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September 1, 2014
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Source: Flickr - eventphotosnyc.

In choosing the colours, styles and designers we should be watching and wearing, fashion editors are in the business of editing the runway. And these days, it's these editors who are making the world of fashion more interesting than the fashion itself. As Alber Elbaz, creative director of Lanvin, said in a recent interview with The New York Times, "the behind the scenes is almost becoming as important as the scene." 

When he musters up the courage to speak, Elbaz, one of the shiest men in fashion, hits the nail on the head. Referring to all the hullabaloo surrounding fashion's most recent round of musical chairs: Raf Simons from Jil Sander to Christian Dior; Stefano Pilati out and Hedi Slimane in at Yves Saint Laurent; and Jil Sander back at Jil Sander, Elbaz admits that the runway collection often finishes last. "When we are at the shows today, what we see the editors wearing is almost more important than what they are seeing on the runway."

As Alber Elbaz, creative director of Lanvin, said in a recent interview with The New York Times, 'the behind the scenes is almost becoming as important as the scene.'

A one-off beaded jacket here, a tulle skirt there; the pieces make a ten second, transitory appearance on the runway and then become lost to our memory. That is unless an editor picks it up and decides to feature it on a cover, donned by some famous celebrity - like red-haired Rihanna on the April 2011 cover of American Vogue, wearing Chanel Pre-Fall 2011.

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, pulls the strings as head puppeteer: what Wintour says goes. Years ago, she told Cindy Crawford's publicist that Cindy was, "just another model - I'm Anna Wintour!" when pressed about why, after three separate shooting sessions, Anna scraped Cindy's September cover.

Wintour is the impetus behind the careers of fashion's most prolific designers, like Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler. "If I design a grey thermal cashmere sweater, and Anna's wearing it, and it's also on Stella Tennant on the cover of American Vogue, the effect on sales is phenomenal," says Marc Jacobs in Jerry Oppenheimer's biography of Wintour. She's also credited for jump-starting Lazaro Hernandez's career after a chance meeting in a Miami airport. 

But where Wintour uses her iron fist, another famous Vogue editor, Anna dello Russo, uses her fashion library to impact global style. When fashion week comes around, all eyes are on dello Russo, whose website's masthead reads, "I don't want to be cool I want to be fashion!" Her over-the-top approach to dressing has earned her millions of fans, not unlike couture mavens Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness, sometimes surpassing them in unforgettable ensembles such as her Pucci gown with matching Gareth Pugh headgear at the Vogue Paris 90th Anniversary masquerade ball.

Her street style appearances, which can only be described as canonical, are so illustrious that she's a muse for Tommy Ton. "Editors and models have become the new fashion icons," said Ton to The New York Times. Last year, an entire photography exhibition dedicated to the duo, entitled When Tommy Met Anna, featuring 81 street style photographs of dello Russo by Ton, was on display at The Hudson's Bay Company in Toronto.

Anna dello Russo at Paris Fashion Week 2010.
Source: nytimes.com.

However, the title of original editor-in-chief powerhouse undoubtedly goes to the late Diana Vreeland, who was neither an iron-fisted ruler nor a flamboyant clothes horse. Vreeland worked at Harper's Bazaar where she penned the famous "Why Don't You?" column and then had a too-brief, but impactful, run as editor-in-chief of American Vogue from 1963 to 1971. 

This particular doyenne of fashion had an acute awareness of chic that she shared with her friends - kings, queens, duchesses and dukes, Clark Gable, Andy Warhol, Oscar de la Renta, Cole Porter, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Jackie Kennedy, to name a few. Vreeland was at the epicentre of many historical moments: she was privy to the dinner parties, soirees and behind-the-scenes meetings that would later decide the fate of world-famous artists and politicians. 

Lisa Immordino Vreeland, author and film director of Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel, shared her discoveries about her grandmother-in-law with The Genteel. "I feel that the images that she created at Bazaar and Vogue are the most referenced in fashion by photographers, designers and tastemakers. They show not only the mark of her personal style but of the era she lived in," she explains. "She felt that style was 'not about the clothes you wear but about the life you lead in the dress.'" 

After Vogue, Vreeland went on to work at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where she put on dazzling costume exhibits showcasing everything from Hollywood film wardrobes to the clothing of Austria, Hungary, Russia and China.

Diana Vreeland and Andy Warhol, 1977.
Source: in the moment.moderndestiny.com.

When asked if Vreeland was more artist or curator, Immordino Vreeland replies, "I feel that she was a curator - she had the responsibility, purely created on her own, of wanting to tell us a story throughout her career. She had the vision to do it through the fashion pages at Bazaar where she began to see the role of a woman change and fashion change in WWII and at Vogue she grabbed the zeitgeist of the sixties and put [it] on the pages of the magazine. At the Costume Institute she recounted the historical periods she was most passionate about." 

For Vreeland, a work of art or an article of clothing were insignificant in the absence of curation. And whilst designers cannot foresee what editors will extract from their collections, they have regained some control through how they curate them. As Elbaz suggests, it's not what you show but how you show it. Some designers, like Karl Lagerfeld, Jacobs and the late Alexander McQueen, curate their own collections through spectacular runway shows. Often the mise-en-scène - a carousel, the Vuitton Express and an indoor rainstorm - is more memorable than the clothes themselves.

A local example, Toronto-based designer Breeyn McCarney recently showed "Vessel," a collection of couture dresses she designed with artist Irena Komadinic. As the models inched slowly down the runway, presentation became the underlying motif. "I am extremely concerned with the presentation," said McCarney in an interview with The Genteel, "this is what I strive towards with shows - creating a magic world that very few people get to be inside of. Slipping into Avalon for a brief moment."

In many ways, a fashion collection is inextricably bound to the way in which it is curated and more so to the power vested in editors and tastemakers. As Elbaz aptly suggests in the interview, no matter how groundbreaking a collection may be, objectively speaking, it's the subjective opinions of those pulling the strings that matter. They decide if ten seconds on the runway becomes an iconic sweater vest, a million dollars in sales or just another slideshow on style.com. If all else fails, just place a 50-ft gold lion in the middle of the runway, a la Karl, and hope for the best.

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