Behind the curve, the closed world of haute couture calls in the geeks

A model at Milan fashion week in March wearing ornate Dolce & Gabbana headphones.

Designers will unveil their collections for spring 2016 on the catwalks of New York this week, followed by London, Milan and then Paris, where the twice-yearly fashion circus concludes in a month’s time.

The intense schedule of presentations, many costing well into seven figures, has been established for decades. It has traditionally been a closed shop; an exclusive, invitation-only cabaret for the style cognoscenti.

But things are changing, and some industry insiders are now predicting the demise of this exhausting and indulgent showcase of designer theatrics as its relevance in an era of fashion democracy, instant gratification and tech innovation is questioned. The fashion formula has, frankly, become tired, and the industry is starting to lag behind others in its lack of creative vision.

It’s against this background that one should consider an initially surprising technology-to-fashion transfer last week – the announcement that Ian Rogers, the head of Apple Music, is to join the fashion and luxury house LVMH as its new “head of digital”.

“We are reaching the nadir of the current fashion-season cycle and it is about to fall apart,” says Chris Sanderson, co-founder of the Future Laboratory, a British-based trend forecasting consultancy. “Brands these days should be seeking an audience of 3 million, not 300, and increasingly, they are looking at alternative ways to present products to their customers.”

Certainly, the advent of social media, influential style bloggers and live-streaming of events already means that anyone in the world can enjoy the front-row experience instantaneously, as long as they have a connected digital device.

However, this week in Manhattan, the Paris-based atelier Givenchy will be shaking things up a little. The familiar faces of the “frow” will take their places as usual, via a separate entrance, and behind the ranks of stylists and critics will be 200 local fashion students, invited to attend by the label’s creative director, Riccardo Tisci.

Then, in an unprecedented move, the esteemed 63-year-old French fashion house, founded by French aristocrat Count Hubert de Givenchy and now owned by LVMH, will open the doors of its spring show to 820 members of the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

It is a sign that the fashion industry is now not just about selling clothes, but is slowly integrating with other sectors to form part of a more nebulous industry of luxury-entertainment experiences.

“The first myth to dispel is that the fashion industry is ahead of the curve,” says Sanderson. “It is, ironically, exactly the opposite. Most fashion businesses are extremely conservative and very reactionary. Thankfully, we are now slowly witnessing a long overdue cross-fertilisation of fashion, tech and leisure – and this is really making things very exciting.”

Ian Rogers, centre, formerly of Apple Music and now at LVMH, with the hip-hop group Souls of Mischief.

The global consumer now views Apple as a luxury brand alongside the likes of Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, and tech as very much part of a trendsetting, aspirational agenda. So it makes sense that the Californian electronics-and-entertainment giant has made a number of significant hirings in recent years to boost its fashion credentials.

Former Yves St Laurent chief executive Paul Deneve joined in 2013 to work under Apple boss Tim Cook on “special projects”, bringing in YSL’s European president and head of retail, Catherine Monier, to work with him last year. In May 2014, former Burberry chief Angela Ahrendts took her place on the Apple board, while the former social media chief for Nike and Burberry, Musa Tariq, joined the company last year as digital marketing director.

But while the geek community has gradually been infiltrated by a dose of high gloss and glamour, it’s taken time for the reverse to be true. Yes, a generation of digital whizzkids have taken their seats in the e-commerce divisions of big brands, facilitating the growth of digital clothing sales from the back end (albeit gradually: to this day, the likes of Chanel, Céline and Rolex do not have transactional websites). But there has been a distinct lack of true tech visionaries in executive roles in the world of luxury goods and high fashion – until now.

It’s rumoured that Natalie Massenet, the visionary founder of online designer boutique Net-A-Porter (who resigned from the business last week with a €100m payoff) was close to hiring former Apple Europe boss Pascal Cagni as Net-A-Porter’s chief executive when parent company Richemont announced the merger of her venture with Italian e-commerce giant Yoox.

That move didn’t happen but now LVMH has landed Rogers.

“I’ve been saying to many of my key clients for some time that they need to have a young, tech-savvy brain on their board,” says Moira Benigson, founder and managing partner of headhunter MBS Group, which specialises in consumer, retail and fashion.

“We are recruiting for the future century, and many [fashion] businesses are living in the past. Most people who are strong leaders in fashion are traditionally from a sales or business background. Now, I think you have to be more rounded, more savvy and have some handle on the potential of tech. I think the fashion industry got left behind and they’re just waking up to the brave new world.”

It seems that fashion businesses are acknowledging they are no longer mere clothiers and that today’s luxury brand has to be a purveyor of interactive lifestyle experiences that embrace technological innovation as an integral part of their offering.

“The next leap we will see is the expansion of wearables,” says Sanderson. “Intelligent fabrics have been talked about by trend forecasters for 20 years, but the technology exists now and it’s simply about cost, implementation and taking customers beyond the ‘bump’.

“So, we can embed technology in garments that will alert a store to your shopping habits, previous purchases, what you’ve tried on in another boutique, your average spend, colour preferences and so on. Clothes can do the talking – so you have a discreet, sophisticated dialogue with your favourite brands and the stores can then provide a truly tailored service designed to make blitz marketing obsolete.”

Historically, the fashion world’s adoption of digital has been limited to online boutiques and social media marketing – all too often featuring pointless tweets and a plethora of Instagram images done without real thought as to the value they add.

An Apple Watch

“The luxury and fashion world has been incredibly slow to embrace tech in its truest, cleverest form,” says fashion tech expert Shannon Edwards. “It is going to be very hard for them to change, especially when you are talking about craftsmanship, heritage, history – they want to hold on to those things, so it’s an evolution.”

