Just The Tips: Insights From The Fashion Panel

By Editorship

From our sold-out panel, Trials and Tribulations of Fashion Media in Asia, we checked in with our panellists, Sharon Lim, Furqan Saini and Titien Wang, and moderator, Terry Ong, on their views on the world of style.

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Just The Tips is a series where our leaders share their insights after a session. From the sold-out panel, Trials and Tribulations of Fashion Media in Asia, our esteemed moderator and panellists delved into an animated discourse about the state of fashion media, the demands of fashion influencers and an education on fashion brands. Attended by fashion PR, marketing and media practitioners and students, here are insights that we took away from the session.

HOW CAN ONE BREAK INTO THE FASHION MEDIA INDUSTRY?

Furqan Saini: Timing, talent, tenacity.

Sharon Lim: Intern, intern, intern – and be prepared to work really, really hard.

Obviously, if you want to break into fashion media, you should have a working knowledge of fashion in all its giddy, chaotic glory (see answers to the next question). More importantly, you must be hyper-organised, intuitive or at least be able to read people and have good communication skills whether it’s with the couriers or upper management, or even celebrities.

Tip: Possessing good manners will go a long way. As for “dressing the part”: There’s no need to show off; what matters more is intrinsic personal style and good taste.

The fashion industry is truly a test of grace under pressure. I recommend reading this [article from Nylon].

Terry Ong: Passion, ready to take shit, start from anywhere, especially the bottom.

HOW DO YOU KEEP ON TOP OF CONSTANTLY CHANGING FASHION STYLES?

Furqan Saini: Trends without context is meaningless and empty. The last thing you want to be called is vacuous.

Fashion doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a conduit of the now. Being informed on world events, the things happening around you, what’s trending on socials are all as important as being on Vogue Runway and finding the latest looks from designers.

Again, it’s not just about skirt lengths or new fabrications. It’s about being informed on the designer’s inspirations sometimes as obvious as oft times trotted feminist tropes like the suffragettes to the repurposing of an artistic movement like brutalist to something a little more esoteric and cerebral.

These are all within the realms of context and it’s important to know that this where trends begin.

Sharon Lim: First of all, read! With Business of Fashion, The Cut, Vogue and other excellent fashion content sites, you have no excuse for ignorance. Follow writers, too: Alexander Fury, Suzy Menkes, Tim Blanks, et al.

But, and this is a huge but: You need to differentiate between what I call “professional taste” and your own personal taste. “Professional taste” refers to your own take on what’s going on in fashion and being able to rationalise your stand or point of view while at the same time understanding the flip side.

For example, you loved what Hedi Slimane did for Celine (not Céline). Why? How? Do you understand why he provoked such controversy? How do you rationalise that against your own perspective?

Terry Ong: I constantly keep a look out on think tank fashion and culture sites like 032c, Dazed Digital, Purple, etc, but I still buy physical magazines like Out of Order and Re-Edition which keeps pushing the fashion language envelope. Very few do these days.

WHAT ARE IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS WHEN WRITING A FASHION STORY?

Furqan Saini: Remembering the title you work for, adhering to its DNA and giving your own unique POV of things. Nobody wants to read a regurgitated press release. Giving your article/story a voice.

Sharon Lim: Audience: Who are you writing for – who is reading your piece? What media platform and style of story – narrative, Q&A, listicle, etc?

Always consider your audience. Because that will ensure that you pitch it correctly. For example, a Vogue story will be quite different from a Business of Fashion story even though it will be about the same subject matter.

Content & Points of Differentiation: What is the point of the story? Is there a news peg to it? What can I do to make my story different from what has already been published? Research, research, research. Talk to people (yes, really).

Whether online or in print, you need to stand out. Online stories have the advantage of timeliness, but the downside is that your story could be drowned out by the competition. Honestly, SEO only gets you so far. Why write another listicle for clicks when you can write a story with solid content? This is where research comes in. Talking to people shows you have access and adds another layer of value to your story.

Online news sites have the unique advantage of being able to publish in print and online almost simultaneously. But for longer lead-time media brands (I prefer this term to “magazines”), the challenge is, as always, in creating content that is not found elsewhere.

Media brands can be truly creative in showcasing the content, whether it’s a longer-form, informative piece that a good, informative read, or a blockbuster spread that combines editorial perspectives and fresh perspectives.

