After a decade as a stylist and fashion editor, Charlotte Agnew, found herself contemplating all the challenges that arise in the industry she so dearly loves. Lack of transparency, impenetrable hierarchies and a freelancing format that leaves many workers unprotected – only when you name the problem, can you work towards a solution. And rather than get bogged down in the limitations of the industry, the RUSSH fashion director, kept asking: what else?
From this line of questioning and armed with the abundance of free time lockdown presented, Agnew founded What-Else, an industry resource and, above all, a tool with which she is determined to crowdsource answers. On the platform, Agnew has struck pithy, important dialogues with creatives from all corners of the industry; from publishers like RUSSH's own Jess Blanch and Alastair McKimm, Global Editor-in-Chief of i-D, to models like Lily Nova and Bambi Northwood-Blyth, designers such as Alix Higgins and fashion critics like the chronically online Kim Russell of @thekimbino.
On Friday, March 10, Charlotte Agnew will stage the first What-Else exhibition at China Heights Gallery, made possible in part through the premium printing service at SUNSTUDIOS. There will be works from Bowen Aricò and Charles Dennington, Mia Rankin will debut an original film dreamt up in collaboration with Agnew and Abella D'Adamo will present psychedelic, Y2K-inspired illustrations.
Elsewhere, you'll encounter a special project featuring models Hanan Ibrahim, Anjali Torvi, and Elliot Cowen and Melbourne-based clothing retailer dot COMME. And if you step into the gallery on opening night, musician and producer Joan Banoit and designer Alix Higgins will perform a live set under their electronic outfit, Patamon.
Ahead of the opening night of What-Else, RUSSH caught up with Charlotte Agnew to discuss the origins of What-Else and the shifts she hopes to see in the fashion industry in 2023. Find our conversation, below.
Can you tell me about how you landed on the name What-Else?
I think it was just the main question I had at the end of most thoughts I had around the industry. It felt simple to me.
Does What-Else have a defining origin story?
I had been asking myself the same set of questions around the fashion industry throughout the time I've spent working in it (a decade). But with Covid-19 I finally had time to put together what I wanted to say. I made this in my bedroom, on the street and riding the bus.
When you speak to people in the industry, is there a common frustration with how it all works?
What-Else is speaking to the frustrations shared by unsupported freelancers in fashion. We are often winning and losing in our self-defined grey areas of this work. I just believe there is a way to have better accessibility to standardised knowledge so we're not expected to navigate the politics of the job without wider support.
Is there an overarching theme for the upcoming What-Else exhibition at China Heights?
What changes would you like to see occur in the fashion industry this year?
Less performance and internet and more of a focus on identity.
On a personal note, do you ever find yourself growing cynical towards the industry, and how do you combat this?
No I don't, I think fashion is the most incredible space to work in. The questions I and others have about working in the industry are inevitable as we should always be questioning what is happening around us, the things that continue to define our system of work. My choice of action with these consistent conversations is What-Else – a place I can share them to ultimately get closer to answering the questions for myself and others.
Is there a particular conversation or interview on the What-Else website that’s stuck with you?
They all bring me to a next set of questions so it's just about continuing to have them to as wide of a perspective I can access.
What’s the most rewarding part about working in fashion?
Having an idea, discussing the idea with your team and seeing the idea become something complete together.
What can we expect from What-Else in 2023?
Clearer intention in the questions it's asking as it moves forward in the conversations it's having.
Experience What-Else at China Heights Gallery from 6-8pm Friday, March 10.