OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — John Galliano, Mario Testino, Amber Valetta and Joan Smalls were among the attendees who gathered together this past weekend for VOICES, BoF's first annual gathering for big thinkers in the fashion industry and beyond, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.
The event, which was held at Soho Farmhouse in the Oxfordshire countryside, saw business leaders, entrepreneurs and educators travel from across the globe, among them Vogue China editor-in-chief Angelica Cheung, Farfetch founder and CEO Jose Neves, and Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri, as well as social justice activists DeRay Mckesson and Maajid Nawaz.
The talks covered a broad range of thought-provoking subjects that touched on the creativity crisis in fashion, why Chinese consumers are still spending and how innovation is the key to remaining relevant to consumers.
BoF founder and CEO Imran Amed kicked off the event on Thursday evening with informal drinks co-hosted by Vanity Fair contributing editor Elizabeth Saltzman and British Fashion Council chairman Natalie Massenet. Saltzman handed out bandanas to guests to help them “find a common thread.” Afterwards, guests attended intimate dinners across Soho Farmhouse, followed by a late-night bonfire.
Early on Friday morning, attendees enjoyed a series of special workout sessions — YogaWorks founder Kathryn Budig taught a yoga class, Chris Connors guided a meditation session and Jordan and Zac Stenmark led a cross-training session, before heading into BoF’s intimate amphitheatre for a jam-packed agenda.
Amed kicked off the event by introducing The State of Fashion 2017, an in-depth report by BoF and McKinsey & Company on the global fashion industry (available to download in full here), before starting wider discussions on the geopolitical currents that are impacting all industries.
Activist, reformed jihadist and think-tank founder Maajid Nawaz shared his own harrowing journey and spoke on what a “new normal” looked like, marked by the rise of both radical Islamic terrorism and the nativist, populist movements gaining ground across the Western world, resulting in the UK’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the US.
“We’re undergoing a structural transformation in which politics is being redefined as a fault line for globalisation,” said Alexander Betts, Leopold Muller Professor in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, Oxford University, who followed Nawaz. “Those who embrace globalisation and those who are being left behind by globalisation.”
In one of the most memorable moments at VOICES, world-famous couturier John Galliano revealed the inner workings of his creative process in a rare live interview with BoF editor-at-large Tim Blanks. Galliano described the freedom he now feels in his role as creative director of Maison Margiela. “I feel much freer now, my points of inspiration are much freer. I’m more open now. I leave things a bit more open,” he said.
“The industry hasn't changed — the shows, the deadlines, production — but my perspective on it has changed. You try to find a balance.”
Perhaps the most poignant talk came from casting director James Scully, who spoke openly about a modelling industry rife with racism, cruelty and bullying, something he said was widely known throughout the fashion industry — but never discussed. “We've become desensitised to the way we treat these girls and just discard them. It's so much more sadistic and so much more mean than you can believe,” he said.
This was followed by a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion with models Joan Smalls and Hari Nef, as well as Ivan Bart, president of IMG Models. “You should be reflective of the world you live in,” said Smalls. “When I see a runway with all the same models that are just cloned, I’m like: ‘Is that your beauty? Is that your world?’ It’s very one-sided and bland. Brands have to be more open-minded when they choose their cast; they hold a responsibility to represent consumers.”
Speakers including Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and television personality June Sarpong also delved into the issues of race, inequality and privilege in the global system, while actress Freida Pinto spoke movingly on the importance on being able to empower young girls through education.
At a gala dinner held on Friday evening, guests celebrated Mario Testino, winner of the inaugural Global VOICES award for outstanding achievement in fashion and exemplary impact on the wider world. One of the barns on the property was transformed into a Peruvian flower market and guests celebrated into the early hours.
The following morning, guests reconvened in the VOICES amphitheatre for a final round of talks, including a discussion between Testino and Amed, where the legendary photographer discussed 10 iconic images from his career in fashion, capturing the likes of Princess Diana, Madonna, Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, Justin Bieber and Gigi Hadid.
Saturday's sessions also covered the growing role of health and wellness in the fashion industry, with speakers including meditation expert Bob Roth, Dr. Nigma Talib and Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon. "Feeling good is the new looking good. And I think that's something fashion can embrace," said Mindbodygreen founder Jason Wachob in his talk. Model and actress Amber Valetta also shared her own personal experiences of alcohol and drug abuse and how she eventually changed her lifestyle.
Later, in a conversation about the intersection of music, fashion and technology, former Apple executive and LVMH’s chief digital officer Ian Rogers took to the VOICES stage with music artist will.i.am, to discuss the possibility that “a tech company is the fashion of tomorrow” and the rise of voice interfaces and artificial intelligence. “iPhone 27 will be smarter than a 27 year old,” said will.i.am.
The event concluded with one-minute presentations from the Future VOICES — 10 breakthrough talents invited to present their ideas at VOICES in partnership with Topshop — who closed the event with their highlights and key learnings.
“VOICES was the culmination of over one year of planning by our amazing BoF team, who worked tirelessly to create an experience unlike anything else in the fashion industry,” said Amed in his closing remarks. “We are so proud to have partnered with leading companies around the world, to have attracted such a diverse community of attendees and to have sparked important conversations about the future of fashion — and the world.”