By now, Paris and beyond heard about French Bashing, a viral self-loathing built upon rampant economic turnmoil, rising unemployement and now, terrorist attacks.
In the middle of this, could Fashion if not save us, make us smile ?
Wrong : Fashion would also be in crisis. From consumer fatigue to designer burnout, we are now talking about ‘Fashion crisis’ with strong emphasis on the capital F.
Are our epoch and generation doomed ?
But what is this Fashion crisis really ? In short, designers would be exhausted by increasingly rapid consumption patterns while consumer or aspiring ones, being constantly bombed by Fashion images, ask for more. The two are intertwined, one fuelling/pressuring the other. Such pattern would be a spreading disease, threatening the whole system.
The remedy ? rushing more : giving those cherished consumers, sometimes frustrated by the wait, often over-stuffed by infos, the opportunity to buy right away after the shows, introducing ‘see now by now’ if you will. NY rejoiced, Paris stands still. Burberry, Tom Ford, Vetements adjust their calendars, Kering doesn’t.
Till when ? And does it matter ? After 3 years at Dior, Raf Simons gave up after the September show and commented on the subject : “Everyone is paying attention to the wrong thing in my opinion,” Simons said. “There’s this huge debate about ‘Oh my God, should we sell the garments the day after the show or three days after the show or should we tweet it in this way or Instagram it in that way?’… You know, all that kind of bullshit. Will all that stuff still be relevant 30 years from now? I don’t think so.”
Fashion fascinates, and more and more so. Forget the insiders and the mystics that surround it. Fashion is for everyone and everyone is, at least potentially, fashionable. But 10 years ago, fashion calendars were exclusive and even Andrea Crews would not have fitted in. Now, whether you live in Texas or Brittany, you have access to Fashion today and can pretty much buy the same thing, be it Vetements or Burberry. People matter today and they voice their importance. This is a vicious circle which means more consumers, more brands, more shows, more money. Things have changed and tables have turned. You live and you learn…
But now that the passion has gone, it’s time for a more reasoned debate. Nowadays, fashion can’t survive without digital marketing and social media. “Emotionally, we are transferring ourselves onto the Internet”, says Nick Knight, Director of SHOWstudio, who founded the first serious online fashion platform in 2000. “I don’t think it’s long. Maybe it’s five to 10 years before we’re looking at totally virtual models and totally virtual ways of seeing our clothes. All that technology is there.” Our emotions are increasingly captured on screens. The consequence of ‘connected’ living is a new relationship with time. Impatience has become a way of life; we want everything right now. But this culture of immediate satisfaction has led us to a world of frustration. We never have enough images or gossips and fashion brands are almost forced to create a constant flow of content to attract and to retain an audience. As they cannot ignore it, they might as well embrace it.
They must create a high benchmark for quality while promoting a clear editorial line throughout the media world. Above all, they should differentiate clearly between the insatiable appetite for novelty of potential customers and the act of purchase itself. The customer is not stupid enough to buy something just because it appears as ‘new’ on Instagram. For when the novelty wears off, he still wants there to be something left to care about.
The real challenge is for designer clothing. The idea that there is a fashion crisis continues to progress because designers and marketing teams have more and more difficulty introducing something completely new and so fulfilling the desires and expectations of saturated markets. Novelty may not be impossible, but it sure takes a lot of work.
Instead of regretting an alleged Golden Age of Fashion, it may be better to question the current product offers. How do you get people to buy clothes? Whether they are buying a collection right away or in three months, the essence of the problem has not changed. Why should we wait to pay more rather than buy cheaper knock-offs of designer clothes at fast-fashion companies? Or we could put the question differently: How can we create clothes that thousands of people will love and buy, and not only those that millions will automatically “like”?
Talent is required to create new clothes. It may be good to remember this at a time when we celebrate mediocrity and having a limitless number of (fake) followers on Instagram. J.W. Anderson is perhaps the only modernist of his generation. He has shown us something we had never seen before in terms of volume, proportions and fitting. His explorations of style have radically altered our perception of fashion design. At the same time, it’s as if his collections were a little too avant-garde to be worn right after the show. But J.W. Anderson has got his timing exactly right and this has been sufficient to distinguish him from his contemporaries.
On the other hand, Vetements succeeds in selling a T-shirt with the DHL logo for €245 (here). The really funny thing in of all this is that you can find practically the same T-shirt on the DHL website for $6,50 (here). There is no creative process involved on the part of Vetements, only marketing skills. Vêtements persuades people to buy this T-shirt to make themselves look cooler than they actually are.
We’re always trying to catch the attention of everybody else and become popular as quickly as possible on social media. Therefore, the system is creating a whole generation of frustrated people, never satisfied with what they have. We always need more, and we never stop wanting it. In a context where everything is changing, it still takes nine months to produce one baby and years to create wealth. We continue to need time to design new stuff; not to mention the hard work that goes into this creation. Surrounding ourselves by dedicated and talented people who support one another may be the key to success in fashion. We need to give designers much more confidence in their ability to create. “I have no idea how to improve an industry that suits me perfectly. One has to be well organized with good people. But that may be the most difficult” Karl Lagerfeld has said.
Fashion is not in crisis. The world is changing, and fashion is changing with it. Fashion is more powerful than any aesthetic but like our society itself, it is also vulnerable.