Another row of fashion weeks has ended the season of aw 16/17 with the final stroll of models in Paris. SPOTT visited Paris during the fashion week, and it ends with a lot more on the agenda than the catwalk and street styles. Press (WWD and BoF), organizers and designers have had the fashion system it self up for debate. BoF dedicated an entire paper to the “fixing” of the fashion system. The anti-fashion manifesto of forecaster Li Edelkoort published in spring 2015 seems to have caused afterthought with firstly prominent designers leaving prominent fashion houses, and secondly fashion organizations and press discuss and investigate the fashion system. And it seems that the system is very focused on moving backwards to organize things as they have been before, and designers as well creating collections which salute good old craftsmanship. But can craft cure fashion and is going backwards the solution for the fashion system?
Adressing the system
The turn to craft both has the objective to send a message and a somewhat desperate try to do something about the system. A system that is under fire from both inside and outside. Ever since the manifesto of Li Edelkoort came out, it is like it has become a trend to express opinion about the supposedly obsolete fashion system. The list of fashion actors addressing the problems is long. In Scandinavia examples are: fashion magazine DANSK, journalist Heidi Laura in Weekendavisen (February 12th), fashion researcher Else Skjold at the press conference of the latest Copenhagen fashion week, and the Norwegian conference Needlework & Technology also has the system on the agenda with the theme: State of the industry.
They all call for slowing down, turning away from the fast fashion and consider waste and over-consumerism. But the opinions expressed are very little realistic both in terms of the complexity of the system, and in terms of consumer insight and fashion drivers. With that said change is needed, but it just isn’t sufficient to turn to old craft and slow fashion or simply to stop the hamster wheel of fashion (to use Heidi Laura’s term). There is a need to turn down the speed, because the fact is that a thing will disappear right in front of you, if you move it fast enough. But to hit the brakes completely is obviously not a business possibility.
One thing is sure though. The fashion system cannot be in this interim for long. And chances are that the system actually will increase its complexity due to different ways of structuring. Several French designers have for one turned its back on see-now-buy-now shows according to sources like WWD, while this is the direction the American designers probably are going to follow.
Back to the old system
The CDFA has just released results of a survey suggesting a new structure for the New York Fashion week. In short the target is to eliminate newness fatigue, allow product to have a realistic selling period and to give the fashion shows the see-now-buy-now approach. This should give fashion brands a higher ROI on the costly fashion shows.
This means the very first view on the new collections will be presented in an exclusive and intimate setting only for chosen buyers and long-term press giving them time to place orders and plan editorial content. The fashion show will follow six months later and be in season. The shown collection will simply be the one ready for the stores and consumers creating the see-now-buy-now option. The approach by CFDA is bold and time will tell if fashion can go back to a more exclusive approach now that it (as well as many other things) has been democratized through technology. The blogger was born out of the democratization so how will this change affect them?
Bloggers left behind?
What does this for the role of the bloggers? If they are invited to the exclusive presentations they will have to sit on their hands for 6 months until they can reveal that they where part of the exclusive club. And does that even make sense for bloggers whose core existence is the instant now? Or will the conclusion be that bloggers will be left behind and be a medium for the consumer oriented exposure only? From an industry perspective that will probably be a good solution.
Old system and old craft
The system moves backwards as well as the approach to fashion. The return to craftsmanship has been the talk of the town for several seasons. At the trade fair Tranoi in Paris (possibly the fashion city which the highest traditional focus) the designers emphasize on textiles choice, techniques and finish down to the detail of not using over lock and instead sew three times. In other words: good old craftsmanship.
A haul message
But this talk of craft becomes a bit haul. First of all because it has been in focus for so long, and the problem is that in six months some of the same designers will be presenting a new collection, at the same fair with the same message. Crafted fashion that should last longer should supposedly erode the need to buy new. But buying new is exactly the designer’s objective with the next collection, at the next fair.
Another point to this also came to my attention at the exhibition: Fashion Regained -The treasured dresses of Élisabeth, Countess Greffulhe (1860-1952) at Musee de Mode in Paris. The exhibition showed wardrobe samples of the Countess. Of course the robes showed impeccable craftsmanship. Hand embroidered lilies, all over pearl beading and accessories with just as many opulent details suiting the countess who in many ways was avant-garde of her time both fashion and societal wise. The exhibition was a great example of old-fashioned couture and craftsmanship.
More a detour than cure
For some reason today craftsmanship equals both well done and long usage. But the Fashion Regained exhibition showed that craft not necessary equals long usage. Actually the countess wore several of the dresses on display only once. Even then and despite the durable craftsmanship, she only wore them once. And does craftsmanship then make sense? Does it make sense to make clothes in a more difficult and time consuming way if it in the end doesn’t make it last longer? Crafted fashion is more expensive there fore it doesn’t reach the very mainstream consumer, who is actually the core of the addressing of the system. And I would also like to question if crafted styles actually have a longer usage. And what is a longer usage? 10 years – one year? Craft doesn’t change fashion it is mainly an additive. The core of fashion is change (the opposite is lasting aesthetic norm), and that is why craft is more a detour than cure.
So how can the fashion system handle the paradoxes of the news hungry press, consumers and bloggers, who also feel that they are overexposed to products? And how can the speed be slowed down without loosing business? Slowing down should be done with the core of fashion and consumers in mind. Which is change and newness. Fashion is not fashion without change and consumers have a build-in attraction to newness. Simply because new things are “shiny” they kick of the brains positive reward system. And when the “shine” fades over time (relative how much) the brain look for a new kick. The faster the new kick occurs the faster the shine will fade. And this is what has happened to the fashion system. The shine has faded faster and fashion brands have responded with adding more and more shine. The vicious circle is complete. So a new balance is needed. The proposed changes by the CFDA takes fashion and consumerism mechanisms into consideration (probably not deliberately) But the thought of bringing exclusivity back in fashion, maintaining a pace which delivers the desired kicks without creating fatigue, is the healthy balance.
Follow the smarter solutions
More research of the brains of the consumer is coming out these years and technologies are being developed, which gives us the chances to work smarter. Smarter in terms of knowing consumer preferences and motivations hence knowing which trends to follow and which products to produce. We can also work smarter buy using technology as a driver for better (meaning less resource using and less damaging) production. A smarter solution in development is taking place at VIA Design Research and Development centre. Here a Ph.d project is looking into creating a better sizing and construction system with the use of a body scanner. The target is to help fashion businesses to produce better fitting clothing and in that proces help decrease returns. The fashion system need to follow these smarter solutions and insights in order to bring the fashion system back on track – or even better – in to the future.