But, she adds, we have reached the point where digital technology as a standalone industry melts away and starts to become a key part of other industries, especially fashion. “I have really high hopes for the integration of tech into clothing, so we use augmented reality to bring garments to life in front of you and smart fabrics to communicate information.

“I’m hoping that it all converges properly and we will get our heads out from our smartphones and get back to using tech, so we are more engaged as socially active humans again.”

So, as fashion editors pack their bags for the launch of the catwalk merry-go-round this week – and use Periscope to transmit close-up footage from their front-row seats – this might be the swansong of the catwalk show as we know it. The future is looking like the next big thing.

Vogue centenary exhibition styles fashion bible as cultural record

Kate Moss by Mario Testino.

At first glance, it’s all chiffon and glamour: Kate Moss in a huge hooped skirt, photographed by Mario Testino in 2008; David Hockney posing with a sequin-clad Maudie James in 1968, as captured by Cecil Beaton; Anne Gunning, swathed in pink in Jaipur in the 50s, looking away from Norman Parkinson’s lens.

But the National Portrait Gallery’s major spring exhibition, celebrating 100 years of British Vogue, will argue that it is much more than a style magazine.

“As well as the fashion bible it has now become, it is a cultural record of the times,” said current editor Alexandra Shulman at a launch event for Vogue 100, A Century of Style, on Monday. The exhibition, opening on 11 February next year, will launch the magazine’s centenary celebrations, which also include a behind-the-scenes BBC2 documentary.

A preview of the exhibition

British Vogue first hit newsstands in 1916 and – as with many desirable fashion brands – the ability to leverage this illustrious heritage has been key to the magazine’s success.

The exhibition will highlight British Vogue’s work with “the greatest photographers in modern history”, said curator Robin Muir, including Edward Steichen, Helmut Newton, Man Ray and Irving Penn, and will include portraits of Marlene Dietrich, Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon and Fred Astaire.

The show will also incorporate moments of recent fashion history, such as the 1990 Peter Lindbergh cover – featuring Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford – widely regarded as defining the supermodel era, and the notorious 1993 Corinne Day shoot that helped introduce Kate Moss, and so-called “heroin chic”.

Photograph by Cecil Beaton titled The Second Age of Beauty.

Tellingly, as printed magazines fight to underline their relevance in the digital age, Vogue 100 will begin in the present day, with a room devoted to digital fashion film. Visitors will then “travel back in time to the 90s, with Herb Ritts and Corinne Day; to the 80s with Bruce Weber and Peter Lindbergh; to the 70s with Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin,” said Muir.

Finally, they will reach “the year zero and the quieter, beautiful, more meditative vintage masterworks of photographers such as Steichen and Man Ray,” he said.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said that the show would represent “a panoramic image of the last century”.

That view is, however, undeniably well-heeled and overwhelmingly white. Questioned about a lack of racial diversity, Shulman said: “[British Vogue] has been a reflection of our culture for 100 years and it has been predominantly white culture. I think we just have to accept that. Though there certainly are a number of non-white people in the exhibition.”

As Britain became a more multicultural society, that shift was reflected in the photography, Cullinan said.

“Something we should be very proud of, and which I have included in the exhibition, is that British Vogue was the first mainstream magazine to have a black cover model, Donyale Luna, shot by David Bailey in 1966,” said Muir.

David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James appear in the major exhibition celebrating 100 years of British Vogue.

“It’s not all rarefied clouds of pink chiffon,” said Muir, adding that unexpected exhibits would include “extraordinarily graphic depiction of war” taken during the 1940s by Lee Miller.

“Those are not the sort of images anyone ever expected to be commissioned by a magazine like Vogue – but Vogue did have its own war photographer,” he said. “Real life intrudes – particularly at the magazine’s start, during the first world war, and during the second world war and the 1960s, when you can see class barriers being broken down in its pages.”

Muir added that Vogue was as much about creating magic and fantasy as it was about reflecting reality. “Cecil Beaton once said, ‘when I die I want to go to Vogue’ – and without wishing to dismiss the competition, saying ‘when I die I want to go to Marie Claire’ does not have the same kind of resonance.”

Mark Zuckerberg takes a tip from the Steve Jobs school of getting dressed – stylewatch

Vanity Fair October cover 2015.

Is Mark Zuckerberg seeking to become the Steve Jobs of grey T-shirts? That is to say, just as black polonecks were a key part of Jobs’s brand, so grey marl has become visual shorthand for the Facebook CEO.

Zuckerberg has always claimed that his dedication to grey is simply an Obama-like strategy for minimising daily decisions (“I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous,” he has said).

In fashion we call this the “what this old thing?” defence.

Actually, this Vanity Fair cover is as grey, and as chic, as a Ralph Lauren campaign. The T-shirt is the perfect shade of marl. The neckline has just the right slouch. And the greyscale is ramped up in the styling: smoky shades continue on the blackboard walls, behind him, and the slate floor beneath. It’s not quite 50 shades, but there are at least three.

Like Jobs before him, this self-identified fashion refusenik knows a thing or two about branding – and he’s building his own through signature style.

How Elizabeth I made red hair fashionable – in 1558

Queen Elizabeth I by Unknown continental artist, circa 1575.

There’s a painting in the National Portrait Gallery that has long been a source of fashion inspiration for me; it dates from about 1575, and is a peerless image of redheaded chic. Elizabeth I wears a gown of white and gold satin with dashing scarlet frogging across the breast, like a hussar, and she holds a particularly wonderful feather fan – whites and sulphurous yellows, dark iridescent greens, oranges and russet reds. That ghostly face is turned three-quarters of the way toward us; her expression reserved; her lips compressed. The line of that nose – “rising somewhat in the midst”, as Sir John Hayward described it – is clearly shown. My nose does the same. My hair is also red. Elizabeth I has been my pin-up girl since I was tiny. But it was only when I began researching my book Red: A Natural History of the Redhead that I came to appreciate how revolutionary Elizabeth’s image-making truly was.

