Profile: StartUp FASHION

Before the Internet, many aspiring designers and hopeful fashion professionals relied upon pricey classes, guidance counselors, encyclopedias, and niche resource books to help them break into the fashion industry—unless they were among the lucky few who had industry connections, of course.  Thankfully, along with the birth of the social Web, came empowering opportunities for emerging designers and other up-and-coming fashion professionals.  Today, people pursuing a career in fashion can turn to the Web for information, advice, inspiration, support, and so much more.

One of our favorite free online resources for rising fashion stars is StartUp FASHION, created by Nicole M. Giordano 

StartUp FASHION is a comprehensive resource for emerging and established fashion professionals.  This blog-style website provides: seminars/keynotes with leading industry professionals, virtual events, networking gatherings, trunk shows/fashion markets, buyer showings, and opportunities to participate in a dialogue centered on fashion.  Maintained by a team of industry insiders, StartUp FASHION offers everything from information on local boutiques to independent designer interviews.  Updated weekly, StartUp FASHION is a valuable resource for fashion enthusiasts and fashion veterans alike. 

Finessed:  What inspired you to create a resource for new independent designers and fashion professionals?

Nicole Giordano:  I saw a need. There is so much to learn, understand, and adopt when you’re starting out on a new venture.  Having a single place to go that covers topics that range from textile sourcing to marketing and public relations, written by your peers, is a very valuable resource.  When I was designing, I didn’t have that.

Finessed:  What do you believe are three of the biggest challenges for new designers and others who are getting started in fashion today?

Nicole Giordano:  Sourcing small fabric yardage and manufacturing small runs are two biggies. It’s tough to find a mill/factory that will continue to produce small lots as your company grows. Another challenge is marketing. Once you have your business up and running, getting the word out is a full time job in itself.

Finessed:  What are a few things people can do to support emerging designers?

Nicole Giordano:  Buy from them!  Invest in the work of a young designer; it could make all the difference.  Also, when you find a brand you love, become an ambassador! Share what you love about the brand or what you just bought on your social networks.  This is one of the best ways to help a new designer survive.

Finessed:  What mantra would you encourage new fashion designers and fashion professionals to live by?

Nicole Giordano:  If you love it, keep at it.  And remember to not be afraid to evolve.  You’d be surprised at how many businesses start out one way and transform into something that you wouldn’t expect.

Style Tomes: Reading Fashion

There are so many ways to “read” fashion. We pour over pictures of bloggers’ outfits daily, check out stars’ ensembles, and devour the latest runway collections – in photographs. Then there are the words. Psychology Today explores the meaning behind the clothes we wear. The Sunday Times reports on the rise, fall, and rise again of shoemaker/designer Manolo Blahnik. Books, though, like these three, delve into fashion and style at different levels: a timeless guide, a memoir cum psychological study, and a type of intellectual history.

A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions.(Genevieve Antoine Dariaux) Olsson’s cites the classic as the “original ‘What Not to Wear.’” It’s a delightful read, and looks ever so pretty in a stack of books by your bed (which is, of course, a very good reason to buy a book).

My Mother’s Wedding Dress: The Life and Afterlife of Clothes. (Justine Picardie, who authored the newest Coco Chanel bio) This goes deeper than a “how to” style guide, wondering about what we wear, how our clothes define us (or don’t), and how or why we attach so much meaning to them - all through the vehicle of her mother’s wedding dress - a black cocktail dress bought in 1960.

The Classic Ten: The True Story of the Little Black Dress and Nine Other Fashion Favorites. (Nancy Macdonell Smith) Every girl should know the history. Need we say more?

The Story of Fashion Week


Since the inception of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) in 1943, semi-annual fashion weeks have come to be the seminal events of the fashion calendar. Indeed, fashion weeks are the place where brands and fashion houses officially unveil their latest collections to the world, both to the magazine and press crowds but also to fellow designers and cultivated consumers.

