It’s often been said that you don’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.
And Leen Demeester believes that a sound knowledge of fashion’s history tells us a lot about where style is today and where it might be tomorrow.
Demeester, 41, who wrote “Fashion Icons” released in 2012, said: “I always wanted to write a book and fashion was my biggest interest. So the next step, writing ‘Fashion Icons’, was logical,” she said. Her second book, “The Giants of Sportswear”, is on women and sports clothing.
Demeester recently visited Dubai for the Arab Fashion Week, and was on a panel to talk about her book at the Dubai Ladies Club.
She spoke about models on catwalk, how they are no longer wearing size-zero dresses and how multi-ethnic the catwalk has become.
Born and living in Belgium, Demeester obtained a masters degree in English and American Literature after completing BA in Media and Communication.
She, however, chose to follow her passion for fashion. She is now a fashion writer and contributes to many blogs as well as the Amsterdam-based magazine Glamourland.
Demeester spoke to Weekend Review about her books and why she chose to pursue fashion writing. Excerpts:
How and when did you get interested in women’s clothing?
My mother had a true sense of style and knew all the big fashion labels. She was willing to spend a fortune on clothes for me and my sister. I wore a YSL jacket as a child. I liked its colour and cut, and started paying attention to Yves Saint Laurent’s career. And now, I’ve written about him in my book 30 years later. As a journalist in London, I would visit Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, studying the clothes there.
What do you like and dislike in women’s fashion?
I think that the women’s fashion world has evolved in a good way. I tried to push it into a new direction with my book in 2012. I wanted more diversity in the fashion world in terms of ethnicity and body shape. France recently passed a law requiring models to have a minimum BMI (body mass index) as evaluated by a medical practitioner. Earlier, Italy, Spain and Israel took similar steps.
We now have more models who have an Arab background, such as Gigi Hadid (Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid) and Imaan Hammam, on the catwalks of Europe and in leading magazines such as “Vogue”. I think that now is also the time to have designers from all over the world.
Why is it important to know the origin and background of women’s clothing? What difference does it make?
If you know the history of the garments you are wearing, this puts a smile on your face. You know more about fashion and reflect on your clothes and the meaning they have for you and for the world. Learning the history of the corset or the tuxedo was such a great lesson in fashion history for me.
“Fashion Icons” was positively received by the readers. What was the impact your book had on the fashion and design world?
I was the first woman to write a book about fashion and feminism in Belgium. I was no celebrity and still managed to write a book that became an international success. It sold well on the internet. I wrote it in English in order to reach readers all over the world. I wanted to tell the story of Western fashion to Arab, African and Asian women. My book sold well in Dubai, so I decided to visit the city. With my book, I wanted to make the European fashion industry more diverse, and I think I succeeded.
How did you do your research?
I studied English literature at university and had a lot of information about feminism while studying at Ghent University in Belgium. Fashion was my hobby. To combine this with feminism was an easy choice. I also found a lot of information in magazines, on the internet and TV. At home, we had a collection of old fashion magazines such as “Elle” and “Marie Claire”.
Why did you decide to write your second book on women and sports? Why not any other theme, say, party gowns?
“Vogue” already has a great book on dresses, so this was not an option. I always search for new topics, and sportswear is hot right now. “The Giants of Sportswear” (2014) describes the billion-dollar sportswear business. Sportswear evokes our sense of style and comfort. It is now acceptable to wear it for social and business occasions, and it continually influences the trends on the catwalk today. This book brings together the history of popular sports such as athletics, football, sailing and swimming while highlighting the work of designers who have revolutionised and reenergised fashion.
What do you think is missing in women’s fashion?
Women’s fashion world should give new talent more chances and the fashion industry should be more diverse and less an “industry”, more a working field.
With the growing demand for Islamic clothing, will it also be an important element influencing the fashion industry?
Islamic clothing is now being considered acceptable and normal on the streets of Europe. In their latest collection for the Middle East, Dolce & Gabbana incorporated Islamic elements such as the abaya and hijab.
How would you describe the taste of the young generation?
The taste of young generation is so wide and interesting that bloggers and fashion journalists find inspiration on the streets of Paris, London, Milan and New York. The streets today are more important than the catwalk. What people are actually wearing is what matters, not the names the industry wants to make us believe we need to wear.
Do you see a big difference in the tastes of the young and old generations?
No, the generation of the 1960s, of my parents, had a great sense of style and was hip. They gave me that sense of style. When we look at the history of the corset, we see that women such as Queen Elizabeth I and Madame de Pompadour also had a daring taste. Trends have been made throughout history, and what is old today was once new.