What does it take to be an industry leader? Especially in a world as dynamic as fashion, where competition is rife, and the technological revolution has lent an increasingly breathless pace. Characterised by multiple seasons per year, images that exist in various places, and a globalised landscape, fashion is not for the faint of heart.
Amidst all this noise, though, a handful of individuals are leading the way, cutting through the expectations, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Many of those individuals exist within the sphere of fashion publishing – a place where dreams are seeded amongst the pages.
So What-Else is delighted to introduce Part I of our Industry Leaders series – The Publishers. Featuring Adam Baidawi, Deputy Global Editorial Director of GQand Head of Editorial Content at British GQ. Jess Blanch, Editor-in-Chief of RUSSH Magazine. Bart Celestino, Editor-in-Chief of Love Want. Alastair McKimm, Global Editor-in-Chief of i-D. And Alison Veness, Visual Director of Vogue Australia and Editor of 10 Magazine. These are the individuals that are making their own way, helping to shape the Australian fashion landscape and beyond.
Although it can seem glamorous from the outside, this industry demands a lot of hard work and fierce determination. A commitment to one’s own vision, despite daily attempts at distraction and the ever-looming trap of comparison. It is this commitment that sets our industry leaders apart. That and a whole lot of grit, mixed in with a certain measure of magic – in the form of vivid imagination.
As Bart Celestino puts it, to operate as a creative in this industry is to have a toll exacted on your soul – but when the passion is there, that toll is worth its weight in gold. Much like the insights that Bart and his peers share with What-Elseon what the Australian fashion industry means to them, where it still needs to change, and what we can do to help drive that momentum.
Rosie Dalton: What does the Australian fashion industry mean to you?
Alastair McKimm: At best the fashion industry means creative community.
Bart Celestino: The best thing about this industry is that you get to meet new people and you get to communicate with them.
Alison Veness: It means optimism and the exploration and fearlessness of new ideas. It is an epic frontier of all that could be.
Adam Baidawi: When I think about the industry, I think of the people who have found a way, even where one wasn’t clear. Our underdog mentality is special.
Rosie Dalton: How does the fashion industry share a significance to someone’s everyday life?
Alastair McKimm: How we present ourselves to the world is the most important signifier we have.
Rosie Dalton: As a leader in this space, what do you seek out from contributing to our fashion landscape?
Jess Blanch: The goal of RUSSHhas always been storytelling in an original and accurate form, as an alternative to commercial, celebrity-driven narratives. I deeply respect the origins of fashion, so I guess I have always sought to honour this.
Bart Celestino: To be honest, for me, it all comes down to how people communicate more than anything else. I would rather have a straight conversation with someone than them just showing me their pictures.
Alison Veness: I just enjoy what I do and if I can help other creative people find their voice, then it’s a bonus.
Rosie Dalton: Do you consider what is being created in the Australian fashion industry in terms of a global conversation?
Alastair McKimm: The global conversation in its very essence encapsulates everyone, I don’t consider creativity a geographical theory.
Bart Celestino:I do think the industry [can be] very isolated in Australia at times. And we don’t have the community to support you being really specialised [in your craft] … you have to cross so many genres. Whereas once upon a time you would have just known your F-stops and your shutter speeds, I think now everyone is more aware of the whole process. In terms of your life skills that is a good thing, but in terms of your career [it can be] difficult.
Rosie Dalton:With your extensive international experience, what is your perspective when consuming the Australian media now?
Adam Baidawi: We’re in a post-gatekeeper era of media, and it’s something that feels particularly refreshing in Australia. We were as guilty as anyone of prioritising the same voices, the same photographers, the same stylists, the same…angles.What about the other voices?
I’m in wild admiration of the creatives who are taking things into their own hands: building their own mini brand universes and beaming their work out independently to an audience. I thought James Robinson’s personal project last year was a really powerful example of that idea in action.
Rosie Dalton: What would you say is vital to keeping you engaged and inspired in your work?
Bart Celestino: I would definitely have to say it is other people. I am always inspired by what other people are doing. But I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily photographic or fashion related — I feel like the best things happen when you’re surrounded by people in other fields.
Alastair McKimm: Identity and communication.
Jess Blanch: The necessity to keep RUSSHalive and thriving. We have a growing team and stakeholders, so with that comes a responsibility to keep moving forward. There’s simply no time for lack of engagement. For immediate inspiration, I pick up a book and read, stop looking at what others are doing on the internet and talk to other people who are making things – that usually puts me back into a creative space very quickly.
Alison Veness: Working with people who come up with great ideas, who make me do a double take, smile and make my heart sing.
Adam Baidawi: We all just want to create little moments of magic. Magic is hard when you’re thinking too [broadly]. I have this written down: complexity impresses your peers, simplicity impresses your people. I try to remind myself not to think that we’re creating stuff for a big, faceless blob called an “audience”. We’re creating for people. Sometimes it helps to think of a particular person you’re making something for – even if it’s yourself.
