Friday, May 20, 2022

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    Why Are All the Fashion Brands Starting Podcasts?

    Podcasting is finally in fashion. Not fashionable—fashion-adjacent personalities, as well as publications like the Business of Fashion and your very own GQ, have already made podcasts stylish. But for years, podcasting circled luxury fashion itself like a shark with a too-refined palette. Everyone else in the world seemed to have a podcast—but the field remained largely free of capital-f Fashion.

    Until, quite suddenly, now. Designers have taken to their microphones (well…sometimes), with their favorite talkers chatting away across from them in the proverbial studio. Balmain, Dior, Versace, Chanel, Gucci: all have started podcasts. Your favorite fashion brand has something to say!

    Before we delve into what, precisely, it is that they are saying, we must bow in deference to a pod maverick. Each season, since June 2016, Maison Margiela creative director John Galliano has offered a rhapsodic behind-the-scenes narration of his collections. Like a Club Kid bouncer giving a tour of Versailles, Galliano performs monologues that are ostensibly stand-ins for backstage interviews, allowing a press-shy genius to extemporize freely (and, of course, offering the designer and his brand ever-more control in this media-paranoid industry). If most podcasts are narrated to the hilt, Galliano’s is freeform: a Margiela insider recently told me the team simply puts him in the booth and lets him spit. He’s simply maniacally articulate.

    The newer fashion podcasts stray from this intimate, lifting-the-taffeta-curtain feel. They are big luxury, rather than artisanal. Take Balmain’s, the latest entrant, featuring designer Olivier Rousteing walking you gallantly through the history of the brand with guests like artist Maira Kalman, V&A photography curator Susanna Brown, and incomparable font of fashion knowledge Lynn Yaeger—though it’s all narrated, written, and researched by a figure named John Gilligan, whose Google search history is strangely absent. (Balmain did not respond to a request for comment.) This is both the formula and the quagmire for these new projects: brands want to build more excitement around themselves, and believe content can do the work as well as an exciting new handbag, but their key personalities are already overcommitted.

    So how did the ultimate side hustle become a must-have accessory for the world’s leading fashion brands? As fashion houses continue their evolution from product pushers and dream merchants to full-on content creators, it’s the only place to go. Podcasts are easier to make than a magazine or even a zine (as Jonathan Anderson and Bottega Veneta’s Daniel Lee have shown us). Still, as a good one, or at least the kind most brands seem interested in making, requires good production, high-octane talent booking, and much research.

    Just look at Chanel Connects—the, well, Chanel of podcasts. With its impresario designer Karl Lagerfeld gone and the much quieter Virginie Viard at the helm, the house’s global head of arts and culture, Yana Peel, takes on hosting duties. Her show both star-studded and -crossed, with big time talent like Pharrell Williams and Tilda Swinton, as well as A-list highbrow types like David Adjaye and Arthur Jafa. It’s an effective brand-building exercise, asserting Chanel’s access—to celebrities as well as the nine muses—and its place in the greater luxury ecosystem. A Chanel bag belongs among the art fair crowd and on the arms of artists. This podcast belongs in their ears.

    For others, it’s an opportunity for #empowerment. Versace recently launched Medusa Power Talks, a pre-recorded Clubhouse series (…?) culminating in a live Clubhouse talk (there we go!) in which guests—including the blonde Venus of fashion vanitas herself, Dontalla Versace, as well as Irina Shayk, Indya Moore, and Precious Lee—speak with guru-like authority about being powerful. It follows on the heels of DiorTalks, the recently-launched fifth season of which is called “Feminism” and focuses on—you guessed it—feminism. Each season features a different host; this edition’s guru, journalist Justine Picardie, talks to on-brand highbrow personalities like choreographers, poets, and ballerinas about womanhood past and present. In our ambient listening moment, there is no shortage of thinker-types willing to marinate on the big issues.

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