In Conversation With: Filep Motwary, Part I

In Conversation With: Filep Motwary, Part I

Features/Op-Ed

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Dear readers,

I met Filep Motwary almost a year ago. Filep is a costume designer, photographer, and fashion features editor for Dapper Dan magazine. He founded  Un nouVeau iDEAL in 2006. We have corresponded regularly since, sharing our views on fashion. We finally realized that we should share our insights with the larger audience in our respective publications. Below is our first conversation, conducted via Skype.

StyleZeitgeist In Conversation With: Filep Motwary, Part I Features/Op-Ed  interview_s
(Image by Urban Spotter, courtesy of Filep Motwary)

Eugene Rabkin: So we are both working on the weekend.

Filep Motwary: I was supposed to have a tattoo this afternoon, but I guess it’s not the day.

ER: Speaking of tattoos, Thomas Hooper designed the cover of the upcoming issue of StyleZeitgeist magazine. We are all very excited.

FM: Oh so nice. So what it is you want us to talk about?

ER: The zeitgeist, of course!

FM: Hmm, I feel it’s a very complicated period, as this polyphony is now a scream, a rather violent one. There is too much information. It seems that we have less and less time to observe and digest.

ER: I absolutely agree and that is exactly what has been on my mind for quite a while. The issue is two-fold, I think. There is too much fashion, and too much information.

FM: It seems like someone is running after everyone of us, though this someone, if you put it down is non-existent.
I mean, its not like we are in the post war 60’s, we are not in the Vietnam period, there’s no Woodstock, disco, Michael Jackson. It’s a new era! (I mention facts of post-war American history)

ER: I think that today curation is becoming increasingly important, as people will rely more and more on those who are able to edit all this information down. And I think that’s what both of us are trying to do in our own way.

FM: But my question is whether there is time for those designers who deserve to be recognized? Is there any space left for anyone new?

ER: I think there is, but they will not be recognized on the large scale. I think, rather, they will be celebrated in disparate venues.
For example, there is the CFDA in America, who keep giving awards to the same people every year.

FM: Exactly what I wanted to say.

ER: But then there are other venues, like StyleZeitgeist or your blog, that celebrate other designers. There are more voices with their own audiences. And I think that’s healthy.

FM: Combined with my own obsessions you mean!

ER: Yes, but if your obsessions have an audience, that means other people share them. For me, it’s the most gratifying aspect of doing StyleZeitgeist, that I am not alone, that there is a community of like-minded people who learn through me and from whom I have learned so much.

FM: But everything has been normalized for a few years now.

ER: How do you mean?

FM: There are no real surprises, things to keep you excited.
I was recently talking with Rick Owens and he mentioned how, for example, being gay has become such normality, how gay people suffered during the 70’s or 80’s, excluded in their own bars thus now they can get married, have a happy life with their companion, adopt. Finally! Yet, I would say, there was a romantic aspect about this struggle of identity back then which does not really exist today.

ER: Yes. But isn’t it the case with all struggles? You fight for what exactly? For acceptance, you rights. And once you get those rights, life becomes rather placid – vacations, shopping, dinners.

FM: Yes. But what I am trying to say is, life has become a bit of a bore with regards to fashion, there this Americanized approach on everything where something completely trashy becomes an ode to style, and how something fragile or iconic becomes vulgar through an interpretation of a pop diva that hired a stylist to pull it off while she works on her music… The general impact of America on the rest of the world.

ER: I believe that new design talent will come. It will just be more difficult because so many things have been done already. But it’s not impossible. Though another Rick Owens quote comes to mind about how designers are the new rock bands – everybody wants to be one.

What we need now is support for young designers and I don’t see it in New York or in Paris. I think that London is in the best shape today and that the British Fashion Council is making all the right moves.

FM: Still, too many big things happen at the same time. For example, when I am in Paris my schedule is so hectic and so precise that there is barely time to see anything else apart from the designers on schedule. I go from one show to the next using the shuttle bus and sometimes, I want to see something new but there is no time and if I have a backstage pass say at Balmain at that specific time, I’m not missing it for the world if you know what I mean. And then the final day of the fashion week comes and finally some time to check my emails and there are so many things I have missed.

ER: I think we have a bit different experiences because I go to Paris for menswear, which is less hectic, but even I am stretched thin there. I agree, there is little time to see anything new. I always apologize to all the New York designers in advance that I will not be able to see them in Paris. I used to go for 7 days, now I go for 9, and that’s with only 5 days of shows, out of which I do 4 and very selectively. But I also pay attention to the work of many designers who do not do runway.