Elizabeth’s red hair was no accident. For most of her life, Elizabeth wore wigs, so she might have chosen hair of any colour she liked, but she chose red; she was so committed to the shade that she is even supposed to have dyed the tails of her horses to match. (Who says redheads don’t have a sense of humour?)

The kiss of Judas.

Nor was she following the crowd – far from it. The astonishing thing is that Elizabeth chose a hair colour that had typified the barbarian for centuries, since the time of the ancient Greeks and their encounters with the tribes living around the Black Sea. Its predisposition, as a recessive gene, of cropping up in the endogamous Orthodox Jewish community led to it becoming the hair colour chosen in much European art for the arch-traitor, Judas, too. No surprise, therefore, that it was also used to stigmatise Tudor England’s own barbarian and potentially traitorous “other” – the Irish and the Scots. So powerful a piece of conditioning was this that in Elizabethan literature you find red hair cited as positive proof that the clans of Ireland and Scotland (along with any other untrustworthy Johnny Foreigner you might care to include), were directly descended from the “barbarous Scythians”, a tribe living around the Black Sea 3,000 years ago, mentioned in King Lear.

It seems strange for a monarch to link herself visually with the very subjects who had most to gain should she lose her throne. But there were personal reasons behind Elizabeth’s choice. Displaying the red hair inherited from her father gave the lie to all those rumours of illegitimacy that had plagued her girlhood. There were public and political reasons too.

Red hair has always been other. It stands apart. The white skin that so often goes with it also spoke in Elizabeth’s image-making of her separateness, her status as the Virgin Queen. Red and white were also the colours of St George, England’s patron saint. Those courtiers who dyed their hair or their beards red, to follow Elizabeth’s lead, were not merely declaring their loyalty to the queen; they and she were also, I believe, making a statement of standing apart, in Protestant England, from dark-haired and less pale-skinned Catholic Europe. Red and white were the Elizabethan brand, if you like, and that brand has been one of the most successful in history, as recognisable now as it would have been in Elizabeth’s own day.

This taking of a stereotype and turning it on its head, this classic piece of reverse discrimination, strikes me as startlingly modern, and mirrors the way many redheads are dispatching prejudice today. Gloriana was a superbly clever propagandist without question, but perhaps you have to be a redhead to appreciate what a perfect piece of sleight-of-hand her image-making truly was.

Jacky Collis Harvey’s book Red: A Natural History of the Redhead is published by Allen & Unwin at £16.99 and is available for £13.59 from the Guardian Bookshop.

Madchester, grunge chic and Kate Moss: how the 90s shaped our world

Rave culture’s style uniform is making a comeback on today’s fashion scene.

Early on in the new series of This is England, we see Lol working as a school dinner lady and dealing with her old friend Gadget, who has arrived to cadge a free lunch. He is dressed in a bucket hat and an oversized hoodie in colours so bright you want to turn down the contrast on your screen. You immediately know that we’re in 1990, the era of “Madchester” T-shirts, bowl cuts and centre partings, and ridiculously flared Joe Bloggs jeans.

Decades rarely behave as we’d want them to, of course, falling neatly into 10-year segments to facilitate retrospectives. If we want to trace the roots of Gadget’s getup, we have to go back to the summer of 1988, when the acid house explosion turned the clubworld day-glo. Fuelled by a potent mix of house music, MDMA and a restless feeling that something needed to change, the scene swept across the clubs of London and Manchester like a tsunami, clearing out everything that had come before it. Almost overnight, the old club uniform of Levi’s 501s, Dr Martens, crisp white shirts and even sharper flat-top haircuts was replaced by clothes that were bright, baggy and easy to dance in, and hair that hadn’t seen a barber for quite some time.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by PYMCA/REX Shutterstock (3489321a) Ravers queue up at Fantasia rave. Castle Donnington, UK 1993 STOCK STOCKRAVERSQUEUEUPATFANTASIARAVE.CASTLEDONNINGTONUK1993PYMCA08025883INDIEGROUPHATSSUNGLASSESADIDASNIKESHORTSBEADS1990SRAVECLOTHINGCLOTHESCOLOURFULCOLOURSUNSTYLISHUNSTYLISHFLOPPYMALEMANMENBOYSFANTAZIAPEOPLEStockNot-Personality21149607

By 1989, with outraged tabloid stories acting as the best publicity any promoter could wish for, the scene had spread across the UK. Clubbers were converging on illegal raves in fields and aircraft hangars around the M25 in numbers that left the police helpless, and all the tribes of 80s youth culture were briefly united – one nation under a groove. With crowds of more than 25,000 gathered at some of the bigger raves that summer, there was room for anyone who could afford the price of a ticket, and the old divides between black and white, gay and straight, indie and dance, north and south, and even rival football teams were forgotten. Margaret Thatcher had declared there was “no such thing as society”, but for a brief, heady time it felt as if we had forged a hedonistic new society of our own.

It’s easy to forget now how grim things were back then. Eastern Europe was rising up, the Berlin wall had fallen and Nelson Mandela finally walked out of prison in South Africa, but the winds of change had blown out into a gentle breeze by the time they reached the UK. Thatcher was finally deposed as PM after the poll tax riots, only to be replaced by John Major doling out more of the same austerity and blame. The popular image of him was from the satirical TV show Spitting Image, which portrayed him as totally grey. It felt like no coincidence that youth culture had meanwhile burst into defiant, glorious technicolour.

The front cover of The Face magazine with Kate Moss at the age of 14, from 1990.

