Big Think Interview with Caroline Weber

A conversation with the fashion historian and professor of French Literature at Barnard.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: What is fashion?

Caroline Weber: Well, to talk about the history of fashion, it’s actually helpful to define what fashion is first. Fashion in our modern sense really can be understood most simply as, changing modes of clothing, meaning that there is something that is in fashion and something that is out of fashion. That concept really began in the 12th Century at the Burgundian Court of Philippe Labelle. That was really the first place where, with any remarkability, the nobles who lived at that court started changing their costumes very frequently in order to show off their prestige and their wealth. So women would have different kinds of gems covering their bodices and their gowns, different sorts of head gear, hair styles, make-up. But it was also a way of showcasing their taste and this was related to a rediscovery of Aristotle and conceptions of beauty that Thomas Aquinas reformulated for the Middle Ages. Before that period, for instance, in the classical era in Crete, ancient Greece and in ancient Rome, the basic shapes of the garments that the people wore didn’t change from century to century. So it was really in the 12th Century that the nobles in this very refined and elegant court started trying to distinguish themselves by constantly changing the shapes and silhouettes and styles of their clothing. And that introduced us to what we now know as fashion with these constant cyclical transformations of what we expect to see worn. 

Topic: Women and fashion

Caroline Weber: Women have been pretty much been in the forefront of what we could talk about as costume. For instance, some of the earliest documented costumes in most costumes histories were those that were worn in Crete. That was a civilization that flourished in the 2nd Millennium B.C., and the really notable clothing there was the clothing that women wore. And it’s fascinating; there were all kinds of firsts. So, the women of Crete wore the first skirts, and in fact their skirts were very structured. They wore kind of hoop skirts which we would see later in the courts of Europe in the 16th, 17th, 18th Centuries. They also wore high-heeled shoes for the first time. They loved jewelry. And so all of that kind of flourish and fanciful self-adornment was really much more associated in Crete with women.

In Greece, at least in Republican Greece, there’s a fair amount of equality between the sexes in terms of the simplicity of garb. These very simple draped tunics, very unstructured. And then once Rome becomes the world power under imperial Rome in particular, women again assumed the kind of leading role in being leaders of fashion. The women of Rome, Imperial Rome, exploited all of the easy slave labor that they had around. Every basically middle-class, well-off woman in Imperial Rome had at least four slaves who were trained just to work on her hairstyles. Men would have never gotten away with quite that much excess in their appearance. You had some emperors and some public figures who were very, very flamboyant, but generally the fancier styles, color in dress, colored fabrics, gems again, very intricate hair styles, these were all the domain of women. And then in the Middle Ages, there starts to be slightly more equality, but that doesn’t mean that men are leaders in fashion. Phiiippe Labelle and then later rulers in the Renaissance and in the 17th Century, men like Louis XIV for instance in the 17th Century in France, loved fashion, loved style, loved to be covered in jewels and wearing incredible silks. Louis XIV was tremendously proud of his hair, so he forbade other men from wearing wigs at court so that everybody had to have their natural hair because his always looked better than everyone else’s. So, you have a few great historical examples of men being the peacocks in fashion, but women have always all along, throughout at least from Medieval Europe to the modern day, women have always assumed an important role in the development of western costume in terms of what was stylish and what was fashionable.

Topic: Marie Antoinette

Caroline Weber: Recently I published this book called, "Queen of Fashion, What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution" and it was basically a biography of Marie Antoinette and a history of 18th Century France seen through the lens of Marie Antoinette clothing choices. Revolutionary clothing studies doesn’t really exist in the universities in which I taught, but I became really interested in it when I was working on my first book which was on the “Reign of Terror.” I started noticing in a lot of the political speeches and political pamphlets and newspapers that were published in 1793, 1794, the Reign of Terror, which was the really radical phase of the French Revolution. But of course, there was all this discourse against luxury. Luxury was associated with the aristocratic class. It was associated especially with Marie Antoinette, this frivolous, beautifully bedecked figurehead at the apex of a society that the Revolutionaries were trying to destroy. I noticed that there was a lot of discussion in these political pamphlets, not just luxury as a political problem generally, but of Marie Antoinette’s own person style as a political problem specifically. And I started coming across very serious statesmen, kind of the equivalent of a Barack Obama today. But somebody like Robespierre, the head of this new state. Though I would say the similarities are pretty limited otherwise between Barack and Robespierre. But, somebody like Robespierre who had no time for frivolity would nevertheless be able to identify very specifically aspects of Marie Antoinette’s clothing choices. Kind of as if somebody like a Barack Obama were to condemn another political figure for wearing last season’s platform Prada shoes with the sculpted tulip heel. The language was that specific that Robespierre and the other political leaders were using to talk about the queen’s styles.

