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PARIS, France — The founder and editor-in-chief of the publication Vestoj, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg has boldly challenged many aspects of the fashion industry, approaching themes such as slowness, failure, shame and masculinity. Vestoj came to life in 2009 after Cronberg stepped down from her role as editor at Acne Paper, the publishing arm of the Stockholm-based creative collective Acne Studios.
Today, produced under the patronage of the London College of Fashion, Vestoj is published annually and is supported by stockists worldwide, from San Francisco to Shanghai. In contrast to the majority of fashion publications, Vestoj contains no advertising and does not revolve around the fashion seasonal calendar. Cronberg also hosts an online platform and regular live performances, all intended to question and reflect on why we wear what we wear.
BoF: What attracted you to the fashion industry?
AAC: Before studying Fine Art, I attempted to study fashion. I did a year of a course called Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins (CSM), but I was intensely frustrated with the course because I couldn’t see a way in which I would be taught how to really analyse what was going on in fashion. Those were qualities that I looked for in education, to not take things for granted. I thought that if I switched to fine art that would be a more integrated way to study — and it was. The art education at CSM was very much about incorporating critical theory into your practical work. I was introduced to lots of scholars and that was extremely enlightening. It helped me figure out how I could integrate some of those theories into fashion.
BoF: What made you transition into publishing?
AAC: Publishing came later. I thought I might be a good stylist, so I did a hell of a lot of internships at so many types of publications. While I was styling, I went back to school and studied for a Masters in the History of Design at the Royal College of Art. It was very theoretical and I started to get a really good grasp on the angle I was interested in when it comes to fashion. For me, it was all about the sociology of fashion. When I graduated from my Masters, I worked for a publication in Sweden. After some time I felt like I couldn’t get any further in the job that I had, so I decided to start my own publication. I just couldn’t see myself working anywhere else.
You should first understand your place in any hierarchy, then you should challenge it.
BoF: What was your big break?
AAC: I remember very clearly when I left my job at Acne Paper, it was a huge transition for me, because Acne was and still is a much loved company. When I started my own project, nobody knew what Vestoj was or what it stood for. One moment that really changed things for me was when I met Frances Corner, the dean of the London College of Fashion (LCF). She had been introduced to Vestoj by another staff member and my approach resonated with her. The educational aspect [of the publication] was something she felt was in sync with LCF, so she created a position for me within the research department. I also work there as a research fellow now. Being part of LCF has helped me both financially and for my work, as I became part of a research network.
It’s been a series of small steps forward. I think that when you work on a good project, you have to be patient, especially if it is something that isn’t immediately easy to define or quantify. To find a group of people, for them to discover, engage or even appreciate Vestoj, takes time. Whenever I have been dismissed because people wouldn’t take the time of day to listen to me, I have tried to remind myself that they would find it eventually, in their own time. In the meantime, all I can do is keep working. Getting people to know your work and care for it — that’s a life’s work!
BoF: Tell us about a favourite project you worked on and the lessons of success you took away.
AAC: What I’ve been trying to develop at Vestoj is something that I call the "Vestoj Salon." It's a performance-based live event. One in particular that I really liked working on was the Vestoj Storytelling Salon, and so far I have done it twice. The first was in 2014 at Fondation Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and last year was at MoMA PS1 in New York. Now I’m working on an adaptation for a theatre in Berlin.
People who have worked in the fashion industry for decades are storytellers with experience. I ask them to reflect on a garment that means something to them, and work with them to craft a story around the piece of clothing. It’s not a description of the garment, but a story from a moment in their life in which this garment features. It’s a way of talking about the role that clothing can have in our lives. The life of a garment is often forgotten in fashion and that's what I’m interested in bringing people’s attention back to.
I think that now after almost eight years of working on Vestoj, I have a formula or a framework that works for the journal. It’s about balancing the content and having a mixture of academic articles and personal essays.
BoF: What do you believe is essential to being successful in the fashion industry?
AAC: It’s a combination of things. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu used the terms social and cultural capital. He meant that people who already have power or status in an industry tend to pass that power on to others in their network, and that those who share things like taste, skills, values or credentials often stick together. Fashion is like this: an old boys club. If you're an outsider, breaking in is always going to be difficult. It doesn't mean that it's impossible, but you have to develop an ability to comprehend and read the industry you want to break into. You should first understand your place in any hierarchy, then you should challenge it.
Be pleased when people compliment you or show enthusiasm for what you do, but don’t get carried away. If you attach too much value to the judgement of others, you’ll be crushed when they don’t care any more. People will like you one moment, and then move on the next. You have to find a way to do your work whether you’re popular or not. Maybe success isn’t how much money you make or how much people talk about, 'like' or follow you. Maybe it's just being able to carry on doing your work, and being happy while doing it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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