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What I Learnt From Rihanna (and more!) At the Vogue Forces of Fashion Conference

Written by: Zanita Whittington

It’s not everyday you have a chance to sit in a room with some of fashion’s biggest names – I’m talking Rihanna, Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Virgil Abloh, Marc Jacobs, Anna Wintour and so many more.

It might go without saying, this was an exclusive experience and I am so grateful to HP for inviting me.  I was able to document the whole affair using their newly launched product – the HP Sprocket 2 in 1 – which is a camera that prints your photos in these cutest little sticker formats, like having a photobooth in your pocket.  I spent the day furiously take notes and snapping little memories, tangible pieces of what was to become one of the most rewarding and valuable learning experiences of my career. The venue was also filled with the most gorgeous HP prints of some of the most iconic Vogue imagery from recent years, as a somewhat fledgling photographer myself, taking in gallery was truly inspiring.

So what did I take away from hearing these incredibly esteemed speakers discussing their careers?  Here are some of my most valuable and compelling learnings from the Forces of Fashion Conference – all taking place right here in New York at the famed Milk Studios.

Stella McCartney is warm and generous…

She spoke with Vogue’s own Tonne Goodman on the “The Ethical Future of Fashion”. This can be a prickly topic, something both myself and my peers have come under fire for in the past – and I’m sure can all agree that there’s a consumerist side to the fashion industry that’s pretty despicable. While we can feel intimated by the guilt of not doing everything possible to reduce our carbon footprint when it comes to fashion – Stella assured us, it’s not all or nothing. Simply becoming aware of the facts is a great step to making changes. Just like we can all help this environment by simply consuming less beef, trying to use biodegradable cleaning products where possible, recycling – we can also apply small principles to the way we thinking about clothing and fashion. Did you know that the fashion industry is the number two most polluting industry behind OIL?? And that rayon, one of the most common fabrics used in the USA, requires over 150 million trees a year to be felled in its production. The future of fashion is technology – there’s now artificial ways to produce animal based materials that don’t hurt the enviroment. Stella inspired me to write a post in the future about resources and methods to help us all make our wardrobes more ethical and sustainable. It’s not about all or nothing! It’s simply that if we increase our use of products being made the right way bit by bit, we increase demand and lower the costs making it feasible for all to have access to them and make better choices for the future of the planet.

Marc Jacobs once accidentally shared a picture of his butt on instagram…

This might not be news to you – but it was certainly for me! Marc spoke on a panel called ‘Fashion in the Age of Instagram’ with CEO Kevin Systrom, hosted by Vogue’s Sally Singer. I hoped a little they would broach topics like the rise of the fashion influencer through the platform, commercial partnerships on Instagram and censorship – but that would have taken all day and there was so much to get through! The panel was asked about social media regrets – which is how Marc brought up the topic of his accidental post – but he said he didn’t regret it because it was just him being himself.

“You can’t regret the things you do, You can only regret the things you DON’T do.”

I found this really poignant because regrets really represent the denial of a learning experience – and we grow the furthest from our mistakes. My work with Instagram has been a story of trial and error – and sometimes I’m still baffled by the success of one post over another! High end content never works as well as something spontaneous and genuine. The panel discussed the partnership between fashion and technology, how the two industries are more co-dependent than ever. It was a reminder that once upon a time, bloggers and influencers were at the forefront of digital communication and now brands like Vogue are where the greatest lessons are too be found, adapting to the way we consume fashion media and constantly pushing the envelope of creativity in the digital space.

Heron Preston is the coolest guy I never knew…

So maybe I’ve been living under a rock but I didn’t know much about Heron prior to the conference. The conversation he shared with Virgil Abloh and Vogue’s own innately cool Chioma Nnadi was perhaps my favourite of the day. Heron told the story of how he was on holiday in Ibiza realised there was a ton of garbage in the water, which triggered his idea on the importance and under appreciation of sanitation departments. The Department of Sanitation of New York is described as ‘one of the most important uniformed forces in NYC’ which lead Heron on a long convoluted quest to connect and collaborate with the department. The result is a collection which debuted at NYFW, with a goal to raise awareness for 0x30 – the department’s initiative that aims to eliminate the need to send waste to landfills by 2030.  All pieces are recycled – and obviously incredibly cool. Fashion with a conscience! There was so much more to the story but my takeaway was really exploring Heron’s unconventional approach, something he had in common with his friend Virgil (Off-White) whereby building a career outside of the traditional high fashion trajectory really lent them to create brands that felt like something new. There are no rules!! I also loved Virgil’s quote – “Cool kids wanna be rich and rich kids wanna be cool.” –   on the topic of how street culture’s influence has an ever increasing impact in high fashion.

Victoria Beckham never smiles in photographs – but she’s hilarious!

She opened her conversation with the quip, “Oh no, now I’ve got this microphone – maybe you’ll get a two for one!” An obvious nod to her past life as a Spice Girl, something she was super warm and ready to chat about throughout her discussion, something that no doubt the entire audience was super thrilled about. Victoria has had a rare experience for a life, having known mega fame with her music career since 18 years old, being married to one of the most famous footballers in the world (if not the MOST famous) and being a mother of four while juggling a number of businesses. Though Victoria’s high flying lifestyle might give you impression her career would be hard to relate to, there’s still parallels in the lessons and her experiences that we can all gain from – namely – with her namesake fashion line, she began by mastering the art of dressmaking and waited until she gained enough experience before developing suiting, extolling the virtues of patience, perseverance and a job well done. She also had the ironic fortune of naivety and inexperience, which averted her gaze from myriad of pressures and criticism from the industry, allowed her to maintain a singular focus on perfecting details and getting things just right, trusting her own vision. Stay true to your own beliefs!

Rihanna is everything.

I couldn’t really make notes while Rihanna was speaking because I was so enthralled by her presence, it’s easy to see what makes her a mega star. While she touched on both her Fenty beauty and fashion lines, what stuck with me were personal anecdotes – specifically the story of her 2015 Met Gala Gown – the yellow and gold Guo Pei showstopper. The story of the dress began when she was implored by Anna Wintour to ‘go with the theme’ for the Gala, prompting research into Chinese couture houses. As someone who prides herself in seeking out the unique, Guo Pei’s collection became an obvious choice – but she almost began regret her decision to wear it when it took four people to lift the dress in place on her body at the fitting. She was so anxious to arrive at the event with such an ostentatious look she sent the limo (and it had to be a stretch to fit the garment inside!) around the block three times before exiting. Her position inside the limo had to choreographed in order for her to exit and it took a number of people to get up the stairs. She changed her look as soon as she entered the building into something more practical. My takeaway? Sometimes even real life can be a fantasy – but its worth it to make an impact! We can all appreciate a little theatrics.

It’s thanks to my HP Sprocket I was able to capture memories in real time at the Vogue Forces of Fashion conference. I loved having a more tangible way to document moments, as opposed to the thousands and thousands of images we are saving on our phones to be forgotten or deleted. Can’t pretend I haven’t been pretty popular with friends when I head out in the evening and basically pull a photo booth out of my pocket!

Thanks so much to the incredible team at HP for giving me an experience I’ll never forget.

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