It’s a city where politics reigns supreme, and fashion often takes a backseat in the nation’s capital. Robin Givhan earned her reputation by drawing parallels between “Beltway style” and “Beltway power” — first in the pages of The Washington Post and now for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. Her work shows you can be smart, serious, successful and still appreciate, learn from, and delight in fashion.

Guests

  • Robin Givhan Style and culture correspondent, Newsweek/Daily Beast

Transcript

  • 12:06:44

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Fans of "Project Runway" know that, as Heidi Klum says, one day you're in, and the next, you're out. Such is the way of the fashion industry. But writer Robin Givhan has been in for almost two decades now, and her writing goes beyond the clothes -- though, they're important, too -- to the close links between fashion and power. Because, like it or not, our personal style and the image we project speak volumes.

  • 12:07:28

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd even if fashion isn't your thing, it is big business, even inside the Beltway, where D.C. and Arlington County residents spend more on clothes each month than shoppers anywhere else in the country. Robin Givhan joins us in studio. She's a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. She spent 15 years as fashion editor of the Washington Post and won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work there. Robin Givhan, we've been trying to get you on this show for so long. Thank you for finally showing up.

  • 12:08:01

    MS. ROBIN GIVHANIt is an absolute pleasure to be here.

  • 12:08:03

    NNAMDIGlad you could join us. Style inside the Beltway gets a pretty bad rap, but you say the fashion scene...

  • 12:08:10

    GIVHANIt's an oxymoron, right?

  • 12:08:12

    NNAMDIYes. You say the fashion scene in D.C. is different than it is in New York or L.A. because, here, it is much more or it is about much more than the clothes. What is it about?

  • 12:08:21

    GIVHANWell, you know, the first thing that I noticed when I moved here to write about fashion was that people feigned such disinterest in fashion. But I had never encountered people who were more self-conscious about how they were perceived on the public stage. I mean, there was so much concern about image and about projecting a look of power and projecting authority and all those things that fashion helps us do. So it just sort of seemed like this really interesting contradiction that I wanted to explore.

  • 12:08:56

    NNAMDIIt certainly does because D.C. has always had an uneasy relationship, it would appear, with fashion. If clothes -- if the clothes that people wear convey power, which is what this town traffics in, why do you think there is this discomfort?

  • 12:09:12

    GIVHANWell, because I think that it's a very complicated kind of thing when you're trying to send messages that can be perceived in a lot of different ways. And I think one of the things that happens is that, you know, the power that people have in Washington, particularly politicians, is power that comes from a constituency. It comes from the voters. And so there's a very sort of fine line that they walk. You know, they want to be perceived as more capable than anyone else in order to get elected. But, at the same time, they want to be perceived as like everyone else because that's an important part of it as well.

  • 12:09:55

    GIVHANYou know, I remember years ago talking to the former curator of the Costume Institute at the MET. And one of the things that he said, which really stuck with me, was that the last time voters really wanted a politician that they perceived to be better than they were was during the Kennedy administration. After that, they began looking for people with whom they could empathize, people that they could sort of call -- oh, well, they're like my next door neighbor, or they're just like me, they understand me.

  • 12:10:29

    GIVHANExcept, you know, that's a really -- that's a difficult line to walk. And that's why, I think, it's become more difficult for politicians.

  • 12:10:36

    NNAMDIPoliticians, I guess, want to be perceived as like everybody else because of their, as you pointed out, constituencies, which brings me to this. I've never been able to figure out why it is that if you're running for president and you're campaigning, you simply can't wear, like, a red tie. What does that say to people if you happen to show up in a bright red tie?

  • 12:10:58

    GIVHANWell, you know, the red tie, right? That's the power tie of Washington and...

  • 12:11:02

    NNAMDIYeah, except when -- not when you're campaigning.

  • 12:11:06

    GIVHANNot when you are campaigning. Because when you're campaigning, you do every single thing you can to convince people that you are not of Washington. Even if you, you know, grew up five blocks from the White House and you went to a private school and you regularly made visits, you know, into the Oval Office, you try to give off this impression that you grew up in small town America. I mean, that's what people want.

  • 12:11:33

    NNAMDIStop talking about Pat Buchanan here, would you? 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation with Robin Givhan. I mentioned Pat Buchanan because he grew up here, has lived here all his life, and yet campaigns like somebody who is a Washington outsider. 800-433-8850, do you follow fashion or do you think it's silly to take clothes too seriously? You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. We're talking with Robin Givhan. She is special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and with The Daily Beast.

  • 12:12:04

    NNAMDIEven in the best of times, Robin, the fashion industry comes under fire for being frivolous, expensive, elitist. How has the down economy affected the industry as a whole?

