This is the very first in a new series of interviews I'm doing with those major players in global fashion who operate in the open, but keep themselves below the radar. Who better to kick-off with than revered fashion critic and A-list journalist Sarah Mower? I am lucky enough to count Sarah as a friend, and when your blog is in "pilot mode" you need your friends. Anyway. Mindful of the fact Sarah only talks to strangers when she has a pen in her hand, and aware that while she knows a lot of things about a lot of people, we know very little about her, she let me turn the tables and all it cost me was a bottle of red wine!
(for career and personal bio, plus further reading on/by Sarah, scroll to the end of this posting)
Sarah interviewing John Galliano after his own label show in Paris on 6 October 2009.
FASHION INSIDER: #1 SARAH MOWERWith her uniform of peak-shouldered Margiela tailoring, extremely high heels, dark shades and a penchant for not smiling or making small talk, Mower cuts something of a mysterious dash around the fashion capitals. Most people are intimidated by her. Which stands to reason as she attends several major-league shows a day, and while most fashion people are sleeping or partying she writes several critiques in razor sharp prose, puts them online, and STILL gets to the 9am show on time. In real-life though, she is simply, by her own admission “something of an introvert.” What she’s really saying is that she’s shy. Behind the uptight veneer is a very endearing character for whom the mantra “with great power comes great responsibility” could have been written.
AND THEN SARAH INVITED US INTO HER HEAD…I thank god every day for Google. Because when designers start quoting their influences to me, at least these days I know what obscure artists, photographer or blah blah they are on about because I can go back and check it.
My job...to me it’s being alive. I don’t know; feeling your synapses jump, and the electricity of ideas cross-fertilizing and connecting. That’s what I like. Really that’s why this role of Ambassador for Emerging Talent has come out of it. You know quite a lot of things about a lot of things, and about a lot of people and you can see who needs what, and you can right wrongs and knowing how the whole system works, you can enable people.
I know I have a very grumpy face, but that isn’t what I’m like inside.
I’ve learned not to be riled at fashion shows. There isn’t any point. You can get anxious about getting into the thing. You can get anxious and annoyed about waiting. You can get annoyed with PR’s who don’t know who you are. What I’ve learnt is that it’s just not worth it. Because in the end all that stays with you are the good things. You just have to let the rest go.
I never had the patience to be an artist. My mother was an art teacher. As soon as I was old enough to hold a pen she encouraged me to just draw all the time. All I could do, ever, was draw. Get an idea down quickly. There couldn’t be any palaver between me thinking of an idea and expressing it.
When I started out, I was really scared of designers. And very intimidated. They were older than me. Gradually they got younger and younger, and I learned more and more. I now see what it takes for a designer to actually be able to do it.
Embarrasingly, I have cried at a show. Oh god! I used to sob at Helmut Lang shows and I don’t know why.
Being a fashion critic is very complex. You have to judge or assess what a designer is doing in relation to everything else: the trends that are coming up, or the feeling or mood that is rising from the season. You also have to connect how it relates back to their body of work. So you are judging them against their own track record. I know all this inside of me when I sit down to a show.
I have googled myself. I’m happy to say I have only ever found two spiteful things about me. One was hilarious: it said “Who is Sarah Mower? Has she ever done a day’s work in her life?” And that
I’m big in Japan. I have an illustrated column in Japanese Vogue. They like me in China too. when I was in Shanghai, a girl came up and said “ Oh, Sarah Mower! You’re like a Manga hero!”
At the start of LFW [in the eighties] designers really couldn’t do it. They were designing things on their kitchen table and just thinking fashion was all about the catwalk show. They didn’t know anyone who could manufacture, they would send their clothes off to Italy and they would come back rubbish. And that would be the end of the latest wave of enthusiasm for London designers.
Back in the 1990’s Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan were putting on the most incredible shows we will ever see. It was beyond fashion. It was Barnum and Bailey. It was absolutely mind blowingly theatrical, visceral, moving and terrifying. They were rivals. It was like the Blur and Oasis stand-off.
I don’t get my legs out much because I’ve got terrible legs. And you can write that.
Know who you are. If it’s a frilly moment, and you are not a frilly person you can’t give into frills. When I was a kid you had to wear a mini-skirt or bellbottoms. Now fashion is so diverse. And Thank God.
A lot of people ask me what makes a good designer. When they're able to articulate who they are while capturing something about the times-while making clothes that can be worn, that’s the key. A designer is bad when they're derivative, run after every trend and don't have the skills to make things properly.
After 9/11, London fashion was so dead. Everything was so hopeless. The rest of fashion became so polite. Then suddenly all those kids Christopher Kane, and Marios Schwab and Gareth Pugh suddenly came up with this sense of confidence. But it wasn’t an aggressive sense of confidence. They weren’t snotty. They wanted to learn. I didn’t know if I could help them, but I was going to try.
For me, the less identifiable clothes are, the better. I wouldn’t wear the obvious thing by a designer. Dressing for me is a process of many things; trying to dress your own body, accept your own body. And whatever age you are – know it and celebrate it.
I’ve met Martin Margiela. [the famously private designer, who hasn’t been photographed for over a decade] He is the best mentor and teacher there could ever be. He talked to me about how he does things. I can’t tell you what I learned from him, because I swore to him that I would never, ever break that confidence. And I never will.
What keeps me going is the idea that I'll witness something that's never been seen before. After 20 years of watching shows, that can still happen.
THANKYOU SARAH. xxxx
MOWER CAREER BIO:
Sarah has been at the forefront of fashion journalism for twenty years working for titles including Honey, The Observer and Vogue UK. From 1992-1999 she was the fashion features director of American Harpers Bazaar. After that, back in London, she edited her own short-lived magazine The Fashion before signing up to US Vogue where she remains. When in 2000 she was asked to start writing catwalk show reviews for American Vogue’s new website Style.com she says “It was a very, very lowly thing. The challenge was to conquer designers’ fear of the web. Many designers weren’t keen on letting style.com into shows; they thought it would mean more copying.” A decade later Sarah is a commanding presence at the global fashion weeks; designers read Mower's reviews of their shows the morning after. Journalists and stylists read style.com to see what she is thinking, because her thoughts are often the barometer of where fashion might be going. Then there are the few million fashion fans who read style.com too. In 2009 Sarah was appointed as the British Fashion Council’s Ambassador for Emerging Talent, which puts her in charge of discovering, nurturing, and promoting the next wave of British fashion talent to the world. No pressure, then!
MOWER PERSONAL BIO:
Sarah lives in Shepherds Bush with her husband Steve, and three children Tom, Maisie and Phoebe. She is currently in mourning at the departure of Martin Margiela from his Maison.
FURTHER READING: Stylist: The Interpreters of Fashion ; Gucci by Gucci: 85 Years of Gucci; New Role at BFC; Style.com Martin Margiela SS10 review
A version of this interview was published during London Fashion Week in The Daily. Link coming soon!