On the morning of December 5th 2017, Vestoj editor-in-chief and founder Anja Aronowsky Cronberg took the floor of Polimoda’s Rendez-Vous series with one goal: to teach the importance of thinking critically through fashion.
Weighing each word and reply with the passion of a true wordsmith, she led both students and faculty on a journey through time and concept, from the birth of one of fashion’s most impressive content-driven publications to rewiring the relationship between identity and clothes.
After studying the history of design in London, Aronowsky Cronberg landed a jewel-role editing at biannual publication Acne Paper, the publishing branch of Stockholm-based creative collective and fashion label Acne Studios. Here, surrounded by the perks of her position, she began noticing a disturbing tendency in media: the downplay of fashion as a potentially academic and multilayered topic.
“Vestoj was born mainly out of frustration. Partly because I wanted to set my own framework and partly because I could not understand why fashion media could not allow for more critical thinking. Articles seemed to parrot press releases and fashion imagery was so homogenous. I felt like fashion magazines were basically lifestyle magazines and featuring all these articles about the ‘higher arts’ was a way of apologizing for their true nature. I started asking myself: why not write intelligently about fashion? Why isn’t there an alternative to the ‘High-and-Mighty’ attitude that distinguishes publications nowadays? I was under the impression that when it came to fashion as a subject the coverage lacked in depth and credibility. All of these topples into awareness, these nebulous notions started to take shape when I first started working on the concept of Vestoj. The main idea is to take a topic that you might not otherwise associate with fashion and try and think of unexpected connectors, so the reader will hopefully be surprised and see things differently.”
One of Anja’s first steps in putting her world-view onto paper consisted in laying a stable ideal foundation able to withstand compromise in time. She drew up a 10 point Manifesto ranging between theory and practice that is still valid to this day, as The journal of Sartorial Matters is about to hit the 9 year mark.
“I was conscious of the fact that probably all of the magazines I was criticizing had started off with the best intentions. I wanted to make sure to always remember the reasons that got me into this project in the first place as to avoid giving into compromise and set the tone for total transparency. Many have laughed or raised their eyebrows at point 8, which clearly states that advertising is forbidden but this is necessary to safeguard Vestoj’s creative freedom. Fashion magazines are often criticized for being exploited by advertising, for not being independent, but that is because over the past 40 years they have become less and less reliant on the economic support of sales alone. In newspapers it is less obvious, but in fashion publishing there is a vicious circle that is increasingly evident to the sophisticated informed reader. I wanted to come up with an alternative way of producing a magazine and communicating with fashion without making that direct link to consumption.”
Since its inception, Vestoj’s annual issue has explored the manifold aspects of fashion throughout a spectrum of well-thought themes: Material Memories, On Fashion and Magic, Shame, On Fashion and Power, On Slowness, On Faillure and On Masculinities. Anja gave the Polimoda crowd a sneak-peek preview of the cover of the upcoming 2018 edition entitled On Authenticity.
“Sometimes people ask me how I come up with a theme and although I try to have a ready answer I mostly fail. There is no straight line when it comes to choosing a theme but in the case of this issue on authenticity, what got me started was realizing and paying attention to how often brands use this word in their promotional material. They use definitions like handmade, craftsmanship, artisanry – even McDonalds has its own crafted burger! I noticed that in luxury brands these terms seem to work effectively in making people feel comfortable in spending large sums of money. If you cannot point to the explicit selling point value of your production process or on the power of a limited edition then how do you retain the aura of authenticity? It is a form of pervasive marketing rhetoric that perhaps stems from the fact that we feel removed from this quality and want to revive it. I personally do not know if there is one authentic way of being. It is much more important to question the concept rather than rely on an assumption that there is one way of doing something or being that is implicitly more authentic than another”.
Set on bridging the divide between academia and industry, Vestoj took it upon itself to lift the veil of glamorous deceit created by media in order to explore all the aspects and players involved in creating fashion, from dry-cleaners to gender-identity. The publication is supported by an active online presence and live events that go under the name of Vestoj salons; ranging between performances, social experiments and open-hearted storytelling.
“What we see in the headlines and glossies acknowledges only a limited part of a much wider relationship we have with clothes. Those who work in the fashion industry might feel less intimidated by the research academics produce if presented in a more accessible language, while vice-versa scholars would benefit from taking a closer, off-kilter look to the environments and ways of the system. To me the fashion industry doesn’t have ethics and morals baked into the fabric of its being, as it is a beast of capitalism and is about turning profit. I don’t have a business plan but I do think of Vestoj as an ideology, so there is a kind of morality to it. I would like the journal’s mere existence to lead by example, instill new ways of thinking and showing fashion. Sometimes just doing things differently can be enough”.
In pointing out the journal’s strengths, Anja underlined the three main keywords that form the backbone of Vestoj: perseverance, keeping costs in check and critical research. Before leaving the Aula Magna, the Vestoj editor-in-chief doled out useful advice:
When you come up with an idea, before you act on it, question yourself and draw an accurate analysis. Everybody feels like they are filling a gap but are they really? In addition, perseverance is of the utmost importance. Rest assured that in time, doors will open if you really believe in what you’re doing. For me it was important to break the surface and offer a 360° view of fashion: we have to remember that the relationship we have with clothing is deeply linked to nostalgia, relationships and everything that makes us human.