However, the concept of a “fashion week” and its catwalk shows and presentations pre-dates the founding of NYFW and, to some extent, the origins of what we think of as mainstream fashion itself. As any fashion historian can relate, the idea of catwalk presentations originates in private salon shows for the very rich in the 18th and 19thcenturies. Couturiers would arrange for private presentations of the latest fashions to individual aristocratic clients hungry for new frocks to show off their wealth and social standing. These presentations, which took place either in private residences or in a designated room in a designer’s salon, involved models wearing the designer’s creations for aristocratic clients to view.

Not surprisingly, the salons of France dominated the fashion design market as early as the 18th century, though they faced some competition from the impeccable tailoring of British designers in the aftermath of the French Revolution. From Marie Antoinette to the Empress Eugénie, the glamour of the French queens and empresses had a significant impact on international fashion, which was supplied by highly-skilled couturiers. This reputation of French fashion as the pinnacle of design continued into the early 20thcentury. Indeed, while haute couture initially referred to the bespoke work of Englishman Charles Frederick Worth (of Woolworth’s fame), the term was embraced by French designers in the late 19th century and later syndicated with formal criteria by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris in 1945.  

While the glamour of Hollywood brought fame to some American designers, the first serious threat against French fashion came in 1943 with the organization of New York Fashion Week by publicist Eleanor Lambert (founder of the CFDA) in a deliberate attempt to attract attention away from la mode de Paris. Lambert created an organized “Fashion Press Week” to introduce the collections of American designers to the world when the fashion world was unable to travel to Paris because of the war. Due to the success of this event, Lambert later helped created a coordinated system of similar press events in fashion capitals around the world.

Over 60 years later, Fashion Weeks now operate on a coordinated schedule of events for Autumn/Winter collections in the early part of the year and Spring/Summer collections in the latter part of the year beginning in London, then New York, Paris, and finally Milan. Haute couture shows in Paris take place on a different schedule. The notion of a “fashion week” is clearly a marketable concept, especially as many cities and towns across the world have latched upon this idea to present the work of local designers.

Until the past five years or so, the big four Fashion Weeks were invitation-only events for the press, magazine writers, fashion designers, and celebrities. The unveiling of a fashion collection arguably retained somewhat of the exclusivity of a 19th-centurysalon, though on a much grander scale. The fashion-loving consumer generally had to wait for the next issue of Vogue or their favorite fashion mag to catch next season’s creations. Yet, this approach to the big four Fashion Weeks has rapidly changed over the past few years, as fashion has acknowledged the presence and influence of bloggers and the online media-sphere.

In this way, in 2011, what is the continuing relevance of “fashion weeks” to the fashion consumer and to the fashion industry itself? Will the onset of more widespread access to bloggers and consumers via live web broadcasts dilute the reputation and hence legacy of these previously invitation-only semi-annual events? Do fashion designers lose any of their artistic edge with the removal of this protective layer of exclusivity? Or do the efficacy and desirability of a fashion collection actually increase through this type of publicity?

Style Tomes: Fashion Exhibitions

Fashion exhibits have become the average girl’s reason to make the trip to New York – to see the McQueen show. Twitter was all a-twitter about The Met’s announcement about Prada and Schiaparelli. But before these sought-after tickets, there were others – and their accompanying books.

The Anglomania book wasn’t available during the exhibition, if you were lucky enough to visit the Met at the time (it’s the type of exhibit they have to photograph in place, then produce the book, rather than use photos of paintings or sculpture from previous exhibitions). The book is a paper tour of the full exhibit, with much appreciated detail shots of things you just couldn’t catch viewing from behind the railing in person - like the pinup girl embroidered on the cuff of a Paul Smith shirt. The exhibit notes were lovingly detailed and woven with history, philosophy, and whimsy; the book reflects that, as well.