And all the terms were very obscure to me at the time because these are styles that don’t exist anymore. So people would complain viciously about Marie Antoinette’s “harpy hair dress,” or about her pouf a la contre-Revolution, the counter-revolutionary pouf, and what the hell were those things? So, I went back to the costume histories of that time. I went back to the fashion magazines of the time. In fact, the modern fashion magazine was pretty much born to keep track of Marie Antoinette’s ever-changing style to decode what these fashion choices were and what their political meanings might have been in the age of revolution. And what I found out was that Marie Antoinette had spent her entire life essentially stirring up controversy and making political statements through her clothing choices. When she first got to France, when she was only 15-years-old, and she was married off to the future king, the future Louis XVI, she was a Viennese princess, had never set foot on French soil, and she caused all kinds of commotion in the court of Versailles by refusing to wear a corset, she was young, she was skinny, she had a great figure. The court ball gown was this very structured thing with a tight waist and a huge inflated hoped skirt and low cut with lots of lace. She didn’t need a corset to fit into it. But what she quickly was told by alarmed people in very high positions, like the Austrian Ambassador to France, and like the King himself, the corset was a sign of prestige at the Court of Versailles. In fact, the more powerful you were within the court hierarchy, the bigger, and badder, and tighter your corset had to be. So, Marie Antoinette was not only expected to wear a corset, but she was expected to wear the most constrictive one of them all.

Only princesses of the blood and royals were allowed to wear it. It was so painful and restraining that people fainted in it all the time. Marie Antoinette’s best friend was a Princess of the Blood named, the Princess De Lambelle and she was famous for fainting every time someone told a funny story because she didn’t get enough oxygen to laugh. So Marie Antoinette was told at a certain moment within her first year at Versailles, you have to keep wearing the corset, this is a problem of which all of France is complaining. And so she learned very young, very soon in her time in France that all of France was looking at her clothing choices. And she went from that being something of which she became sort of a victim where she was constantly getting yelled at for these sort of breaches of sartorial etiquette to something that she used to try to express herself and make bids for authority and power at a time when she was, in fact, a very unpopular princess, and a very unpopular queen. And this long precedes the idea of, “Let them eat cake.” Marie Antoinette was unpopular before she ever showed up in France because she was Austrian. And the French did not want an Austrian woman on the throne. Austria had been an enemy of France for centuries before this arranged marriage that was designed to establish a new peace between the two countries. So, nobody wanted her at court even her own husband, who was supposed to get her pregnant so that they could have these children and shore up the Bourbon Dynasty. Her own husband hated Austrians and had been taught that Austrians were the source of all evil in the world, that they had poisoned both of his parents which wasn’t true. His parents had died of small pox, or tuberculosis, or something like that. But he had been taught that Austrians were murderers who killed his parents.

