It's no mean feat getting three of the buzziest fashion designers—Emily Adams Bode, Feng Chen Wang and Daniel W. Fletcher—together in one setting at the same time. Spanning across three timezones, the trio was part of Esquire Neighbourhood 2020's fashion panel, Menswear Now: Fashion for 2020 and beyond, moderated by associate fashion editor Asri Jasman.
A lot was said throughout the conversation, with Adams Bode, Feng and Fletcher taking turns to share anecdotes and insights into some of the most real issues in the world of fashion. You know, things like Harry Styles. And reality television. But also issues beyond fashion that are of concern to everyone. These are just 10 of the things we learned from the three fashion designers' panel discussion during Esquire Neighbourhood 2020.
The pandemic has been somewhat of a blessing
COVID-19 and its ensuing lockdowns and closures of borders may have halted productions, but the situation has also allowed Adams Bode, Feng and Fletcher to reassess the way they've been going about their businesses.
"It was kind of beautiful to have everyone be so malleable on my team. And have everybody, you know, have the ability to work from home and really just change with how the world was changing," says Adams Bode.
For Fletcher it has allowed him to move away from being stuck in the traditional fashion system. "This whole situation has made me really think about how much I'm putting out there and how I want to do that—whether that may be showing on my own schedule, doing smaller collections, actually bringing everything back and producing in the UK," he reveals.
Taking greater control of their businesses with direct-to-consumer
That has also meant that they're taking more ownership of how their designs are sold by reevaluating the wholesale system that many independent fashion brands are used to. Being able to take back unsold stock from retailers and then selling them through their own channels has helped.
While e-commerce is pretty much a default nowadays, it wasn't for Adams Bode, who wanted to prioritise and craft out the experiential aspect of the brand. The brand opened its first physical store in November 2019, just before the pandemic hit the US. Bode has now relaunched its own e-commerce platform and according to Adams Bode, "we've now realised that this is a whole sales channel that we've never really invested our time or money in."
Feng concurs. Her brand already has an e-commerce platform but she's now invested in a more specialised marketplace for China: "We set up another e-commerce channel in China, which is kind of like a WeChat store. It's because in China, e-commerce works in a very different way; people don't go to your own website to buy."
People respond to things that they can feel connected to
When it comes to design, all three agree that it's more than just the physical product—it's the emotions and stories behind them that draw people in. And they're all masters of it in their own ways.
Feng's streetwear-leaning designs have always had some semblance of her Chinese heritage ("I wouldn't say it will appear in my collections every season in the future," she cautions) whether they're in the form of techniques of prints. At Bode, the vintage fabrications as well as the time-honoured skills and forgotten craftsmanship that the clothes are fashioned after, tell stories beyond mere aesthetics. And with Fletcher's eponymous brand, it's him "expressing my emotions and how I feel about the world, and responding to what's going on around me, a lot of the time."
Harry Styles is pretty much Bode’s ideal customer
If you're a fan of the always stylish Styles, you'd already be familiar with New York-based brand Bode. The musician wears Bode in fashion shoots, public appearances and his music videos too—clearly, he's a fan. In Adams Bode's own words: "When you have someone who really embodies the brand, they're the best representation of it… The way that he wears the brand, he's our ideal customer."
But Adams Bode also highlighted that while having a celebrity such as Styles personally loving and wearing the brand, it's loyal customers as a collective that help to push the trajectory of Bode. And get the word out to their own circles.
The suit is not dead
"I mean, we just did a custom suit fitting last week," says Adams Bode. The consensus among the three is that there will always be a place for suiting and tailoring, no matter how many times we keep hearing 'the suit is dead'.
As Feng puts it quite wisely, "The lifestyles are changing, and the younger generation's preferences are also changing. Tailoring will never die but just designed in a new way." Amen to that.
Clothes are just that, clothes
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Adams Bode, Feng and Fletcher are menswear-centric designers, but find that clothes aren't specific to any gender.
Fletcher for example, has officially rebranded Daniel w. Fletcher as a unisex brand. "As the years have gone on, my view of it has changed. Like a shirt is a shirt, a trouser is a trouser. Not everything fits everyone—not every women's garment is going to fit a woman, not every men's garment is going to fit a man. For me it's just clothes actually, and they can be worn by anyone," he expresses.
While the monetary awards for winning international fashion prizes are a plus, even being a finalist is a worthwhile experience
All three designers share a commonality: they've all been finalists of the LVMH Prize and the International Woolmark Prize. In fact, Adams Bode and Feng were finalists of the 2019 edition of the International Woolmark Prize, where the former took home the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation and AUD100,000.
But as Adams Bode explained, the connections that were made—not just from the judging panel that usually consists of more established fashion designers—among the fellow finalists proved to be invaluable as well.
There’s more to being a fashion designer nowadays
In such a rather unpredictable world, the role of a designer—as unanimously agreed by Adams Bode, Feng and Fletcher—is to be attuned to what's happening in the world and be flexible enough to adapt.
But beyond that, it's also to create a better ecosystem and use their platforms to spur positive change.
Netflix’s Next In Fashion was a personal experiment for Fletcher
"It's quite a crazy decision, really, because obviously I had no idea what the show was going to be like. It could've been really terrible; could've ruined my reputation that I've spent five years building," laments Fletcher.
Being part of Netflix's first reality fashion competition was more of a personal challenge for himself rather than a conscious decision to further the brand. Fletcher reveals that the show has helped increase the awareness of Daniel w. Fletcher to a much larger audience, and in turn, he's used that as a catalyst to make more commercially accessible pieces to cater to an audience that may not be as fashion-forward.
You may see Feng and Bode Adams in a reality competition (maybe)
Well, Adams Bode seemed quite hesitant about joining a competition of that format. But echoes Feng's sentiment that one never really knows what's on the horizon. So, you never know…