LONDON, United Kingdom — London’s Southbank Centre is an unlikely place to find a fashion festival. But over the weekend, British Vogue took up residence, festooning the building's monotonous facade with the iconic Vogue masthead for its third annual Vogue Festival.
The hall’s sizeable, sun-dappled foyer was a hive of activity. A phalanx of mirrored Burberry Beauty stations, Hersheson Blow Out Bars and Opi Nail stations was set up alongside the Vogue shop, which sold own-branded merchandise. There was also the Vogue Cinema, a champagne bar and a Harrods-branded catwalk on which attendees could live out their runway dreams.
This was brand Vogue — and brand fashion — writ large.
Street style photographers roamed the concrete environs, capturing models like Karlie Kloss, Edie Campbell and Jourdan Dunn. Legions of their ecstatic fans were thrilled to be in the same mix and dressed with the utmost Instagram-consideration. Some took matters into their own hands, gamely photographing each other in social media-ready selfies. Céline handbags, Chanel rucksacks, mirrored lenses and neon shoes — the street-style hits of the last five years — were all on display.
Thankfully, there was substance behind the gloss. We saw Francesca Burns, fashion editor, hunched over a piece of gold jewelry in an intimate 'Style Advisor' conversation, and Dolly Jones, editor of Vogue.com, with a bank of writers stationed behind Mac laptops, creating a clever stream of live reports on Vogue.com and its social media channels.
But the calibre of speakers guaranteed that the real action would be the talks themselves. Merely getting the infamously press-shy Phoebe Philo to agree to speak would have constituted a major coup on its own, but there were also talks with Valentino Garavani, Naomi Campbell, Tory Burch and Manolo Blahnik, amongst others.
Audience members were able to ask questions of their fashion role models, and share in intimate moments of personal reflection. Ms Philo revealed her rationale for refusing to sell Céline online, saying she preferred that people come into a Céline store and touch and feel the clothes for themselves. She also spoke passionately about her distaste for hypersexualised fashion imagery.
Fashion director Lucinda Chambers sat down with Lady Amanda Harlech and Alexa Chung to talk personal style, while Grayson Perry, Lilly Cooper (neé Allen) and Jasper Conran mused on the meanings of taste in a lively panel, with expectedly hilarious results.
Clare Langham-Brown, who works for H&M, told BoF that access to designers and fashion personalities like these was a significant draw for her. “Seeing them in a more informal way, hearing them share personal details and seeing their personalities is amazing,” she said.
“I think there was a lot less of this kind of thing when we were students," recalled Proenza Schouler's Jack McCollough, in the greenroom after his talk with partner Lazaro Hernandez and another power duo, Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley. "Fashion was just less popular," added Hernandez. "It wasn’t a facet of popular culture like it is now. As a fashion student I would have been so pumped to see people like Marc [Jacobs] and Helmut Lang at something like this.”
Indeed, the power of the Vogue brand today extends beyond the surface of fashion, into education. “I came because I chose to specialise in digital marketing on my course, so I wanted to hear the talk on fashion’s digital revolution,” said Rachael Weaver, a marketing student from the University of Surrey. “It was really good, really informative," she added.
Vogue's focus on this demographic of engaged, aspirant fashion followers has never been so fully realised, or clear. But is the festival a money making proposition?
Condé Nast says it sold around 7,000 tickets for this year's Vogue festival. Most talks filled Queen Elizabeth Hall to its 900-person capacity, with press, partners and speakers' guests taking up approximately 170 tickets per talk. At £40 per talk, ticket sales generated about £280,000 (or $467,000) in revenue. There were also revenues generated from sponsors like Harrods, but after removing costs of production, it's probably fair to say the conference is not a huge money spinner.
But that's besides the point. For many attendees, the Vogue Festival was a first step towards becoming part of the fashion tribe. Tellingly, before the careers talk, a pamphlet had been placed on every seat in the hall, advertising The Condé Nast College of Fashion and its course offering. This was most certainly a tantalising teaser.
With reporting by Imran Amed.