So, nobody wanted her around. Her husband didn’t sleep with her for the first seven years of their marriage. And she was in this position where because everybody wanted her gone, because she wasn’t even carrying a royal heir that could help her justify her presence at court, she decided to use clothing to establish a façade of authority where she didn’t have any. One of the most interesting things she did while she was still a teenager was she started wearing men’s riding clothes and riding astride, which was exceedingly uncommon at the Court of Versailles. Everything at the Court of Versailles was ritualized, everything was prescribed, and women rode sidesaddle in these very beautiful, flowing skirts, and very feminine outfits. Marie Antoinette dressed like a man to ride. If you look at a contemporary portrait from that era that she had painted of herself and she had copies sent to the courts all over Europe, where everybody was gossiping that she was going to get thrown out of Versailles and sent back to Vienna in disgrace, she looks exactly like Louis XIV posing astride his horse. So, she seemed to be reinventing herself as a powerful king. And this imagery was especially powerful and interesting because Marie Antoinette herself was related to Louis XIV, the greatest king that modern France had every known. So, she seemed to be posturing in a way to say, “Don’t mess with me I have every right to be in this august position.” And really, for the rest of her life she used clothing in that way to provoke the public, to assert power that she either had or wanted to make people believe that she had. And that what was really so interesting for me about her story was that her clothing was much more than just a hobby that a frivolous, not particular intelligent woman spent a log of time busying herself with because she didn’t have anything better to do. People often compare Marie Antoinette to Princess Diana for that reason, but what I tried to show in Queen of Fashion was that Marie Antoinette had very strong political reasons for and Marie Antoinette faced very strong political repercussions for the kinds of costuming selections that she made.

Question: What’s the relationship between fashion and fate today?

Caroline Weber: This idea of the relationship between our fashion and our fate is a really interesting one and I do think that it still has some applications today. During the last Presidential election, I had to write an article for the Financial Times about the clothing that was worn by each of the potential First Wives, Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama. And it was really interesting, if you thought about their clothing again as saying something more about them then just, oh, they happen to like blue, or they happen to like jewelry, you could really deduce some political message from what they were wearing. Cindy McCain famously wore and outfit that cost, I think, over $300,000 to one of the National Republican Convention appearances. She used only the favorite Presidential Couturier Oscar De La Renta. She wore very conservative, very sumptuous clothing. And the message seemed to be more of the same. I am a traditional first wife in the long lineage of, for instance, Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan. I’m not afraid to spend a ton of money to look great and to look feminine, but in this very conservative, traditional way. 

Michelle Obama famously went after all of these young designers, many of whom outside of people who shop at Barney’s had really ever heard of. We know now that she wound up choosing a 21-year-old designer, Jason Wu to design her Inaugural Ball gown and that was a very consistent choice for Michelle Obama with this idea of using young, undiscovered, small American businesses to send a different message which was, “We’re going to help small business.” We’re going to help the little guy.” She wore costume jewelry at almost every public appearance she made, and a lot of it was very beautiful, and some of it was surprisingly expensive when people looked into it. Some of these things by Erickson Beamon, and Tom Binz are very pricy if you try to go and buy them. But the message was different, it was: “I’m the kind of First Lady who is willing to wear paste. I don’t need to a have a gazillion diamond or pearl necklace to make an impression on the American people, or to transmit an image that is attractive, that’s palatable to the media.” It was a very different, very modern kind of self-fashioning that Michelle Obama did.

So, I do think that we are in an era where our clothing is still open to interpretation and we might even say, more than ever because we are in an era now where our public figures are photographed 24/7, they’re televised 24/7, they’re on the web 24/7, and because of this blogosphere, there is this whole culture where everybody is a critic. So, when I was researching my work on Michelle Obama’s fashion choices before the Presidential election, I was shocked at how many blogs had things to say about her clothing. And in that sense we could say that our clothing and our fate are more intricately intertwined than ever. I would say the flip side or the limitation to that argument is that we do live, in America and in Western Europe at least, we live in a democracy where there is fairly radical freedom of dress. And that simply wasn’t’ the case before the French Revolution. For instance, in 18th Century France, there were still very rigid guidelines for who, from what class was allowed to wear what. So, for instance if you were a commoner slaving away in a field somewhere, you would never be seen wearing a frock coat, for instance, or a powdered wig, or silk breeches, or hoped skirt, or a crown. Those were things that simply weren’t available to you economically or even really semi-legally. These things called sumptuary laws that restricted what people could wear and who was allowed to wear how much of what luxurious item, were very much in place in a lot of European countries and even when they weren’t in place. 

Question: Who is the Marie Antoinette of our time? 

