Is fashion elitist? asks Cambridge Union Society. Grace Woodward says no!
Earlier this month, fashion and academia collided as a group of our industry's most famous faces took part in a debate at the prestigious Cambridge Union Society. The subject was 'is Fashion elitist?'
Proposing the motion were Hadley Freeman, Caryn Franklin and Beth Dincuff, and opposing the motion were Sir David Tang, Grace Woodward and Hilary Alexander.
Despite the fact the opposition didn't win on the day, Grace Woodward strongly stands by her views on the subject. We caught up with her following the event to find out more.
We'll kick off with a quote from her speech, which gives you an idea of the approach she took to the subject.
"The Fashion Industry is many things : nepotistic, unregulated, unfair, bitchy, deeply shallow and sometimes highly questionable, but there are more 'rags to riches' stories than many other industries."
Grace herself can attest to this. "My own story is that I'm from a working class background...I lived on a trailer park!" she told us. "If fashion were really elitist I wouldn't be here."
During the debate, she argued that many of the biggest names in fashion did not have a privileged background, citing Alexander McQueen and Phillip Green as examples. But she did face strong arguments. Though there are stories like this of 'the working class kid done good', there's no denying industry in general does have an elitist feel.
"There were points raised saying that there's an elitist aesthetic to fashion. Models are tall and thin...you're selling a dream."
It's true that high end fashion is based on aspiration, but surely in order to create aspiration and sell product, you have to appeal to a wide audience, not an elite few?
And the fashion industry recognises skill, talent and business sense, no matter where it comes from. Another strong part of Grace's argument surrounded one Mrs Beckham:
"With clever strategy and sheer will she went from being daughter of not particularly connected Essex family...to the darling of the fashion industry, appearing in Marc Jacobs campaigns, showing her eponymous label on schedule in New York Fashion week, and as I speak has her own window space in Harvey Nichols, probably one of the most prestigious department stores of the world. Vogue, one of the first ever fashion magazines, deemed the fashion Bible, takes great care in showcasing luxury at all costs, has put Victoria Beckham on its cover not once but six times worldwide"
Perhaps the key to Grace's argument was in the people at the debate themselves. Cambridge is not a University that teaches fashion, and the people at the debate were not there because they were studying the industry. They themselves were not the fashion elite. "I have a sneaking suspicion I was asked to take part because they're all fans of Britain's Next Top Model" Grace joked.
"It was not a learned audience. Fashion is not their career." Yet still the debate took place in front of a packed house of interested people from all walks of life.
"An interest in fashion is not just for the few...everyone makes a choice when they go out and buy." Grace said. "Fashion is not just for the upper echelons and academia. It's for people who enjoy it."
Perhaps this is the ultimate reason why we agree with Grace. Fashion would not truly exist without all the people who enjoy it; be they those involved directly with the industry, those who aspire to what they read in magazines or see on tv, or scholars in other areas who see fashion as a creative outlet.
Anyone who works in fashion will tell you how often they are forced to justify their decision to work in such a 'frivolous' industry. But the truth is everyone - from rocket scientists to shopgirls - makes a conscious choice before getting dressed in the morning, and that is fashion. Not just the glossy magazines or the catwalk shows, but the clothes we buy and the way we wear them.
How do you feel about this topic? Do you think fashion is elitist, or do you love getting involved?