  • 12:12:15

    GIVHANYou know, it's been a really curious thing to watch because the businesses that have hurt the most are the ones that you might think would do the best, which is the ones that are the least expensive, the ones that are kind of in the middle. I was just looking at a recent report in Women's Wear Daily about the problems that Liz Claiborne is having. And Liz Claiborne is a corporation that's sort of known for its sort of mid-market merchandise. And then, on the other hand, Ralph Lauren is doing incredibly well. Companies like Hermes are doing incredibly well.

  • 12:12:50

    GIVHANA lot of the luxury brands are not just doing well. They're expanding. And it seems like one of the things that's driving expansion is that these companies are going into more international markets. They're moving into Asia. They are moving into -- well, they have been in Russia, certainly. But China is an enormous market for them. And, you know, it's interesting to me because, you know, people tend to think that Americans, you know, are so status conscious and are so superficial that they want logos and these fancy clothes.

  • 12:13:29

    GIVHANBut the reality is that we've seen, as soon as developing countries get to the point where there's disposable income, they're buying logos. They're buying Louis Vuitton. They're buying Chanel, and they're buying Gucci because everybody wants to crow about their success.

  • 12:13:48

    NNAMDIThe fashion industry pumps billions of dollars into the U.S. economy every year.

  • 12:13:52

    GIVHANYeah.

  • 12:13:52

    NNAMDIBut most lawmakers and executives are reluctant, it seems, to engage in conversations about the trade, even when the focus happens to be jobs, not clothes. Why do you think that is?

  • 12:14:05

    GIVHANI think reluctant is an understatement. I think they run screeching in the other direction.

  • 12:14:11

    NNAMDIWhy?

  • 12:14:12

    GIVHANYou know, I think that, in some ways, the fashion industry is a victim of its own really good advertising and marketing. People see it as pure glamour. You know, they play a game of smoke and mirrors. And they've turned it into this sort of fantasy land where everyone is tall and thin and gorgeous and flies, you know, private jets to their third house. And that makes anyone who, I think, doesn't want to be labeled an elitist want to run in the other direction.

  • 12:14:50

    NNAMDIEven though in today's environment just about everybody who wears something wears something that is designer related. Why does the...

  • 12:15:00

    GIVHANYeah.

  • 12:15:00

    NNAMDI...image persist that having a discussion about fashion when, in fact, we're all conscious of it is still so difficult to have, especially in this town?

  • 12:15:10

    GIVHANYeah. Yeah. Well -- and you're right because, as fashions become more democratic, you can go into Target and to H&M. I mean, Versace just designed a line for H&M, so you can get designer clothing anywhere and for an enormous range of prices. I mean, I tend to think that one of the big influences is the fact that -- I mean, I think there is a sexism that's also at work when it comes to the fashion industry because, even though it is an industry that is dominated by men, it's an industry aimed at women.

  • 12:15:44

    GIVHANAnd it's often perceived as, you know, a woman's entertainment. And I think that's one of the reasons why it gets a bad rap. I mean, you think about it. No one needs fashion. Yeah, we need clothes, but we don't need fashion.

  • 12:15:59

    NNAMDIYeah, we don't need sports, either.

  • 12:16:01

    GIVHANWe don't need sports. We need to exercise, you know, to stay healthy. But, you know, sports, it remains a man's domain. And so you get politicians who want to use sports metaphors. You've got the president filling out, you know, a college basketball bracket.

  • 12:16:17

    NNAMDIHis NCAA bracket, yeah.

  • 12:16:18

    GIVHANAnd you get, you know, wailing and gnashing of teeth when, you know, there's not going to be professional basketball. You know, you would think that, like, the oxygen had been sucked from, you know, the environment for all the wailing that's happening.

  • 12:16:33

    NNAMDIBut if, in fact, the president or anybody else were to attempt to talk about fashion, a multibillion-dollar industry in which there are a number of jobs involved, will it be perceived as either, A, frivolous or, B, elitist?

  • 12:16:47

    GIVHANWell, I think look at the First Lady. Look at Michelle Obama. You know, she made...

  • 12:16:52

    NNAMDIWhich you've been doing a lot of.

  • 12:16:53

    GIVHANWhich I spent a good -- more than a year-and-a-half -- who I spent more than a good year-and-a-half covering. And, you know, just starting with her choices for the inauguration, you know, she went -- I like to describe them as sort of unvetted designers. You know, she didn't go to the usual 7th Avenue big wigs. She went to someone like Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu, and both of them are quintessential small business owners.

  • 12:17:22

    GIVHANThese are people who are based in New York, who have their showroom, their sample room, their studios in New York. They employ a handful of people. And that -- you know, small business owners, I mean, aren't they sort of like the magical, mythical group of people that everyone is talking about?

  • 12:17:39

    NNAMDICreated the most jobs.

  • 12:17:41

    GIVHANThey are the job creators. And yet, you know, we don't want to really see fashion in those terms. And then she's also been, I think, very sensitive to the growing issues in the fashion industry, the rising generation of designers who, you know, are the ones who are creating jobs, who are growing their businesses. But, you know, even she doesn't want to talk about fashion too much. You know, she really runs away from it because she knows what the perception will be.

