Last week, Amelia had the pleasure of sitting down with the legendary Simon Doonan on the patio overlooking Oak Street at Fred’s at Barney’s New York. It was like sitting at Disney World with Walt Disney himself. Simon, a window dresser, turned Barney’s Creative Director, turned global fashion icon and ambassador, was in Chicago as part of the book tour for his sixth book, The Asylum: A collage of couture reminiscences…and hysteria. A book that is now being devoured and praised by stylistas and fashion insiders alike, despite the fact that Simon wrote it with the vision of making his late father laugh, without requiring any prior knowledge or understanding of fashion. Without further ado, here is what the insightful, hilarious, irreverent, and brilliant Simon Doonan had to say…
You’ve always been one of my fashion icons, largely because of your ability to make the aspects of fashion that can initially appear intimidating and elitist seem so fun and approachable.
I always thought of fashion being more glam rock punk, something that was inclusive. That was my introduction to it, it wasn’t through designer fashion per say. You’re in the age where the idea of fashion is that of designer fashion which I suppose is intimidating, and then there’s the price. Now you can buy anything, at anytime of day, from anywhere on earth. So it seems to me that it’s radically accessible for people.
What role do you think social media plays in that accessibility today? What is Barney’s take on social media?
Barney’s is very involved in everything. I do Instagram, and we have a very vibrant web magazine called The Window, which we put a lot of creativity and thought into. Everybody at Barney’s is all mobbed up in social media. We have an incredible social media gal called Jessica Goldberg who is so connected with that whole world. I was always skeptical about it because if you want to sell designer clothes the easiest way to do it is to just call your customer and tell them what’s in, but I think social media has played an incredible role in getting people excited about fashion in a broader way and creating a focus on fashion. It gets people whipped into a frenzy about fashion and the idea of adornment.
What about your personal relationship with social media? Love it? Hate it? Love to hate it?
I love Instagram because it’s much easier for me because I can respond to a picture, but Twitter… I wrote a column for the New York Observer for 10 years and that was fun and it was creative and easy for me because I know who the Observer reader is and I knew who I was speaking to. It’s the same with slate.com. Even though it’s a big audience I have a rough idea of the type of person who reads Slate, so I can’t write things that are too fashion-y, they’re not interested, it has to be broader. But Twitter it’s like, Ah! Who’s out there? It’s kind of hard for me to do Twitter, but I like Instagram, and I also like that people tend to avoid sour ranting on Instagram.
I’m a big fan of Instagram. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, people don’t complain on Instagram!
You know, they seem not to! I just can’t get too distracted with it because I like to focus on my projects and my work with Barney’s, but I definitely have been enjoying Instagram… I’m @Simon_Doonan. I love that people are so chirpy and so cheery and good-natured. I have a very thick skin, but I worry about young people who are incredible unformed, that’s why I worry about Miley and Justin Bieber having a very rough time with the “I love you/I hate you” they get from social media, you know at that age they don’t know what to do with it. You’re very sensitive at that age.
Speaking of Miley… Any opinions on her new style? What are your thoughts on the makeover?
There’s nothing wrong with Miley’s style, I think it’s great! I think it’s fun! She should probably keep a few more clothes on. I mean she should avoid looking like a stripper, because she’s a pop singer and those are different professions. I want to see her do more things where she actually demonstrates some skill, because the VMA’s, sorry girl, but I can do that! I don’t want to see stuff that I can do. That was the thing about Madonna that was always so great she’d always blow you away with some new level of skill and execution, and still does, and I think Miley’s only mistake there, it wasn’t that she was lewd, it’s that she did stuff that all of us can do! A few drinks at a silly party and anyone can do that. It wasn’t a demonstration of other worldly skill.
Amen! While we’re on the subject of pop culture and award shows… What’s your take on red carpet fashion?
I’ve always had a very hard time getting into it because it’s gowns. I’ve never been a gown person. We don’t really sell gowns here. That’s the slight danger with the democratization of fashion, people are beginning to think that gowns are fashion, and gowns are actually not really central to the idea of fashion. Fashion is this kind of mystical transforming thing that people are supposed to wear everyday that makes their life more interesting and fabulous, a gown is an old fashioned concept that comes from the 1930’s in the movie business, where a screen siren like Jean Harlow, or somebody, would appear in this gown. They tend to be very formulaic. It’s either a bustier gown, or a one shoulder gown, halter knot top gown. So you know, only a very few people can really make something interesting out of a gown, but it’s always fun to look.
The Emmy’s happened recently, did anything stand out or catch your eye while you were looking?
I thought Lena Dunham looked great! She’s a normal girl. I love flowers, who doesn’t love flowers? Her makeup looked great. She and Will Farrell were the standouts to me. There’s something terribly masochistic about some poor movie star who starved herself for six months and had three ribs removed so she looks like a siren in her gown. I just think Oh honey, are you happy? With Lena Dunham she’s a creative girl who has come into the entertainment industry through her creativity. Oh, I thought Michelle what’s-her-face from Downton Abbey in the Prada dress looked nice!
So does that mean you’re a Downton Abbey fan?
Yes! I don’t really know why because it’s incredibly predictable. He’ll say “Come in. I have something important to tell you” and then there will be a stunned encounter where Lord what’s his name… I don’t know why I watch it… the plot lines come at you from 50 miles off the horizon, but there is something compelling about it.
What else are you watching/reading/listening to these days?
I love that new show on channel 13 called Last Tango in Halifax, it’s on before Masterpiece Theater and it’s really amazing. I also have to watch that new witchy thing [American Horror Story] with Jessica Lange. I’ve been watching Under the Dome. It’s very corny, but it’s kind of great!
If you’ve ever wondered how Simon feels about street style, bloggers, fashion week, The Devil Wears Prada, and/or wearing matching outfits with his husband, Jonathan Adler… stay tuned for Part II and Part III of the interview- coming soon!
[Photos By Hallie Duesenberg]