FM: Sometimes it can be disappointing as well. For example, you are on good terms with a press office and they invite you to the shows they represent, and of course you go. Last time I had this early morning show of a designer I didn’t really want to see, but I went because I love his PR. So I go there, I’m sitting in a third row, which makes it impossible for me to take any pictures, the show starts and its as boring as hell, I run to get the bus, and I open the invite of the next show only to discover that I have a backstage pass that was impossible for me to get for 5 seasons in a row, and I miss the chance, because I AM LATE, and it’s so frustrating, because I did not want to see the previous designer to begin with.

ER: I understand. What is frustrating further is that journalists have been displaced by celebrities and socialites that don’t have much business being at a show in the first place. My colleague, Veerle Windels, the most celebrated Belgian fashion journalist, wanted to write an op-ed titled “I never see the shoes,” because she’s stuck in the second row most of the time.
I think this would be a brilliant article.

FM: It would be a great one! The other thing I don’t get is particular in-House PRs sending me everything you can imagine for a whole season and then when fashion week starts, I request for a photographer’s pass and they say sorry, next season. I think it’s hilarious.

ER: Journalists and bloggers should organize and start pushing back. PRs are having too much power these days and bloggers squander their cachet too cheaply. I think the backlash against Saint-Laurent is an important step.

FM: Saint Laurent has entered a new era right now. Without the Yves word, it is something new and it has no connection with what it used to be. It’s like a new company and I am not going to judge it as something old. It wouldn’t be correct.

ER: Absolutely. It’s Slimane’s universe now. The question is, will the rest of the world subscribe to it for more than a couple of seasons.

FM: Well, it seems he is selling.

ER: The question is for how long.

FM: Well, let me put it this way. A key journalist wrote the most scathing critique for the first collection. Then, after the second season, the same journalist wrote an ode to Slimane. What happened within the 6 months between the first and the second collection and I wonder about what changed this journalist’s opinion? I’m not saying I agree with the journalist, before or after. It just made so much impression to me, the change of opinion from black to white.

ER: Well, not everyone is like that. Of course, also not everyone is in the position of privilege of working for a major publication with no ties to advertising, like Cathy Horyn.

Another thing, in the fashion world we don’t give enough credit to consumers. I’d like to think they have agency and are not mindless sheep and at some point they will bulk at buying $700 cut off denim shorts just because a certain name is attached to them.

FM: But they do buy! I am quite linked with the market and know what sells and when. For the past two years I photograph the most luxurious brands in the industry, 22 thousand euro jackets. The other day I observed this lady who bought a jacket for 19 thousand euros. She could give the money to charity, but yet it’s the jacked that she wanted.

ER: On the flip side, if people could not afford to buy fashion, we would not be witnessing a lot of magic that fashion creates. We need beauty in our lives.

FM: True, but why does prêt-a-porter compete with couture? This I don’t understand.

ER: In terms of pricing?

FM: And making. Is there a line separating the two anymore? I don’t think so. Apart from Givenchy and Chanel, the rest of couture is more prêt-a-porter these days.

ER: Because it can. I have long resigned myself to the question on high fashion pricing. Designers will charge what the market will bear; it’s simple economics. The only sad thing about it is that it’s often those who appreciate fashion most that are now priced out of the market. I’d love to see the most passionate fans wear what they love and not just the rich who merely consume latest trends. The fans are the ones that do fashion justice, because it takes a certain “je ne sais quoi” to pull of many designer pieces.

FM: Personally, I cannot afford everything I like and its natural.

ER: Yes, but fashion is meant to be worn!

FM: Exactly. And to be seen. And this is where the street blogs come in.

ER: Yes! What did you think of the debate that Suzy Menkes started in her New York Times article in February?

FM: Hmm…I feel she shouldn’t have touched that subject as we have entered a new era and the borders between bloggers and journalists are no longer valid with the power of the Internet and since some of these bloggers have made a chapter of their own. It’s time for them to be finally accepted. Just like in any profession, there are good and bad bloggers as there are good and bad doctors and so on. As friend would say “live and let live”.

ER: I’m of two minds on the topic, perhaps because I am both an editor and have a website on which personal style is displayed and I know many bloggers.

I think what people must accept is that bloggers often approach fashion in terms of personal style and the fashion critic sees fashion in itself. The typical blogger may have in mind more “Would I wear this” and the critic may think, “Is this beautiful in itself, relevant, does it push the envelope, etc.”
Where I agree with Menkes is that like you say, often the bloggers are not very good. Also, they become personalities as opposed to observers.

FM: Yes, not every blogger deserves to be considered as important, yet, someone who is a blogger, covers his own expenses to attend the fashion weeks, invests on equipment, a camera etc, does good pictures, writes well, etc is probably much more important than someone who has everything paid, has a driver, a hotel suite and travels business class. Because the first definitely has passion …

ER: To me it all comes down to meritocracy. Is your coverage good? That’s all there is to it. Whether you write for style.com or your blog should not be important. I liked what Leandra Medine said in response to Menkes, that because many of us could not get those cushy jobs, we have created our own.