  • 12:18:15

    NNAMDIDon your headphones, please. Let's see if our listeners want to talk about fashion. We will start with Atiena (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Atiena, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:26

    ATIENAHi, Kojo. I can't believe, of all the issues, that I am -- I'm, like, your quintessential D.C.-er . I'm embarrassed that I'm calling in for the first time about fashion.

  • 12:18:33

    GIVHANDo not be embarrassed. Stand tall.

  • 12:18:37

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 12:18:38

    ATIENAI just -- I do feel though that it's an odd -- I get the sense that the point is sort of we're bewailing the fact that nobody wants to be into fashion and talk about fashion. I don't know. It's not -- I don't see that -- I don't understand what the problem is with that. Why would it be -- I have two questions. Why would it be advantageous if people were to be more into talking about fashion in the political scene?

  • 12:19:11

    ATIENAAnd then, secondly, I actually have -- my second question is, who are you talking about? Are you just talking about the people who run for public office and need to wear red ties? Because, when I look at the sidewalks of Washington, D.C., if you take the Gold bus from New York to D.C., you wake up, you look out the window, and you're like, you've got tons of tourists, obviously. But you also have people commuting to work in their nylons and white tennis shoes.

  • 12:19:35

    ATIENASo that when I come back from a city like New York and look around at D.C., I feel this sense of, like, here I am in the non-fashion capital of the world. Who -- I mean, are you talking about a change that's happened in the last three years? Or, you know, who are these people that are so fashionable? Where are they? I know that there are definitely in (unintelligible)...

  • 12:19:55

    NNAMDIIn defense of D.C., Atiena, have you been to Long Island lately?

  • 12:20:02

    ATIENAIt's true. I'm comparing Manhattan to (word?)...

  • 12:20:04

    NNAMDIThank you, thank...

  • 12:20:06

    ATIENA...but nonetheless.

  • 12:20:07

    NNAMDIOkay. Here's Robin Givhan.

  • 12:20:10

    GIVHANWell, in answer to the first question, why would it be advantageous for politicians to talk about fashion? You know, I certainly don't expect politicians to sit around, having a conversation about fashion in the same way that they're, you know, talking about world affairs. But I do think that, if they were less squeamish about it and if they were more open to a conversation about it, then they would more readily recognize the enormous numbers of people who are employed through the fashion industry.

  • 12:20:38

    GIVHANAnd I think it would be -- I think it would, overall, be a better for the economy, certainly the economy of the fashion industry. But I also think that it will help us as sort of culturally understand that, as much as we try to convince ourselves that appearances don't matter, that they actually matter profoundly. And whether or not that's good or bad, that's a whole other conversation.

  • 12:21:06

    GIVHANBut I do think that once we start recognizing and willingly having a conversation about it, then we can start getting into issues about diversity and the way that, you know, women are perceived by the fashion industry, the way diversity is projected within the fashion industry and how that relates to how we value people in a much broader sense. So, you know, I see fashion as essentially the way in which we sort of have this ongoing, non-verbal communication with each other all the time.

  • 12:21:38

    GIVHANAnd I think helping -- recognizing that helps us to have a more eloquent conversation with each other. As for the sort of New York/D.C. comparison, you know, that's just not fair because fashion industry is based in New York, in Manhattan. If people there did not look better and weren't more fashionable, there'd be a problem, so I always tell people, no, D.C. is not New York, nor should it be.

  • 12:22:09

    GIVHANBut I do think that there's a whole other aspect of Washington that goes un-discussed. You know, I -- you know, I call it -- we focus on C-SPAN Washington. We don't think about the diplomatic community, all the universities that are here. And there's a lot of interesting style that goes on that comes out of those areas.

  • 12:22:29

    NNAMDIThink D.C.'s reputation as a style deprived city is fair or foul? Call us at 800-433-8850.

  • 12:22:36

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Robin Givhan. She is special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:58

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Robin Givhan. She was fashion editor at the Washington Post for 15 years and won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work there. She's now special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org. You recently wrote about the role that clothes played in the Civil Rights movement. Why did what protestors wore then even matter?

  • 12:25:30

    GIVHANWell, I was fascinated when I was looking at a lot of the photographs from that period -- and particularly when Dorothy Height passed away and people talked a lot about her signature hats, and one of the things that I noticed when I was looking at a photograph of her from the march in Washington -- and there she is standing at the Lincoln Memorial. And she's wearing a hat, and her hair is sort of perfectly styled. And she's, you know, just all dressed up in sort of her Sunday best.

  • 12:26:03

    GIVHANAnd I went back to sort of check. What was that day like? And it was -- you know, it was August. It was in the 80s -- 80s in Washington in August. I mean, how was she just not melting on that -- you know, up there? And one of the things that I realized was there was such an enormous dignity in the way that they carried themselves, and, you know, the clothes helped to underscore that. And, you know, to me, the message essentially said that, you know, what we're marching for are our rights, but we already have our dignity.