At the time I was editor of the Face magazine, and in May 1990, we did a fashion story inspired by the upcoming World Cup in Italy, photographed by Mark Lebon. For the cover, we featured a new, young model from Croydon, dressed in an Italia 90 scarf and clutching a football. Three months later, we featured her again, this time wearing afeathered headdress and a goofy smile, photographed by Corinne Day in an issue celebrating the Stone Roses’ huge gig on Spike Island and the wave of new bands coming up in their wake. That cover has since come to symbolise the new mood. The model, of course, was Kate Moss.

“I used to just wait and study her, to try and get it as documentary as possible,” Day told me years later. “I wanted to get her character and her personality and her presence in the pictures. Because fashion really wasn’t about that in the 80s – it was the photographer directing the model. I really wanted to reverse that and make it about the model, to really get her character. And I think that’s how Kate got noticed.”

Day was one of a new generation coming up through the Face and i-D magazines, including photographers such as David Sims and Juergen Teller, and stylists such as Melanie Ward. “Because we were all new, it was hard for us to get designer clothes [to photograph], so we’d go to markets and we’d make up fashion that we liked,” said Day. “We made this kind of grungy style, and [made] second-hand clothes really fashionable. And it was great, because people didn’t have much money anyway.”

It took US youth culture a little longer to scream its defiance, but it came in spectacular style towards the end of 1991 with the cathartic fury of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Generation X had found its voice in Kurt Cobain and the Seattle grunge scene, and their brand of thrift-store chic quickly became the new uniform for US teens and twentysomethings: checked shirts, grandad cardigans, long, unkempt hair and Converse trainers. Girls, meanwhile, had a new role model in Courtney Love, lead singer in grunge band Hole, Cobain’s wife and proponent of babydoll nighties worn with tough boots. It all fitted beautifully with the grunge/waif fashion from the UK, and my favourite portrait of Cobain remains the one taken by David Sims for the cover of the Face in 1993, showing the singer wearing a vintage floral dress.

Channel 4's This is England '90 showcases many of the styles that are making a comeback.

The Seattle set wore the thick flannel shirts of lumberjacks and fishermen out of necessity: they were warm and they were cheap. But nothing says humble like a checked shirt, and for a good while after grunge broke out of Seattle, it also became the uniform of the hipper A-lister: Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix were rarely photographed without one, usually worn open with a T-shirt underneath and artfully ripped jeans.

Hip-hop and sportswear led the way in 90s fashion.

For his spring/summer 1993 collection for Perry Ellis, US designer Marc Jacobs sent a grunge collection down the catwalk, featuring silk shirts printed with checked patterns, floaty chiffon granny dresses and models in Dr Martens and satin Converse trainers. “It was about a sensibility and also about a dismissal of everything that one was told was beautiful, correct, glamorous, sexy,” he recalled in a 2011 interview. “I loved that it represented a newness. I think that’s how people dress now. That moment hasn’t passed. It’s morphed into different things, but it really hasn’t passed.”

Perry Ellis famously sacked the designer soon afterwards and halted production on the collection. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were equally horrified. Jacobs had sent them samples of the collection and years later Love claimed that they destroyed it all. “We burned it. We were punkers – we didn’t like that kind of thing.”

In the end, of course, none of this did Jacobs any harm. He went on to launch his own eponymous empire in New York, as well as becoming creative director of Louis Vuitton from 1997 to 2013. Kate Moss became a supermodel and the new aesthetic of imperfect beauty moved into the fashion mainstream, the luxury brands quietly consolidating and spreading across the globe. In the end, the dominant story of 90s fashion was not grunge or a love of the second-hand, upcycled or hand-made – it was all about the brand.

When Calvin Klein used Mark Wahlberg to sell his underpants in 1992, it was a controversial move for both sides. Now, it’s hard to find a luxury brand without celebrity ambassadors, and models have fought back by becoming brands themselves: launching their own clothing lines, perfumes and products. Even Courtney Love got co-opted in the end: by 1998, she was posing for a series ofVersace ads, shot by Richard Avedon.

You can hardly blame her. We now live in a world where we’re all supposed to see ourselves as brands, forming strategic alliances with other brands. Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham or former child actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have moved seamlessly into the luxury fashion market; Oasis bad boy Liam Gallagherhas his own casualwear line, Pretty Green; and it seems there’s barely a celebrity alive without their own perfume range.

Damon Dash, Jay Z, and Kareem "Biggs" Burke in Rocawear.

In this, as with so many things, hip-hop led the way. At the start of the 90s, rappers were wearing preppy, aspirational labels such as Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. By the end of the decade, US department stores were dominated by brands launched by the rappers themselves: Phat Farm, launched by Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons in 1992; Rocawear launched by Jay Z and Damon Dash in 1999, and sold for $204m eight years later; Sean “Diddy” Combs’slabels Sean John and Enyce; and a host of others.

“I was in a Macy’s in San Francisco the other day, and there was Phat and Sean John and Ecko and Rocawear and Enyce and Shady,” Simmons said in January 2004, when he sold his company for a reported $140m. “Then in the corner, I saw Calvin and Polo. I didn’t see Tommy any more – all those brands have gone ice-cold.”

He was not knocking Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger, he added: “I learned a lot from them.”

Sportswear is, of course, a huge influence on the urban brands, as it was on 90s fashion as a whole. From Air Jordan and old-school trainers to the Adidas stripe tracksuit top (near ubiquitous at the end of the decade); from the early 90s boom in skate/surf/hip-hop labels such as Stüssy, Mossimo and No Fear to our very own Sporty Spice telling us what she really, really wants in track pants and a cropped running top, clothing designed for athletes became a style statement, or at least a comfy outfit for lounging around in.

