The Wardrobe Crisis
GUCCI IS THE LATEST BRAND TO EXIT THE FASHION CALENDAR. THE PRESSURE IS BUILDING FOR A RETHINK OF THE WAY FASHION WEEKS OPERATE. CLAIRE KALIKMAN EXAMINES THE CASE FOR CHANGE
For all the disruption, insecurity and heartache the pandemic has delivered to the fashion industry, it has also opened up space for much-needed self-reflection. The clamour for change is building, and the fashion calendar is low-hanging fruit. As it currently stands, it does not serve anyone: designers, garment workers, buyers, consumers, or the environment.
Because of this pandemic, the Couture shows set for July have been cancelled. Pitti Uomo has been postponed. Shanghai Fashion Week and London Men’s switched to digital.
Saint Laurent was the one of the first big brands to announce, last month, that it will move away from the traditional runway format, and plan its own schedule. Creative director Anthony Vaccarello told WWD that he is interested in “slow fashion,” not reinvention every season, and plans a mix of digital and physical events. Ermenegildo Zegna will also look into “phygital” shows. It’s to be expected that other brands will leave the calendar system in the coming months.
Now Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michelle has joined in. On Monday, he held a virtual press conference announcing his plans to reduce the number of Gucci shows and abandon seasons altogether.
He posted on Gucci’s Instagram, “In my own small way, I feel the urgent need to change a lot of things in the way I work. I have always been professionally inclined to change, after all, bringing with me a natural and joyful creative restlessness. But this crisis has somehow amplified such transformative urgency, which can’t be deferred anymore.”
It turns out that for all of fashion’s innovations, we are actually still using a fashion calendar that was introduced in 1945. Ruth Finley created it as a way to organise disjointed shows in New York. And it was a physical calendar that had to be purchased up until just a few years ago - listing all the shows and their dates and times to make sure there was no overlap. This calendar is still owned by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
But who does it serve today? The original timing that governed fashion shows (pre-Internet) allowed buyers to place orders and brands time to produce them, but today that makes little sense. With the rise of Instagram, consumers want to see-now, buy-now (although experiments with introducing this model a few years back never gained traction).
In a recent Business of Fashion Live event, Lauren Sherman suggested that the current system works for uber-wealthy clients who want to plan their outfits months in advance. It works for the estimated 4,000 people worldwide who can afford couture clothes. For the rest of us, it makes little sense to see collections six months before we can buy them. Sherman suggested that mid-level brands do not need to follow this model anymore, or maybe even do shows at all.
What’s a fashion show for anyway? For a luxury brand such as Chanel, renowned for its over-the-top runway shows that have recreated everything from a cruise ship to a grocery store inside the Grand Palais, these events act mostly as branding exercises. While the Couture shows still cater to an elite few high-paying clients and buyers, today’s ready-to-wear front rows are filled with celebrities and “influencers” - we all know most of them borrow their clothes.
For a smaller brand, a runway show can still be an important way to introduce collections to wholesale buyers. CFDA President Steven Kolb, in an Instagram Live event with Clare Press, defended the idea of live fashion shows, but indicated that there will be more digital events in September.
The fashion show as we know it today needs to change, but that does not mean it needs to go away altogether. For starters, shows can be a real joy. You get to meet interesting people, see up close how the fabric moves, and be immersed in the designer’s creative vision. But perhaps we can do without the excesses of “The Big Four,” that is, New York, London, Paris and Milan. The whole fashion cavalcade is expected to spend a week in each city back-to-back (to back-to-back) twice a year, just for the women’s shows. That is: two solid months of travelling, which is not only exhausting, but supremely wasteful when you think of all the carbon emissions required to fly around.
Add in the fact that many of the elaborate sets are simply disposed of once the show is over. The current system is an environmental nightmare, and in a post-pandemic world, people are going to want to travel less. The fashion capitals could rotate, like the Olympics, with one spring in Paris, fall in New York, and so on.
If that sounds complicated, merging the men’s and women’s shows is surely simple. In an increasingly gender fluid world, the binary distinction seems arbitrary anyway. Gucci was one of the first to show men’s and women’s together, back in 2017, to much acclaim. Prada, Balenciaga, and JW Anderson have done it, but the concept has not caught on universally.
Combining the shows would allow smaller brands to produce men’s and women’s lines without having to spend extra money on a second show, and would save buyers and editors time and energy.
Then there’s the digital opportunity. Many brands are already looking at a mix of physical and digital presentations. Since, for most, the point of the show is to build awareness, there is little reason to keep them so exclusive.
Fashion’s greatest innovators and risk-takers will have the edge. Kerby-Jean Raymond from Pyer Moss just announced a “drive in” fashion show set for New York in September, which will combine showing clothes with the debut of his new documentary.
Done right, virtual events have the possibility to grab the attention of many younger, iPhones addicted potential consumers. What’s next? Who knows, but one thing’s for sure - it will be different.
Claire Kalikman is an editorial intern at The Wardrobe Crisis. A third year Yale student and Fulbright Fellow, she is deeply passionate about fashion and sustainability. As President of the Yale Fashion House, Claire piloted the student-run organisation’s first-ever speaker series, bringing in professionals from the fashion industry to speak with students.