Last week, TOMAX and WEXO proved a formidable team in bringing together a generation-spanning audience, dressed painfully current to impossibly chic. The event brought together a furtive mix of some of fashion’s most influential figures in retail, media and creative design in the moody setting of Testbed1 (think East London warehouse dressed to meet the parents).
Inventor of the original record bag, Jas Sehmbi walked the audience through his journey from India to 1970s England, explaining the decisions which made him a worldwide design pioneer. Jas’ story of rocketing sales figures and mass market success seemed far from what drives so many to enter an infamously prohibitive and difficult industry. He described how his simple, practical design became iconic across youth cultures on a global scale, thereby illustrating the impact of fashion on culture and the way we live.
The evening moved from romantic success tale to the unique critical overview of Alexandra Shulman – holder of the coveted throne of UK Vogue Editorship for twenty fast-paced years. Speaking frankly and openly, she comfortably navigated tricky questions about fashion’s inherent contradictions – from the inspirational and destructive nature of fantasy to the valuable aesthetic of elitism.
There was time to grab a drink at the suitably stylish ‘Doodle Bar’ before up-and-coming designer Tessa Edwards‘ video was projected onto Testbed1′s concrete walls. The audience was mesmerised, if somewhat confused. Speaking from a position within the fashion establishment – already having worked for the likes of Dior in her young career, Edwards spoke sincerely about fashion as the tool she uses to subvert consumerist notions of manufactured identity.
The juxtaposition of the three speakers contrived for a perfectly-rounded evening. As one man politely heckled, ‘to want people to wear your designs is for them to consume an identity you’ve created’. With all of its purist ideals, high-end designer fashion remains a product, and one available to a few. It is not produced for mass consumption – a personalised record bag, on the other hand, is a democratic thing.
Huge thanks to ToMax Talks and WEXO, who continue to provide young people with the opportunity to navigate and find their place within industries which they will surely influence in the future.
By Ruth Gibbs