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‘Fashion is bathing in its dirty bathwater’: Recho Omondi says it as it is

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Now in its third season, the New York designer and host of fashion’s pre-eminent podcast The Cutting Room Floor sets the industry to rights

Every second Wednesday, Recho Omondi introduces her podcast, The Cutting Room Floor, as “fashion’s only fashion show”, which, strictly speaking, is not true. There are plenty of fashion podcasts out there. None of them, however, are doing it quite like Omondi. 

Since its inception in 2018, the New York-based designer has sat down (and grilled) some of fashion’s most prolific figures – from Martine Rose, to the writer Teri Agins, to the ever-contentious Diet Prada – picking away at the industry’s glossy veneer with every probing interview. And it’s not for the faint of heart. Listening to an episode of The Cutting Room Floor often feels like you’ve put your Spotify on double speed as Omondi spitfires between interrogations and break-through discoveries, setting off a string of lightbulb moments, which crackle throughout the course of a show like an overhead strip-lamp.

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Omondi is, first and foremost, a designer. Back in 2013, her eponymous label built a reputation on the New York fashion scene by eschewing industry norms, rejecting the seasonal calendar long before it was de rigueur. And it’s that same indifference to the trappings of fashion, which has come to characterise the podcast, too. As a host, Omondi is unafraid to ask the hard questions: be it quizzing Heron Preston on his politics, scrutinising Virgil Abloh’s talent, or questioning the very existence of Vogue in a conversation with its own editors. It’s disarming, perhaps, but never inflammatory. 

The “nerd level” conversations which follow are perforated by sudden non-sequiturs – “wait, pause” – as Omondi lasers in to connect the dots on her guests’ anecdotes. “I’m really quite nosey,” she says, “we’re so used to taking things at their surface value that people don’t really want to go deep anymore”. It would seem that despite being romanced by fashion, Omondi has never fallen for its charms. 

Now in its third season, we take a moment with the designer and podcast host to discuss Raf Simons, multi-hyphenate careers, and how clothes killed fashion.

Firstly, how are you doing? How have you been coping over the last year? 

Recho Omondi: Oh I just checked out for the whole of 2020. I got rid of all my socials for pretty much the entire year. I actually felt relieved and found it to be very cathartic. If you listen to the podcast pre-pandemic, I had been anticipating what was going to happen already. I knew that we, as a culture, were reaching an inflection point and that we were going to have to enter a different direction or paradigm… I just didn’t know it would be at the hands of a virus. I had been feeling it for a couple of years, so yeah, I just took the time to unplug. 

That’s pretty fortuitous. Have you always been a deep thinker?

Recho Omondi: I think so. I’m from Oklahoma, which is like a no man’s land but my parents are from Kenya and we have family all over Europe, so I always knew that there was a much bigger world out there. I think I’m curious, sure, but I think the nature of my curiosity was implanted at an early age because of that. Whereas, the people in the towns I was living in, I don’t think they weren’t as conscious. I think that created an interesting juxtaposition growing up. 

Where did fashion come into that? Do you remember when you first became interested in clothes?

Recho Omondi: I mean, if you ask anyone my age or older, they’re all going to say it started with magazines. My older sisters were interested in fashion so we had a lot of magazines around the house and I think that’s where I picked it up. From Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and obviously Vogue, but also Interview. I wonder sometimes if younger people even understand the magnitude of how important magazines were back then. The way you communicated to people was through magazines and everything was so intentional.

Why did you end up as a designer and not at a magazine, then?

Recho Omondi: I wanted to know how the sausage was made, so to speak. I didn’t want to just comment on clothes, I wanted to know how to make them. I would’ve felt unsatiated, otherwise. Maybe that speaks to the curiosity thing. Even now, a lot of journalists don’t actually know what us designers do. What pattern makers do, what the production line is, you know? It’s very difficult to comment on something if you don’t understand how it works. 

But you’ve now got a podcast – so you’re no longer just a designer. 

Recho Omondi: I see myself as a designer, which is why it’s so important for me to say at the beginning of the show ‘it’s your designer Recho Omondi’ versus ‘your host’. But I’m now really reckoning with the intersection, which I never did before. I just started the podcast as a thing on the side, out of frustration from speaking to so many people who didn’t understand the industry. 

I have a really poignant memory discussing a particular retailer with the fashion director of Style.com who said ‘I don’t understand retail’ and quickly changed the conversation. She didn’t say it negatively, but it was just so interesting because people really are siloed in this industry. I created the show that I wanted to hear. The kind of show I wish I had when I was in college and coming up through the industry. That was my focus – for it to be candid, intimate, cultural, relevant, and somewhat comical. 

Is that what you look for in other podcasts?

Recho Omondi: Funnily enough I don’t listen to any other podcasts. There’s a lot of talking, but no one is saying anything – you get a lot of those. Especially from 2020 when everyone’s been at home, there have been so many podcasts that popped out of nowhere, which is coincidentally the year I decided not to say anything.

