Beyond the Veil: An Interview with Fashion Icon Diane Pernet
The veil trails down over ebony hair to meet the floor-length black skirt, and the charcoal glasses obscure our view of her eyes. The image is more than familiar. It is iconic, and it is pure Diane Pernet. By the end of the interview though, it is the person behind the shades rather than the ensemble that is the most striking. Her ironic comments make it clear that to get to and stay at the forefront of the fashion game, you have to keep a sense of humor along with passion, vision, and commitment. There is an unexpected groundedness to this seemingly ethereal icon. As she looks for new ventures for herself and ways to help young talent, she reminds us that fashion’s job is to create desire. But not only desire for the name of a brand. While fashion, tastes, and brands turnover at a dizzying rate, we should not lose sight of what makes great fashion: quality, passion, vision, human connection, and caring. Read on below to get a glimpse into the past, present, future, mind, and influence of Diane.
You are a journalist, curator, stylist, critic, talent scout, blogger. What is the most challenging of these activities that you do?
I like what I’m doing right now. I have been working on my own Fashion Film Festival for 10-12 years. The festival combines everything I like. I have a degree in Film, and I have been a fashion designer for my own brand in New York for 13 years. Putting together fashion and film in a festival is like completing a circle. Most of my time and efforts go to my film festival because I like to use my platform to promote other people.
In addition, I like the collection of my own perfumes which I created 4 and 1/2 years ago. There are 5 perfumes, and they have been distributed by Printemps since last July and by Liberty London and Excelsior. The act of creating perfumes is fantastic, and the actual perfumes are wonderful. I have always wanted to make perfumes with my own brand, but it’s not that easy. Cristiano Seganfreddo, a good friend, is the one who said, “Now, it’s time you have a perfume.” I love Cristiano. He designed the bottle, and since his refined elegant aesthetic is very close to my own, we get along easily. I enjoy what I do because whatever I do represents myself and is passion-driven. It is hard to say, but I am happy now with my independent project.
You’re also a pioneer of fashion blogging. How do you view today’s fashion bloggers and blogs?
I started early in 2005, there were no fashion blogs then, just food or political blogs. I developed my blog with a film mentality. It was about feeding people, giving them something to be inspired by. These days, people start blogs with a strategy to make money. It’s the same with talent scouting. I like to help and empower people, but I do it for pleasure, not for money. I just see things and I like to share them. My blog is cultural. It’s not just fashion, and I think it’s interesting. I remember helping Imran Amed before he had the BOF, which he built in 7 years. Now, it’s the reference. I remember everybody who helped me. So often people forget how they get to where they get. It’s so sad.
As a talent scout of young designers, what do you look for in them?
First, I do not do it for money. I do it because I learned how difficult it is to be independent when I worked for Elle.com or Vogue. It’s not based on your creativity. Unless you’re an advertiser, you won’t get any coverage. So I like to help people. I look for originality, for someone that actually has something to say, that does not just regurgitate something from the past. It’s very hard to find these talents. It’s a matter of balance. My favorite designer is Dries van Noten. He’s a great balance. It’s not a matter of trends or fashion. It’s about making clothes that are timeless, that you like to wear until they fall apart. Fashion is about quality, personal vision, textiles, and color. Even though I wear black. I think fashion, and what I look for, is desire. Fashion needs to make you say “wow.”
Nobody needs fashion, so it has to be desirable.
Are you currently working on any future projects?
Aside from working on ASVOF and my Festival, I started another mini project, called Casa 93 x Ecole de la Cite. Nadine Gonzales started this project in the favelas 7 years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, a collaboration with a film school to help creative people. Then Elene, she was at a TV program, who worked for Mama Shelter, asked me if I was interested in a workshop project with 20 students. These students are all living in an area where they can’t afford to go to school. The workshop shows them some films. Then they work on their own film while attending Luc Besson’s film school. My task is not to teach them, but to open their eyes, to show them things and talk to them. It started on October 22nd. We did a casting for the students, and there’s one girl I remember in particular. She works as a manager at McDonald’s, and her mother just died. She showed us her portfolio, and what she did was really good. I can tell she can do great things, so I hope she gets in the workshop.
What is your opinion about fast fashion?
On one hand, fast fashion is good. Fast fashion brands and high-end brands should have a win-win situation, instead of knocking each other off. Fast fashion is acceptable today. It is nice to make fashion accessible, but at what cost? For example, if you’re selling a trench coat for 69 euros, how much is a worker getting paid? What are the conditions? In regards to what happened in Bangladesh, that factory’s owner operated knowing it wasn’t safe, but if they raised the prices to raise the safety standards, they would have lost the business. Those things have to change. There have to be some regulations in fast fashion.
What is more, twice a year, I teach a class of contemporary fashion at the Paris Fashion Institute. I was talking to students about the fact that Millennials are much smarter than the generations before, because they are not brand loyal. They are not satisfied, and they can see through things. A girl said, “I have an old Gucci bag that will last forever and is made beautifully. But I bought another bag last year, and it’s already falling apart.” It reminded me of the book by Diana Thomas called “deluxe,” about how luxury items are made in China, India, and finished in France and Italy. It also had an analysis of where the costs are. People are becoming more and more aware. They are ready to pay a lot for a quality product, and they can tell if a product is of inferior quality and its high price is only for the brand.
By the end of our conversation, I understood how misleading the austere uniform that has come to define Diane can be. The unrelenting black and completely covered person initially appears aloof and unapproachable—the definition of closed off. Diane is smart, creative, sharp, and fashionable. She is also caring, nurturing, and funny. Far from keeping others out and away, her uniform keeps people she cares about and admires close: from the spiders made by a friend to the coats made by a designer whose work embodies her ideals about fashion. In a strange turn of events, I came to realize this fashion icon, quite literally, wears her heart and values on her sleeve, or veil as the case may be.
Below, a few wonderful thoughts from people who have known Diane throughout her life, exclusively told to MiND…
“Diane Pernet is a tireless researcher of talent and beauty. She is one of the most important figures in the culture of fashion. She introduced the avant-gardes and the theme of fashion video, when no one spoke about it. Always on the edges and on the margins, she has deeply influenced the imagination of fashion, not only for its unmistakable and iconic style, but for the quality of its actions and productions such as Asvoff. Diane remains a contemporary heroine, with a powerful human side, made of great kindness and humility.”
– Cristiano Seganfreddo
“Few people in the world live their truth. Diane Pernet is one of these few.” Listen to Jules’ full quote here.
– Jules Kim