It’s always inspirational to start Monday off with an inspiring interview with an industry great. Enter our column – Industry Talk – with fashion designer Derek Lam as its first subject. Lam is a favorite designer of ours; his brand embodies the classics with a touch of both modernism and minimalism. We sat down with Lam to chat about the trajectory of fashion, how the idea of “luxury” has changed, and why commercial magazines are now boring to him…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
Do you see parallels between the world of food and the world of fashion? What are they?
They both are creative pursuits that rely on an audience to react positively, or negatively, to the work we do. There is no cooking or designing without keeping the clients in mind.
Do you cook at home? What do you like to make? Or order in?
In the summer, I prepare food…meaning I throw everything together and hope it makes a meal. I’m really good at soups in that way! Gazpacho is fun to make. But I’m not a chef, I like to just prepare food! I love take out, especially now with the delivery services like Caviar, which can get you a meal from almost every good restaurant in NY. I appreciate variety when it comes to dinner: Thai, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Indian. For lunch and breakfast, I’m fine with eating the same thing again and again.
Where do you personally draw inspiration from on a continuous basis?
I draw inspiration from very commonly known ideals, usually American, whether it is a person, place or era. I like a vernacular inspiration which everybody can understand immediately, but then I try to present it in a new way so we can hopefully appreciate these “ideals” in a new light.
Could you give us an in-depth view of what you see as good content?
I enjoy the erudite laced with humor.
How has fashion changed since you started, and what do you like and hate about how it has changed?
Everything changes in fashion – that’s the definition of fashion. In with the new, out with the old. I appreciate the challenges it presents to work with this in mind. What I hate about change for change’s sake, is that I sometimes am not ready just yet to move on from an idea or concept that I would like to explore further…but the show must go on.
Is there anything in particular that makes you sad or nostalgic about the industry?
I grew up really at the tail end of what is considered the classic era of old-school luxury: the carriage trade, the white gloves, the getting dressed for the sake of dressing well. I’m so glad to have experienced it and do feel nostalgic sometimes. Luxury seems much more transactional today, and less culturally important.
What is one insecurity that you have always had, and how did you overcome it? Where do you draw confidence from?
I am actually quite a shy person; I’m introverted. So this career as a fashion designer, with the expectation of “celebrity,” has never really been a place I am comfortable. I like to believe that my work, from the brand to the products to the communication, speaks for itself. Over time, I think the audience expects that from me, and values my work for what it is; no hype, no trendiness, no celebrity moments. That more people recognize this, and consider my work in this context, has given me confidence because this is what I set out to do, to be a fashion designer in my own way.
What has social media done to or for your business?
It’s difficult to monetize, but it has driven greater attention to the brand for sure. It has created challenges, with so many forms and outlets for social media, but it is also the exciting part of communication. It’s like wrangling a slippery octopus…so many arms everywhere!
What do you think about the state of print magazines right now? How does it affect what you do as a designer?
Commercial magazines look really boring to me. Every issue looks like a desperate monetization of content. I prefer print outlets, like The New Yorker, which seem to put the reader’s curiosity, smarts and interests above trying to just cover a magazine (dwindling) advertiser’s needs first.
What issue do you feel most passionately about right now and why?
I’m really passionate about animal rights. My dog, Roscoe, has given me such a deeper appreciation of human-animal interactions. I think cruelty towards animals is the nadir of humanity.
What would your last meal be and who would it be with?
My partner, Jan, along with Roscoe. We would enjoy a baguette with butter, Ementhal cheese and ham, in Paris.
What restaurants do you like in NYC, Paris, London and Los Angeles?
In NY, Maialino, Union Square Café, Her Name is Han. In LA, Mr. Chow – something about this place is essential to my idea of LA, even though it is a transplant from London/NY. In Paris, Prunier, for the ambiance and design and of course, caviar on a potato; Les Enfants Rouges, for the classic French bistro menu created wholly by a Japanese chef and dining room team, and Chez Georges, for the pickled herring! I’m not so familiar with the dining world in London, but I like the tea service at Claridge’s. Tea time is such a civilizing moment, which I never do anywhere else except in London and in Hong Kong, at the Mandarin Hotel.
Where do you love to travel and what won’t you travel without?
I love traveling to Japan. I can’t travel without an iPad.
What’s your cocktail?
Margarita, not slushy, with salt. The version at Cosme here in NY I chug with great appreciation….
If you could create one quote of the day today, what would it be?
“Don’t forget to pet a dog today”