Fashion is having an awkward stage
The fashion industry is traversing through a stage of growth as awkwardly as a prepubescent tween, from which we can expect will eventually blossom a well-adjusted and developed young adult. Until then, our beloved has become an absolute emotional train wreck. Must be the hormones.
Except it’s actually technology.
This technology-propelled, transformative stage in fashion’s life is increasing efficiency and accessibility, which, while ultimately a positive transformation, has also imposed several bittersweet side effects, as most growth stages do, upon each point of the fashion chain. The designers, retailers, and consumers are all trying to adapt to these changes. While some are handling these growing pains with grace, others, for metaphor’s sake, stubbornly stomp up to their room and slam their door.
Technological influence, via the internet, social networks, production methods, etc., has been the primary catalyst and culprit for broadening the way we create, experience and consume fashion, which in turn has become the justification for increasingly overwhelming expectations on production and distribution.
The new consumer turnout is the new designer’s burnout
Possibly under the most duress are those on the production end of the fashion spectrum, as we increasingly hear more and more creative directors’ list of grievances against the quickly evolving face of fashion and the added pressures they have endured as a result. Fashion designers have gradually been speaking out against the high pressure and expectations that the tech-driven world imposes upon production, with little regard to their artistic process.
Gone are the days when Ateliers functioned according to a selective, brand-specific clientele. Now they must consider and satiate anyone with an internet connection. They are having to update their message for a broader audience with short attention spans and demands for frequent, interesting content- all while still maintaining their traditional branding integrity, which has always been born and bred on foundations of exclusive luxury.
Ateliers are not factories, equipped with assembly lines that can increase output by the push of a button. Bead work, pleats, folds, patterns and prints are handmade from their conception to the drafted illustrated prototype, to each thread, to the finished product. Fashion design has tried to maintain its creative integrity in a progressively mechanical world. And we don’t want robots building our fashion, so why would we treat the inspired souls who manipulate threads into masterpieces as such? Why would we forfeit quality in favor of velocity, art in favor of content?
Fashion collections have traditionally followed a seasonal sequence, but as of late, the output expected per year has increased. Each major season is now punctuated with interim collections, (most brands present at least six collections per year,) in addition to the ad campaigns, couture and custom orders that have always been expected, requiring a constant production of new and exciting pieces just to stay relevant.
In addition to the multiple presentations that are expected, there is also pressure to produce a spectacle in which to paint the context of the collection. These spectacles are often runway shows that require hours upon hours of production hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Already substantial work by itself, these demands sometimes double and triple for one creative director who manages several houses at once.
Some designers have resigned their coveted positions citing burnout and creative fatigue, valuing the intrinsic experience of creating over the invasive exposure they may win from technological efficiency. And then there are those that, rather than trying to beat ‘em, (or just leave ‘em), are instead just joining them by revising and updating their traditional practices to fit this new mold.
Technology has been known to invade privacy and saturate our senses with ubiquity, compromising the exclusivity that propelled the luxury sect for years. More than quality, the value was defined by that exclusivity, like a secret only shared among those who could afford to hear its message. And now we all have access as immediate as front row frequenters.
And with the incorporation of technology on the fashion front, the necessity for immediacy is more pronounced than it ever has been before. What used to be a leisurely exchange between designer and insider is now a conversation that happens between one designer and millions of viewers and fans in a matter of seconds. With social media and livestreaming, insider, enthusiast and consumer alike have immediate access from initial production to runway finale.
Now the fashion consumer and their respective experience is no longer barred by spending power but is rather accessible due to the immediate mass distribution of information. This constant influx of content may perhaps dull the desire for quality in favor of surface appearance.
Style consumption is no longer relegated to terms of wallet-to-wardrobe. It is no longer simply an expression of wealth or class. The industry is a democracy, ballots in the hands of unprecedented diversity, the monarchy overturned by street-style enthusiasts and livestreamed runway shows. The concept of sartorial value has shifted, and the industry is trying to keep up.
This has added a weight to the ability to staying relevant, as creative directors must avoid becoming too stale too soon and combat the competition imposed by the ubiquity and lack of privacy that is imposed by technology. The fashion culture is a constantly hungry, easily distracted one, and it always has an appetite for something new. By the time a collection finally hits the racks, we have already seen it a million times, especially recreated by fast fashion brands.
So how does luxury fashion maintain the integrity of its traditional branding, usually built upon on inaccessibility, while still communicating with this new cultural wave?
High Fashion vs. Fast Fashion
Fast fashion brands have arisen in the wake of this new technology driven fashion industry, democratizing and broadening the opportunity to effectively express oneself in terms of runway-ready trends without having to outright plagiarize coveted prét-a-porter. Consumers are interpreting high fashion differently than ever before, and are no longer disenfranchised according to social status.
It is notable that “fashionability” is no longer an exclusive experience held by the upper class and the line between luxury and affordability is quickly blurring. People no longer need to indulge their desire for fashion by entertaining counterfeits, poor imitations or exorbitant spending. And this is the shift that fast fashion has capitalized on—using runway prototypes to create a relative concept all their own, allowing their consumer to not have to endure the try-hard approach that counterfeiting used to entail.
