2016 will probably go down as the year when voters rejected a liberal approach to life. The economic recession of previous years that brought us austerity, and the fully pledged globalisation in industry and production, attacked the least prepared segments of society. It was another “industrial revolution”, this time a more silent one. Workers lost their jobs not only to technology but to other workers thousands of miles away. This time the state could not assist; austerity wouldn’t allow it…
Fashion industry wasn’t unaffected by these global socioeconomic changes. The last few years, the industry has been going through a major paradigm shift; the latter’s results becoming more apparent this year. Years of wrong investment decisions and knee-jerk reactions have slowly shaped the industry to what it is today. Either struggling to react to current needs, a great example of this are the ailing chain retailers bleeding customers, or an industry that has ripped up the rulebook in its need to survive. The brand that used to be the definitions of sexiness and turned into a geeky mash-up of lace dresses with snake appliques comes to mind.
But let me be more specific and consider 5 key changes and trends we have seen this year. 5 new directions that have defined the year but will also shape the industry; an insight into things to come.
Demna Gvasalia and the Vetements design collective
Georgian born Demna Gvasalia together with his brother Guram and 5 more friends (all met during their time at Maison Margiela), created the design collective Vetements. And in a couple of years have become the hottest and most coveted brand. Their concept is simple but extremely efficient and uncommon in the fashion world. Design for them is a democratic process of conversation. Every member of the collective, whatever their background, has an input.
Breaking free from the hegemony of trend, their clothes address what they believe people will like to wear. They are inspired by urban cultures and subcultures, online influences, and streetwise youth to offer season-less fashion for cool individuals. They aim at people in-touch with reality, instead of selling a fantasy. Selling a make belief has been the go-to approach for most luxury brands so far, an approach interrupted by the rise of the social media.
Vetements’ relationship with social media on the other hand, is very interesting and one to watch. They monitor what is going-on, and choose all their runway models carefully off Instagram (an ode to the real person who will buy and wear their clothes). They are never involved in a cat and mouse chase between what the people want and what a brand is offering. On the contrary, by simply analysing what is happening they can offer consumers what they don’t yet know they want. Who knew they wanted the huge angular exaggerated padded shoulders they offered? Even traditional retailers with a more conservative clientele see anti-trend, anti-establishment and uber-expensive Vetements directional silhouettes fly off the shelf.
Vetements is not necessarily creating revolutionary new fashion, but is re-thinking the methodology of fashion creation, and the relationship between a fashion brand and its end-consumers. It is all about giving them what they want but have not yet looked for. A very Steve Jobs approach, a true revolution in 2016’s Fashion.
Their success has not gone unnoticed and Damna Gvasalia has now replaced Alexander Wang as the creative director of Balenciaga. I hope that Vetements’ methodology will now influence the design giant and other brands by proxy. I hope in other words that designers will be allowed again to create.
The idea is simple; you see it on the runways and you can buy it straight away; waiting is so last season darling…The list of brands and designers following this model has been growing steadily. More and more embrace the idea of instant gratification, and the first sales results have been encouraging. So far it looks like American and British designers are more open to the idea as French and Italians refuse to go down the same route. Nothing new there, as the attitudes to innovation have always been different in different countries.
The truth of the matter is that See-Now-Buy-Now has been a reaction to the changing demographics of end-consumers and their habits. Being connected, and constantly exchanging information meant that fashion became the virtual currency of likes and shares. As the theory goes: the more a garment is shared the less it is selling in shops, as consumers are tired of seeing the same dress repeatedly 6 months before they can purchase it. See-Now-Buy-Now is supposed to fix this. What the latter does not fix however, is our unseasonable deliveries; stock that goes on sale when it cannot be worn.
Fashion has always used politics as a point of reference and inspiration, but recently, fashion has been used to make political statements, and define who one is in this world of multivocality and interconnectivity. Movements such as Fashion Revolution and Stop Funding Hate remind us how our fashion choices influence other people. Discussions are slowly moving away from the over simplistic and sexist preoccupations of what the first lady is wearing, and closer to what the outfit represents. Prime Minister Theresa May was recently judged for wearing a £1,000 leather trousers; seen as a provocative choice in times of austerity and Brexit.
During an American presidential debate, Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman”. Immediately, women on social media used #nastywoman to voice their outrage. And a few hours later, a t-shirt with the logo “Nasty Woman” went on sale. Liberals pushed even further by donating 50% of the proceedings to Planned Parenthood; the health provider that Trump constantly attacked during his campaign.
In August, a religious choice of covering up at the beach became a major political issue in France. It proved that what we wear matters more than we think. What we wear is not simply a personal choice, but what people use to pigeonhole us, understand us, accept us, or judge us. It is a weird argument to say that by telling women what they can or can’t wear on the beach, is a way to fight religious oppression and promote women’s emancipation. Strange how the burkini, a garment that allows Muslim women to enjoy themselves at the beach, became the symbol of foreign invasion and threat to French beliefs.
On the cover of her latest release, the visual album “Lemonade”, Beyonce appeared dressed in a big fur with dread-locks. With just a simple image, she reminded everyone that she is a black woman and with an opinion about what is happening in her country. In the album, she discusses being a mother and a wife but also what it means to be a black woman. She references slavery, riots, Fox news, and growing up in the south. When an arena filling power ballad pop singer leaps towards hardcore politics you better stand up and listen!
The revolving door of design directors:
Exactly a year ago, I lamented the new trend of constantly changing the guard of top design houses. Design directors’ ins and outs were so frequent we simply could not keep up. This unfortunate trend not only continued this year, it accelerated. Hedi Slimane left Saint Laurent, and Anthony Vaccarello gave up his brand to take over. Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli got a creative divorce after 25 years of design co-operation, with the former moving to Dior. Diane Von Furstenberg departed from her eponymous brand and appointed Jonathan Saunders as its creative director (great idea with truly amazing results). Raf Simons left Dior to take on Calvin Klein after Francisco Costa stepped down. Massimiliano Giornetti left Salvatore Ferragamo after 16 years, and Alber Elbaz left Lanvin after 14 years. Alexander Wang is out and Demna Gvasalia in at Balenciaga…my head is spinning!
The problem is not change as such. Bringing new ideas and cultural backgrounds onboard is always beneficial; blending cultures and exchange of aesthetics is always a good thing. I cannot wait for example, to see what Raf Simons, with his distinctive norther European aesthetic will do at a brand associated with American clean and egalitarian fashion. The problem is the speed of which this change is taking place. Can a designer in 4 seasons manage to research archives, re-interpret and re-imagine designs, have a vision and execute it?
If those in charge have no patience for the process of creativity, and are only after flavours of the month, how can they build a long-lasting brand? If designers are not allowed to think or stay informed and can only create instinctively, how can they stay relevant? I am afraid these are questions we will be asked to answer in the coming years. Questions that shouldn’t really concern us in such difficult times…
Sewbo: a robot that makes clothes
In a previous post this year, I discussed a potential disruptive innovation; the first robot-made t-shirt. An announcement that went almost unnoticed, but can, and probably will, change the way we produce our clothes.
Imagine a world where clothes are made almost instantly and locally. Imagine an industry that can produce immediately and without the need of expert pattern cutters and seamstresses. If production becomes virtually planned and completely automatized, how about the rest of the process of clothing designing and making? Will everything become digitalized and virtual? Will we look back at 2016 as the birthyear of the “silent fashion revolution”, the one no one noticed but changed our relationship with fashion?