Photographs by Jamie Hawkesworth
Styling by Max Pearmain
In System No. 11. Click to buy.
‘Hers is a countercultural pursuit.’
Long before the fashion industry co-opted art, there was Agnès B.
By Loïc Prigent
Photographs by Dominique Issermann
Why Agnès B.? Why now? Simple: she’s a pioneer.Because if fashion and art, the cultural and the commercial, today seem like such a natural fit, then that is partly thanks to Agnès B.’s vision of how a fashion label should be a central part of a larger cultural matrix; that it is a brand’s duty to use its position to have a wider cultural impact. It is a belief she made real by doing what she does best: following her instincts. So, not for her a multi-million-dollar art foundation or the odd high-profile sponsorship of a blockbuster exhibition. Instead, for over 40 years, she has given continuing (often under-the-radar) support for (often avant-garde) artists whether up-and-coming early masters or once-nearly-forgotten living ones.Between the art galleries, film-production company, environmental research ship, foundation to coordinate her cultural initiatives, and an ever-increasing art collection, the world of (lower-case) agnès b – the brand – is as far reaching as it is lovingly curated. And she has created it without ever being in hock to the banks or having spent a single centime on advertising. For Agnès B., it’s about doing, not showing (off).
So with the symbiosis between fashion and culture now reaching global ubiquity, it seemed the right moment to reassess Agnès B.’s career and lasting influence. With this in mind, System asked French writer and filmmaker Loïc Prigent to spend an afternoon with the designer at her Parisian apartment near the Louvre. Their free-flowing conversation reveals a designer at odds with fashion’s current imperatives, uncomfortable in the industry, and one, who by being true to her ideas, has created her own community: a professional and social family of artists, filmmakers and kindred spirits.
We then invited three of those people – Jonas Mekas, Ryan McGinley and Harmony Korine – to share their own thoughts on Agnès B., the woman who has in turns been their collaborator, muse, producer, financial backer, facilitator, co-conspirator, and trusted friend.
Discover their world in System No. 11. Click to buy.
‘We were always very attracted to each other.’
Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler on 30 years of the work/life/love balance.
By Alexander Fury
Photographs by Juergen Teller
Slightly less than 24 hours before their latest catwalk show, fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler were holed up in an uncharacteristically contemporary building beside their Paris boutique. They were making fashion. Not clothes – the clothes were made, mostly anyway. There were rubber dresses and tweed suits and ball gowns and corsets and platform shoes, quotes from an aesthetic vernacular established by Westwood over almost a half-century of work, almost 30 years of which have been spent alongside Kronthaler.Their latest models were complete, bar a few tweaks, changes and alterations to make sure they fitted in the exact way required for the presentation – which may be normal, distorted or twisted on the body, falling off or rolling down. The final outfits were coming together organically, as lace and taffeta and leopard-print fake-fur garments were interchanged to arresting or amusing effect. Journalists are normally never permitted to watch this period of the creative process at Westwood. It’s a rare privilege – and I was very much an interloper. I stayed out of the way. Westwood stood on the sidelines, watching intently, the process mostly handled by 52-year-old Andreas Kronthaler and stylist Sabina Schreder, who studied alongside each other at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. That was also where Westwood met Kronthaler in 1989. She was a guest professor of fashion; Kronthaler, a 23-year-old from the Austrian Tyrol, was in his first year. Their age difference of 25 years was much commented on when Kronthaler and Westwood’s relationship came to wide public attention following their discreet marriage in May 1992. (Westwood’s own mother only found out about it in 1993 from newspaper articles.) There is less note paid of it today – now Westwood is 77 – than when they were in their 50s and 30s. Yet theirs remains an unusual partnership, in every sense of the term.
Read the full story of their romantic and professional life together in System No. 11. Click to buy.
‘Barneys was a unique little oasis.’
Creative director Ronnie Cooke Newhouse revisits the 1990s Barneys ad campaigns that saw her assemble a cast of Steven Meisel, Linda Evangelista, Glenn O’Brien, several lobsters and a chimp.
