Elsa Schiaparelli said, “In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.” Hedi Slimane claimed that “fashion somehow, for me, is purely and happily irrational.” Are you aware in your role as a power behind New York Fashion Week of imposing a sense of order on the outrageous and irrational even as you herald it?
Yes. I am. But think that the role that we play is that we are enablers. I think that we are a little bit the benefactors of the artists. We are patrons of the art. I think we provide the infrastructure, the support, the access to the pieces of the puzzle they want to activate. But it is really up to the designer and the talent to create the vision that they want. So it’s not our place to put “order” on it. It’s our place to really give some infrastructure. I always use this example of me as a personality, but I think maybe it relates a little bit to what you’re saying. I like to say, I’m the Keith Richards – personality-wise, not the drugs or the alcohol. He’s the one who runs the band. It’s a little more behind-the-scenes. He’s a little quieter – not the one jumping out in front. Maybe Charlie Watts. We’re not the frontman. I think of that analogy in terms of myself because I prefer to be the Charlie Watts or the Keith Richards. I think there is something to that. Where is the structure and then where does the performance happen within that? Our role is to create the best environment and the best opportunity for the artist to really have their vision come alive.
Sara Burton said, “I really believe that a woman shouldn’t have to dress like a man to feel strong.” Yves Saint Laurent: “I wanted women to have the same basic wardrobe as a man. Blazer. Trouser. Suit. They’re so functional. I believed women wanted this and were right.” Are you perceived differently if you wear a dress in your professional life instead of arriving at a meeting in a great pair of pants?
Yes. I can tell the difference. Well, first of all, we work in fashion so if there is any industry in which you can get away with wearing anything you want, this is the industry. But speaking more broadly, I think those barriers are starting to break down. But I noticed that there was a time in my career when I wouldn’t wear dresses at all because of what I felt like the … ahh … tension would be toward me. I think that that may be less for this next generation. But definitely for my generation, I was always sensitive to it. I mean, I’ve done both. I wear suit jackets and jeans. I wear a skirt or a dress when I have to. But I think being in a high-powered position, it does still raise eyebrows.
You asked me when we first met how I balance being a mother and having such a big job and then stopped yourself because you thought it sounded sexist to ask that because men never get that question about being a father and having a big job. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s sexist because there is an expectation for women to be able to do it all. I grew up with an Italian grandmother. Very old-fashioned. I still cook and clean up and make the bed. I still do all of the stuff,. And yet, yes, have this big job. And I have two sons. One is 12 and one just turned 15. Years ago when I was at Glamour we had the “Glamour Women of the Year” event at Carnegie Hall and we honored Billie Jean King. We gave out her book and she gave a speech. I think it is the opening quote of her book: “Pressure is a privilege.” I always think of that. Anytime things feel untenable I always think, “You know what, this is what it’s like to have a full life.” If I have a superpower it is being able to multitask and do a million things at once without ever losing my cool. It’s a balance, but it is also one life. I don’t see it as now it’s work time and now it’s not work time. Now I’m doing the kids and now I’m doing my own thing. It all overlaps. I look on it as this is all me. And I’m unapologetic about it.
Miuccia Prada said, “You can wear the most powerful dress and not be powerful. You can dress like a stupid little girl and be super powerful. Sexiness is in the mind, it’s not what you wear. In that sense, I think that clothes are just something you use. But it’s not that the dress transforms the person.” Mary Quant said, “Fashion is a tool to compete in life outside the home. People like you better without knowing why. Because people always react well to a person they like to look at.” Do you remember the first big fashion purchase you made after you began to make money and was it transformative or more tool-like as you had the experience of wearing it?
Yeah! Yes! I do remember it. I totally do. It’s a real story. Okay, I’m gonna tell this. I have something I now call ‘Prada rage.’ This is a true story. And if I showed you my closet you’d see I still have what I bought. It was probably 1995. It was when Prada was on the map as the thing. I did not have a good winter jacket. I was working at Interview. My boyfriend at the time worked with me at Interview – I ended up marrying him, we’re now divorced – said, “You’ve got to get a good jacket.” He loved clothes and told me I had to get Prada. So I bought this bubble coat from Prada. It was square-shaped. I remember that it was my entire paycheck. After I bought it, I cried on the street. My boyfriend kept saying, “You’ll buy it but you’ll have it forever.” But I cried because I had no money. I could not believe I had just done it. I got into a fight on the street with a store owner for being in front of him or something. I got into a yelling match. That was my Prada rage.
I do believe in the transformation of clothes. I mean at the end of the day it’s all about who are you as a person and how do clothes enhance who you are projecting in the world. It’s all a matter of comfort. For me, I’ve always felt the most confident when I feel like I walk into a room and people aren’t staring at what I’m wearing, but I feel like myself. Of course, that depends on the room that you’re walking into. I think that clothes are very powerful. To offer a quote back to you, I think it was Donatella Versace who said that “a dress is a weapon.” There is something very powerful about fashion that says who you are to the world and who you want to be. But you have to own it and you have to feel that way. I don’t think it can cover up your not feeling that way.
Karl Lagerfeld said, “Fashion is about change – and I like change.” Nicholas Ghesquière: “What I find most interesting in fashion is that it has to reflect our time. You have to witness your own moment.” We have experienced so much change in the way the pandemic altered the world regarding live cultural events such as NYFW. As we emerge, how do you see us paying witness to this moment?
The big word of the year for me is joy. I think there is a desire for a joyous moment where you give in with abandon to a feeling. I think that’s because we’ve all be so protective. I had dinner with a designer the other night who said dresses are flying off the shelves. Pretty dresses. There is this idea of things that feel positive and light and joyous. I would say that we are going into this celebratory moment of abandon – a full abandon of joy. I think it is a difficult time. And I don’t think it’s just the pandemic. I think it is the collective last four years. I think it’s been a build. And I think it’s when you come out of that critical moment and you think: I’m still standing. I think you begin to be more appreciative of things. I think people will appreciate getting dressed up again.
I would like to close with a quote from Alber Elbaz and remember him and say his name. He died of COVID in April. He said, “I think that if we inject a little bit more love into fashion and less fear – because today I feel it’s more about fear and less about love – we would have a beautiful reason to wake up every morning.” What wakes you up in the morning, Leslie?
Possibility. The idea that you never know where the day is going to take you. I am a big believer in possibility. Anything is possible. That to me would be my answer to what wakes me up in the morning. I think Alber was a light in this industry. I think the fear he talked about is the fear of change, to be honest. Because for an industry that is very forward-thinking, it is also very nostalgic. I don’t think of myself as a nostalgic person at all. I feel as if I can let things go and move on. I think that idea of looking forward to possibility is the thing that I always get up for.