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SYDNEY: You seem to work like a fashion ethnographer, taking notes as you go. How many fashion shows do you actually review a season?
SUZY: Somewhere between two and three hundred! I just bring my laptop with me so I can type up my review as soon as a show ends. Otherwise, it wouldn't ever get done the next show starts in twenty minutes.
SYDNEY: I know you always keep up with what's going on at the fashion schools. Do you see exciting work?
SUZY: Well, sometimes I go to student shows, particularly in England, my native country, and I think, "Oh dear, this person is majoring in stardom." The students have these dreams of being the next Alexander McQueen. But for every McQueen, there are hundreds who aren't quite so fortunate. I always tell students that business know-how is as essential as creative talent. But there are still great young people coming out of fashion colleges, particularly Antwerp.
SYDNEY: The Belgian students have a reputation for being level-headed.
SUZY: Absolutely. Antwerp, in particular, is an excellent training ground. The head of the fashion college is brilliant. And it's a small town with inexpensive real estate you can set up a little store and learn whether the things you make are actually appropriate for the public.
SYDNEY: Do you think that clothes have to be functional in order to be truly modern?
SUZY: Clothes are not costumes anymore. They have to be an appropriate part of a man or woman's life. God knows, life is busy enough without having to climb into things that have a hundred buttons up the back! I feel very strongly that the purpose of fashion is to dress people. I remember so clearly when John Galliano showed me this must have been fifteen years ago a jacket he had made with three sleeves. As much as I wish I had bought that piece, because it's probably worth a fortune now, it isn't fashion if you can't wear it.
SYDNEY: But you still believe in haute couture?
SUZY: It's a craft on that level I think it's wonderful. The workmanship, the finesse, the technique that goes into couture is extraordinary. We're just now coming to the couture collections, and there is nothing I love more than to see how these fantastic things are made.
SYDNEY: People are always predicting the death of couture and the end of fashion.
SUZY: Well, my instinct is that the fashion icons of the twenty-first century will not necessarily be designers. I'm sure that a designer will come along, maybe next week or next year, who will change the face of fashion. But I believe that the focus on designers is a phenomenon of the last century. There will be new leaders for the new fashion tribes.
SYDNEY: Can you give me an example?
SUZY: I was recently in Japan during the World Cup and was amazed by the influence that the English soccer player David Beckham had on young Japanese men. The magazines were filled with pictures of him and his wife. Even barbers were advertising a "Beckham" haircut.
SYDNEY: Fashion is completely global these days.
SUZY: Everything now is so instant, so easy to copy. I still blush when I think about it, but years ago I was actually flung out of a Nina Ricci show because I drew a tiny pillbox hat in my sketchpad. In those days, you were not allowed to reproduce any image whatsoever. There were official sketches, and you'd receive them about three months after the show. How the world has turned. I'm going to the Yohji Yamamoto show tonight, and those pictures will be transmitted around the world in three minutes as long as it takes to connect my computer to my mobile phone.
SYDNEY: It's all about the instant image.
SUZY: That has been the genius of Tom Ford. He almost sees everything in two dimensions rather than three. He's brilliant at identifying the hot item of the season, like his peasant blouse for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.
SYDNEY: That blouse started the whole boho revival.
SUZY: Tom Ford looked at the Yves Saint Laurent archives and thought, "It's a hippie moment, it's time for the peasant blouse to come back." I always thought that Yves Saint Laurent's original inspiration for the peasant blouse came from the Woodstock era. I actually asked Saint Laurent about it two years ago, and he said that he was inspired by a Matisse painting. There are so few designers today who look at Matisse and produce a peasant blouse. Tom Ford's revival of the peasant blouse has been great for Seventh Avenue and its global equivalents, but it's not the same thing.
SYDNEY: Not in the least.
SUZY: The problem that I have with fashion today is that it's easier to build a business on an image than it is to build it on a creative mind. For example, I asked Christian Lacroix how he ever came up with those little handheld bags that swept the world in 1987. I was sure he was going to say, "I was watching an old movie on television, and I saw Audrey Hepburn carrying this cute little purse." But he said, "I was on the beach and saw this piece of driftwood. I drew it, put a little handle on it, and that was my first bag." The most innovative people don't usually make a dime from having that original creative click. Today, there are so many ways for people to steal ideas, especially via the Internet. It's far more difficult for a designer to maintain a unique vision.
SYDNEY: I can imagine Christian Lacroix picking up on something out of nature. That's a beautiful image.
SUZY: Look, I trained as a fashion designer in Paris. I know all about couture, how seams are cuffed and all that, but I can't make that connection between a bit of driftwood and a purse.
SYDNEY: Now that everything is so sped up, where do you see fashion going?
SUZY: It's fatal to predict the future of fashion, but if anybody asked me what I thought the essence of twenty-first century fashion is, I'd say it's fusion, like fusion food. When you look at the backgrounds of the designers who have made waves recently, particularly the younger ones, they've all got an interesting ethnic mix. This applies perfectly to someone like Galliano, who has an Italian and Spanish heritage, but was brought up in England. Yves Saint Laurent brought a bit of Morocco with him he was raised in Algeria.
SYDNEY: So fashion is influenced by geography.
SUZY: Fashion comes in waves. There has been a whole slew of designers from Brazil recently they brought a certain sexiness. Then there's a northern wave, which is much more minimalist. Lars Nilsson of Bill Blass is Swedish and brings a certain rigor to his designs. They make me think of clear skies and very thin light. Then there are designers who, because of their parentage and their background, combine the hot and the cold, like Galliano.
SYDNEY: Is fashion necessary?
SUZY: Of course it is. Fashion happens even Chairman Mao never managed to get rid of it, did he? When you saw those little flowers creeping in under the collars of the Mao suits, it was like plants coming up through cracks in the pavement. You cannot keep fashion down, and why should you? Fashion is endlessly interesting, fascinating, fun. It's a reflection of the world. Fashion tells us about ourselves, our sexuality, and our values. After all, when you look at portraits from the past, you're looking at fashion how people dressed and presented themselves. I find it endlessly interesting.