FM: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I started my blog in 2006.

ER: The year I started StyleZeitgeist!

FM: And you know, I’m not sure what I would become if it weren’t for the blog. It has opened so many doors for me. Plus it was a way to discover I can do more than clothes. I started as a designer for women; today I do photography, interviews and so many other things that I never imagined back then.

ER: I went through the same experience. I was fired from my god-awful job and I swore that I would never have an office job in my life again and StyleZeitgeist was just gaining steam. I never hoped in my wildest dreams that I could do this for a living. Now I wake up every day with a feeling of gratitude to the world, and especially to all the forum members, which has allowed me to do this.

FM: Of course. So what about magazines? Where do you think fashion publications are heading?

ER: As Tyler Brulee of Monocle said, “Differentiate or die!”

FM: Yes!

ER: For a new magazine, I think if you don’t have a clear vision you just become another pretty magazine and there are plenty of those.

FM: But really, do you think paper is now powerless?

ER: Absolutely not! The Internet will never solve some basic problems.

FM: Like what?

ER: One, the problem of browsing. Try browsing for movies on Netflix; it’s a nightmare. With the Internet we live in a world recommended by those who THINK they know what we want. We have less power. You used to go to a video store and stumble upon a movie you forgot you loved. You cannot do this with Netflix.

Two, is the issue of longevity. Everything moves fast on the Internet. Disappears into ether. That’s why we have a print magazine and an online arm of it. In print we do very long profile type articles that are timeless and I hope that the readers keep the magazine for years to come because the articles remain fresh.

And with sz-mag.com we do time sensitive stories. So we cover both.

What about your experience at Dapper Dan? How do you find it working at a print publication?

FM: I love it, as it is very precise, with a very clear vision on what the magazine is about and the editors are more consistent, issue after issue. It offers what any magazine should, INFORMATION.

ER: I feel like most magazines are too heavy on the visuals these days. They are like picture books. But I want to read articles.

FM: DD is about articles, and this is why I like it.
And I love books. I always enjoy stepping in a bookstore. The other day, I was in Paris walking with a dear friend of mine and we entered the Assouline shop in Saint-Germain and they had this enormous book on couture on display and we started flipping through the pages and we stumbled on a dress by Dior and she said “Oh that’s the dress I wore on that show” as she used to be Galliano’s muse. And there is a whole story behind that dress, the fittings, the making, the styling, the show and finally becomes immortalized in a book.
And I thought, this is a good reason why one should love books.

ER: See, and this is exactly the problem the Internet cannot solve, stumbling upon.

The best solution to this problem the Internet has offered is communities of like minded people who can make recommendations to each other. That’s why I think forums are important. I have learned so much on StyleZeitgeist from other members.

FM: Like a circle of friends.

ER: Exactly. You know the reason I started StyleZeitgeist is because I could not find people in my so-called “real life” to talk about fashion. I’m from the New York’s Russian immigrant ghetto whose ideas of high fashion, let’s say are a little different. But now I have found a whole universe of like-minded people from all over the world. That’s why the Internet is so important. Especially for the people on the periphery.

FM: I can so relate to that. Where I was born there was nothing about fashion. All I had was my mom’s magazines, a show on the national TV every Saturday that would feature a three minute special on fashion which was basically a collage of random videos that I am sure the host didn’t know shit about. And then, when I was 13, the national TV opened a second channel and they had Fashion File with Tim Blanks and that’s where everything started.

ER: I never saw the show but I always hear about how influential it was.

FM: It was indeed. First because of Tim Blanks and the fact that he would present brands like Prada. Back in the 90’s Prada was the answer to grunge. Grunge set the line for a new aesthetic. As then it was interpreted by brands like Chanel and became something new. I think that Marc Jacobs was chosen for Louis Vuitton, because what he was doing for Perry Ellis was so American. But then Lagerfeld comes with models like Eve Salvail, who was previously used by Gaultier and voila, street becomes polished and a new era is here. And I remember his show was separated in 5 parts, 5 minutes each. The last part was always dedicated to a model, the hot girl of the moment.

I was so fascinated at that time by all that was happening, but everything had a meaning, and a continuation, and a reason. Now everything seems so disconnected. Just look at the Met Gala appearances the other day. There was nothing punk about it. I’m sure the Sex Pistols would laugh at it drinking beers.

ER: Oh, this was such a degraded, perverted, meaningless spectacle! It had as much to do with punk as elephants do with tutus. Just another parade of egomaniacs. And for ego only the self is important and nothing outside of it. I tried watching the live stream but I turned it off after the host praised Tory Burch as punk. That was enough for me.

