The Fashion Issue

ISSUE VI | January 2021

Massican Magazine

According to Phaidon’s Fashion and Interiors Editor, William Norwich, the most important part of Phaidon’s fashion publishing is selecting designers who are making significant, career-defining and career-enduring contributions to their discipline. Join us as we celebrate five of these creators.

A Q&A with Phaidon’s Fashion and Interiors Editor William Norwich

Tell us a little about your backstory, how did you end up at Phaidon managing the fashion list?

My first job in journalism, when I was also still in graduate school at Columbia University, I have an MFA in fiction writing, was working for the late, great American newspaper fashion writer Eugenia Sheppard. From that experience, I was hired by the New York Daily News, then the New York Post, Vogue magazine, The New York Times next, and then back to Vogue so by 2014, when I got to Phaidon, I’d been writing or editing fashion stories, as well as interiors stories for almost thirty years.

Joining Phaidon wasn’t planned. The publisher, Deb Aaronson, was looking for someone to work on a fashion book. When she reached out, I asked if we might discuss a more permanent arrangement. I knew of several fashion world personalities who wanted to do books. The company had recently been acquired by the Debra and Leon Black family and Phaidon, known for its art, architecture, design and cookery books was ready to expand its fashion and interiors list. I was very lucky; the timing was right for me, and for Phaidon.

What’s the thinking behind Phaidon’s fashion list, how do you choose a subject?

The thinking behind Phaidon’s fashion list is very much in keeping with the spirit of the art list. Who is making significant, career-defining and career-enduring contributions to their discipline? I think our fashion monographs by people including Grace Coddington, Viktor & Rolf, Fabien Baron and, most recently, Sir Paul Smith, a celebration of the British design legend and his one-of-a-kind creativity and Nike: Better is Temporary, another one of our exquisite books – published in late December it charts Nike’s transformation from rebellious upstart to global phenomenon – are examples of our criteria.

What’s the criteria for choosing a fashion star and who are the people you’ve most enjoyed working with?

Every one of the fashion stars we’ve worked with have not disappointed. Grace Coddington, Alexandre Betak, Fabien Baron, Todd Oldham, just to mention a few… their careers are distinguished by discipline, hard-work, enthusiasm, humor, resilience and vision. The best part is to spend time with style and fashion practitioners whose work has communicated so much glamourous enthusiasm and passion. The joy of living and creating images and experiences, using clothing and costume, to create memories and tell stories.

How do you go about putting one of these books together?

When talking to the authors, I liken a Phaidon book to building a house. What do they want it to look like? How many rooms, meaning, how many sections and chapters? What content is going inside the house? Like that. It’s very collaborative, especially at Phaidon. Our authors want to participate. After all, the books will house their treasures.

What was your one (and only, obviously) fashion faux pas that you will never live down?

After fasting for a day, I went to lunch with the late comedienne Joan Rivers at her penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side. We drank wine. I didn’t realize how bombed I was until the next day. On my way home, I stopped at the New York department store Bergdorf Goodman and bought all the over-the-top looks that season by Jean-Paul Gaultier. The look was a sort of Tudor period suiting with gold embroidered stripes. I was able to return most of it when I sobered up, except for one elaborate vest that I stretched out of shape someway. I gave it to my Vogue colleague Gabé Doppelt who was very amused. She draped it over her desk chair where it remained for the rest of her years at Vogue before she went on to a bigger job.

Can you remember your first brush with fashion as a kid and what sort of impression it left on you?

Not to be depressing, but my mother was quite sickly when I was a child. On occasion, she’d order something from a dress shop. Even if she couldn’t wear it out, she could admire it. Like flowers or a painting, or a book, the new dress lifted her spirits. I grew up seeing fashion as an intervention: feeling blue? Wear red.

What are the fashion books in the next season people should look out for?

This spring we are publishing, Own It, by Diane von Furstenberg. DVF, as she’s known, is famous for her great advice. The book is a compendium of her best guidance and anecdotes organized as an alphabet, A to Z.

Do you think that fashion is seen as much less ephemeral now and more a statement of who we are? If so, what do you think has enabled this transformation?

Beginning with Facebook, then Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, people dressed and were able to telegraph their look of the day to a broad audience. Not only was it silly and diverting, it also was a way to message feelings and ideas. By so doing, people became more conscious of what they were wearing and who designed and or manufactured it. Clothing became storytelling.

Phaidon has published magazine-based books with Issues and Fabien Baron, what is the thinking behind this approach?

And most recently, The Best of Nest, it goes back to that earlier idea that a book is like a house. Unlike Vince Aletti the author of Issues, a compendium of the fashion magazines he’s collected over the decades, most people haven’t kept their favorite magazines. These books allow for the pleasure of housing under one roof – inside two covers – as much of the magazines that would otherwise be lost.

Are fashion designers more challenging to work with on the look and feel of their books than other Phaidon authors?

No. They might be easier. Unlike, say, a cook, they have been creating imagery for a long time and have a ready language to articulate how they want something to look.

Finally, what’s the book coming next year that’s given you most pleasure to work on?

I’m really looking forward to DVF’s Own It she is so looking forward to engaging with her fans over it. And I’m also thrilled that Darroch and Michael Putnam’s Flower Color Theory, a follow up to their bestseller Flower Color Guide will also be publish this winter 2021. They too are ready and thrilled to engage with their readers and followers with a new book.

In This Issue