On 1 March, dezeen.com reported on leading trend forecaster Li Edelkoort’s statement that ‘This is the end of fashion as we know it.’ In an interview, that drew upon her recent talk at Design Indaba in Cape Town, she set out her thesis that fashion has become self-absorbed and out of touch, and as such is irrelevant to the clothes (her new interest) that most people wear. After decrying bloggers, the decline of a connection between new designers, advertising and editorial, and noting a general malaise, Edelkoort identified the main source of potential as couture – which might rise again as the fount of fashions.
It is interesting that one of the designers she cited nostalgically as having created exciting and provocative shows in the past was Thierry Mugler. His huge, ticketed shows and spectacular theatrics of the early ‘90s, were themselves seen as a tipping point in fashion history. He was criticised as much at the time for being overly commercial, and including catwalk pieces that would never go into production and bore little relation to ‘clothes’.
So is this the ‘end of fashion’? Or just a new generation remaking the industry in its own image? It’s not the first time an insider has identified fashion’s finale. Teri Agins’ important book The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever of 2000, explored the ways fashion changed at the end of the millennium. She analysed the significance of wearable separates as the mainstay of high street brands and the importance of American designers at big name luxury labels, including Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, as signals of the industry’s identification of clothes rather than fashion as the mainstay of the future.
While this was a timely and thorough analysis of the status quo, what happened next was the rise of Top Shop, Zara et al, high street names that focused on high fashion as its main source for throwaway styles that referenced current trends. And, in the realm of luxury and couture, a resurgence in labels, and It bags, plus, more recently, a shift towards younger names, such as Alexander Wang at Balenciaga being employed to strike a balance between fashion and the kind of sporty clothes people on the street really wear.
This is not to say Edelkoort, or Agins are or were wrong, but rather to suggest it’s never the end of fashion, just another transition. Pressure on designers to produce more collections is unsustainable, as big names including Raf Simons and Olivier Theyskens have commented. Allied to this are the changes brought about by digital media, which have shifted power and undermined, or, to put a more positive spin on it, altered fashion criticism and commentary. These, along with emerging technologies and globalization mean that the current, and to an even greater extent, the next generation of designers, marketers, writers working in fashion face different contexts and challenges. Couture’s resurgence in the last ten years, and online bespoke services are certainly one way in which changes within the industry are registering this. Customer demand is also highly significant, as consumers have greater access to information and the ability to have their opinions heard, directly and immediately.
So, rather than seeing this as an end, maybe it’s a transition, at times difficult, towards a fashion industry that fits the future.
Teri Agins, The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, (William Morrrow Paperbacks, 2000)