Atop our list of favorite style tomes is Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli, the record of the roving exhibit’s visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Schiaparelli somehow escapes the average style follower’s notice, and if she makes it on the radar, it’s in comparison to Coco. True, she was a contemporary of the woman many consider to be the grande dame of style, but she used architectural in her designs well before Dries van Noten or Donna Karan were even a twinkle in their grandparents’ eyes. Her collaborations with some of the greatest fine artists of her time surpass anything we see today. Lastly, she has a color named after her - Schiaparelli pink. Any woman who pioneers a color shade is one to emulate.

Girl-Watching for Girls

In the world of fashion, the idea of women checking out other women is fundamentally acceptable as part of a culture of admiration embedded in the art of dress. Yet, in wider society, the concept of same-sex admiration is part taboo and part routine. On the one hand, it is the provocative stuff of fantasy because it goes against traditional sexual morées. On the other hand, it is an ordinary function of the sphere of female friendship that demonstrates the natural strength of bonds between women.

When a woman noticeably admires another woman, whether for her shoes or for her sheer beauty, she is participating in an unspoken ritual of female relationships that draws women together and inspires communication. The notion of two women admiring each other is symptomatic of the fundamental human capacity to appreciate beauty as well as of a historical trend for women of like minds to bond in small groups for companionship and to share information in reaction against the oppression of a patriarchal system.  

While gynocentric societies are an ancient notion, as the writings of Sappho attest, women in Western civilization historically have been confined by strict and confining societal expectations that set different rules for each gender. Men are permitted to look at women as currency of an acknowledged cultural phenomenon of courtship and sexual expression, a freedom that has not generally been extended to the woman/woman relationship.

Fashion has somewhat escaped society’s rules of intra-gender relations because it has long operated by its own guidelines. However, while many have cited the 1960s sexual revolution as the opening up of fashion to artistic expression and alternative ideas of what defines style, taste, and beauty, the links between the art of dress and the evolution of woman/woman admiration interestingly can be traced back to the 18th century and the coteries of the Bluestockings. 

When the term “Bluestocking” was first coined in the mid-18th century, it referred to intellectual, well-read women, though it could also apply to both genders. The “Bluestocking” coteries, founded by society ladies such as Elizabeth Montagu and Mrs. Vesey, were groups of women who gathered together for stimulating conversation about substantial topics for which women were usually frowned upon for discussing. These groups, which also were created in retaliation against the domination of cards as a choice for evening entertainment, purposefully drew together members of the fashionable beau ton society with members of the intellectual set, which included many men. Attendees at these conversation evenings included notable historical figures, including Sarah Fielding, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, and Samuel Johnson.

By the 19th century, “Bluestocking” was often used as a derogatory epithet for bookish spinsters. Yet, the term continued to be applied ex-post to groups of artistic and literary women, such as the Bronte sisters, Emily Dickinson and Susan Gilbert, and even Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. While these women were not always part of the fashionable set, they arguably were the direct predecessors of our modern Sex and the City girl-group era because of their encouragement of the independence, artistic expression, social rights, and even sexual freedom of women.

In Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England, Sharon Marcus argues that Victorian society actively supported bonds between women

“because they believed it cultivated the feminine virtues of sympathy and altruism that made women into good helpmates…. Female friendship reinforced gender roles and consolidated class status, but it also provided women with socially permissible opportunities to engage in behavior commonly seen as the monopoly of men: competition, active choice, appreciation of female beauty, and struggles with religious belief.”

In 2011, relationships between women, both sexual and non-sexual, are more openly celebrated because of societal recognition of the importance of individual rights, self-expression, and intimacy between and among genders, though same-sex couples do face an ongoing battle in certain areas of civil rights.

The power of bonds between women reveals the complexity of even basic interactions like admiring another woman’s appearance or choice of dress. The psychology of social competition aside, the sheer act of a girl openly watching another girl in many ways represents the achievement and legacy of the storied evolution of modern women’s rights and early female pioneers like the Bluestockings who chose to go against norms of accepted behavior.