“I’m never pleased with myself. I always think I could do better, that I’m lazy, that I don’t make enough effort” – Karl Lagerfeld
One star-spangled feature in the new Vestoj magazine is an interview with Karl Lagerfeld, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Raf Simons, Alexander McQueen and Elsa Schiaparelli about their moments of greatest self-doubt. Anyone with even a passing interest in fashion will notice something badly wrong with that last sentence; four out of the five interviewees I just listed are dead. Written by Dr. Renate Stauss, an academic specialising in the politics and sociology of dress, this is an ‘Impossible Interview’; Stauss puts questions to a panel of designers, and then digs through reams of archive interviews so they can answer from beyond the grave. My favourite quotes are both from Karl Lagerfeld:
“I’m never pleased with myself. I always think I could do better, that I’m lazy, that I don’t make enough effort”.
“When you hear designers complaining about the challenge of their profession, you have to say: don’t get carried away — it’s only dresses”.
Doubt isn’t something fashion designers allow themselves to do much, at least publicly. Fashion is about selling a dream; if the architect of that dream admits it’s “only dresses”, profits tend to nosedive. The relentless self-promotion required of most designers is what makes fashion interviews fall so flat, and feel so superficial. Which is part of why this issue of Vestoj — a compendium of distrust and under-confidence and hesitation — is exhilarating. Doubt, as the art-critic and self-proclaimed “failed artist” Jerry Saltz has written, is creative: “I know almost every artist wakes up at 3.A.M in a cold sweat thinking that the bottom has fallen out of their work. That each of us is self-taught and some kind of outsider.”
Renate Stauss’s is not the only “impossible” contribution to this magazine. Right at the back there’s an interview with Virgil Abloh, one of the last he gave before he died in November 2021. It was summer 2020 when Vestoj’s editor, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, talked to Abloh, and he is responding to backlash he received for comments he made about Black Lives Matter protests. The interview is moving because it is posthumous, but also because it shows a person in the grips of self-doubt, torn between wanting to defend himself, and trying to accept the fact that he has no control over the way his comments were received.
“You know, as a kid at school I can’t tell you how many times I heard ‘Hey Virgil, you talk like you’re white.’ Or ‘Virgil the Virgin.’ But I had a witty comeback for every time I heard that joke, and that’s how the roles were reversed and I was laughing at them — and so was everyone else. I’m still like that. If they assume I’m all about ‘streetwear,’ I’ll show them tailoring. If they judge me by the colour of my skin, they assume I’ll talk this way and act that way. They think they know what my work is about. So I’ll one-up them.”
Abloh is prickly and earnest and vulnerable; it’s one of the most vivid interviews I’ve ever read, and typical of a magazine like Vestoj, a jewel in the crown of the independent magazine world.