The fashion industry has changed immeasurably over the last 50 years, and few have observed or commented on these changes more than “The World’s Oldest Supermodel” (as stated in the Guinness Book of Records) Daphne Selfe, and fashion expert and broadcaster Caryn Franklin. The two silver-maned matriarchs of Fashion joined The Industry’s new Managing Director Lauretta Roberts to offer some perles des mots (at The Industry’s last meet on 22 July).
Both women fell in to the industry by accident. Selfe, now in her 9th decade and more in demand than ever as a model, landed her first cover in the 1950s after entering a competition at a Reading department store, and as such made a quick dismount from a career as an equestrienne. It suited her more creative side, “I always loved dressing up, right from a child,” she explains in her inimitable husky, plummy accent. “My mother was always smartly dressed. She always made my special occasion clothes – well I wouldn’t want to look like everybody else,” she adds with humorous disdain.
Similarly Franklin’s childhood was spent with the sewing machine always out on kitchen table, and she became motivated by a deeper philosophical interest “in control of the narrative around personal identity”. She recalls that in the days before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, social networking amongst her club kid peers was considerably more low-fi – basically “promenading down the King’s Road in all our finery”. Her early appreciation for the construction of a garment is something that stays with her, and if she were to resurrect the cult programme The Clothes Show that ran 1989-1998, the show that made her a household name, it would be a topic she’d like to educate the public more on. That, and the “psychological impact of fashion on people’s lives.”
We only have ourselves to blame, says Franklin, “Fashion forgets it is a small industry that is watched by young girls. It needs to promote itself in more heartfelt way. As a member of Government Minister Jo Swinson‘s Body Confidence steering committee, and as co-founder of the award winning All Walks Beyond the Catwalk (alongside Debra Bourne and supermodel Erin O’Connor) initiative that promotes diverse beauty ideals, her life’s work to date has been to change the industry from the inside out.
We must all take responsibility as consumers. “When you look at something, give it your attention don’t let it wash over you. Decide if you want to use your money on a brand that’s creating hyper-sexualised or gender-stereotypical imagery that doesn’t include you or realistic imagery of different individuals in the campaign, that doesn’t see you or think you are important enough to talk to as an individual,” she commented on the i-D magazine site last year. She was fashion editor at the publication in the eighties and is still very much part of the family. “Take your money and your good will and place it with a company who’s more interested in delivering something to you. Don’t underestimate the power you have on social networking to discuss this amongst your community.”
That ability to act on intuition should be paramount for designers, too. “Stay in touch with yourself, the voice inside yourself that allows you to act on instinct. I think a lot of creatives have turned that voice down. The commercial machine has overridden people’s ability to say ‘you know? I’m not feeling that, I don’t know why I’m not feeling that… This feels right’.”
There’s more to do, especially on the retail side in this tricky financial climate. “I hanker after the days when small businesses knew their customers, they knew their suppliers and they could control it,” says Franklin. And they do it because they love it,” she adds, “because it allows them to pay their bills, because they want to immerse themselves in creativity. Not because they are trying to make a mint by selling it in five years’ time.” When she started out she had “never even heard of the word ‘brand’.” In her opinion, success shouldn’t be aligned to money alone.
But Fashion at its best also “has the power to make people fall in love with themselves again. It’s the principle of embodied cognition – if you put on the uniform you can do the job,” says Franklin. So what does maven Selfe suggest to help find their style mojo? “People should learn to experiment more, I spend a lot of time mucking about looking at my clothes and trying things on with each other.” Selfe still likes to look unique, customising inexpensive high street finds.
Franklin’s parting shot: “It’s a contemporary tragedy so many people feel ambivalent about they way they dress. We’re not here to support Fashion, Fashion is here to support us.”
Words: Hannah Kane