Caroline Weber: People ask me a lot who the Marie Antoinette of our time is. And my answer sort of changes depending on my mood. The serious answer is that there can’t be a Marie Antoinette of our time for some of the reasons that I discussed, which is to say that the choices Marie Antoinette made about the way she presented herself physically and sartorially had massive political consequences. When Marie Antoinette introduced, for instance, the three-foot high teetering hair style known as the pouf that she loved and you could have little miniature farms installed in it, or a fully rigged battleship in it, or all kinds of things. She loved this style. It was heavily powdered. Flour was one of the ingredients of this powder. And so her head dresses were seen by a wide population, those who knew about them from fashion engravings and newspapers, they were seen by a wide swath of the population as literally taking flour and bread from starving people’s mouths.

At a certain moment in the 1770’s a riot called the Flour Wars erupted in France and I think 4,000 people stormed the gates of Versailles saying we know that the queen is hording all of the flour there. And it wasn’t true, but you had a kind of a massive politicization of dress in Marie Antoinette’s time. And Marie Antoinette played into it, she provoked it, she ultimately made matters worse for herself. I am convinced there had never really been an execution of an European Queen until Marie Antoinette came along. And I am convinced that she would have gotten a lot more lenient treatment if she hadn’t been so provocative and controversial and political with her clothing in ways that really offended her public. We don’t have anybody like that nowadays because, again, the political context is very different. But I think that we could look at a figure like for instance, Madonna. Somebody who succeeds in capturing the world’s attention time, and time again by refashioning her body, by changing her hair styles, by changing her appearance, by changing her identity through clothes. This is how she sells records and we all know that Madonna has relatively little talent. I think it was the shoemaker, Manolo Blanic, said that he was shocked that somebody with as little of the singing voice as she has good sound harsh and enormous star, and stay such an enormous star. And I think that's a testament to her genius as a chameleon. And this is been talked about by a million people before me, but I link her to Marie Antoinette because Marie Antoinette similarly was able to manipulate the public and stay in the public eye by changing her costume and this really flamboyant way, and doing it constantly.

So I think that Madonna is probably the best example. And then I think other examples are the wives of heads of state. So somebody like Carla Bruni or someone like Michelle Obama can send a certain kind of message about the sort of man she is married to, about the sort of country she comes from by what she chooses to wear in her public appearances. Carla Bruni has done this beautifully. I know a lot of French people who were very alarmed with the idea of this kind of risqué, rock star, Italian wild child becoming the first lady of France. But if you look at her public appearances she is always impeccable, she is always dressed in French designers in the most conservative possible French designs and very subtle, very somber colors, and she looks great. So she projects an image of France as elegance, chic, tastefulness, tasteful luxury, but nothing that can be offensive or alarming to the other members of the European Union.

Michelle Obama I think sometimes maybe goes too far with some of her choices of experimental fashions. Again I applaud her, relatively unknown designers like Rodarte, like Bacoon, like Jason Wu at some of those styles are sometimes a little bit surprising on her body type because she has such a large body type and a lot of goes clothing designs are really made for much thinner, more model-esque people. So I sometimes think that Michelle Obama strikes a false note with what she wears just because your choices are always appropriate to her body but I also think she does in a cave and find the warmth and accessibility and she tells us on late night TV how she likes to wear J. Crew, or she buys this hundred and $150 house from White House Black market and those messages are kind of nice messages to send on behalf of a Democratic presidential administration, egalitarian, approachable, accessible. And so Michelle, can convey those images thoughtfully through her clothes.

Question: How will this age of fashion be remembered?

Caroline Weber: It is always hard – the great philosopher of history, Hagel, used to say that, “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.” Meaning, we an only be aware of history after it has happened and we look back on it. And for that reason it is a little bit hard for me to predict what will be seen by future generations as the most significant clothing choice we are making during this particular era. But for me, what stands out are two things. The first thing is the real power and dominance now of fashion as a big business. I mentioned earlier it’s a $300 billion industry and in order to feed the beast of fashion magazines, fashion websites, advertising, fashion TV shows, and make over TV shows, and all of the celebrity magazines, and what are they wearing, and In Style. In order to feed that whole industry, fashion has to change more rapidly than ever before. We’ve seen the introduction of resort collections in between the regular fall/winter, spring/summer collections for designers for couture for ready-to-wear. But now we’ve seen interim, interim collections. Designers are now under pressure constantly to be creating new things. And what’s that resulted in I think aesthetically that will be very obvious to people looking back at this period is an insane mash up of different period styles.

