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The BoF Podcast: Dana Thomas’ ‘Book of Hope’

The acclaimed fashion journalist discusses “Fashionopolis,” a seething indictment of the industry’s hugely damaging environmental and social impact that concludes with a glimmer of optimism.
Dana Thomas | Photo: Michael Roberts

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When Dana Thomas started out on the national desk of The Washington Post, she had no intention of going into fashion journalism. But when she was tapped to assist the paper's renowned fashion editor, Nina Hyde, she was thrust into the extraordinary world of on-the-ground trend reporting, the Lacroix-Jean Patou feud and the evolution of family-run luxury houses into conglomerates in the 1990s.

"I saw how you could take fashion and turn it into something that Woodward and Bernstein would look on and go, 'good job,'" said Thomas, "so that's what I wanted to do. Nina considered the fashion beat as important as politics and business ... I learned quickly in fact that it is politics and business, it's everything," from sociology and culture to the human condition.

Thomas, who reports from Paris, has never shied away from the bigger picture in her writing. "Fashion is a way for me to speak about a bigger topic. It doesn't require an MBA, it doesn't require an engineering degree," she said. Her latest book, "Fashionopolis" — the title an homage to Fritz Lang's dystopian film "Metropolis" — is the third in an unofficial trilogy charting the industry's pursuit of profit at the expense of integrity, from the globalised expansion of luxury houses in "Deluxe" to the rise and fall of creative geniuses Alexander McQueen and John Galliano in "Gods and Kings."

"Fashionopolis" tackles the mammoth issue of the environment, (un)ethical consumption and the "unbridled capitalism" that perpetuates the industry's unsustainable growth. There is a "new pathology created by fast fashion," said Thomas, as seen in the false economy of bargain clothing and insatiable consumer appetite for frequent new clothing. Furthermore, "luxury reset its clock to the fast-fashion clock. There’s fashion weeks, collections and drops all the time."

However, Thomas ends on a more positive note as she brings in the possibility of smart technology — in tandem with pre-industrial textiles and practices — as a force for righting the wrongs of an industry driven by over-consumption and underpaid workforces. That's why, she said, "I call this the book of hope."

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Editor’s Note: This article was revised on September 15 2019. A previous version of this article misstated that Dana Thomas worked on the international desk of The Washington Post. This is incorrect. She worked on the national desk. 

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