Consumers are just as content in abstractly commenting and reflecting their interpretation of luxury fashion, whether designer branded or not, as they used to be when actually buying into authentic labels. The outlets and, consequently, the options have changed. A quilted bag is no longer just Chanel or counterfeit. Fast fashion has figured out how to appropriate trends and statement pieces in their own context and branding without coming off as a deliberate imitation. Style is no longer just about labels, it is about a reinterpretation of a high-fashion message in terms of self-expression; the name on the tag is an afterthought.
High fashion brands respond to the demand immediacy
Fast fashion’s ability to quickly reinterpret high fashion collections benefits from high fashion’s long winded presentation-to-distribution calendar and their end goal for quantity over quality. This has raised some concern in respect to the lack of privacy and exclusivity that high fashion brands have previously enjoyed.
The speed of the industry has had its benefits of course for the formerly excluded outsiders, as fast fashion has managed to adapt runway ready-to-wear to wallet-conscious consumer in record time. But there is a side effect to this fast fashion adaptations, in that the luxury houses, no longer victims to counterfeit, are losing their signatures to expedited duplication.
And high fashion is responding to this new consumer who enjoys the look but not the price. We have already seen annual collaborations between fast fashion and high fashion brands— H&M and Target are consistent hosts to major fashion houses, making authentic luxury accessible to a wider market.
In order to maintain their brand’s integrity, designers are having to resolve their traditional brand identity to this new consumer conversation, which now becomes a struggle to stay relevant.
This speed and lack of need for the insider middleman can be positive when harnessed correctly and designers are catching onto this. The A (designer), B (insider/retailer), C (consumer) conversation can now skip the B as the collection can more quickly and directly reach the consumer.
This season, designers have already begun announcing and implementing new methods in order to flip the inevitability of fast-paced, high-pressure expectations in their favor, by imposing their own response within the dialogue that the immediacy of technological access has been providing.
Industry response to Immediacy
In order to communicate on this new plane, designers are responding to the inevitable reality that fashion transforms according to its contemporary environments, so just like the trends react to the culture, so too should the industry.
Designers have been complaining about the tiresome scheduling of the fashion year, and they are now creating their own terms.
Designers are trying to gain back the control of their brands, in respect to the rigorous timelines, presentation and location standards and guidelines that the industry has imposed upon their creative process in order to cultivate a uniform schedule.
They have responded to this changing plane by trying to reposition the concept of immediacy and accessibility that fast fashion has recently monopolized and capitalized on. Designers are exploring new ways to effectively present or streamline their collections as well as offer immediate availability during or after the presentation.
On the more conservative side, at least a taste of the collection with a capsule release available immediately post-show. And for the bolder side, some designers are looking to present a same-season collection that will be immediately available after the last model walks off the stage.
Prada, Burberry, Tom Ford, Proenza Schouler, Vetements and Tommy Hilfiger have made announcements regarding their intentions for same-season collections or capsule releases of several items post-show.
Wes Gordon hosted an entire trunk show released for the first time via Instagram.
These new concepts will be interesting to see as they are implemented and then effective in the industry. Fast fashion brands will have less time to react and imitate runway trends, (they usually have entire seasons to mass produce trends and pieces before the original has even made it to the ad campaign) perhaps adding the perceived the value back into high fashion, which has lately been given a run for its money.
Not everyone is a fan of yielding to the more-now demands of the tech-generation, asserting that these methods will neither be effective or that the new age industry is even worth humoring.
An excerpt from businessoffashion.com:
But what does this mean for fashion as we know it?
What does this mean for editorials and campaigns, which are most often produced during the interim between presentation and release?
How will anticipation and consumer trends react to immediately available product?
And what about the excitement drummed up in anticipation of fashion week and runway shows?
The rapid pace of the technology age fashion industry is already taking its toll on fashion week and runway slots, many designers already foregoing the pomp and circumstance for the sake of their sanity.
Runway productions are nothing short of a theatrical spectacle of artistic proportions. The presentation of a collection via this medium nail the essence of art a la fashion, while conveying much more than just clothes. These productions echo far beyond the clothing that may later become “so last season” allowing fans and enthusiasts to gaze back at a masterpiece was much more than a bid for their closets.
They transpose the viewer to another world, to the designer’s mind’s eye, and thus the closest we may ever be able to get to the imagination that inspired the collection. These spectacles convey a mood, atmosphere, themes, context and, of course, entertainment. There is a plot, narrative, a beginning, middle and end.
There is emotion in this performance, which provides an artistic depth to fashion, which quite often is only known for its surface appeal.
And the subsequent editorial and ad campaigns achieve a similar message according to traditional industry standards.
These practices are the essence and the fortification of a brand’s foundational image and message, perpetuated via years of traditional practices and purposes.
Until this awkward stage passes, consumers will continue to benefit as brands attempt to reconcile immediacy with integrity, preservation of tradition with adaptation to contemporary standards, growing pains with positive advancement, and the surmounting consumer turnout with designer burnout.
Also published on Medium.