Kurt Cobain clearly influenced Saint Laurent's SS16 show at Paris men's fashion week.

Fashion – like club culture – moves in cycles, borrowing from and building on what came before, as well as reacting against it. As a result, the trends of the 90s are never far away and will only get more dominant as the kids who came of age in that era now become art directors and creative directors.

The September issue of fashion maven Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book, for example, will also include her first men’s fashion book, with stories based on the style of 90s icons Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix. For Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 2016 menswear show, designer Hedi Slimane also channelled the ghost of Cobain, sending his models down the runway with long, unkempt blonde hair, round plastic sunglasses, ripped jeans, checked shirts and knitted beanie hats.

The short checked skirts popularised by Jennifer Aniston inFriends – a show that can never be underestimated in its global influence on 90s style – have also been making a comeback, along with spaghetti-strap slip dresses and skater-girl floral prints with clumpy boots. Even Dr Martens have been returning to fashionable feet – on the catwalk forRag & Bone, for instance, and worn by the likes of Alexa Chung.

Dungarees – long derided as one of the never-to-be-repeated excesses of the E generation – are also, surprisingly, back with a vengeance. Glamour magazine’s website boasts a parade of more than 70 stylish celebs sporting them, including Alexa Chung again, Rita Ora, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rihanna, Lily Allen, Keira Knightley and Cara Delevingne.

What will not return, I fear, are trends that are rooted in a specific place. With MTV and then the internet disseminating new looks rapidly, and high-street stores copying catwalk collections before the original looks have even gone on sale, little stays unique or local for long. It’s hard to imagine something such as the 1990 Madchester baggy look – forged on the football terraces and in sweaty nightclubs of Manchester and Liverpool and popularised by Happy Mondays and Stone Roses – staying local for long now.

Long derided as one of the never-to-be-repeated excesses of the E generation, dungarees are back with a vengeance, as seen on Alexa Chung.

Tokyo has always been my favourite city for people-watching, with plenty of outlandish trends rarely seen outside of Japan. Last year, I sat in cafe in the young and cool Harajuku shopping district watching teenagers walk by – dressed, disappointingly, pretty much like teenagers anywhere else in the world. From Beijing to Birmingham, Mumbai to Manchester, you’ll find the same stores in the high street and in the luxury shopping malls, and the same looks.

That makes evolving a personal style – and sticking with it – all the more important. There’s a moment in the first episode of This Is England ’90 when Lol is trying to decide whether to go to a Madchester night with her friends. She worries that there won’t be time to go home and get a clean shirt. Her friend Kelly says she has some old Fred Perry shirts that she never wears any more, just like the one Lol has on. So Lol borrows a clean one, and goes out with the others, all dressed up in their rave gear. She looks great.

Final cuts: my obsession with film star hair

Chilvers hair

Sometimes if I’m having a bad day, I Google Image River Phoenix and study his hair. It’s like therapy and momentarily sends my brain somewhere better. This obsession is partly to do with the film My Own Private Idaho and its beautiful portrayal of youthful confusion and unrequited love. But it is also because Phoenix’s hair was at its absolute peak of amazing. Big and beautifully dishevelled, in many ways it was the embodiment of his character. Essentially, hair mis-en-scene.

Over the years, it is not just River’s up-top tangle that has reeled me in. Hair obsessing stretches from my own, which grows fast and outward, often resembling a giant mushroom. But also to (very) specific catwalks (the Raf Simons wet-look partings from spring/summer 2012 are an all-time high), via a roster of celebrities. This briefly manifested itself as a Tumblr starring the likes of actorsBen Whishaw, Jake Gyllenhaal and Andrew Garfield, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Strokes singer Julian Casablancas. I even barraged my late boyfriend (himself a man of much hair prowess) to file relevant images in a specifically labelled HAIR folder on my computer desktop.

A Raf simons model sporting a wet-look parting in 2010.

Looking back at my school photos, I’m bowled over by the size of my hair, the lack of product usage and its close proximity to Luke Skywalker’s. But then space and science fiction seem to produce excellent hair. Think about the number of good alien/android blonds there have been on screen over the years. Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, the orangey-blond David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth and, more recently, Michael Fassbender’s David in the Alien prequel Prometheus. David even dyes his hair blond, inspired by Peter O’Toole in Lawrence Of Arabia, as part of the narrative.

With lifelong David Hockney and Kurt Cobain style crushes – the Cobain hair at the recent Saint Laurent spring/summer 2016 show sent me into a near frenzy – it’s a miracle that I have never truly embraced blond. Particularly as it’s having a moment right now: see male model of the hour Lucky Blue Smith, star of the new Tom Ford campaigns. During the recent June menswear shows, erstwhile member of One Direction Zayn Malik, whose hair has always been, as far as I’m concerned, forward thinking, appeared front row at both Valentino and Louis Vuitton sporting a brilliant blond buzz cut.

One Direction’s Zayn Malik

Having been through the gamut of hairdos (and several don’ts, including the time I had Cyndi Lauper-style black and blond streaks painted into the front of a Jarvis Cocker floppy fringe), I now find myself in the position where thankfully my hair is still pretty thick. But with age comes grey, and while I’m not particularly against this development, it is a different texture and one that changes your haircut options. Now, I simply look better (and younger) with shorter hair, which, as the River Phoenix/Idaho reference illustrates, is not my preferred route.

I shaved my head once, thinking I was Renton in Trainspotting minus the heroin problems, and my mum still talks about how it nearly ruined her 50th birthday because I looked like a convict. This style firmly changes your appearance and therefore affects the way your wardrobe works. As a stylist, the casting of a model often begins and ends with their hair. Once I was shooting actor Dominic West for the BBC 2 series The Hour. The night before the shoot – based around elegant tailoring – West decided to shave his head, for fun. Fun for him. Cue frantic hat calling in to counterbalance the severity of his haircut.

