Fashion as a medium and industry is often mislabeled and misinterpreted by outsiders. The misconception that the fashion industry is just one big, flashy party is one of the issues tackled by Vestoj, an annual academic journal on fashion that seeks to “bridge academia and the [fashion] industry” according to their manifesto. This NYFW, The Creators Project talked about the philosophy behind Vestoj’s approach to Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, Editor-in-Chief of the publication, who has created five hard copy issues of Vestoj as well as a plethora of online content and collaborations with institutions since founding the publication six years ago.
The Creators Project: Vestoj's academic and intellectual approach to fashion stands in opposition to the vast majority of other fashion publications, and arguably media in general in 2015. What kind of advantages do you think a more scholarly approach has in the fashion industry?
Anja Aronowsky Cronberg: Vestoj started out of frustration with the content in the vast majority of fashion magazines. I felt the need for an intelligent publication that dealt with fashion exclusively (as opposed to the “lifestyle” content that most fashion magazines engage in today) but without focusing on news or trends and without being in cahoots with brands to sell more clothes. Vestoj has no advertising, which allows us to be independent in terms of content, and removes the pressure to engage with fashion as a seasonal consumer good. Today Vestoj is a platform that still includes our annual journal, but also an online site and regular Vestoj Salons.
Vestoj means clothing in Esperanto, and it isn’t for nothing that the title comes from a constructed language without either country or culture. I’d like to think that what we’re doing is also somewhat utopian and trailblazing: establishing firm ties between theory and practice in fashion—two proverbial ivory towers that often regard each other with suspicion. We’re vying for permanent change and a more holistic approach, where people from the fashion business understand the importance of a critical and investigative approach to their work, and those in fashion academia see the benefits of working closer and more collaboratively with the industry that actually produces their objects of study.
For the past few years Vestoj has been produced under the patronage of London College of Fashion, and I’m now a research fellow there. This, coupled with the close connection we’ve cultivated with the fashion industry over the years, helps a great deal in achieving the aim of Vestoj: to be simultaneously inside and outside, both fashion academia and the industry. My aim is that each element of Vestoj should be a reflection and interpretation of current contemporary thinking and practice around ideas of fashion and its contribution to society.
Part of your manifesto states that "we must bridge academia and industry." Through your efforts, and those of others also taking such approaches like Address, do you think fashion is overcoming the tired misconception that it is an industry solely engaged with superficial images and business?
In many ways fashion is still considered a less “worthy” form of culture than art or architecture. It’s curious that we can’t seem to shake the perception that fashion is only concerned with surfaces, especially considering how all forms of culture blend into one another today. The hierarchy of the arts is surprisingly rigid. Fashion is still thought of as a “woman’s subject,” or one whose sole purpose is to corrupt us into an ever-accelerating mode of consumption. We have quite some way to go before that label has been washed off. I think that all those stubborn conceptions about fashion add to the inferiority complex that I often notice in people who work in the industry. ‘It’s only fashion!’ we say, meaning that what we do isn’t all that important. I’m hoping that by making some of the research on fashion more approachable for people who work in the business, it can help validate the field as a whole. And also that by juxtaposing analyses of the industry throughout the ages, next to interviews with its current practitioners, it can bring a new perspective to both scholars and practitioners.
Beyond your manifesto and the general philosophy of Vestoj, your Fiction section is another unique and interesting part of the publication. What was the impetus behind its creation?
I was interested in how clothing is dealt with in literature, often as a mirror of culture or as a metaphor for some human trait. Also, by re-contextualizing a piece of fiction and placing it in the context of fashion, a reader can form a new interpretation of an otherwise familiar work. Plus, juxtaposing a scholarly and laborious text next to, say, a children’s story is just too good an opportunity to pass up!
At this point in time, Vestoj has existed for 6 years, encompassing an extensive online platform, 5 hardcopy issues, and a series of collaborations with institutions and publications. While these are fantastic accomplishments for such a short amount of time, what are your further ambitions for Vestoj? Would you consider expanding outside of the realm of media, perhaps through lectures academically-oriented fashion courses, or something else?
I would like to make our Vestoj Salons a more regular occurrence—especially in North America where both the fashion industry and academia are well-established, but where there are still few cross-over points. The performative aspect of the salons offer a playful and more effortless entry point to our approach to fashion, and it seems to make a welcome alternative to more traditional forms of representing fashion—the show or exhibition. But I’m also interested in eventually starting a series of Vestoj podcasts that blend a more narrative approach with the informative and probing attitude that we try to employ in everything Vestoj. I often give lectures, talks and workshops, and they are another great way of actually interacting with those who like what we do and stand for—I learn an awful lot in this way.
Anja and her team are currently finishing the sixth issue of Vestoj, "On Failure," set to be released as a hardcopy issue in the near future, available for purchase online and at selected stockists viewable here.