Emma Baxter-Wright is a fashion writer and journalist who studied Fashion at St. Martins School of Art in the mid 1980s. Her book on Coco Chanel The Little Book of Chanel, is a best seller, whereas her book on Schiaparelli has sold very few copies! “It amazes me that everyone still wants to know about Chanel, but has forgotten about Schiaparelli’s legacy! They were contemporaries and rivals who came from opposite ends of the social scale and publicly loathed each other, but their professional life stories intertwined for over thirty years and they were massively influential on each other’s careers”.
Emma is currently working on a fashion book about the 1960s East End photographer Duffy.
I caught up with her recently and asked her a few questions which had always interested me about the fashion industry:
Q: Emma, How has the fashion industry changed from when you started to now?
Like life in general, it has changed beyond recognition, and not necessarily for the better. Now fashion is about making big money. When I started out young designers cared about creativity not commercialism, money was a dirty word. I was at Vivienne Westwood’s first catwalk show at Olympia in 1981, the post punk atmosphere was electric, and street style models tumbled down the runway in a fabulously shambolic show of creative chaos, a million miles away from the sleek theatrical (mostly very dull) presentations designers bankrupt themselves to produce for LFW today. London in the mid 80s was overloaded with youthful designers determined to challenge the existing fashion scene with a Dadaesque mentality of DIY originality which informed that era, it was much more personal and more exciting.
Q: What do you believe has been the weirdest fashion trend you have lived through?
Weird trends don’t really interest me because they are mostly nothing to do with changing the aesthetic and everything to do with shifting product. Celine presented mis-matched shoes on the catwalk last season, and no doubt benefitted enormously from the subsequent frenzy of social media commentary. Actually the shoes only sold in proper pairs, but what an absurd idea, that people should buy two new pairs of shoes, so they could simultaneously be ‘on trend’ and look ridiculous.
Q: Does fashion just simply repeat itself or do you think designers really create unique new and never-seen styles?
Commercial fashion is cyclical, you can predict what will come next from where we are now, there is very little in fashion that is uniquely ‘new’. I teach fashion students at The London College of Fashion and UCA, and constantly tell them new ideas in fashion always come from the street. We were always told, as fashion students at St. Martins, that fashion comes from re-inventing the past. Colin McDowell instilled in us his mantra, Reference, Research and then Create, and we spent hours in the private libraries at the V&A looking at the precise lines, proportions and cutting techniques of historical dress, thinking how re-appropriation and re-invention could be utilised to come up with an updated silhouette.
Q: Do you think fashion critics are honest enough or is it a case of ‘new emperors clothes’?
It is rare to see a bad catwalk review these days, but there is so much money involved in producing a runway show, I think journalists feel a sense of responsibility not to trash something (and potentially destroy a young designers career) because it doesn’t personally appeal to them. I saw a Versus A/W show last year that was so mediocre that no student would have been allowed to present it at their graduation show, but as the fashion industry is very supportive of Donatella in general I couldn’t find any negative analysis written about it. Most fashion editorial commentary is pretty bland and pointless.... ‘statement sleeves’ ‘power dressing’, ‘wide stride pants’. What does any of it actually mean?
Q: Who in your opinion has made the biggest and most creative impact in the fashion industry
John Galliano took an anarchic slice of London to Paris when he started at Givenchy in 1995 and single-handedly changed the visual landscape of the old school Parisian fashion houses forever. He is a genius, and is still producing the most inventive and beautiful clothes at Maison Margiela.
The lovely talented fashion writer and journalist Emma Baxter-Wright, many thanks for your candid and refreshing opinion. As Coco Chanel said "A girl should be two things: Classy & Fabulous" and Emma is definitely both.
Me having a good read of Emma's 'Little Book of Chanel'