  • 12:26:40

    NNAMDII was about to say, the reason she wasn't sweating is because, well, she was Dorothy Height. Okay.

  • 12:26:45

    GIVHANAnd she didn't sweat.

  • 12:26:46

    NNAMDIShe didn't sweat. Here is Coretta (sp?) in Tysons Corner, Va. Coretta, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:26:53

    CORETTAHi, Kojo, love your show, and, Robin, love you and your writing.

  • 12:26:57

    GIVHANThank you.

  • 12:26:58

    CORETTAI want to just mention that I find that D.C. -- I'm a transplant here, active duty Air Force, from Louisiana originally. But I came to D.C. and found -- four years ago, and found that there really is a fashion scene here, especially this year, after I've gotten started with a company called Stella & Dot. It's a jewelry company, and it's direct sales. And so I've been going out to fashion events to meet people during Fashions Night Out and D.C. Fashion Week.

  • 12:27:25

    CORETTAAnd I was at a launch for a Behind the Beauty, a stylist organization last night. And, one, women were buying jewelry because I promoted twice in the company already, and our company is growing tremendously. Two, the women who are buying it are not -- you know, I mean, they're all spectrums. They're professionals. They're stay-at-home moms. They are people who work for politicians. It's everybody. And, three, when I walk down the streets -- U Street, Georgetown, Arlington, wherever -- I see people in really fabulous styles after work.

  • 12:27:57

    CORETTANow, workdays, it's all pearls and sweaters and (word?) and flats, but -- so I think there's a lot going on in D.C. that was unexpected to me. It's definitely not New York, but it's growing. And especially direct sales, in terms of businesses and economies, we've been doing photo shoots. People been buying jewelry. I've been hiring people for different events that I'm doing. So even my little contribution, even though I'm, you know, a military lawyer in my day job, on the weekends I feel like I'm supporting the economy, too.

  • 12:28:24

    CORETTAAnd the last thing is, how can I get some of my jewelry on Mrs. Obama? 'Cause that's...

  • 12:28:30

    NNAMDII'm not sure Robin's in a position to do that for you, but I'd like to hear her response to your observations.

  • 12:28:36

    GIVHANI know, I don't have Mrs. Obama on speed dial, I'm afraid. But, yeah, I mean, I think your observations are dead-on. And, you know, I grew up in Detroit, and I started out -- my first job -- the first time I actually was started writing about fashion was for the Detroit Free Press. And I tell people that, and they sort of scratch their head and think, there was fashion there? You know, there is fashion everywhere. Wherever there are people who have to dress themselves, there are always people who want to distinguish themselves.

  • 12:29:12

    GIVHANI mean, there's -- so much about fashion has to do with status and hierarchy and power and all those things that, you know, no matter who you are or where you are, there's always this kind of urge to distinguish yourself. And sometimes, you know, and to just sort of make a really brazing generalization about, say, you know, the non-profit industry or academia, sometimes there's kind of a race to the bottom.

  • 12:29:40

    GIVHANThere's a race to look the least interested in fashion, to be the sort of cliché absent-minded professor because that, somehow, you know, burnishes your reputation as being an intellectual. And, you know, the reverse is true on Wall Street where it's -- you know, it's a race to have the most expensively tailored suit or, you know, the biggest watch on your wrist. Because all of that is about, you know, sort of defining yourself at the -- as the best in whatever your field happens to be.

  • 12:30:14

    NNAMDICoretta, thank you very much for your call. Since I asked you about Civil Rights activists and what they were, does the attire of the Occupy protesters tell us anything today?

  • 12:30:25

    GIVHANYou know, I'm kind of fascinated by the Occupy whatever...

  • 12:30:30

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 12:30:32

    GIVHAN...protesters because they are one -- the thing that, I think, distinguishes them is that they're a motley crew. You know, the Civil Rights protestors were so much more organized. There was a really clearly identified message. And because of that, I think, their attire was much more homogenous in a way. And it was also the time. I mean, there was a certain -- there were certain rules about the way that women dressed then. And there was a certain formality with which most men tended to dress.

  • 12:31:09

    GIVHANBut I -- in many ways, the diversity and the, sometimes, wackiness of the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy D.C. protestors is a reflection of this incredibly desperate movement and the fact that it did sort of happen organically without a singular voice, you know, calling them to action.

  • 12:31:31

    NNAMDIYou know, when you mention that, of course, and how the leaders of the Civil Rights movement dressed, for those of us who came along right after in the so-called Black Power generation...

  • 12:31:41

    GIVHANMm hmm.

  • 12:31:42

    NNAMDI...the black berets and the black leather coats of the Black Panther party bespoke another kind of reality, didn't it?

  • 12:31:48

    GIVHANYeah, I mean, you know, I think the initial reaction to that is about intimidation. And it's about strength, and it's about, we'll kick tush here, you know. And that definitely was in opposition to the attire of the Civil Rights protestors whose wardrobe was much more about we're just like you.