Interview by Thomas Lenthal
With the passing of 1980s moneyed glitz and shiny glamour, Gene Pressman decided to take Barneys’ ad campaigns in a new direction, and in 1990 hired Ronnie Cooke Newhouse as creative director to work alongside writer and man-about-town Glenn O’Brien. By then, the company had dropped its apostrophe, expanded into Japan with the help of Isetan, and was deep into planning its ultimate coup: moving its main store uptown to a huge space on Madison Avenue, again designed by Peter Marino.
These big steps were matched by the memorable campaigns that Cooke Newhouse delivered between 1990 and 1995: a series of witty, visually challenging and sometimes downright silly campaigns, often shot by Steven Meisel and featuring the era’s best-known faces, particularly Linda Evangelista. The images of supermodels and monkeys, hot actors and lobsters, combined her visual direction and O’Brien’s text to meld downtown sass and uptown sophistication, in the process bringing Barneys’ communications defiantly up to date and buttressing the company’s daringly irreverent image during its rapid expansion. And in the process, Cooke Newhouse and O’Brien proved that fashion advertising didn’t necessarily have to be po-faced and that humour could – and still can – boost sales.
Earlier this year, Ronnie Cooke Newhouse met with System’s Thomas Lenthal to discuss her era-defining work for Barneys, the difference between uptown and downtown, and the precarious future of today’s department stores.
Click to buy.
‘If you can’t see the clothes, it’s not a fashion photograph.’
Superstylists a generation apart, Grace Coddington and Lotta Volkova meet to trade their secrets, stories and strategies for conjuring up the perfect picture.
By Alix Browne
Illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme
Conspirator, agitator, muse, collaborator, and, yes, not least, the person responsible for putting the clothes on the model, the stylist has over the years come to assume one of the most powerful positions in the kingdom of fashion. You will find one behind most great designers, while photographers lean on them even as they resist their influence. There are former stylists at the heads of more than a few major fashion publications (hello, Edward Enninful and Emmanuelle Alt), and then there is Grace Coddington, who was working with photographers to produce exciting, groundbreaking fashion shoots long before stylists were even called stylists.
During her long career, Coddington has been an eyewitness to, and key player, in the golden age of print magazines, witnessing stylists move from anonymity to centre stage – her own fame launched by her initially reluctant role in R.J. Cutler’s 2009 documentary The September Issue – helping them go from uncredited workers to marquee names. Names that have reached more recent fashion ubiquity, such as Lotta Volkova, the Vladivostock-born, Central Saint Martins-educated, Paris-based in-house stylist for Demna Gvasalia at both Vetements and Balenciaga. After working for her own label – now on permanent hiatus – and getting her first styling break with photographer Ellen von Unwerth, Volkova met Demna and Gosha Rubchinskiy, with whom she has created a collaboration that goes beyond simply styling and reaches into design, photography, casting and modelling, in the process, further stretching the definition of what a stylist can be. And in a world where digital media have been transforming the way fashion is presented, perceived and consumed, Volkova has shown how powerful Instagram can be in taking a stylist’s vision from the personal to the public.
System brought together these two formidable fashion forces at Coddington’s office in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York. Despite being generations apart, the pair turned out to have many things in common, starting with a love of storytelling and a disdain for being told what to do. They also, rather endearingly, appeared to be somewhat in awe of the other’s work.
Discover the full interview in System No. 11. Click to buy.
Over the past few months, there has been much discussion in both the established and social media about sexual harassment allegations, the treatment of models, and the questionable road towards making a fashion image. In light of this, we have been asking ourselves an uneasy and uncertain, yet important question: ‘What is the future for sexualized imagery and nudity in the world of fashion?’ We felt that the younger generation currently involved in fashion and its image-making might be most credibly placed to answer that. So we asked them.
‘What makes it Them is us.’
Phillip Picardi and his LGBTQ team are giving Condé Nast an authentic queer voice. Meet Them.
