I read a blog called The Love List regularly – do you know it? If not, it’s highly visual, thoughtfully written and just fun to read. Check it out here.
Jess, the author, posted about “southern style” and the lack of substantial coverage it gets from mainstream print and digital media. I know some amazing southern designers – they’re sharp, savvy in business and supremely talented, so this really hit home. Why are designers and retail store owners dismissed and as frivolous while chefs are celebrated to epic proportions? Jess posed this question so well – read on…
“I’m a teeny bit miffed with the level of street cred the “Southern style” space gets in publishing, both in print and digitally. So I want to publish a little mission statement about The Love List, what it’s about, and why I think using it to lend my little voice to a much larger conversation is important.
Just to draw a little comparison for y’all here, I expect there was a time where recipes only appeared in magazines for women who cooked dinner for their husbands every night by 6:00 P.M. Boy, have times a-changed. Now, chefs are the proverbial toast of the town – revered and respected – and the food writers covering them sometimes take their 800-word meals with a side of self-flagellation. Recipes? Now served with a bio, an elegant photo, and a twee artist’s rendering. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just flatly observing, not hemming and hawing. I know Southern food is as vital to the fabric of this place as oxygen, and I heartily revel in Atlanta’s food culture on the regular. The mission these folks are carrying out is important on nearly every significant social level there is, so I intend no disrespect. My point is that it is space that gets every last lick of legitimate coverage you could dream up, and I think the scales are tipping.
So why don’t the arbiters of Southern style (especially those operating outside menswear) often get the same respect – or pages? The idea that we’re a bunch of silly girls covering dresses and lipstick is about as antiquated and disparaging as saying Southern food writers only talk about grits and bourbon.”
I set out to get some perspective from a few clients and friends respected in the fashion community. Here’s what I dug up…
From Lauren Lail, designer of Library by Lauren Lail, “While fashion may seems frivolous – it is important to everyone is some small way. There is a story every to facet…there’s the designer, the store that carries the brand, the buyer that is choosing the collection, the facility where the garments are made – it goes on and on. There is so much love and hard work behind every process and each person’s role. Plus, there’s a lot more edge and flair in the South than there’s ever been – let’s celebrate that!”
And we got some insight from jewelry designer and vintage collector Deidre Zahl of Candy Shop Vintage. Here’s her take, “It’s funny because I have perspective about this as both a born and bred New Yorker and now someone living and and designing from the South. Unfortunately it can be very hard to legitimize yourself as a designer when you are not operating out of New York City. Both because I think the way New York operates there’s an instinctive “turning one’s nose up” at anything not born out of there – like the caliber could never compare, etc. Obviously you can find great success elsewhere but it seems the pulse of fashion publications still primarily comes from New York and major European cities.”
Troubadour designer Lindsey Carter shared some thoughts as well…”I think people are unsure of Southern fashion because it is not coming from New York. Since forever, “fashion” has been viewed as something that can’t possibly be coming from anywhere else….I think that attitude is changing but it is still prevalent. Whereas there is a lot of heritage in Southern food – grits, bourbon, okra – that has been trending for quite some time now. I think it is going to take longer for people to embrace and feel secure of new fashion coming out of the South that they realize is not seersucker, gingham, pearls and Lilly dresses…but I do think it is happening!! It IS changing…Southern Living is doing it, and I think that with Haskell at Garden & Gun, we will start to see more of it there too. The more and more people see it, the more they become comfortable with it.”
How about shifting from the female to the male perspective. We tapped two Charleston-based accessories designers to weigh in – K. Cooper Ray of Social Primer and George Ackerman of 79 Ashley for their thoughts. Starting with Cooper…
Cooper states, “The whole idea of ‘fashion’ is born of frivolity. From the earliest courtiers up to today’s blogger, those who followed the fashion were believed to be not serious. Serious pursuits and attending to Fashion (capital F inclusive of all new trends) were mutually exclusive. Add to that the fact that the public personalities of those in the business are usually bigger than life/eccentric/flamboyant. From designers to models to editors to attendees, fashion people are … colorful. It is huge business and it is serious business but the players wear very different public masks than other business leaders. And we are alright with that.”
Last but certainly not least comes from the New York fashion veteran, George Ackerman whose career has brought him from Ralph Lauren to Donna Karan to Calvin Klein. He says this, “The South is not particularly aspirational yet, at least not like WASPY New England or jet set/sexy LA so it’s challenging to build a lifestyle brand here. For now it’s too egalitarian, not enough sex and status to create a mythical world that everyone aspires to be part of. Anyway, food is about a meal…fashion done properly is a fantasy world you can be part of everyday and you can sell it all over the world.”
And I’ll hand the mike back to Jess to close this – “I think you can make style matter when you shift the focus to the folks behind it, because they are a huge part of the fabric (pun intended) of the “New South”. Telling people’s stories and celebrating their work is never foolish or trivial. There is such a thing as Southern style with substance. That, my friends, is the precedent.” Amen.