  • 12:32:13

    NNAMDIYeah. Here is E.J. on K Street in Washington. E.J., you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:32:20

    E.J.Well, Kojo, I just wanted to say, I think, one of the problems with D.C. fashion is folks look at Capitol Hill -- and I hate to say it, but Capitol Hill is not D.C. Capitol Hill are a bunch of folks who come here from out of town and sometimes out of the country who live in a bunch of stuffy places. You can't even buy clothes on Capitol Hill. I'm down on the K Street. Do you want to see fashion? Do you want to see style in D.C.?

  • 12:32:39

    E.J.Go to Starbucks in the morning and watch the two dozen lawyers who come in, in tailor-made suits and vintage watches and watch the ladies with their unique design or custom-made iPad cases. These are the folks who make the fashion mark in D.C. It's just that you have to look at different places. If I'm in Manhattan, I don't want to go to the trendy places where they have schools and things like that at. I want to go to Wall Street and watch the folks, as you said, wear the biggest watches and wear the fanciest suits. It's the same in D.C. We just have to look in the right places.

  • 12:33:11

    E.J.And I think people don't look on Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, K Street, L Street, places like this. The fashion is here in D.C. Folks just have a false impression of what D.C. truly is, so they're looking in wrong places for it.

  • 12:33:23

    NNAMDIIn addition to which D.C.'s changing, isn't it, Robin Givhan?

  • 12:33:26

    GIVHANIt's changing tremendously. And it's becoming a much -- I mean, I think that the arts community in D.C., just that kind of grassroots arts community is really -- is rising. And that's adding to the diversity of the style. I mean, it's -- I wanted to just -- when E.J. said, you know, that the lawyers on K Street...

  • 12:33:46

    NNAMDIK Street.

  • 12:33:47

    GIVHAN...with their custom-made suits and all that, you know, it reminded me, a while back, of a piece that I did where I was talking to a lot of women around the country about the role of the business suit. And it was a season when a lot of designers had just, you know, decided to do business suits. And the question was really, in an era where there was, you know, casual Friday and people were really becoming more casual, in general, was there still a place for a business suit?

  • 12:34:15

    GIVHANAnd I remember an attorney in Chicago who said to me that, when she walked into a room to meet with a client, she needed to look like she was worth $800 an hour.

  • 12:34:27

    NNAMDIMakes absolute sense to me. Thank you very much for your call. Even if they don't want to talk about it, politicians are very conscious of their image, as you pointed out earlier. You've dubbed the upcoming Presidential race, the casual Friday campaign. Why?

  • 12:34:44

    GIVHANWell, a lot of that came out of just of watching Mitt Romney who, you know, is -- he talks a lot about his businessman credentials. But he was rarely ever seen in a suit. He was rarely ever seen with a tie on. You know, there was a great image of him, a great shot of him, sitting down with a bunch of business men in a round table conversation. And they're all dressed up in their business suits and their ties, looking like, you know, they're sitting in a board room having a conversation about business.

  • 12:35:17

    GIVHANAnd he is the guy sitting there, you know, in short sleeves and tie-less, and, you know, I think some of that is coming because there's obviously this huge backlash about Wall Street, that there's this huge backlash about the "suits" who got us into this economic mess. And so that's why, I think, there's a lot of running away from that. Although, you know, at the other extreme, you've got Herman Cain who's...

  • 12:35:42

    NNAMDII knew this was coming.

  • 12:35:43

    GIVHANYou knew it was coming -- who's walking about, you know, in his double-breasted suits, which couldn't be more formal and more sort of old school.

  • 12:35:52

    NNAMDIYou think he needs to ditch his double-breasted suits?

  • 12:35:56

    GIVHANI think that he would present a better public look if he got rid of the double-breasted suits because I do think that they -- they're always considered to be a much more formal choice.

  • 12:36:12

    NNAMDIAnd that's not what people are looking for, given the Wall Street meltdown that we have had here.

  • 12:36:18

    GIVHANWell, it's -- you know, it's a suit that swaggers. And I don't know if that's exactly what people are looking for. Clearly, you know, he's -- he knows something because he's still high in the polls. But, just from a style perspective, that's my read on that suit.

  • 12:36:34

    NNAMDIHere's Tim in Old Town Alexandria. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:40

    TIMJust wanted to say that I think that -- well, first, that fashion issues, I think, are super important to discuss, and so I appreciate the topic today. And my (unintelligible)...

  • 12:36:49

    GIVHANI love you, Tim. Thank you for saying that.

  • 12:36:52

    TIM(unintelligible) I have a perspective...

  • 12:36:53

    NNAMDIThank you for keeping her career going.

