening, they explored topics as varied as digital platforms, waste and job creation that connected to contemporary discussion on disruption, diversity, transparency and sustainability in other business sectors. Yet the power and distinctiveness of fashion as an industry shone through, notably in terms of the consumer’s education and attachment to objects. Devlin’s observation that consumers are often better informed about products than many in the design chain matched Hackford’s prioritisation of transparency, in terms of human emotion and technology. Both Raymond and de Castro noted the historicity of the notion of transparency, and encouraged emerging professionals to study old business models in order to rethink the current fashion system.
To close the evening, Telcs took us to past conceptions of rebellion and solidarity in the art and design world by reciting Karen Finley’s 1990 poem ‘The Black Sheep’. She explained how the poem was at the root of NJAL’s logo of abstract black lines, conceived by fashioning black wool thread. Just as the thread constructs a textile, audience members may have felt connected in a wider movement and community. It is hoped that they will heed NJAL’s message of critical, original thinking and take action!
For more information about NJAL, please visit: https://www.notjustalabel.com/
Alexis Romano is a researcher and founding member of the Fashion Research Network. She is interested in the ways narratives of dress are shaped through means of display, and some of her visual inquiries can be viewed at Dress on Display. Alexis recently completed her PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art, on postwar French ready-to-wear, and the connection of the development of this industry to French and women’s history. She is currently Exhibition Reviews Editor of Textile History.
Review: Authentic Radicalism, Not Just A Label, 31st May, London, UK
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