Right now we are in kind of an 80’s moment with more inflated shoulders with a lot of leggings with over-sized sweatshirts. A lot of things that I am horrified to see coming back because I am actually for once old enough to remember having worn them the first time around in high school. So, we’re seeing the 80’s come back, but we’re seeing the 80’s come back layered on top of 1950’s and early 1960’s Mad Men kind of crinolined prom-type dresses. And we’re seeing it on top of 1970’s fringed suede boots and all of this stuff is coming together because of the fact that fashion has to keep providing and there is only a limited numbers of patterns and styles for fashion to keep going back to and recycling over and over again.

A friend of mine, the Vanity Fair Fashion Contributor, Amy Fine Collins, once said to me that those designers who don’t understand history are condemned to repeat it. And I think now we’re living in a moment when fashion designers don’t have time to understand or to think about the history of what they’re doing. They throw in some 80’s because they just did the 70’s a few weeks ago, and the 60’s are coming back tomorrow because the 80’s are about to be over and we need to keep selling more clothes. So I think that’s one aspect that we’ll notice when we look back on this period. And I think the second thing that we’ll notice when we look back on this period that really represents a see-change in fashion, and something significant about our era is this move from what they often call class to mass which is to say that people who don’t every have a remote chance of showing up at a couture fashion show in Paris are interested in fashion, in larger number than ever before. They know sophisticated brand names; have very sophisticated taste, a very sophisticated eye often. And so a lot of these mass stores like, most famously H&M and Target, recruit these big name elite designers to design mass collections for much less money, made out of much less luxurious materials, sometimes with regrettable effects, sometimes with fantastic effects. But what you see as a result of that is a big business booming around trying to provide higher fashion to a lower common denominator. And then a wider dissemination of what we would have, even a few years ago call high style, among a kind of so-called lower demographic, if you look at them purely in terms of income. So I think that’s something very interesting and very hopeful that’s happening right now is fashion is becoming more and more democratic by the day and that again is something that I think is very specific to our era and something that we will be remembered for later.

Question: How do French and American women approach style differently?

Caroline Weber: I can only really speak best to a distinction between American women and French women because I’ve lived in France a lot and that’s the world I am immersed in when I’m not living here in New York. And a lot of these differences will sound cliché, but I think they really hold true. The first and biggest difference that my French friends always point out to me is that French women shop less and better than American women. French women will buy something that's very high quality, one very nice little tailored black jacket, one very elegant little pair of ballerina flats. And an American, and I include myself unfortunately in this category, I like a nice tailored jacket and I like the beautiful little ballerina flats but I'll also pop into H&M and eight t-shirts in different colors just because they’re there and I can and they’re cheap and it might be fun to introduce them into my wardrobe someday. French women as a result have closets that are a lot less cluttered generally than their American counterparts.

French women also repeat what they wear a lot more. A French woman would much rather be seen in the same little black dress or the same little tailored blue jacket or the same pair of shoes over and over again and have that be her uniform and know that she looks great and that it’s perfectly fitted to her body, and that it’s the highest quality. I think there is an American mentality of reckless consumerism, which is – and I remember the first year I was a Professor I was guilty of this. My first year as a Professor, it was 1998 and I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and I decided that I would never wear the same outfit to class twice. In part because I was paranoid that my students would notice and that it would become distracting, but in fact, the opposite was true and my student wrote comments about favorite outfits, favorite pairs of shoes on my teacher evaluations at the end of term. And that was a little embarrassing, but what that showed was a very American approach which is that more is always better. That different is always better.