  • 12:36:55

    TIMYeah. I -- my perspective is this perspective of the man who views fashion industry and wonders, why aren't my issues more important to the prevailing voices? And I think that there are a lot of reasons for it. I think it's very interesting, though, that men spend as much, if not more, on clothes as women. Their issues are seldom discussed, seldom understood, and yet it's so -- and the classic example is the president where Mr. Obama, President Obama, had the opportunity to say, I'm a modern individual, I'm a modern man, through his suit.

  • 12:37:36

    TIMInstead, he picked a center -- a center event, Hart Schaffner Marx suit to wear everywhere he goes. And, I think, people did that -- or his handlers advised him to do that probably for a number of reasons. But his wife, on the other hand, sets the tone as being kind of a fashion leader. I just think it's so indicative of the industry that that would occur at the highest level of, you know, the body politics. And, frankly, it's too bad because, I think, men are very short shrifted in fashion. So I'll take your comments off the...

  • 12:38:07

    NNAMDIRobin Givhan, somebody says Washington men tend to wear uniforms.

  • 12:38:11

    GIVHANThey do tend to wear uniforms. Although, you know, I don't know that I want the Prada president. I mean, there's something reassuring about a guy in a traditional suit, as long as it fits well. And he clearly was making a statement by selecting Hart Schaffner Marx, which is an Illinois-based company. So, I mean, a lot of -- so thought did go into that. But, yeah, I mean the suit -- as, you know, the fashion historian anthropologist, Ann Hollander once said to me, that the suit is a triumph of civilization.

  • 12:38:50

    GIVHANAnd by that she meant that no other garment is so clear and succinct in its message. You do not get confused when someone walks into a room wearing a suit. It is respectful. It is -- you know, there's a certain amount of power that's conveyed. It is sort of the uniform of Western culture. And -- you know, and it also -- when it's well-tailored, it hides a multitude of sins. It makes a man look strong and powerful.

  • 12:39:25

    GIVHANI mean, when you think about what happens when a tailor really constructs a suit to a man's physique and you talk about, you know, how it can hide a protruding belly or make shoulders look broader or make a waistline look leaner, it creates that sort of ideal male figure, you know, going all the way back to, you know, the David. The suit can create that. So I mean, I think, a lot of women are actually quite jealous that men have this sort of reliable camouflage.

  • 12:39:55

    GIVHANYou know, they can put it on, and no one really notices what they're wearing unless it's, you know, a horribly-tailored suit. But women don't really have anything like that. They don't have anything that is sort of always the appropriate thing. You know, maybe it's the "little black dress," but even that doesn't really have the kind of level of sort of authority that a suit does.

  • 12:40:20

    NNAMDIHere is Carol in Bethesda, Md. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:26

    CAROLRobin, I've read your very perceptive fashion columns with great interest over the years.

  • 12:40:31

    GIVHANThank you.

  • 12:40:33

    CAROLDuring Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, I was -- I admired her greatly for her very successful hairstyle, meaning that it was becoming and short and -- but no fuss and frills and very professional and very appropriate for the situation. Now, I see her having let it grow, lightened to a unnatural shade and curled up at the ends. It makes her look frivolous. She is our country's major spokesperson to other countries of the world. And I'm embarrassed to see her trying to look like a junior high cheerleader. I'd be interested in your observations.

  • 12:41:23

    GIVHANWell, I hope you'll continue to read my columns and stories, even if I disagree with you.

  • 12:41:30

    NNAMDIWhich you're about to.

  • 12:41:31

    GIVHANWhich I'm about to. I mean, I thought that Mrs. Clinton's hair looked great during the campaign. But now that it's longer, I do think it's sort of -- as you refer to her as looking like a junior high schooler, I mean, I do think that's an interesting description because it implies that she's attempting to look younger and that long hair on a woman is, by its very nature, an attempt to look younger once you're beyond a certain age. And one of the -- I mean, and I did write about this a bit.

  • 12:42:07

    GIVHANOne of the things that I found particularly intriguing about her decision was that she was kind of going against cultural expectations, which is that, at a certain age, a woman cuts her hair because she is perceived to be beyond the age of flirtation and girlishness and sort of sex appeal and all the things that long hair tends to connote. And when you look at a lot of women of a particular -- at a particular level, whether it's in Congress, whether it's in business, most of them tend to have a short haircut.

  • 12:42:47

    GIVHANAnd it's almost like, you know, some little elf comes into your room on the morning of your 50th birthday wielding a pair of scissors saying, the time has come, cut your hair.

  • 12:43:01

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Carol. There are a lot of you who are calling. So if you're trying to get through, go to our website, kojoshow.org. It's not my fault that Robin Givhan took so long to appear on the broadcast. She's a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to kojo@wamu.org. Are you in a part of an industry where image matters? How does your profession dictate your style? Call us at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:45:49

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Robin Givhan. She's a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and with The Daily Beast. She spent 15 years as fashion editor for the Washington Post, won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work there. Robin, diversity has been championed by a lot of designers. But images and magazines and models on runways still are not fully representative of the globalization of fashion. How far has the industry come? How far does it have left to go?

