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A packed house at Hammer Museum's Billy Wilder Theater was treated to a conversation with Kevin West, former W Magazine editor-turned-foodie, and Scott Sternberg, the mastermind behind the interminably hip LA label Band of Outsiders. The two longtime friends, who met at a Halloween party in 2004 (Sternberg in a boy scout uniform, West dressed as the devil), hit the stage to discuss the overlap between fashion and food, but found their way to such topics as the risks involved in unexpected career changes, how to forge a path on the outskirts of the industry, and the fine line between "nostalgia" and "twee."
In fact, neither food nor fashion were discussed very directly at all. West was a W staffer for 13 years prior to plunging headfirst into his passion project, Saving the Season, a blog about the cuisine and culture of food preservation. The blog has grown into a recently published book of 220 recipes for everything from pickles to jams to cocktails. It was a project he described as being borne out of "unhappiness" in the magazine industry. Around 2009, West saw that "the publishing industry didn't have the brightest future, and I needed to figure out a lifeboat." Similarly, Sternberg launched Band after two years of being embroiled in the entertainment industry at Creative Artists Agency. "The day I started I knew I was out of there," Sternberg said of his time at the agency.
Scott Sternberg at his Bar Mitzvah.
Sternberg launched Band in 2004 because, as he says, "Menswear was not exciting" at the time he was shopping during his CAA days. So, with what he described as "a couple of credit cards and a bit of savings," Sternberg started his fashion line. Despite his discerning eye for menswear, he saw himself as an entrepreneur: "I used to say that Band was a platform to put ideas out into the world." Sternberg says he never self-identified as a 'fashion designer' until he began to design womenswear—the lines formerly known as Boy. and Girl. now finally housed under the same name as his menswear line.
West and Sternberg both approach their respective industries from a technical perspective, even down to the very aesthetic of "slow food" and "heritage menswear." Nostalgia plays a large role in both of their worlds. Sternberg insisted that the nostalgia trend in fashion is "over," but has no plans to stop shooting his campaigns himself, or switching to digital photography anytime soon. But don't call any of it "twee"—"'Twee' seems like such a horrible insult."
In the end, what was ostensibly a talk about food and fashion was actually an engaging dialogue about shifting professional focus and breaking into an industry from an outsider's standpoint. West, who transitioned out of fashion to commit to the slow food movement, and Sternberg, who abandoned the entertainment biz for fashion, both ride the line between insider/outsider status in food and fashion. Neither appeared very intimidated by the obstacles on the road to their success, and both simply reached a moment where they chose to prioritize their passions. Their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Follow your bliss," as West put it, "to use an Oprah turn of phrase."
· Band of Outsiders [Official Site]
· Saving the Season: A Cook's Guide to Canning, Pickling, and Preserving [Official Site]
· Frank Ocean is Band of Outsiders' Model of the Moment [Racked]
· Band of Outsiders' Scott Sternberg to Talk Fashion, Food In LA [Racked]