After writing about Rent the Runway I met up with my friend Mikel Rosen: fashion guru, founder of London Fashion Week and instructor at the Art Institute of California. While teaching at London’s Central St Martins School of Art & Design, Mikel’s students included Hussein Chalayan, Phoebe Philo, and the late Alexander McQueen. Never short of an opinion, I asked to interview him for this blog. This is what he had to say.

Rachael: Have you seen Rent the Runway, La Tote and other “Netflix for fashion” sites where you select a few pieces to check out at once? What do you think of them?

Mikel: I don’t like it for personal reasons. If I go through a vintage consignment I’m really panicky about what I buy or pick up so even if these sites launder and dry clean their stock it still makes me twitchy so I don’t like it for hygienic reasons. But I do like it because it gives people access to clothes they may not have been able to afford or buy before but so does H&M or Target or a consignment store. If you’ve got a mind and an eye you can still put it together. You still have to pay these rental companies so with that hire fee, with a bit of acumen, I think that one could still go out there and buy clothes, spend your budget that way.

Rachael: For me it’s trade off. Less time for more access. Looking in vintage shops is very time consuming process.

Mikel: This is my feeling about the young lady who says she’s only got 30 minutes of free time in the evening. I think that is so sad to lose that luxury of going shopping for clothes or lose flicking through the glossy pages of a magazine. The textures of those things and the five senses of those things; I wouldn’t want you to lose those things. I agree with you that it saves time but you’re losing another sensibility.

Rachael: Do you think expanded access to fashion will have any change on what people are designing?

Mikel: Yes, completely, but the expanded access isn’t just those sites. Expanded access is the media coverage in this day and age of idiots like Kim Kardashian, since most of them (the designers) are designing for Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé or Jennifer Lopez or Rhianna because if they do something for that type of woman it gets coverage for them so the access is beginning somewhere else. And I bet my bottom dollar that most of those apps and sites, eighty percent of what they have in stock are the kind of clothes that Kim Kardashian would wear; not the sort of clothes that Grace Kelly would have worn.

Rachael: One of the things I’ve noticed with television, the more ways there are to watch television, the greater the variety of shows; there’s more TV for different types of people with different interests. Do you see anything like that happening in fashion? In my lifetime it’s been this is what’s in, this is what people are wearing, these are the colors this season and that’s all that is available.

Mikel: Great point. It’s happening.

The couture industry is booming. Ready-to-wear in the high fashion brands is booming for Marie Antoinette. Because of that, we’ve got the peasants revolting and because of the revolt, because they can’t be Marie Antoinette, other things are beginning to happen. New visions are beginning to sneak through. So the low level, the low, low level, going back to what I was saying, people are tending to do their own thing, and it’s a different way of channeling fashion. It’s a personal, individual thing and until a tribe of those people can make it in the industry it’s not app or retail accessible.

It’s very similar to when I was first around in the seventies with fashion and it was the dawning of Margaret Thatcher in London. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were developing the punk thing and they got the Sex Pistols wearing their designs and all the kids on the streets rebelled. They didn’t want to go towards what was happening politically. Being barbaric to themselves, putting safety pins through the noses and tongues, ripped tee shirts and kilts, and that whole punk explosion happened, and then it became part of the fashion world, and now it’s still part of the fashion world.

So it’s “Off with their heads!” When the revolution finally happens, that will answer this question but at the moment it’s only little trickles and sprinkles, unfortunately. Because of the media, everybody thinks they can become Kim Kardashian. They wake up each day and think if I photograph myself on Instagram and get enough likes, I’m going to get picked up next. It’ll happen to me. Instead of revolting and doing something your own way.

Mikel Rosen at his home in San Francisco
Photo Credit: Katie Meek, The Chronicle

“They wake up day and think if I photograph myself on Instagram and get enough likes, I’m going to get picked up next. It’ll happen to me. Instead of revolting and doing something your own way.”
—Mikel Rosen