Leave a shoe, leave a legacy

What does it mean to leave a legacy in fashion, and how do you do so in such an artistic industry?

Trenyce Tong / Daily Trojan

There has been a lot of reminiscing going on in fashion right now, and I don’t blame the world for doing so. Not only are we beginning to see some major departures between brands and brand leaders, but some big reunions are happening, too. 

Donna Karan released her latest campaign, “In Women We Trust,” on Feb. 8, which celebrates the eight women wearing their Spring 2024 collection rather than focusing on the clothes themselves. Photographed by none other than the iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz, the women starring in the campaign are celebrities and leaders in the fashion and modeling world: Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow, Carolyn Murphy, Imaan Hammam, Karlie Kloss and Liya Kebede. 

Within the same week, British Vogue said goodbye to their editor-in-chief of eight years, Edward Enninful, in the March 2024 issue. Making waves himself as Vogue’s first Black EIC, Enninful made a splash with his goodbye cover, featuring 40 inspiring and iconic women. Some major names in attendance were Serena Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Laverne Cox, Salma Hayek and Linda Evangelista — who, fun fact, actually had a sleepover the night before with Hayek. As you can imagine, I could gush about each of the 40 women until the end of time. 

What made the cover incredible, though, was not the strategic placement of women and the elegant styling but rather the fact that everyone was there. Nobody was photoshopped in; all 40 women shot the cover in person, at one time — something virtually unheard of because of the complexity of having that amount of people involved on set, scheduling and keeping the shoot hidden from the public. 

It made me begin to wonder how one leaves a legacy. In all honesty, this thought first crossed my mind in Japan over the winter break; I was at Dover Street Market Ginza in Tokyo and noticed that the outline of the old floor directory could be seen on the wall in the right lighting. 

Then, upon going to the L.A. Art Show this past weekend, seeing J.J. Morino’s “People” reminded me of an Off-White orange blazer with the same motif of people in movement painted onto the fabric itself from the same Tokyo store. 

The topic has felt more pressing especially as new creative directors begin to establish their era on their respective brands — Pharrell Williams for Louis Vuitton and Sabato de Sarno for Gucci, among others. There is also tremendous space for the newly announced leaders to begin taking their first steps. In the design world, Zac Posen has been named the new creative director for Gap and Davide Renne has just started his reign at Moschino, while the corporate fashion world seems to be following suit, as José Neves just stepped down from his CEO position at Farfetch. 

But when people are hired to take over — creatively or financially — does your legacy tie to the success of the company or your mark on the brand? Is it the idea that you can always be found in a style or era, such as Tom Ford’s Gucci or John Galliano’s Maison Margiela? Or is it that you do a superb job of reminding fashion connoisseurs and consumers of the brand’s history and first intent in a modern, fresh, trendy and digestible way? 

I believe part of it has to do with how legacy has to first be viewed. I saw a dress recently by fashion and textile designer @laucdesousa on Instagram, who designed a bubble-like dress that, in the right lighting, would look invisible. It made me think about the fabric from “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” where two con men convince the emperor that they only make clothes that can be seen by those deemed worthy — of course, everyone pretends that they do — until one person laughed at the underwear-clad Emperor, exposing him literally and figuratively. 

Is seeing the legacy and impact of a person enough, then? Or does the key to leaving a legacy lie in how you can be passed on? Is it through preservation, like the John Galliano dresses pulled out of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives for the Met Gala in 2015, or is it a concept, a belief, a perspective that is a non-physical, intangible asset?

I believe a part of how one leaves a legacy in fashion, though, is how long their name is known. As Macklemore best put in his song, “Glorious,” “I heard you die twice, once when they bury you in the grave / And the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name.” 

I believe a lot of the desire for our generation to leave a legacy falls into two reasons. First is the generation of influencers and the phenomenon of the “self-made celebrity,” particularly with Gen Z and Gen Alpha. Seeing creators like Addison Rae and Alix Earle rise to fame has the same effect on the younger generations as the thoughts of “I could do that” when seeing particular pieces in modern or contemporary art museums. 

There has always existed the desire to see ourselves reach the level of capability we believe we can, regardless of if we tell people or not. Now, with social media and seeing how easily people have gained fame from it, our generation has begun its race against each other to become the next big star. 

Second is the nature of the industry itself. In the fashion world, designers do not often speak openly about themselves in the sense that their work is a representation of them, their background, their creative capability, their skill and their leadership. 

While some designers are more involved in their brands, such as Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, others are known by face simply because they have become celebrities in the fashion or entertainment industry in their own right: Virgil Abloh, Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons, Olivier Rousteing and Tom Ford, among others. This is precisely why fashion is so much closer in nature to the world of art rather than business. 

Interestingly enough, some still don’t want the fame but have been able to leave their legacy beyond just naming their label after themselves. Martin Margiela, the designer who loved anonymity, even said in an interview for his documentary, “Martin Margiela: In His Own Words” (2019): “I don’t like the idea of being a celebrity. Anonymity is very important to me. It balances me that I am like everybody else. I always wanted to have my name linked to the product I created, not to the face I have.” 

In fact, during his years at Maison Martin Margiela, he has never once taken a bow or conducted formal interviews — all interviews were done over a fax machine, and he only used the pronoun “we” rather than “I” or “me.” 

But just as he wished, he conducted himself to reflect how he wanted his legacy to be remembered — by his product. Now, he is synonymous with the “Tabi” shoe, just as ballet dancers can spot a Balanchine claw à la George Balanchine from a mile away. 

While the difficulty with leaving a legacy isn’t necessarily that you can’t control what or if you leave one, it is that you can’t control the extent of it. My legacy will be vastly different from JuJu Watkins, just as hers may be different from Lady Gaga. It boils down, mainly, to industry, craft, vision and uniqueness. But one thing that will never vary in the amount of control you have in leaving a legacy is your heart. 

There is a great Chinese proverb that says, “When a tiger dies, he leaves his coat. When a man dies, he leaves his name.” We all leave something behind, but when trying to measure our legacy in quantity we will almost always be disappointed. The greats wanted to impact at least one — change one perspective, gain one follower. So, instead, they focus on quality, because quality stays forever: in clothes, in product, in purpose and in practice. 

You get what you put in — so trailblaze on, dear readers! Take control of your legacy. 

Hadyn Phillips is a junior writing about fashion in the 21st century, specifically spotlighting new trends and popular controversy. Her column, “That’s Fashion, Sweetie,” runs every Wednesday.

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