By Lucie Greene / Photography by Morgan O’Donovan
With heels on, red lips and a suitably statement-making skirt, I descended on the Vogue Festival on 27–28 April – the second after the event was launched last year. This year’s festival was bigger and better than ever. Those interviewed on stage included Michael Kors, founder of Net-A-Porter Natalie Massenet, Victoria Beckham, Alber Elbaz, Donatella Versace and panels including model David Gandy, Patsy Kensit and Daisy Lowe.
Vogue is the latest of a growing number of magazines to launch festivals – offering readers and fans a 360-degree way to immerse themselves in the brand. The Guardian newspaper, Wired, Monocle and It’s Nice That have all recently begun hosting ticketed events where readers can see expert talks, take part in discussions, or engage in workshops. At Vogue’s event readers could have their own Dior Eyes done, and then photograph themselves against a Vogue magazine wall.
The tickets for the Vogue festival weren’t cheap, at £30–40 per session, so this was clearly as much about boosting revenue as about branding and exposure. And it looks like it was a success on that front too – the event was packed with fans, industry types and international students.
I went to see the Michael Kors discussion with Yasmin le Bon on Saturday, and the Victoria Beckham and Alber Elbaz interviews with Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, both held on Sunday.
The Kors talk was fantastic, an outline of his remarkable rise to stardom with long-term model and muse Le Bon. What struck me most was his innate understanding of – and focus on – his core customers. Kors talked about his early years in retail and how that early connection to female shoppers, what they wanted and how they wanted to feel in clothing, has driven his entire business. He recommended that any budding designer start out working in retail to gain a key understanding of what women want.
Alber Elbaz was typically charming – and discussed his love of his female clientele too. ‘It was not the story of design or clothes, it was the fantasy of women that made me want to work in fashion,’ he said. (There is a reason that women become addicted to his party dresses, which make any woman, of any age, look incredible.)
Victoria Beckham was also self-deprecatingly funny, and as engaging as ever. ‘I’m nice. Everyone thinks I’m going to be a cow,’ she said, smiling. ‘I understand it actually. I think the same when I see the pictures,’ she joked. She also talked about how she juggles her family life with a hectic schedule.
Beckham has pulled off a hat trick. Her brand is now recognised as a credible luxury label. The clothes are beautiful. The bags are too. Remarkably, she has harnessed her celebrity power to drive her label’s success and visibility without compromising the integrity or feeling of luxury. Celebrity fashion labels are 10-a-penny, but hers is independently desirable. Her Facebook page is a lesson in this. Much like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, the powerful thing is the sense of personal connection to readers. Both feature just enough first-person, informal quips and snaps of their family, or references to friends, that when you follow them you feel like their friend. This is then skilfully integrated with product shots, press clips and promotions. Clever.
What struck me most about the festival was its intelligent – and at times – insider content. We have been saying it on LS:N Global for a while, but there genuinely seems to be an interest in, and awareness of, insider fashion. Among the big-name Q&As, Vogue’s festival featured debates about body image, a snapshot of to how a photo shoot is made, and a discussion about the rise of fashion blogging featuring Vogue Japan editor-at-large Anna Dello Russo, Susie Lau (or Susie Bubble) and Garance Doré. There was a genuine feeling of a salon or progressive discussion.
Finally – I have to share this for those social marketers out there – I loved their idea of putting business cards on each of the seats for every talk. The cards featured the correct Twitter handle, name and hash tag so that fans were not only reminded to share their experience, but to credit the correct channels. Nice one.