FM: LOL. Still, I am shocked at how it was embraced.

ER: Was it though? I heard a lot of backlash against it. But, then, again, I don’t follow much the media that gets paid to write pleasantries.

FM: It was funny, all these older stars in ball gowns.

ER: I was hoping Marc Jacobs would show up in plaid boxers. That would’ve been brilliant.

FM: But this is what I was talking about, how something so beautiful and strong like punk becomes Americanized and ends as product that is no longer relevant to its true origin.

ER: Do you think that there is something especially American in decoupling form from substance from a cultural movement and watering it down for mass consumption?

FM: Of course.

ER: Can you elaborate?

FM: Well, Tom Ford, for example. He is an American who worked in Paris remained American, failed in Paris, went back to America and now is praised by the Parisians. Do you see my point?

ER: Not exactly. Do you mean that America still holds a very strong influence on the global culture?

FM: Of course. Look at music. Beyonce is considered chic, Gaga a style icon. And there’s such lack of knowledge of what is beautiful and elegant that people receive all this information, accept it and never compare it, because the Internet era is very recent. Most part of the real modern-fashion evolution that took place 10-15 years ago remains underexposed.

You can follow the fashion history through the Internet now and this has been going on for the past 8-10 years, but what about what happened before the Internet? I mean you can find a lot of information on fashion but some of these little details, a true fashion lover knows about are missing and you cannot explain them or share any story about them because most of these facts contain emotion that is shared by those who lived them.

ER: But that’s why a true fashion lover is charged with at least trying to explain, through words and images.

FM: I feel some elements are missing. So, again we go back where this conversation started. There is not enough time. I remember when I used to know all the models by their name, what each girl represented, their origin, their age. Today, I don’t care. I don’t have time to know them, because they don’t last. Models are a good example of how fast this industry is moving now. Prada had Kirsten Owen and Esther De Jong in her show for winter and they were so perfect for it! Both models she used to work with back in the 90’s.
I am sure only a few people remembered and knew who they were.

But I have to admit that I enjoy that so many people gather each season to celebrate fashion during fashion week.

ER: So we are back to too much information. But what about too much money? I read an interesting interview with Guy Trebay, the New York Times journalist where he commented on how the big conglomerates have taken over as the driving forces of fashion. What seemed really scary is his point about how brands hire talented designers in order to build the brand until the brand becomes bigger than the designer at which point they simply fire them.

FM: But, of course. Everything has a different meaning now. Fashion is only business. It used to be 90% emotion and 10% business. Today it’s 99% business and 1% emotion.

ER: I think emotion falls to the smaller designer whom we must champion in order for them to survive.

FM: I am happy when a designer makes me cry at a show, like Comme Des Garcons or Rick Owens. I always cry at their shows. I can hardly take a picture. I wipe my eyes and push the shutter button

Sometimes, when I’m with the photographers on the podium, I hear their comments on the show and they are so right, especially the older ones that have been around for 3 decades or more. They are the best fashion critics that no one credits because fashion grows in them by virtue of them observing it for so long.

I will never forget last season, at the Haider Ackermann show, how excited they all were. They were whispering “Bravo, Bravo!” 50 photographers, ALL OF THEM. But no one paid any attention to them because all heads were turned to the other side when Haider came out for his applause.

ER: Culturally, fashion has become much more important. Why is that?

FM: Because fashion is exciting, it gives you the feeling of belonging especially now that everything is uncertain. Of course belonging today is an illusion still, humans love illusion and fantasy and fashion is about both these elements. Less and less as times passes but still…

ER: But wasn’t it like that in the 90s before big companies with big marketing budgets came along?

FM: No, most people saw fashion as a party for the rich. There was no Zara or H&M.

ER: Now fashion is at museums and we have magazines like Industrie that features stylists and heads of PR companies. People that nobody outside of fashion professionals used to know or care about. A glossy magazine about the fashion industry, now that is certainly a sign of the times!

FM: Well, indeed. But it’s only fair. All these people in the past made so much work that nobody gave them credit for. We live at a time that everybody gets his chance and we should me grateful things have turned out so open. Do you know Walter Pfeiffer? The photographer? The guy waited for some decades, more than four actually, until someone in fashion said his work is fresh and now he works for the Vogues. But he never stopped working, even when he was rejected. Someone said, you would always get your chance if you work in fashion.

About the author

Eugene Rabkin

Eugene Rabkin is the founder of stylezeitgeist.com. He has contributed articles on fashion and culture to The Business of Fashion, Vogue Russia, Buro247, the Haaretz Daily Newspaper, and other publications. He has taught critical writing and fashion writing courses at Parsons the New School for Design.



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