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The Best of Back Row
A list of this newsletter's top stories to enjoy during the last week of summer.
Back Row is on vacation through Labor Day. I’ll be back in your inboxes next week with fashion month coverage and more. In the meantime, I compiled a reading list for the often exceedingly slow Labor Day news cycle. This selection includes some of Back Row’s most popular stories, plus some personal favorites that I’ve been wanting to recirculate.
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Have a safe and happy Labor Day, and I’ll see you in September!
The Influencer Earnings Series
How much do influencers actually make? This is the question Back Row set out to answer in a three-part interview series. “I easily make more than £500,000 [$630,000] a year influencing,” said top fashion influencer Camille Charrière. “I’ve grown it to a low seven-figure business some years,” said Mandana Ansari. Meanwhile, men’s fashion creator Simon Goldman earns a five-figure income, but fears the instability of influencing as a career. “[Y]ou could have a month or two where you get nothing in. Or one deal can pay for rent for the year. It’s scary. I’m a planner, high-anxiety, and the inconsistency kills me,” he told Back Row. “I could say yes, I want to work for a New York City designer and take whatever the $18-an-hour design job is. But I’m just not sure yet.”
Retail Confessions: What It’s Really Like to Work in the World’s Top Luxury Fashion Stores
“Retail Confessions” began as a way to understand luxury fashion customers by giving voice to people we seldom hear from in the industry — those actually selling the clothes. “When you first see a pair of $25,000 crocodile gloves, you think, Who the F is going to spend $25,000 on a pair of gloves?” said a former Hermès employee. “And it's the person spending $60,000 on a crocodile handbag who wants the gloves to match.” Someone who used to work at Prada and Tom Ford said, “You have to spoon feed everything to these people. If you’re showing a bag, you make sure you open it for them – unzip one zip, show them how it works. Because sometimes they have no clue how to open a simple clasp.” And a former Chanel employee recalled, “I would see someone who was 8 or 9 years old be like, ‘Oh, I want this pink bag,’ and then mom and dad would be like, ‘Ok.’”
At the end of the year, the fashion press will call 2023 “the year of quiet luxury.” The obsession with this trend, also known as “stealth wealth,” seemed to peak around Succession’s last season airing on HBO (RIP). Back Row spoke toabout her investigation of the prep trend for her excellent podcast Articles of Interest. Asked if she believed this trend sprang from an aversion to wealth-flaunting post-pandemic, she said:
I think in American society, it's never been very cool to be wealthy, and the wealthy people I know have always hidden it... I also feel like it's not entirely about wealth.
The trend forecasters I talked to were like, it's kind of about looking like you have your shit together. It's about looking smart and looking on top of things and looking sophisticated. I'm sure that's a part of reentering public life — I'm going to dress to be legible to other people. So sure, some of it is about wealth, but I think some of it is like, the legibility and accessibility and ease of this style. That basically says, “Hello, how are you?” And, “Trust me.”
Earlier this year, stylist Law Roach announced he was giving up his celebrity styling career (he retains Zendaya as a client). This was highly unexpected for someone at the top of the fashion industry. From Back Row:
This isn’t the stereotypical Hollywood ending, someone at the very top of their game in the world’s most glamorous industry choosing happiness and themselves over their job. Sure, it made sense in The Devil Wears Prada when Andy Sachs threw her phone into a fountain to sever ties with her overbearing boss with questionable personal values. The Great Resignation, in which 40 million people left their jobs in 2021, is understood to apply to lower level workers, not CEOs blasting “Break My Soul” on their way out the door. It’s much harder to imagine Miranda Priestley throwing her phone away, trading work for happiness and couture for jeans.
…The message that icons from the fashion world in particular have long transmitted is that if you get one of these impossible-to-get jobs, you should hold on with a white knuckle grip quite literally until death.
Earlier this year, the Model Alliance Founder and Executive Director Sara Ziff sat down with Back Row to talk about where things stand for the organization she began more than a decade ago to fight for better working conditions for models. Her latest obstacle in passing a piece of legislation she views as crucial for protecting models who are often financially and sexually exploited? Modeling agencies.