  • 12:46:19

    GIVHANWell, you know, the last two years, I think -- the last -- yeah, probably the last two years have seen just, I think, tremendous leaps in diversity on the runway, considering where the fashion industry had been probably five to ten years ago. And a lot of this -- you know, it ebbs and flows, and, in the '70s and '80s, the fashion industry, in terms of models, was much more diverse. And then there was a period during which the industry became enamored with Brazilian models -- not black Brazilian models, but paler Brazilian models.

  • 12:46:59

    GIVHANAnd then there was the rise of the Eastern European models. The doors opened to a lot of the formerly communist countries, and out they came. And they came into the fashion industry, and they had a very particular look which was extremely thin, very narrow hips, very pale, and typically blonde. And it was an extraordinarily homogenous runway. But, in the last two years, women like Joan Smalls and Cecily Lopez and, you know, a host of others, Liya Kebede, certainly Chanel Iman, have all kind of come into the industry and really have found great success.

  • 12:47:45

    GIVHANI mean, is there -- at a point when it -- where it really reflects the makeup of society, is at a point where it reflects the fact that these designers are reaching out to consumers in places like India and China and South America.

  • 12:48:02

    NNAMDIWell, you recently worked -- you recently profiled two Arab models...

  • 12:48:05

    GIVHANYeah.

  • 12:48:05

    NNAMDI...who are gaining momentum, and you've written about fashion's Arab spring.

  • 12:48:10

    GIVHANYeah. I mean, that's another area of diversity that the fashion industry had never dabbled in. I mean, the fact that they even had scouts looking for models in North Africa was something that was new. And I also think that, you know, certainly, the focus on Arab countries and also the impact that Arab women have had on the fashion industry and the places where designers are looking for inspiration, all of that has drawn a lot more attention to Arab cultures and, I think, in a really interesting and subtle and sophisticated way.

  • 12:48:55

    GIVHANYou know, just -- I was going say there's a designer in Paris now who's sort of the toast of the town, a guy, Haider Ackermann, who was born in Columbia, adopted by French parents and raised sort of all over the world. And his sensibility is a little bit French, a little bit African, a little bit Middle Eastern, but it's expressed in such a sophisticated and confident way that it never looks like costume. And it really gives you a sense of, wow, this is what global fashion really means.

  • 12:49:33

    NNAMDISpeaking of what looks likes what designers borrow from and reference one another almost constantly, but knockoffs and fakes plague the industry. There's an effort underway, which seems stalled for the time being, to protect designs under copyright laws. What effect could that have?

  • 12:49:51

    GIVHANThis is something the industry has been working on going on five years now, and, essentially, in the U.S., a designer's creation has no protection. Their name is protected. And if they have something like a polo pony, as in Ralph Lauren, that is protected because that's a trademark. But the idea, the cut, the look of a garment is not protected, which means that anyone can knock it off. And, certainly, we see it happen all the time after the Oscars. A dress comes down the runway, and, a month later, it's ready for prom season.

  • 12:50:30

    GIVHANAnd so, I mean -- and designers argue that they spend a lot of time, they put a lot of money into researching fabric, the cut, all of those things, and it deserves to be protected. Congress is, you know, not so sure because, I mean, the essential argument is that the industry has gotten along just fine without those protections. And in an industry where borrowing and paying homage to and being inspired by is part of the creative process, how do you really separate, and who determines what's a copy and what's just inspired by?

  • 12:51:13

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Brendan in Washington. Brendan, your turn.

  • 12:51:20

    BRENDANYes. I just wanted to call in and join the conversation. First off, who I am, I'm actually a clothier, so I consult with a lot of people here in the city on what they're wearing as far as professional attire. And that goes from politicians to small business owners. I first wanted to comment, Robin, on the statement you were saying about a lawyer never, you know, wanting to look like she was worth your time.

  • 12:51:47

    BRENDANOne thing that I tell all of my clients -- and it seems to kind of be consistent -- is that bankers want to look like they are frugal with your money and that they are not broke in the same sense, whereas lawyers want to look like they never lose. They have a kind of a swagger about them. And then politicians, I think, the most important part for them is that you don't want to notice their clothing. It needs...

  • 12:52:13

    GIVHANYeah.

  • 12:52:13

    BRENDAN...to be fitted very, very well. It needs to -- you can't pick out anything bad about it. But in the same sense, it doesn't look like it's out of anyone else's league. It just fits them to a T. And I also wanted to comment, too, kind of in defense of D.C.'s fashion. There are a lot of people here who cannot dress, and I feel like they just go to their easiest convenience...

  • 12:52:38

    GIVHANThey need you, Brendan.

  • 12:52:41

    BRENDANYeah. But, I mean, there's a lot of guys who would love to just go to a corner store that's close to them and walk in there, and they buy one suit and get eight free, you know, (unintelligible) promotions and things like that. But there...