OK let’s talk about that. What separates yours from the ones you don’t listen to do you think?

Recho Omondi: Look, I was never trying to break into podcasting. I was just like ‘I have a message, does anyone have a mic?’ That’s how I approached it. But number one, I’m not in bed with advertisers. Two, the fashion industry doesn’t do a great job of cultivating unknown talent. There are so many young people who want to get into this industry and no one’s being transparent about how to get there. I want to cultivate the next generation. As it stands, the industry’s kinda bathing in its own dirty bathwater. It’s like we’ve moved Raf (Simons) here, there, and everywhere for years. 

That’s not to disrespect him, but if you want new water, you’re going to have to turn on the faucet. You’re going to have to bring in fresh people who might not be famous. Also, from the other podcasts that I’ve heard bits of, people are quite surface level. They don’t want to go narrow. I’m really quite nosey but we’re so used to taking things at their surface value that we don’t really want to go deep anymore. People are smarter than brands and companies give them credit for – I think I’m just asking the questions that they would want to ask if they were in the room. 

It’s not just podcasts that have boomed over the past year. Plenty of fashion people have taken to platforms like Substack, Patreon, and OnlyFans to dish out content. What do you think this spells for the future of fashion media? 

Recho Omondi: Where is fashion media going? The answer scares me a bit. As we’ve seen over the past 20 years, it’s going to become more and more niche. We’ve gone from these big entities, like network television, to what you could call direct to consumer media. From me to you. Period. No middleman, no boss. And you can pick your fighter – a favourite finance newsletter, a favourite fashion newsletter, and you wouldn’t be wrong in doing so because lord knows no one at Conde Nast is giving you any good content. The question then becomes, are they credible? Are they fact checking? That scares me. Because we’ve seen this idea of fake news, like with Brexit or Trump, where people are able to essentially curate their own reality of information. Information itself is now becoming subjective.

You’re pretty scepitcal of the fashion world in general. In fact, in one of your episodes you say that fashion has nothing to do with clothes. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Recho Omondi: I think fashion has become too much about clothes and that’s a mistake. When I grew up, fashion was so much more about a spirit, an attitude, an ethos, a way of viewing the world. It was so much more about philosophies than simply who you were wearing. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like red carpets. It’s like, who cares? She didn’t pick it. I fell in love with the dreaming and that’s what I still love about the industry. And that has nothing to do with brands. It’s like, just because something’s rap doesn’t mean that it’s hip hop. Just because you’re wearing a great brand doesn’t mean that you’re stylish. 

Your guests are never obvious names but they’re always fascinating. How do you choose your subjects?

Recho Omondi: By who I’m genuinely interested in? I know that’s probably an oversimplified answer. If they have intel, are a good storyteller, and have stage presence, then they’ll make a great guest. Most of the people were already in my network, which is why I started the show but honestly, I will be as nosey with a complete stranger as I am with someone who I’ve known for years. The show actually keeps me inspired about the industry. Like the guests, you know, the conversations, those lightbulb moments are what keeps me going. Otherwise, I think I would have maybe tapped out by now. And there’s still a lot of people that I would love to talk to.

Like who? 

Recho Omondi: People like Katie Grand. She has so much to say, I know she does. I would love to talk to Miuccia Prada. Or Johnny Johansson (of Acne Studios). I want to talk to people who aren’t necessarily known by the mass public. Right now, there’s this visibility addiction when it comes to talent. We need people to generate clicks and keep the advertisers happy. That’s how you measure who’s worthy. But I think one of the reasons the show is resonating is because there is an audience of people between 18 to 30, who are so curious about the nuances of the industry. We’re now playing in the margins. Katie Grand is such a great example because she’s never going to get a Vogue cover. But she’s still a noteworthy person, for better or worse. 

I mean that’s definitely a conversation I want to hear. What else is on the horizon for you? 

Recho Omondi: Well, we’ve not really broken Europe (laughs). I’m still designing and I still consider myself a designer. That’s what I love doing, almost more than podcasting. But I don’t want to merge the two quite yet. And I don’t want my voice as a designer to ever be conflated with a brand advertiser because it’s a very slippery slope. I want to be able to talk poorly or beautifully about whoever I want to talk about… we’ve seen what the magazines end up looking like if they have to fold to the will of their advertisers. You know, I see myself more as a storyteller and a 360 thinker rather than just a designer. I would really like to be a creative director at a company, which makes me cringe even saying that because every kid wants to be a creative director. But you know, in a perfect world, I’d like to look after a brand’s overall design, their storytelling, their ethos.

It’s as if you’re going back to all the magazines that you used to read. The dreaming, the stories, that spirit of fashion which you love. All that which goes beyond just inanimate clothing. 

Recho Omondi: Exactly. I finally feel that I’m maybe mature enough to be able to do that. 

For a fashion education you won’t find elsewhere, listen to The Cutting Room Floor here