I think a second difference that again is stereotyped, but I have found it to be true between American and French women is that French women will spend much more money on what they’re wearing underneath their clothes than on their clothes themselves. And French friends spend so much money on beautiful lingerie. Whenever I am in Paris I try to splurge and buy one of two pieces, but my mentality is always, ‘well, nobody, or maybe one person is going to see it besides me if I’m lucky.’ And otherwise I would like to be seen by as many people as possible in my very chic outerwear, but French women have that real cult of sensuality, that real cult of seduction that’s very much in their blood I think, and that translate into a much bigger lingerie industry, or much bigger lingerie sales over there. It means that, if you are in Paris, for instance, and your luggage is lost and you think, ‘Oh, I’ll just go into some kind of K-mart-esque department store to buy cheap cotton underwear, even a pair of cheap cotton underwear is like $50 in the Paris equivalent of K-Mart because everything that you put on as an undergarment is viewed as worthy and is viewed as a kind of special luxury. So, you can’t have cheap underwear, ratty underwear, cheap old bras, that doesn’t really exist.

And then I would say the third thing, and this is where maybe I am more in favor of the American aspect of things than the French aspect of things is I've noticed at least then there is a much stronger culture of conformity in France than there is in America at the level of female dress. Most of the American women that I know are willing to experiment to a greater or lesser degree and are willing to wear something a little wacky or are willing to wear bright red shoes, or a hot pink sweater. In France it is very, very, very still implicitly codified, I mean kind of like a Court of Versailles. I remember one day I had bought this beautiful hot pink Louis Vuitton cape at a second-hand store somewhere in Paris and I had to ride the Metro to get back to my apartment on the Left Bank. And I was proudly wearing my – I had thrown it on because it was heavy in the bag, and I was wearing this beautiful hot pink cape from the 60’s, and I got on the Metro and within five minutes I was incredibly uncomfortable because every other woman on the train was wearing either a navy blue, a tan, or a dark green quilted barn jacket. They were all wearing the barn jacket. And they all looked great, and they all had the little Hermes scarf, or Hermes equivalent scarp tied around their necks, and they all had the neat little skirt. But it was astonishing both how homogenous the rest of the crowd was and how much was a sore thumb I stuck out at that moment.

So, in that sense, I am more comfortable in America because there is a lot more room for innovation and experimentation here than there is in France where it really is a culture of conformity and judgment and you really are a freak if you’re not falling into line with what everybody else is wearing at a particular moment. 

Question: Who ultimately sets fashion trends?

Caroline Weber: I kind of hope that we are about to pass out of the phase in which celebrities are the ultimate trendsetters. But I think for at least since the beginning of this millennium that’s been the case. That movie stars, actresses, some very famous singers, like Madonna, have really been the ones to set the trends just for the simple reason that they’ve been photographed the most. So, as we all know, the represent free advertising for the designers. Designers will fall over themselves to get an actress, to beg an actress to wear his dress on the red carpet. Jewelers do the same thing. And those are the pictures that all of us consume. Those are the pictures the designers rely upon for their advertising; those are the picture magazines rely upon for their content. So, everywhere you turn you have celebrities as this sort of faces and bodies of fashion. 

What’s sad about that is I think the obvious fact that almost all of these celebrities are styled within an inch of their life. They all have teams of advisors helping them to decide what to wear. We’ve had the rise in this millennium of the celebrity stylist, Rachel Zoë, being the best example. And so I think what we’ve lost is any kind of organic or spontaneous trendsetting by these women. Again, I am old enough to remember when Demi Moore, sometime in the late 80’s wore a pair of Lycra bike shorts to the Oscars under some weird kind of ball gown that she had designed herself. But in retrospect, at the time I thought it was horrible, but in retrospect it’s kind of great because she was actually trying to do something original. And I think that really gets us to a distinction that should be made between fashion and style. That style is a personal sensibility. I think it can be, of course, informed by one’s cultural and historical time and place, but it has a very personal element to it. How a person chooses to throw things together. Fashion again, is dictated by an industry which needs to have a certain number of changes happening all the time.

