OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — “I think that BoF VOICES is all about speaking truth to power,” said Hari Nef, after a day of rousing panels covering everything from politics to technology, as she was entering a gala dinner to celebrate photographer Mario Testino, the first recipient of BoF’s new Global VOICES Award for outstanding achievement in fashion and exemplary impact on the wider world. The evening unfolded in a cozy barn at Soho Farmhouse, transformed for one night only into a Peruvian flower market with vibrant arrangements and brightly colored woven textiles.
“I left Peru years ago and came to England to look for something that I couldn't find in Peru, which was tolerance,” said Testino in a speech after a standing ovation. “But what has been incredible in my career is that after 40 years looking for something, I've found it back in my country… With age, one always goes back to one’s roots, both for my hair —because I did dye it for a little bit — but for, I don’t know, to find oneself.”
“I've been so happy that I’ve been given the opportunity to be able use what I have and the contacts and the connections and the possibilities to help others and to be a part of something that is growing and is happening in my own country,” he continued.
BoF founder Imran Amed praised Testino for leveraging his platform as an iconic photographer to advance charitable causes. “Mario’s imagery has turned him into not only a global brand and a global business, but, as you’ll learn tomorrow in our conversation, Mario’s taken his position in fashion, his success in fashion, to do something for the wider world.”
Amed and Testino will sit down together on the final day of VOICES to discuss the photographer’s career and his foundation for the cultivation and promotion of Peruvian culture.
The evening was also a chance for guests to mingle and process the day’s many panels. Over cocktails before dinner, Amber Valletta and Freida Pinto caught up, as did John Galliano and Angelica Cheung, Will.i.am and Natalie Massanet, Nef and Marco Bizzarri and many other pairs of speakers and attendees.
The highlight of the day’s programming for Nef was casting director James Scully’s passionate speech about cruelty and discrimination in the modeling industry. “It was really affirming and a huge relief to hear somebody of his stature and his influence just tell it like it is, and really spell out the nightmare that contemporary fashion casting has become,” she said. “I will never forget him today.”
Scully’s radically honest presentation had many guests talking, which Pinto said was a sign that the day’s observations could turn into action. “I feel like the fact that we are all talking about James Scully, we are talking about Maajid Nawaz... conversation, that’s the takeaway.”
Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson said Nef’s panel on the challenges facing the modeling industry moved him. “It was incredibly powerful to hear Hari Nef and Joan Smalls talk about their work and their experience as models,” he said. “Their calls to push the industry to do more were powerful.”
CFDA president Steven Kolb also cited diversity as an overarching theme of the day. “I very much was impressed with DeRay and felt very enlightened myself by some of the things he said… this whole idea that inclusion isn't really always right or [indicative] of change,” he said.
“This is all stuff that needed to be discussed,” added Massenet. “It’s great to feel like our little circle has something to do with the bigger world,” said Cheung.
“What I loved about the whole day was that it felt like a journey, seeing the industry in the room from both sides: from the outside in, the inside out, and the creative, the business,” said Avery Baker, chief marketing and brand officer at Tommy Hilfiger.
Julie Gilhart said it was very unusual for the fashion community to come together to discuss the impact of geo-political forces on the industry. “I liked the fact that the first three speakers, and some during the day, really addressed global issues. This is our world that fashion exists in, and we have to figure that out.”
Dinner was prepared by chef Martin Morales — personally recommended to Amed by Testino — and, in keeping with the Peruvian theme, featured salmon tiradito, maca lamb loin and huayno de chocolate. The night was topped off by a flamenco performance and for those guests still buzzing with energy after an invigorating day in the English countryside, DJ Cosmo kept the party going late into the night.
VOICES is BoF's new annual gathering for big thinkers, taking place from 1-3 December, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate. To follow all the discussions, interviews and stories on the VOICES stage, watch our live stream, brought to you by Topshop, or read our live blog.