Dane DeHaan as James Dean and Robert Pattinson as Dennis Stock in Life.

This autumn, cinematic hair inspiration is likely to come from one particular source: the James Dean biopic Life, starring Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson. DeHaan plays Dean opposite Pattinson as Dennis Stock, the photographer who famously took the pictures of the actor in Times Square, smoking in the rain. Dean’s iconic follicles are legendary, but DeHaan and Pattinson are new-generation hair hall of famers, with mega fashion house campaign form. DeHaan has done a Prada ad campaign; Pattinson a Dior fragrance. This could be full-on hair porn territory. DeHaan’s hair could be the natural successor to Leonardo DiCaprio’s wondrous Romeo + Juliet mane (notably Prada dressed Leo in that film). But R-Patz’s locks cannot be underestimated. His character, Edward Cullen, in the very first Twilight, oozed (supposed) teen angst, thanks to the winning mix of pale skin, piercing eyes, and, yes, big hair.

But by Christmas it’s all going to be about Adam Driver, when the actor steps into what I am praying is the suitably brilliantly villainous role of Kylo Ren in the Star Wars reboot The Force Awakens, and thus brings my hair love story full circle. He’s certainly got the form. I actually gasped at how perfectly imperfect his hair looked in episode 1, season 2 of Girls. Yes, my name is Simon and I’m a hairaholic.

The fashion checklist: pastels, blue steel, capes and sci-fi

2001, the Royal Tenenbaums

Margot Tenenbaum
The certain muse of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci collection. Furry dressing gowns, clips, gloves and all.

Zoolander
The Valentino womenswear show featured a walk-off from Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, reminding us that we have just five months to work on our own Blue Steel.

Ben Stiller on the catwalk at Valentino show

Heavy fabrics, pastel colours
This will be our sartorial balancing act this season. Because Prada (pastel double-faced jersey) and Topshop (sky blue jumbo cord) say so.

Models backstage at this season's Prada show, Milan fashion week.

Between the lines
Forget the cat’s eye flick. New ways to wear eyeliner include scribbles at Fendi, black wings at Chanel and a complicated double flick at Mugler.

Sasha Pivovarova

You know how every season something is the new black? Well, this autumn, it’s black – floor length at Ralph Lauren and Valentino, for men at Prada.

Model on catwalk at the Ralph Lauren show, autumn/winter 2015

Velvet goldmine
Used for dresses for women, suits for men. Velvet boots, though? Our shoe protector bill for autumn will be massive.

Dries Van Noten ankle boot

The force is strong
Fashion is looking forward to The Force Awakens as much as everyone else. Sci-fi white and futuristic styling ruled. Luckily no Princess Leia plaits.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in 'Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens'.

Something of the night
Evening capes at Lemaire and Saint Laurent, funeral-netted faces at Thom Browne, tailcoats at Dior Homme and midnight hues at Gieves & Hawkes.

Model on the catwalk at the Saint Laurent show, autumn/winter 2015, Paris fashion week.

A little bit scratchy
But worth it. We think Lurex is fabulous and so does JW Anderson.

Model on the catwalk at the JW Anderson show, London Fashion Week 2015.

Pin drop
Youth club customisation: Judy Blame flotsam and jetsam brooches at Louis Vuitton. Belstaff biker pins and Dior pressed flower badges. Pin to your lapel with pride.

Louis Vuitton menswear fall/winter 2015-2016

London calling: Gareth Pugh on why there’s no place like home

Gareth Pugh - Runway - LFW FW15

My first fashion show ran on Mars bars and sleep deprivation. Ten years ago, I was selected last minute to take part in Fashion East which meant I had four weeks to create a collection from nothing: I had no fabric, no team, no idea of what I wanted to do. I never imagined I’d be creating my first show under those constraints, but of course I couldn’t say no. In the end it was an amazing experience, making it through the chaos and producing something I could be proud of.

At the time, my studio was a disused gym in a squat in Peckham, part of the!WOWOW! collective. It was a huge building incorporating an old tile warehouse, a nightclub, a theatre, an evangelical baptist church and my studio in the gym, which I’ve been told used to belong to Wolf from Gladiators. The only place warm enough to sleep was the sunbed. The whole enterprise was scrappy and optimistic; feral and lawless. I still work with people I met in those early days, such as Matthew Stone, who does my music, and Katie Shillingford, who styles my shows. They are people I can be open and honest with, without fear of judgment. We know each other too well to have to be polite.

Gareth Pugh

I’ve shown in Paris since September 2008, but I always felt like a tourist. Getting there was a mission – bundling all our boxes and bags into an Addison Lee to get the Eurostar, then fighting for luggage space. Stressful doesn’t cover it. Then in Paris, you’re dropped at a prep space and start to work. You don’t see daylight for three days and have no clear idea of where you are or where to go if you run out of thread. It can be quite fraught. The Häagen-Dazs stall at Gare du Nord became laden with meaning – going there meant we were on our way home! Ice-cream has never tasted so sweet.

Last season we showed in New York, which was different again. I had been offered an opportunity to do whatever I wanted – which was incredible – but it still felt foreign. So this season I decided to bring the show home.

As ever, the day of the show was fun but hideous, in equal measure. We had an incredible location at the V&A, but there were drawbacks: it was a busy Saturday in half-term and there were stringent rules to adhere to. You can’t use hairspray in the building, for example, so models got ready in an education room a 10-minute walk away, which wasn’t clear of kids until three hours before the show. It was quite an ordeal – but the payoff was amazing.