So, it’s not necessarily stylish to wear everything head-to-toe from this moments Prada, but it’s incredibly fashionable. It can be stylish to wear something from ten years ago from Prada and something from Yves St. Laurent from today and something vintage and throw all that together in an interesting way. I don’t think we see so much of that in an era when celebrities are under pressure to wear whatever is newest and best and hottest and most important for designers to sell nowadays. And so I think we are really missing stylish trendsetters in our current culture. And I think that the only solution to that or the silver lining there is again the democracy of the web and the fact that you have these people who have style blogs, and clothing blogs who post pictures of themselves looking really interesting and fabulous and wearing things that you’ve never heard of before. Or that one site that I love, the Sartorialist that just takes pictures of people on the street wearing interesting combinations of clothes. And it’s not about “Cameron Diaz models the latest Yves St. Laurent handbag, Celine top, and leather pants from Rick Owens.” It’s much more interesting and much quirkier and much more idiosyncratic and I think that’s where the trendsetters I would like to see are living and working, but that’s still I think a smaller and less powerful demographic than celebrities with this whole apparatus of the fashion industry and the magazine industry behind them.

Topic: The future of Fashion Week

Caroline Weber: I think Fashion Week definitely has to change. For two reasons. First is the fact that, indeed there is such a huge time lag between when the clothes are shown and when they hit the stores. And you constantly hear complaints quoted in the press, for instance, from retailers saying everybody saw pictures on Style.com the day after the Marc Jacobs show. Everybody that came into my store are demanding this coat and I won’t be getting it for another three or four months, or another six months. So, I think that given that fashion is such an enormous business and given that the economic stakes are so high that time lag has to be addressed and Fashion Week can no longer function in that way. For that reason definitely. The second reason I think indicates that Fashion Week has to change is something really interesting that Alexander McQueen did at the Paris Fashion Week a few weeks ago which is that he set up his runway almost as if it were a computer website and he announced so it kind of looks like each model was emerging from this pixilated screen and her image went back into infinity into this computer and he announced that his idea would be that ultimately people would be able to order the clothing online while they are watching the fashion show. And this is a function of a sort of a genius application of modern technology at its best and really eliminating the time lag, eliminating the wait, enhancing his own chances of selling more clothes. And we all know how impulse purchases work. You see it, you fall in love with it, and if you could just hit a click you’d make a lot of purchase that you might feel guilty about later. But I think that that will be the wave of the future. I think there’s no reason for designers not to do that. If the technology is there, which it seems to be, then economically it would only make sense for designers to want people to be able to buy things immediately and as copiously as possible. So I think in that sense too Fashion Week will maybe become much more interactive which I think will be very exciting.

Question: What keeps you up at night?

Caroline Weber: I have friends I admire, scholars I admire, writers I admire who are so prolific who do a book a year or a book every other year. My friend Simon Schama, who I revere, who seems to do a book every other year and also all of these amazing cerebral television shows. I am so impressed by that quantity and quality of that output and I feel if I don’t go to bed worrying about how much more output I can generate the next day, or the next week, or the next month, I might fall by the wayside and become completely useless. So, that’s what really keeps me up the most.

Question: With whom would you like to have dinner?

Caroline Weber: Oh gosh. Oh wow. If I had to go to dinner with just one person in all of history, that’s so hard. But I think I would want to go to dinner with Jesus Christ just to ask how much of it was true. I’m constantly getting into arguments with my New Age friends about to what extent is Christ a metaphor for boundless love and forgiveness and to what extent these miracles really happened. Other friends of mine, Jewish friends of mine like to say that all of the wisdom of Christ already existed in other prophets and messiahs. So I would love to get clearer picture on a foundational aspect of world religion by talking to Jesus a little bit more. I think that would have to be my choice. 

Question: Who are you wearing?

Caroline Weber: Oh, who am I wearing? Today, I am wearing Marc Jacobs from his current collection and – for Marc by Marc Jacobs in fact, which is his bridge collection. And I wore it because of the slightly puffy, semi-80’s shoulders, which I thought I should do as a tribute to what’s happening right now and will probably be over by the time this thing is broadcast on the web. And this necklace is from my favorite fashion website, Net-a-Porter, but I don’t remember the name of the person who made it. And I think my coat is Alexander McQueen.

Recorded on October 13, 2009