By Raven Smith
Video by Brigitte Lacombe
In a roundabout way, Them was conceived through anal sex. In July 2017, Vogue’s cover story featured it-couple Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik apparently ‘embracing gender fluidity’ by swapping clothes. It was a heavy-handed and tone-deaf approach to gender identity that outraged millennial readers and forced Vogue to apologize: ‘we missed the mark.’ Only a week before, little sister online publication, Teen Vogue, under the digital direction of Phillip Picardi, a then-25-year-old from Boston, had released a guide to safe anal sex, which said, ‘It’s important that we talk about all kinds of sex’. The use of ‘we’ here demonstrated the implicitly inclusive nature of the publication: peer-to-peer millennial discourse, rather than teacher-pupil education (albeit written by a millennial self-described sex educator). In a seismic shift, Vogue talking about millennials was eclipsed by Teen Vogue talking with millennials.With Picardi overseeing its all-important digital output, Teen Vogue was pivoting from mini-fashionista editorial to voice of a new, alert, engaged generation. Typified by that sex-advice feature, Teen Vogue’s sincere lateral tone of voice and non-salacious practicality resonated, shrewdly harnessing the power of the most underestimated group on the planet: teenage girls. Vogue’s little sister was woke and not going back to sleep.
Within days, Picardi – who was increasingly being recognized for spearheading Teen Vogue’s record-breaking digital growth – was summoned to have lunch with Condé Nast’s artistic director Anna Wintour to discuss future opportunities. A kind of Condé Nast carte blanche. And so, the idea for Them, a next-generation digital platform produced by and for the LGBTQ community, was conceived. According to Condé Nast’s press release about Them, Gen Z-ers ‘support brands that take a stand on issues they believe in personally’ and ‘more than half of Gen Z identifies as queer’.
A social-change-focused LGBTQ platform was an inevitable and savvy addition to the company’s portfolio.
Channelling Gen Z’s energy into meaningful audience-first editorial is now Picardi’s raison d’être. As chief content officer of Them (a role he has added to his continuing duties at Teen Vogue), Picardi is responsible for a team chronicling next-gen millennial stories and voices, harnessing and amplifying these expressions of change. Them puts LGBTQ identity politics front and centre as previously specialized social-media discussions punch into the mainstream consciousness. Them is a pastel-coloured rolling newsfeed of verbal and visual expressions of the modern (predominantly US-based) queer experience. Its stories showcase the intersectional narratives that have often fallen between the gaps of our worldview. It is a mix of earnest activism and bold optimism: a tender (and eerily accurate) self-care monthly horoscope sits alongside pieces questioning queer representation at the Oscars, fat-phobia in the bear community, and assessing whether ‘Ancient Egypt was totally queer’. The platform is an uroboros, receiving feedback as it’s transmitting; Them’s audience simultaneously absorbs information and responds immediately, with commentary that shapes future stories, adding to the endless reciprocal Internet conversation. A stream of consciousness from a generation of evolving thinkers, with ideas being processed and published in tandem, Them is a thesis developing in real time.
Earlier this year System asked London-based writer and creative director Raven Smith to interview Phillip Picardi, the man the New York Times recently labelled ‘Condé Nast’s 26-Year-Old Man of the Moment’. The first time in February 2018 during London Fashion Week the pair shared a pitstop high tea. For the second, a month later, Smith travelled to Condé Nast’s New York headquarters at One World Trade Center, where he also met and interviewed the Them team.
‘What Chengdu wants, Chinese millenials want.’
Welcome to China’s new luxury playground.
By Hung Huang
Photographs by Feng Li
Styling by Vanessa Reid
“His name is Deng Hong. Deng is the family name, like Deng Xiaoping, also a man from Sichuan province, of which Chengdu is the provincial capital. In 2011, Deng Hong wanted to invite Lady Gaga to do a concert in Chengdu. Despite my protests, a mutual friend convinced him that I was the person who could bring her to Chengdu. I was instantly given a first-class ticket to fly to the central Chinese city and when I arrived, a peach-coloured Rolls was waiting for me at the VIP exit…”
In the latest issue of System, Hung Huang pens a poignantly witty piece about China’s eighth biggest city, Chengdu. Quickly becoming fashion’s newest playground, and currently the third biggest luxury market in the country, it is where Chanel’s first Chinese runway show was hosted, and where cosmetics are sold more than anywhere else in China.
Read the full piece which spans from street kebab scars, to $20.000 bonuses, gangster outfits and Zaha Hadid commissions. Click to buy.
‘Since I was little, ‘beautiful’ wasn’t enough.’
How fashion finally landed upon Jun Takahashi’s world of Undercover.
Jun Takahashi in conversation with Kim Jones, Tim Blanks and Nobuhiko Kitamura
Photographs by Norbert Schoerner