Gareth Pugh

I wanted to play with the idea of coming home to London in the show, so an obvious reference to Britannia made total sense. It was emblematic and tongue in cheek. We also used chants from my local team, Sunderland, on the soundtrack. I loved the idea of hearing football chants in such a majestic venue, and at a fashion show. It felt quite confrontational; a call to arms. It also felt appropriate as my graduate show at Central Saint Martins was about Sunderland, and my dad and brother – both staunch supporters – were there, the first time they’d both been to one of my shows in years. There was an idea of tribes, and not forgetting where you came from; of being realistic and working with what you have. I was thinking about the blind faith that football supporters have, that what you are doing is vital and worthwhile.

I have been accused, in the past, of making uncommercial clothes. That has changed, thanks to a lot of support from Michele Lamy, Rick Owens’ wife and business partner, who has helped out with the commercial side of things since 2006. It’s been a steep learning curve.

We have very different backgrounds – I think we both find each other foreign and amusing. I remember telling Michele and Rick what being “on the dole” meant, for example, which they found fascinating. She has a reputation as a tricky character – she certainly doesn’t suffer fools gladly and has a highly tuned bullshit detector. She will tell you if she hates something, but also has a childlike sense of excitement when she likes something and it’s always reassuring to get that reaction. She’s a good divining rod – she can predict success at a wider level – whereas I am a designer, not a businessman, and the idea of simply selling things isn’t what gets me up in the morning.

Gareth Pugh

Studying in London is so much more expensive now than it was when I did it – and even in 2003 I couldn’t afford to do the Central Saint Martins MA course. Still, I met Louise Wilson, who gave me such great advice: that the most important thing to do as a student is fuck up and discover who you are. There’s such pressure to be a fully-formed person once you graduate. I hope young designers still have the scope to experiment creatively the way I did. Naivety is a fragile resource. It gives you the ability to do things you’d never do otherwise. To do things just because they feel right.

Although I’ve lived and worked here since starting college, London changed a great deal in the seven years I showed elsewhere. For one thing, its fashion week is more professional now, and taken more seriously internationally. The British Fashion Council is very supportive of young designers and gives them more business knowledge. When I was a student, you simply weren’t taught business. I wish some of it had been explained to me when I started out as it’s important to know how to monetise some of the opportunities that arise.

While London has changed, though, I feel the same. The hustle is still there. It’s like Only Fools And Horses – once Del Boy and Rodney got rich, it was rubbish. I’m never totally happy with a collection or a show – I always want to improve. I might get a bit more sleep now, but I attack things with the same ferocity I did 10 years ago. You need to have a fire in your belly.

Do the write thing: why fashion has a fetish for stationery

It began, as character-defining crushes so often do, on French exchange. I was 13, immersed in Frenchness for the first time, and it was fabulous. First because each morning for breakfast we were given a bowl of hot chocolate and a stack of creamy, scallop-edged biscuits to dip into it. But also because of the stationery. I fell madly, deeply in love with the school exercise books, which were A5-sized, sewn-spined, the pages chequered with a faint quadrille. So elegant, so precise, so chic. WHSmith’s spiral-bound lined notebooks were dead to me from that day onward, and a lifelong love affair was born.

Stationery is more emotional than fashion, notebooks and diaries more intimate than your knicker drawer. I can measure out my life in paper, from those flimsy notebooks to the ludicrously expensive Smythson ones I use now. My teenage diaries are even now redolent with the pointless intensity of childhood secrets. The Filofax and Mont Blanc fountain pen I had as a sixth former are unthrowable still, despite or perhaps because of the painfully earnest copied-out quotes and in-jokes scrawled in the margins. I have a treasured folder filled with notepaper from every swanky hotel I have ever stayed in: the Savoy in Florence, with its tiny terracotta duomo motif; Claridge’s, where we stayed on my husband’s 40th. And I have the giveaway organisational safety harnesses of every overwrought modern professional. (Current obsession: the Leuchtturm 1917 pencil loops, fixed in the back of every notebook and diary to save precious seconds on endlessly updating my to-do lists.)

This is how I know I’m in the right industry, because a stationery fetish seems a prerequisite for working in fashion. Years ago, when Tom Ford was helmingGucci, I witnessed a mini crisis at the London office. A new hire had arrived, and placed a box of yellow pencils on his desk; Ford, who had an all-black rule on pens and pencils, had to be asked for consent. (Reader, he gave it.) The late Yves Saint Laurent worked at the desk at which his great-grandfather, a lawyer, had drawn up Napoleon and Josephine’s wedding contract. On it lived two vintage lamps, a vase of flowers and a pot of blue HB pencils; nothing else was allowed. Last year, when I interviewed Diane von Furstenberg, she seemed mildly pleased I was wearing a vintage DVF blouse (oh yes, I do that, flattery gets you everywhere) but it was when I whipped out my diary, an exact match for hers, in grain and sunshine yellow and arrow-snipped silk ribbon, that she gave me a warm smile of fellowship.

Pencil sharpener

Ten years ago, fashion’s fetish for stationery was perhaps only to be expected from an industry founded on turning retail into ritual. What is extraordinary is how the fetish has survived the rise of technology that should have rendered it obsolete. Why sketch, when you can video the finale from your seat? Why bother with a diary, when you can iCal?

Because we’re Luddites? No. Fashion industry people are as tediously obsessed with their phones as the rest of the world. Yet the lust for beautiful stationery lives on.

Well, you know what? Practicality isn’t everything. (I give you: high heels.) If someone throws a great party, it’s quick and easy to say thanks by email, but only a soulless shell of a human being would imagine that it was the same as a handwritten card. Thank you notes (always on headed correspondence cards, surname struck through with a flourish) are still alive and well in the fashion industry. This is in part because its silverbacks – your Toms, your Christophers, your Stellas – still do it, and the rank and file follow suit. Which suits me down to the ground, because I was brought up to believe thank yous are next to godliness.

