Today in fashion, with all of the complexity, contradictions and contradictions of today’s work, with its constant scrutiny, decision-making and compromise, a sharp-elbowed, unflinching, stone-walling-itself-in insouciance is an article of faith. These old men have no time to agree to anything and you have to deal with it all the same.
The fashion publicist Jeff Staple couldn’t help himself. He recalls that when he started out he was told “We’re not running away from you, we’re running away from you.” No matter how much you put pressure on yourself — no matter how much you work hard, stay strong, persevere, never give up — you know you still will be misunderstood and written off as weak, as indecisive, as ego driven, or just plain mediocre. You’re worse than just a fashion girl, you’re a “fashion strategist.” At one point I was asked by my boss, when I was approached for a job interview, if I was flattered. I’m a fashion writer and I couldn’t decide if I was more flattered by the compliment or insulted by the suggestion that I didn’t think it was a good enough job.
The guiding ideology, according to Ralph Lauren’s iconic founder, who was a methodical, efficient manager, is obvious: “Work as hard as you can and find the best people to do it. If they have tenacity and they have a will to win and have the patience to be happy and to get the job done, that’s all that matters.” When he talked about hiring people that wanted to go to work, beat the ass of their boss and just make something beautiful from scratch, he was hitting upon the core of what people must do now to survive, but also knowing that it goes far beyond the rewards and accolades.
The struggle and the daily grind of working in fashion that many of the younger generation now rarely experiences is inspirational. For me, who was let go from a major label at an early age and had to start all over, it has always been the sheer perseverance, dedication and the pure abandon of sheer joy in the very fact of being in a profession that sustains people and provides them with a sense of identity.
This season, I find myself deeply saddened that, after almost a year of crisis and organizational change, a normal house cleaning has been put on hold and every credit card at the “Shop Ralph Lauren” window has been maxed out again. Now I think about all of my heroes and I am overwhelmed by sadness that there is nothing left.
Last year, during the event and awards show honoring the 400 women in every industry of excellence we’ve never heard of, I lost my sister to cancer. My mother is currently fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Last week, I lost my father-in-law, who passed away at the hospital, leaving behind a legacy of extreme passion, commitment, depth of understanding and unparalleled dedication to clothing and craftsmanship. I wonder, what must they feel like, at the end of their lives, thinking that they haven’t done enough, standing there and playing with this extraordinary thing that they have created? I can only imagine it is terrifying.