Print deadlines are often 2 to 3 months in advance. For fashion magazine cover stories featuring a celebrity, the planning can be as far ahead as 6 to 9 months – from securing the cover star, the clothes, the photographer, stylist and crew, to set it all up. Truth be told, though, do celebrities – and that includes social media influencers these days – really push newsstand copies? You tell me.

Terry Ong: Originality. Context.

WHO IS A GOOD FASHION MEDIA PROFESSIONAL TO FOLLOW?

Furqan Saini: I would say, Sarah Mower, Robin Givhan, Cathy Horyn and Tim Blanks. Business of Fashion (BOF) is something I can’t live without. Tim Blanks writes for them too. BOF gives great fashion articles and even though they may be relatively pricey, (I pay US$250 a year for it) but it’s absolutely essential for any fashion professional. I don’t read anything by the fashion bloggers with the exception of Susanna Lau (@susiebubble). Insightful stuff.

Sharon Lim: I follow sites like Business of Fashion, Vogue, The Cut, Man Repeller, Style Bubble and the South China Morning Post which has a decent style/fashion section. I love the Financial Times’ How to Spend It weekend section, as well as the Style section of London’s The Sunday Times – it’s edited by Lorraine Candy, who as editor-in-chief of ELLE UK revitalised the media brand. I have the greatest respect for her.

Writers I follow include Tim Blanks, Suzy Menkes, Alexander Fury, Hilary Alexander, Cathy Horyn (until her resignation)… Also, Robin Givhan and Teri Agins for their incisive take on America’s fashion business. Bloggers I read include Susie Lau (Style Bubble) and Leandra Medine (Man Repeller). Locally, I read Niki Bruce for her no-holds-barred stories, as well as Lena Kamaruddin in The Business Times Weekend to keep up with what’s going on.

Erm. That’s just for starters.

Terry Ong: Sarah Mower from Vogue has a very learned and objective eye to fashion as opposed to being highly personal – I appreciate that.

WHAT IS YOUR FASHION STAPLE?

Furqan Saini: BOF is my go-to read along with Jing Daily (I find the fashion market fascinating in China). If it’s fashion items; I gotta say that I can’t live without Raf Simons, Raf Simons for Calvin Klein, Craig Green and a pair of Converses.

If it’s just one fashion staple, it’d have to be this Lanvin lambskin and nylon trench that I’ve had since 2010 and it’s permanently in my suitcase whenever I travel. Oh, and the colour black too.

Sharon Lim: In the 1980s, Donna Karan launched her eponymous brand with the now-familiar “7 Great Pieces” capsule wardrobe approach, though some say it was Bonnie Cashin, the creative director for Coach in the 1970s who originally came up with the concept.

A capsule wardrobe means different things to different people, obviously, as I can’t see many women (or men!) including a bodysuit as an essential wardrobe staple. (Sorry, Donna.)

But the philosophy of a capsule wardrobe, with its emphasis on versatility and (relatively) effortless mix-and-match options, makes so much sense even today when consumers want even more mileage out of their wardrobes. Not everyone is Susie Bubble with her penchant for quirky, colourful maximalism. Not everyone has the resources of Bryanboy or any of the high-profile bloggers who seem to have endless wardrobe options.

I advocate a “fashion uniform” that 1) centres around pieces that work best for your body shape, and 2) is versatile enough to be dressed up or down (barring more formal occasions). This means resisting what is trendy or what you really, really like but know you can’t wear. Be strong.

I know exactly what hemlines, necklines, silhouettes, colours and prints work on me. I wear a lot of Issey Miyake and Marni mixed with very basic pieces like black T-shirts or cotton/cashmere sweaters. I also support local designers where I can, like Ong Shunmugam, Depression, Carrie K., Marilyn Tan Jewellery and online brands like Zerrin, Anseim and Rye. For the most part, whatever I have in my closet can be teamed with sneakers, sandals and heels. Or even flip-flops. I’ve had practice, of course, having worked in fashion for almost 20 years.

What I’d like to see in local fashion brands is more sizing diversity, and not just because I’m a big girl. Very small girls also get the short end of the stick. Sizing is uneven at best, and local fashion brands clearly don’t cut for women with bigger boobs and hips. Observe the next time you’re in Orchard Road or at an MRT station that functions as a hub for a big residential area, like Jurong East. Women (and men) are getting bigger, but I don’t see this reflected in local fashion offerings. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Terry Ong: Currently vintage tees and pretty much anything that Demna (Gvasalia) has his hands on.

Titien Wang wasn’t able to comment at the time of publishing. We will include his answers once we receive them.


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