Not that it is entirely high-minded. Snobbery definitely comes into it: Smythson’s appeal is closely linked with its status as the calling card of the Right Sort of Person. On the other hand, many cult items – Sharpie pens, Field Notes notebooks – have a potent democratic appeal. Like Levi’s or Converse, the connoisseur recognises them simply as best in their class.

A new wave of stationery boutiques has emerged in the most fashion-forward cities. In Paris, the 2013 opening of Louis Vuitton’s Cabinet d’Ecriture was followed this spring by a stationery pop-up at destination boutique Merci. In London, no fashion editor’s stroll down Mount Street is complete without a detour into the Mount Street Printers for initial-embossed notecards in tissue-lined envelopes.

A few years ago, visitors to New York fashion week headed straight to the Apple store; this September, there will be a pilgrimage to CW Pencil Enterprise. The CW is 24-year-old Caroline Weaver, who has a tattoo of a pencil running the length of her forearm and whose specialist boutique sells Swiss beechwood pencils and Portuguese ones scented with lily of the valley, displayed on glossy shelves. It looks more like an exclusive beauty salon than a WHSmith. Indeed these pencils are, as one wag noted, “begging to be Instagrammed”.

Tommy Hilfiger: Andy Warhol, incense-burning and me

Tommy Hilfiger
For Hilfiger, the blazer is the male equivalent of the handbag. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Hilfiger as hippy

Before the birth of the Tommy Hilfiger brand, the designer sold jeans in People’s Place, a store he founded, in his teens, in his home town of Elmira. “I painted the Elmira store black, burnt incense, played rock music and opened for business. I had long hair back then, bell bottoms. I couldn’t play the guitar or sing but I wanted to look like a rock star.”

Naomi Campbell at London fashion week, 1996.
Naomi Campbell at London fashion week, 1996. Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

His wardrobe now
“It’s very simple. I wear jeans, chinos, navy or grey suits and navy jackets. When you’re working with [fashion] all the time, you want to be able to take a little bit of a breath from it.”

The Tommy look
The signature Tommy preppy look, Hilfiger believes, is an everyman style. “Preppy refers to collegiate classics but I also think it can be sporty, rock’n’roll, surf, outdoorsy, technical,” he says. “It can be a lot of different things.”

His hero piece
The blazer is, for Hilfiger, the male equivalent of the handbag. “I throw all my things in the different pockets and sometimes I just wear the jacket for that reason. I have stuff everywhere – a charger, a wallet, a pen.”

Gisele Bündchen walks the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer Ready to Wear show during the New York fashion week 2000.
Gisele Bündchen walks the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer Ready to Wear show during the New York fashion week 2000. Photograph: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Hilfiger and Andy Warhol
Warhol was an early influence. The pair met when Hilfiger moved to New York and became a visitor to the Factory. “He really was the first person I ever met who understood pop culture better than anyone else. Not just art but fame – fashion, art, music, entertainment.” Decades on, Warhol is still one of his style icons. “He dressed very preppy sometimes, little button-down shirts and striped ties.”

Hilfiger at home
He lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, and commutes to New York every day. “I get up at 6.30am, have black coffee and read the newspapers on my iPad. Then I do some exercise and try to have some berries. I take my son to school, then I go into New York City,” he says.

His beginnings as a designer
He is self-taught and sees this as a strength. “It meant that I was entrepreneurial,” he says. “If I can’t do something, I find someone who can.”

A model walks down the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger fall 2007 show during Mercedes-Benz fashion week at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.
A model walks down the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger fall 2007 show during Mercedes-Benz fashion week at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. Photograph: Gerald Holubowicz/ABACA USA

First-business blues
Hilfiger’s path did not always run smooth. His first business soon got into financial trouble and he had to start from scratch. “It was scary but also exciting. I literally did everything. I chose every thread, every button, every zipper.” It all worked out. The brand now has 1,400 shops in 90 countries and in 2013 had global sales of more than £4bn.

The importance of a schedule
A stickler about his plans, Hilfiger says: “I have a great assistant, but I have to know everything that’s going on. It’s easy to get out of balance and you feel it right away. To get back on an even keel, I redo my schedule.”

When the working day ends
Hilfiger likes a night out. On a recent visit to London, he checked out Chiltern Firehouse. “It slowed me down a little bit,” he says, “but it was fun.”

A model on the catwalk Tommy Hilfiger 30th anniversary fashion show, Beijing, China.
A model on the catwalk Tommy Hilfiger 30th anniversary fashion show, Beijing, China. Photograph: Imaginechina/Rex Shutterstock/Imaginechina/Rex Shutterstock

His favourite kind of weekend
“One with no plans. I do like to eat, though, so I have to work out what we’re having for lunch, what are we having for dinner. I’m always thinking ahead to the next meal.”

In his own words
We’ll know more about the Hilfiger story next year. He’s currently writing an autobiography.

On the rest of the industry
Hilfiger is up with younger designers. Christopher Kane and JW Anderson are favourites.

His motto
“Stay true to yourself.” He always has.
uk.tommy.com

Timeline: the greatest hits

Spring/summer 1997
Hilfiger’s London show has Naomi Campbell in his hallmark preppy, sportswear and red white and blue.

Spring/summer 2000
A rockier aesthetic for women comes in, with denim, bustiers and chokers, and Gisele Bündchen in low-rise trousers with flames licking up the legs.

Autumn/winter 2007
Hilfiger returns from a two-season break with a “rebirth” collection of slick winterwear, smart tailoring and luxe fabrics.

Autumn/winter 2015
The label celebrates 30 years with a show inspired by American football, an apt connection for a brand that embodies US design now.