Rosie Dalton: Is there anywhere that would you like to see change in this industry?
Jess Blanch: Fashion is a materialistic, capitalist world and there are many injustices. It is also an industry of creative, hardworking people who believe in something bigger. As with humanity, it is nuanced. There are many changes we need to be pushing for.
Adam Baidawi: One thing that makes me both proud and upset is seeing Australians leave the country to find success and creative stimulation. Obviously, there are a contingent of us here at Condé Nast, like myself at GQ, and Margaret and Meghaat Vogue. But then in my years away from home, I’ve also linked up with other creatives like the photographer Sarah Bahbah and exchanged notes.
None of this is unique to the fashion industry – you can see and feel it with film and television and music, too.
Bart Celestino: I would love to see more social good, because I feel like we’ve disconnected from social good. And human connection. I would say that if you want to be a great photographer, go make music. Because you’re going to meet great people, you’re going to want to photograph and you’re going to do interesting things.
Alison Veness: By being a strong community, being bold, helping each other out and educating each other along the way.
Rosie Dalton: How can we work towards that change both collectively and as individuals?
Adam Baidawi: Part of it is of course about architecting a local infrastructure that can support and scale with a creative’s vision and career. That’s the tough solve. Like if we take fashion media, for instance: how many outlets do writers, photographers, stylists and designers have to pitch [to] in Australia? How quickly can you run out of homes for your work? If those gatekeepers don’t respond to you, what can you really do about it?
The film industry has come a long way with this by drawing in huge productions to Australia – which creates an ecosystem that allows creatives in the industry to get prestige experience, and then hopefully pivot to their own, locally-produced projects.
Another thing I often think is: do we fetishise the fashion and creative capitals of the world, to a fault? We’ve gotta fetishise home, too.
Jess Blanch: Fashion operates as a free-market economy but my personal view is the industry would benefit from standardised pricing for creative work. Again, in my opinion, while a specific union or foundation would be beneficial, it also needs to be led by global brands as their budgets have a trickle-down effect especially in independent publishing to those creatives who contribute to our platforms. Independent publishers or influencers who produce content without charge for brands should know they are not contributing to a healthy ecosystem.
Alison Veness: Talking, meeting, exchanging ideas.
Bart Celestino: The fashion industry can be really closed off and it is so sad to see that. But I do think that maybe [the current climate] has brought together a sense of community. Because, you know, this industry is not a competitive sport. And I keep trying to say that to people. It’s not the Olympics, no-one’s after a gold medal here. So I think there definitely needs to be more [collaboration] that cuts across what the norm is.
Rosie Dalton: What is your advice to those placing great importance on their work and success being defined in these fashion capitals?
Alastair McKimm: It’s an inside job. What is of utmost importance is to be inspired by the environment and people around you.
Bart Celestino:[The best creatives] aren’t the ones just following the trends. The great ones are inspired by film, music, nature, history, and all of these other things. Because [it can be] like a feedback loop in fashion sometimes. And I don’t think that looking at Instagram is going to help, because it’s a constant stream… when you’re looking at Instagram, you see a fully finished product and you don’t realise how many hours went into it. Because you’re just going from one to the next, you lose a sense of what was actually involved. So make sure that you have time for yourself and the things you love to do. If you bring that into what you’re doing, you will be great at it and you will be happy with [the finished product].
Rosie Dalton: And what would be your advice to those starting out as the future of Australian fashion?
Jess Blanch: In terms of image-making in the future, my advice would be to embrace video as a part of your skillset. Generally, it is always my suggestion to emerging creatives to understand that it can take decades to build a career. Don’t be driven by recognition. Credits, titles etc. will all come with time but can derail careers before they have been fully established. All that really matters, especially in the early stages, is the work you do and that the people you work with value you for it. Focusing on how it plays out on Instagram is counterintuitive to growth, in my opinion.
Adam Baidawi: Create. More importantly: create in public. Make stuff, share it. Document the ways you create things. The new wave of creatives are beautiful imperfectionists. The old way was to hide away for weeks, months, or years and then be like…ta da! But the vibe for now feels more iterative and experimental. The new wave is testing and learning in public, dialling into the feedback and reaction, and iterating. That feels like a good lane for right now.
Bart Celestino: Find your fingerprint. You know, I started a graffiti magazine back in the 80s, so I’ve come from that generation where photography was all about making a print… [it’s] not even just about the printed photograph, there is a whole lot of manipulation involved that makes your work authentic. It is your hand… I definitely think you should try to concentrate on your own personal work more than other people’s work. You should nurture your own ideas.
Alison Veness: Reach deep within your imagination and explore it fearlessly, don’t stop, be totally creative, go for it, amaze yourself and dig so deep that everyone around [you] is dazzled by the purity, complexity and total audacity of your thinking. Dare to be different.