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Fashion Editor for Marie Claire and Fashion Director for Rent the Runway, Lucy Sykes has honed her eye and her values working over twenty years in the fashion industry.  In addition to designing a children’s clothing line, Lucy Sykes New York - sold in over 100 stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Nordstrom, Lucy Sykes has seen it all - including the dramatic shift technology and millennial ambition is having on the future of fashion.  With a passion to preserve the wisdom passed from industry greats such as Grace Coddington, Paul Cavaco, Patrick Demarchelier, and Peter Lindbergh while also embracing the disruption of technological innovation, Lucy Sykes and her co-author Jo Piazza illustrate what industries and generations can learn from each other in her fabulously hilarious debut novel, The KnockOff.  Find out the future of fashion-tech, challenges for creating sustainable fashion, and how you can be smart as a fashion designer, director, and editor. 

Learn more about Lucy Sykes and purchase your copy of The KnockOff here!

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There is no red carpet anymore.  Everyone can be in fashion.  I  find that very American, very inclusive, and very inspiring.

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Commerce + Couture

In what ways should fashion be accessible versus aspirational in editorial?

Fashion has always been accessible and aspirational.  The two go hand in hand.  As an editor for over twenty years, the way I look at it (and always have looked at it) is that a beautiful white T-shirt under a Chanel jacket or with the most incredible jeans is aspirational.  That T-shirt might have only cost $10 from Zara, but if it’s just the right fit, it will look fantastic even though it’s a just a white T-shirt.  And obviously, an Alexander McQueen gown for $10,000 is also aspirational.

For me personally, I never wanted to buy the copy at Zara or H&M.  If I want to buy a fabulous pair of shoes that are fun and I don’t care if they’re going to break in two days, then yes, I will go to Zara and buy that.  I’ve always worn a mix of high and low.  I don’t think that’s different now than it was 10, 20, or 50 years ago in the fashion industry.  There will always be that mix and that’s what makes fashion modern, fresh, and new.

How do you balance fashion and beauty between art and commerce?

We have an interesting dilemma right now where art and commerce sit well together and sometimes they don’t sit well together.  From selling fashion off the runway, we still don’t know the answer.  I would like to say it’s going to hurt the designers eventually because Chanel is never going to be able to design the most incredible skirt in two weeks.  It takes the embroiderer.  It takes the pattern cutter.  It takes a team two months to make this skirt from Karl Lagerfeld.

But, I believe it will sort itself out, and some things will be ‘buy now’ and other things won’t be ‘buy now.’  Reading what the designers are doing this season, they’re creating capsule collections, like Stacey Bendet from Alice + Olivia where some pieces are ‘buy now’ and the rest of the show is for the buyers, editors, and a few social media.  It’s still a gray area, but definitely watch this space!

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Fashion has always been accessible and aspirational.

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How do you maintain integrity and quality with the pervasion of fashion-tech?

There’s been a war between tech, fashion-tech, and old-school fashion over the last five or six years.  Even Anna Wintour talks about it as the wild, wild, West.  We don’t really know what’s going to evolve yet.  We do know that some sites like Net-a-Porter are blowing everyone out of the water and doing incredibly well and the Hearsts, Conde Nasts, Yahoos, and Amazons are all trying to get a bit of that.

Magazines are going towards selling online where you can even put your phone over a  Vogue magazine and buy that skirt.  I’m not 100% sure I believe it, but editors believe online fashion is where it’s all going, like Net-a-Porter.  That’s what everyone, every magazine (including Vogue, Marie Claire, all of them), that’s what they want.

What is the future for high-quality, affordable, and sustainable fashion?

High-quality, sustainable fashion is a very hard concept.  Many people have tried to do it.  Some people are doing it well, however, most of the designers doing it well such as Stella McCartney or Chloe, are high-level designers and their items cost a lot of money.

Young people who want to embrace this movement are finding it hard, because you can’t shop this at Zara.  You can’t create a private line in New York because of how much it would cost just to make one skirt that’s not sent to a factory, let alone Italy or China.  New York is one of the most expensive places to actually make a skirt.  If the fashion is made by someone really famous, you might invest in it, but if it’s a little designer you’ve never heard of, you’ll wait to invest in it.  We’ll have to see what happens to the future of sustainable fashion.

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Young people who want to embrace sustainable fashion are finding it hard, because you can’t shop this at Zara.

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What are the ways technology helps and hinders the future of fashion?

As an old-school editor, I actually think technology has broken through and it’s the most incredible thing to happen to fashion.  There is no red carpet anymore.  Everyone can be in fashion.  It’s accessible to all.  I  find that very American, very inclusive, and very inspiring.

But, we still have to remember the values of fashion.  Because we didn’t write down what Grace Coddington told us when we were 21 years old styling shoes, we need to pass on the unspoken rules of fashion to the next generation.  There are things you only learn by being on the shoot and knowing how to steam, for example.  (I’ve been on many shoots where the assistants didn’t even know how to steam.)  If I couldn’t steam for one of my shoots at Harper’s Bazaar or Allure, I would have had shoes thrown at me and I would have been okay with that.

The dedication and attention to detail is what I learned from working with the greats like Paul Cavaco, Patrick Demarchelier, and Peter Lindbergh.  It was all about the details.  It was about getting there on time and not sitting around at lunch for hours.  It was knowing your place.

But what’s more important than anything is if they like you.  I would much rather work with someone I liked than someone who was the best stylist, but also a bitch.  If someone was good and had potential, if they looked after me and had my back, then that’s who I wanted to work with.