  • 12:52:54

    NNAMDIBrendan, care to pass on the name of that store, please?

  • 12:52:58

    BRENDANYeah. No, I won't say that. But then, in the same sense, there's a lot of guys who do realize the importance of what they're wearing and how it affects first impressions and how it affects the way that their business partners and their clients will look at them. And the last thing I wanted to say is that, especially for the men who are out there, who are in a position where they want to dress well, a lot of guys don't know what they need. And they don't know how to look their part.

  • 12:53:25

    BRENDANAnd I just wanted to kind of give some encouragement in the sense there are people like me that you can reach out to who will come and consult you on your wardrobe and get you in good clothing and get you dressed appropriately for what you do and who you're seeing. So I just wanted to make that comment and kind of see what you thought about it, and thank you.

  • 12:53:46

    NNAMDII'm glad you mention yourself as a consultant, Brendan, but I'll let Robin answer first.

  • 12:53:51

    GIVHANWell, you know, I agree with Brendan and his assessment of sort of what different categories of people are looking for. And, certainly, you know, with the politicians not wanting their clothes to be noticed, that is true, no matter how much they're spending on those clothes. And, you know, I had the great fortune of going to one of the beautiful Bespoke London tailors where, you know, it's all custom.

  • 12:54:19

    GIVHANAnd, you know, we were having a conversation, and, lo and behold, you know, I'm looking at the various patterns that they keep on file for their different customers. And there were a few, you know, names that you'd recognize from Congress hanging there. So, you know, these guys are spending $5- or $6,000 on a suit, but it doesn't look like a $5- or $6,000 suit. It just looks like a beautifully well-tailored piece of clothing.

  • 12:54:48

    GIVHANAnd, you know, I've talked a lot about the designer end and about Bespoke and all that, but, you know, I don't necessarily think that -- or at least when I'm looking at people, I'm not expecting people -- or wanting or even advocating that people have to dress expensively or even dress well, however well might be defined. To me, the most interesting question is whether or not you're dressing consciously.

  • 12:55:16

    GIVHANIf you're putting on your clothes with a sense of awareness of how what you have on is going to reflect to people as you go through your day, is what you're wearing respectful of the circumstances for your day, respectful of the people that you'll be meeting during the day -- and I think that's why people will often respond negatively to something that someone's wearing, not because they dislike it or because they think it's, you know, somehow out of season or out of fashion. They respond because they feel that it is, in some way, disrespectful.

  • 12:55:55

    NNAMDIThank you for your call, Brendan. Here's Reginald in Washington, D.C. Reginald, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:56:01

    REGINALDHow you doing?

  • 12:56:02

    NNAMDIDoing well.

  • 12:56:03

    REGINALDI think that the fashion industry is so interesting because you have covered, what, politics...

  • 12:56:10

    GIVHANAll roads lead to fashion.

  • 12:56:12

    REGINALDYou need to write books on this stuff. It's really interesting. But my take on fashion -- I've been in fashion since I've been in high school. I'm 62, and I'm from New York City. I graduated from FIT, and I graduated from the High School of Art and Design. But my take on fashion, especially in the D.C. area, is that D.C. does have a fashion look. They primarily wear dull clothes in order to accent their accessories -- at least, that's what I see.

  • 12:56:43

    REGINALDI work for the federal government, and you can trust me. And these agencies -- you want to see fashion? -- just stand in the halls, and you will see fashion coming through for D.C.

  • 12:56:54

    NNAMDIBut it's an...

  • 12:56:55

    REGINALDI mean, they dress...

  • 12:56:56

    NNAMDIIt's an accessory-emphasized fashion, is what you're saying?

  • 12:57:01

    REGINALDYes. Well, you know, the men in D.C., they're really known for, what, their straw hats in the summer and their bowties.

  • 12:57:09

    GIVHANRight, and the occasional seersucker suit.

  • 12:57:09

    REGINALDNow, bowties are becoming a little more fashionable.

  • 12:57:12

    NNAMDIYes. The occasional seersucker suit is absolutely right. We're running out of time very quickly, but the fashion industry has changed a lot since you started covering it for the Post. How has the business of fashion evolved in the last two decades? I really like your term democratization of fashion.

  • 12:57:28

    GIVHANYeah. That's probably one of the biggest changes. I mean, it used to be that fashion was sort of dictated from on high. And, to some degree, that still happens, but, you know, you used to have to actually really spend a lot of money in order to participate in fashion. And there was really a line of demarcation between the folks who sort of had money and had access to fashion versus those who didn't and sort of really only had access to kind of a mass market, sort of bland, blur kind of blur of clothes, so to speak.

  • 12:58:06

    GIVHANBut, you know, I attribute the democratization in many ways to the rise of younger designers who were really looking for ways to supplement their income to find ways to financially support themselves so that...

  • 12:58:22

    NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Robin Givhan is a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:58:32

    GIVHANMy pleasure.

  • 12:58:33

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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