Ashley Olsen, Robin Givhan, and Isaac Mizrahi Discuss Celebrity Designers, Runway Diversity, and Michelle Obama

The recession hasn’t killed the fashion industry, but it’s certainly crippled it. Fashion’s brightest future will only come with change, according to Ashley Olsen, Isaac Mizrahi, and Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan, who spoke last night at the 92nd Street Y talk “The Future of Fashion,” moderated by Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive. They touched on everything from the fashion impact of Michelle Obama, celebrity clothing lines, and diversity on the runways. Some highlights:

Cindi Leive: What do you think of celebrities as designers?
Ashley Olsen: A lot of celebrities get involved because they want to slap their name on it and it will add to their brand. And for us, it was totally different. That wasn’t my point. For me, when I look at it as a celebrity brand, it’s almost silly to me, because I’m not coming at it from a celebrity standpoint.
Isaac Mizrahi: I think that to be stylish you have to connect to something and love it. And have a place for it in your closet and think about it and wake up and try it on. I mean, that’s style. After a while a girl who borrows dresses all the time just can’t have style. It’s not a collection, it’s just “hold on, I need to take pictures tonight.” I’m sorry, that’s not it. And I’m not judging people, I like it, it’s fun. You know, but after a while you wonder if these people actually go to a store and buy something at full price.
Robin Givhan: I can’t answer that question because you have no sense that any of them are actually dressing themselves. Their stylists are.

CL: Isaac, you use women of different types in your campaigns, does that work?
IM: It’s hard to say. I do think people are beautiful. Honestly, I’ve actually booked girls [for a fashion show] that weren’t obese, they were real girls. Like gorgeous anatomy. And one was a stripper. And you could feel the energy in the room just go down. Closed the books. Pens went down. They were angry. I could feel the anger. And I never did it again, because I thought Why bother? It takes a lot to rile women. It takes like actual breasts. Someone with implants, they’re fine. Yes, you’re right. Fashion advertisements are hateful. Hateful. Yeah, but they wouldn’t do it unless it worked, right? It works.

CL: Do you see Michelle Obama having an effect on fashion?
RG: She has had impact in that she set an example for a lot of women who are over the age of 30 who felt disenfranchised by the fashion industry. And I think she is perfect example to them that you can incorporate fashion into your lives, and what makes you look good doesn’t necessarily negate your I.Q. And unfortunately, for a lot of people there is the idea that if you show a lot of interest in fashion, particularly in our nation’s capital, that you also can’t keep statistics in your head.
IM: And I will add to that, the First Lady is an actual woman. She doesn’t have a tiny thigh, she doesn’t have a huge thigh, she has a real thigh. That’s a great role model.

CL: Have designers shifted their way of thinking since Michelle Obama or the recession?
RG: After spending three weeks looking at runway shows, I have to say I don’t necessarily think that designers have shifted their thinking. To see Balmain eighties shoulders and rock-and-roll jeans with chain mail in them doesn’t make me think that anything has necessarily shifted because of our First Lady. The fact is that we’re all still clinging to this idealized woman. And as much as they love and rave about Michelle Obama, when it comes down to who is that fantasy woman that they are connecting to, pining for, putting their clothes on for a fashion show, she’s still five ten, and a size 2, and about 21 on a good day.

CL: Who is she on a bad day?
RG: 16.

Ashley Olsen, Robin Givhan, and Isaac Mizrahi Discuss Celebrity Designers, Runway Diversity, and Michelle Obama