My career happened because I didn’t think I was good.  I had to work on my character and love getting cups of coffee or tea.  I had to love picking up the dry cleaning and going to the pharmacy.  I embraced the little things and I actually enjoyed them.  You have to do that and show you’ve got your editor’s back, because if you’re going to work for a real fashion stylist - all of their energy is on the picture.  Your job is to take away the clutter, take away the noise, so they can focus.  So, be nice, be organized, don’t sit around and have lunch for hours, and learn to steam.

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Everything you look at, every picture you take is just getting you one step closer to being better at what you love.

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Design + Direction

What were your biggest lessons learned as a designer and entrepreneur?

It was very interesting going from editor to designer with the responsibility of running a business and making money.  I was very lucky that I had a lot of contacts and press contacts.  It was a children’s brand and I was in 100 stores such as Saks, Bergdorf’s, Harvey Nichols, Harrods, you name it.  And I still was not making money.

For me, it wasn’t challenging or creative enough to not be making any money.  So, I sold my business, which was the best thing to do.  I still see the clothes in stores and I’m thrilled with that.  It was a great experience, but to run a business, you’ve got to really, really understand how long it can take to make money - especially in fashion.

What was your biggest writing challenge as co-author of The Knockoff?

I was really lucky that I worked with a co-writer who was a journalist.  Not coming from a writer’s background, but a fashion editor’s background, I had always told stories in clothes and situations such as flying to Paris and shooting Belle de Jour or whatever the movie inspiration was.

I was lucky to have a journalist who actually understood what I was talking about and was generous enough to critique me nicely and keep the project moving.  I found someone who was on the same page as me and who knew a lot about tech, while I knew a lot about fashion.  It was a happy marriage and worked very well for that particular book.

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We need to pass on the unspoken rules of fashion to the next generation.

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What can young women and experienced professionals learn from each other?

There is so much to be learned from old-timers like me and young women who are coming into fashion and technology.  I have friends who are older than me and younger than me.  One of my best friends in New York is 80.  It’s important to take ageism and throw it out of the window.  If you connect with someone, you connect with them.  You share your stories, give advice, and vice-versa.  

You shouldn’t become a mentor just because you’re this age and that person is that age. That’s not really going to work.  Forget about age.  Ageism really is irrelevant.  I wish everyone would stop talking about age and just get on with it.

What is your greatest personal and professional ambition for your next life chapter?

I haven’t really figured out my next chapter, but what I do know is that I want to know and express my values.  My values in work and my values in my personal life are pretty much the same.  If you have a value - stick to it - because that value will be your friend and support you.

It’s about having a strong center and core because there’s a lot out there that will challenge you.  Fashion is very tough and quick.  It’s moving faster than it used to.  It used to change every few months, now it’s new every month.  It’s moving so quickly that you have very ambitious people working in fashion because it’s hard to just be part of that loop, let alone do the work.

I’ve come up against, which I’m sad to say, women who have not been supportive.  I’m not a ‘Lean In,’ I’m a ‘Lean Out’ for many reasons.  I don’t even understand what any of that is about.  If you’re a mother and you’re lucky enough to choose to look after your children full-time (which I’ve also experienced), it’s a lot harder than being a CEO of any company.  I plan to keep moving and growing and hope to be as honest and true to myself as I can be.  That’s it.

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Dedication and attention to detail is what I learned from working with the greats.

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How can all bloggers and social media mavens be smart as fashion directors?

The more you do, the better you become.  To be a great fashion blogger, your thing is your eye.  Your eye will get better and better over time the more you expose it to exhibits and fashion magazines.  Yes, look at other bloggers online, but go a bit deeper.  Look at Helmut Newton from the 70s and then you’ll realize that’s where Tom Ford and Gucci got inspired.  Go back and keep your eyes open.  That’s going to help you more than anything.

Everything you look at, every picture you take is just getting you one step closer to being better at what you love.  And again, have values.  Maybe there’s a certain picture you won’t take.  Maybe there’s a certain picture you will take.   

Kim Kardashian, weirdly, does have some values now, which is bizarre.  I used to think she was dreadful, but now there are some things I quite like about her.  Her style has massively improved.  Obviously that has a lot to do with Kanye, even though his last show was terrible, he does have an eye.  Try to have a great eye and great heart.  Fashion people can see right through you.  They see who you really, really are, so be as authentic as you can.

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There will always be a mix of high and low and that’s what makes fashion modern, fresh, and new.

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Spotlight on Lucy Sykes

Neighborhood: West Village

Occupation: Ideas Person / Author

 Instagram: @lucysykesrellie

 Women I Admire: Every mother I've ever met, especially my own.  They blow me away with their power. 

 Dream Mentor: Michelle Obama

Look of the Season: Gucci

 Ultimate Accessory: Clare Vivier bag

Favorite Store: Rag & Bone

Go-to Outfit: Workout stuff from Lululemon - tight and dark with no sheer holes in the legs for me.  But, I do go black sheer lace for Sophia Loren party dresses from Alice McCall - it changes every six months!

Must-have Shoes: Hobes

Favorite Nail Polish: 'Vamp' Chanel 

Can't Live Without Product: Clarks Botanicals Ultra rich lip balm

Salon Recommendation: Rouge - Soho (for make up) and MARIE Robertson (for hair). Mark is the color God!

Signature Scent: Chanel 5

Beauty Essential: Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer

Cocktail of Choice: French 75

Best Date: Hamilton and polo bar for dinner after with the hubby 

Travel Destination: Tangiers

Current Craving: Sara Costello Smock dress - it is Perfect!!!

Best Advice: 'Keep Moving' - Imogen Tate, The Knockoff

Favorite Quote: When they go low, we go high.

De-Stress Technique: Hand washing my sweaters with The Laundress washing soap while I listen to PBS on my very old radio!

Latest Gadget: Cappuccino whizzer

On My Playlist: Moulin Rouge

Favorite App: Flybarre

University: Corona Academy (I wanted to act!)

 

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