Long before he was an internationally recognized shoe designer, Brian Atwood was destined for a prosperous career in fashion. Now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he reflects on the deeply personal and multi-dimensional facets of the industry that shot him to fame – and how he believes fashion should adapt to modern standards.
Growing up in Chicago, Atwood taught himself how to sew as a teenager and hosted fashion shows on his family’s front lawn. “I loved seeing the whole process of women getting dressed up in beautiful clothes. I was mesmerized by it,” Atwood said. “My destiny was already set.”
When he graduated high school, Atwood did a stint at Southern Illinois University before moving to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. While he loved his time in New York, Europe always fascinated him.
“I felt that Europe was still somewhere that was so much more open to creativity and experimentation… I wanted to try that out,” Atwood said.
Upon graduation from FIT, he picked up and moved to Milan where he became a sought-after runway model. “I used modeling as a vehicle to get to Europe and meet the designers that I wanted to work for.”
After modeling for seven years and making contacts within major fashion houses, his bulked up resume was ready to be delivered at a few fashion offices. Modeling wasn’t Atwood’s end game – and it was time to let the world know. His resumes worked. Versace called him back that day.
Atwood’s talents engaged everyone at Versace immediately. He worked with Donatella herself on her Versus line and was asked to design a shoe for couture. “I had never designed a shoe or been inside a shoe factory,” Atwood said. The team was thrilled with his work and he soon became the designer for women’s shoes. “That is how I got my start in the shoe industry… it was written in the stars, I’d say.”
Atwood spent nine years at Versace in Milan but there was always a fire in him to create his own brand. In 2001, he received Donatella’s blessing to do so and began working on his own shoe line while continuing at Versace. He juggled both for five years before his brand’s success demanded his full-time attention. Throughout the years, Lady Gaga, Jessica Alba and Taylor Swift have sported his signature heels.
Atwood understands the fashion industry through his own unique lens developed from his diverse experience within it. He perceives it from four major cruxes: from student to model, to a head at Versace to a designer of his namesake brand. As Atwood reflects on the crisis surrounding the coronavirus, he acknowledges that the industry he knows and loves has failed to evolve to modern technology.
With fashion weeks across the world rapidly approaching, fashion houses-- both large and small-- are scrambling to decide how to execute a runway show per usual. Traditionally, fashion shows, normally a highlight of the industry, are rendered nearly impossible as well as impractical by the coronavirus
“I don't know how many people are willing to get into a packed and crowded fashion show even though fashion shows have been everything in fashion [before coronavirus],” Atwood said. “[Fashion shows] set the tone, they provoke, they engage, they inspire, but without that we really have to use technology in a creative way to bring that excitement to the customer.”
In Milan, Prada is digitally broadcasting its show and Giorgio Armani is presenting two shows without audiences. But Atwood isn’t sure if this is enough to excite consumers.
“Just copying the traditional runway show and putting it digitally is not enough. I think people need to feel something personal; they have to feel something intimate and they want something tactile to touch.”
To Atwood, the fashion industry is still stuck in its traditional ways and has yet to adapt to technology.
“In fashion we pride ourselves on being constantly evolving, every four or six months it’s a new look. But with technology, we figured that we wouldn't change and everything would adapt to us. This has shaken everything up completely.”
Atwood himself ensures that his brand is constantly evolving to capitalize on modern technology. To him, social media is a magnificent, powerful tool if it is used correctly. “It’s a direct channel to your consumer that some [fashion brands] don’t even use,” Atwood said. His next collection is following a similar pattern as his last few: he focuses on smaller, more exclusive drops throughout the year that are consistent with the seasons. He promotes them via his social media profiles.
It’s no secret that the coronavirus has permanently altered the fashion industry, but Atwood isn’t worried about its future. “Everyone’s like, ‘Fashion is dead,’” Atwood said. “But I think that we will dress up again. Think about after any extremes in the world – there has always been beauty that comes out of it... we need beauty, we need to be inspired, we need clothing and I think that something exciting will come out of all of this.”
By: Brett Chody