Is The Fashion Industry Finally Catching Up With Real Life?
The Debrief: The first ever fashion week took place in 1943 and the format hasn't moved on all that much since. It's time for a change.
Twice a year, fashion month happens. In February/March designers showcase their autumn/winter womenswear collections in New York, London, Milan and Paris (in that order) and come September, the circuit starts again, this time with spring/summer collections for the following year on display. This is ‘the way things are’. And really, when you properly think about it, it’s fucking weird. Whilst we’re buttoning up our insulated parkas, models are gliding down the catwalk in flimsy summer dresses and bikinis: the likes of which won’t be a reality for most of us for another six months or so.
Fashion week goes way back, to 1943 to be exact, when ‘Press Week’ (its original name) was born in New York; a creation of fashion publicist, Eleanor Lambert. It’s said that it was a reaction to post-war society; France had always dictated fashion trends but now, with people unable to travel to Paris, ‘Press Week’ was born to give American designers a platform to showcase their goods instead, and encourage their exposure.
Over the years, the countries we now know as the ‘fashion capitals’ followed suit (if you’ll pardon the pun): in 1958 came Milan Fashion Week, 1973 was Paris Fashion Week and London bought up the rear in 1984 – weirdly, not that long ago. But in reality, a lot has changed in 32 years. The internet didn’t even exist (the World Wide Web was born in 1990) and since then our lives have begun to evolve around it, social media has exploded, and fashion, no longer the sole property of the high and mighty, is more transcendental than ever before.
The concept of bi-annual seasons goes even further back, rooted in history and stemming from the French King, Louis XIV’s reign (he took the throne in 1643), who decided on a seasonal schedule for the French textile industry in order to stabilise finances: people were forced to replace clothes twice a year, ensuring a degree of predictability in the economy. Hugely interesting, sure, but evidence of how antiquated the notion of fashion week and ‘seasons’ are. And the fashion industry is starting to think so too because, gradually, it’s shifting.
During London Fashion Week Aw16, Burberry announced that they would be changing it up for the coming September, merging their current four collections into two 'seasonless' shows per year, and releasing the collections for purchase immediately after the show. Christopher Bailey, Burberry Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer, explained the decision saying that the change would lead to a ‘closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves.’ Burberry is no stranger to a little innovation: in 2010 they were the first ever label to live-stream their catwalk show, something which is now commonplace. Similarly, Tom Ford shunned this year's New York Fashion Week instead choosing to showcase his AW16 collection in the coming September and making it available to buy right then – that is, during the period in which the clothes are intended to be worn – which is simply common sense, right? In a press release he explained his move towards staging a ‘current’ catwalk show: ‘In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense’.
Rebecca Minkoff has a similar mindset. During AW16 fashion week she broke the mould and decided to showcase her SS16 collection again, which was first debuted in September, but with a new twist. Speaking to Metro US, Minkoff explained her decision, ‘If a blogger or a celebrity posts an image, it’s now actionable and you can go buy those goods.’ Exactly. Showcasing items that aren’t seasonally relevant for another six months is just downright inconvenient for the average consumer.
It also works against the innovation that defines designer fashion. High street brands and their ‘fast fashion’ system can turn around clothes much more quickly so there’s already a deluge of dupes on the highstreet before the designer collection officially drops and originality is lost. Designer fashion is simply is too slow for how people buy fashion now.
This era of seasonless fashion has a wider, more important implication too, because ethically, the pressure to replace your wardrobe twice a year, stinks. Speaking to Harpers Bazaar US, Leandra Medine, founder of Man Repeller, was fully against this notion: ‘I am profoundly pro [wearing last season's wares]—an evangelist of building a wardrobe that is not treated like the fresh produce aisle in a supermarket. Clothes are supposed to be treated like a non-perishable good.’
What’s more, we’re skint (you know the drill, I don’t need to go into the gross increase in rent and our staggering student loans) we want clothes to last all year around: there’s no financial sense in buying an item for a six month period. Layering is all the rage and actually, even though I’m gazing at my ultra thick parka as I write this, the world is getting warmer, shrinking the gap between ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ wear.
Seasons, or lack of, aren’t the only things that the fashion industry is adapting: very slowly but very surely it’s diversifying and wisening up to the power of the people. The people who are going to (hopefully) buy their clothes. Increasingly designers are involving the consumer: Minkoff invited some of her top customers to her show, House of Holland did the same in September, Rag & Bone hosted a competition to win catwalk tickets in partnership with Uber at the same time as Givenchy, showing their collection in NY for the first time for the opening of their flagship store, offered free tickets to the public on a first come first served basis. These things, along with events like London Fashion Weekend which presented the shows of designers like Emilia Wickstead and Holly Fulton to the public once LFW had ended, are proof that designers want to form a relationship with their buyers. Lets also not forget that opening it up to the public is a sound way to up revenue.
Catwalk shows themselves have taken on entirely new meanings. Thanks to live streaming and social media you don’t have to be on the FROW to experience a collection – Kanye’s Yeezy show brought in over 20 millions viewers and 121,000 images were tagged #LFW on Instagram in February for LFW AW15, bringing the event right into users hands.
Misha Nonoo was one designer who had the foresight to shift from the traditional catwalk back in September, choosing instead to host an ‘InstaShow’ – engaging, and much, much cheaper – and it’s success was proven in a spike of 80% new visitors to the site and 15.1million followers engaging with it. She decided to forgo the most recent New York Fashion Week, choosing to show the fall collection in some unconfirmed capacity in September. And actually, catwalk shows are fucking expensive – apparently a show at NYFWcan cost anywhere between $200,000 to $460,000 – so it's no wonder designers are eschewing traditional formats of showcasing their collections.
There’s questions and issues to be addressed about this though. Like what this means for monthly fashion magazines? As it stands, issues can be planned in advance thanks to the premature six month designer reveal at fashion week. But should all designers start to adapt to this style of fashion immediacy, magazines will be forced to change the way they’re created. This in itself is indicative of a shift towards digital media over traditional print.
Back in December, The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) announced that they’d hired consultants to conduct a study – the results of which should actually be in soon – into the future of fashion shows because the current model didn’t fit with the time. ‘We have designers, retailers, and everybody complaining about the shows. Something's not right anymore because of social media, people are confused,’ Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA. Although not everyone is on board: the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode - the governing body of Paris Fashion Week - are standing by the current system.
In so many ways the fashion world is in the midst of an overhaul and it makes absolute sense. As the world around it changes, the fashion world has got to adapt: representing a range of people on their catwalks, involving the consumer, foregoing seasons and adapting fashion week are all positive things that suit the globe's evolution. Designer fashion, at it's very definition, is the 'trend setter' so lagging behind in any way ignores the very basis it was built on. It's time to change.
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