Ziff had hoped the Fashion Workers Act would become law last year, but she credits her opposition, whom she describes as “almost exclusively the modeling agencies,” with successfully stopping it. A group calling itself the Coalition for Fairness in Fashion (a name Ziff said was “hilarious”), representing modeling agencies Next, Elite, True, Wilhelmina, One, and Ford, has been fighting the current bill. The group told Back Row that it’s not opposed to a bill, but that it could not support the Fashion Workers Act without amendments because it “does not adequately account for the economic realities of operating a model management company in New York” and could “create an environment which forces [model management companies] to close business.”
Ziff’s response: “If a management agency cannot function without exploiting their talent, then they don't have a working business model. Period.”
Men’s fashion shows seldom dominate fashion coverage, but Pharrell’s debut for Louis Vuitton this summer proved to be an exception. Following his appointment, Back Row wrote:
Many social media commenters noted that a lot of professional fashion designers would have loved to get — and really could have used — this job. Why does a celebrity who is known for music get the spot? Rumored successors to Abloh had included critically acclaimed designers who studied fashion design, such as Grace Wales Bonner and Martine Rose.
However, maybe that type of hire was always a long shot for this particular job.
…The celebrification of everything is not just an acknowledgment of the cutthroat nature of the attention economy, it’s also likely the result of a struggling media industry. Editors and writers have never been more overworked or under-resourced, which means getting them to cover certain things is more challenging than ever for marketing and PR teams. But a celebrity name will catch their eye and writers tasked with driving traffic know that certain names will also catch the attention of people scrolling the news on their phones.
Business school marketing courses should be built around understanding the longevity of the Kardashians. However, are a series of backlashes and building consumer fatigue a sign that their grip on popular culture might be loosening? From Back Row:
This family has always gotten hate, but a shift in consumer attitudes around things like consumerism, privilege, capitalism, climate change, and nepotism has resulted in backlash finding them with increasing frequency. Cultural cornerstones of the post-pandemic “vibe shift” include shows like White Lotus and movies like Triangle of Sadness*, both of which succeed as commentary on wealth and privilege. The public used to look upon the lavish empire that monochromatic shapewear, lip kits, and reality TV built with bemusement above all else. But now, are the Kardashians seen as so out-of-touch and distasteful that brands and consumers will finally be ready to turn away from them in 2023?
I called fashion marketing expert Ana Andjelic, who led a successful turnaround at Banana Republic as chief brand officer and previously worked as an executive at brands like Rebecca Minkoff and David Yurman, and who writes one of my favorite Substacks, The Sociology of Business(you must go subscribe). She senses a cultural shift that will negatively impact the Kardashians’ appeal. “Culture is not willing to forgive them as it was before,” she said. “And when the culture changes, brands follow. So just wait, they’re going to start dropping them — but not immediately.” The Kardashians are, like Gucci and Balenciaga, a “zeitgeist brand,” said Andjelic — as soon as the zeitgeist changes, these brands struggle.
In September, Vogue World returns for its second-ever iteration, this time in London. Let’s take a moment to remember it’s inaugural event in NYC that took place around a year ago, when few really understood what it even was:
It seems weird that Anna [Wintour] may be nearing the end of her career on this note. Like, as a salesperson for ticketed Vogue events.
Yeah. But, Vogue World seemed in some ways better than a ticketed event with panel talks, or one of those Vogue Club things I see occasionally on Instagram, where Anna invites a celebrity to join her in bestowing their presence upon a paying group eating salads.
I previously compared the Fendi Baguette promotional show to the old Victoria’s Secret Fashion show (meaning that it was a television-worthy spectacle, not that it was regressive and exploitative and upsetting). Actually, the Vogue World fashion show was kind of like that, too. Like, if this were 2017, maybe it would have been broadcast on network TV.
From the cutting room floor of research conducted for ANNA: The Biography, the Vogue editor-in-chief’s assistants talk about what the job is really like.
What were some of her more challenging requests?
Assistant B: Oh my God. [Requests came in] day and night. I had dreams – I would wake up in the middle of the night and think, Do I have to check my email? She's always talking to you. It would just be constant emails, she was just firing away all the time. It would literally range from everything — like, “I need to see this person,” “get me on the phone with that person.” When she was in the office, she would email, “Coffee, please.” Literally just that. We would always have one for her in the morning before she got into the office, and then maybe like three to four on average [after that].