It seems with each passing season, fashion month and the cities who host each week’s respective flurry of events, embolden the strange dichotomy of complexity and consistency the industry as a whole seems to be stuck in. This proves especially true and ever transparent when assessed juxtaposed to the perpetual glare and unrelenting gaze of social media, which documents every step of the process. One almost begins to sympathise with the bemoaning of editors that the entire process is exhausting, exasperating and borders on torturous.
What emerged from this September’s gauntlet of shows and spectacles, starting in New York and concluding in Paris, was less a seismic shift and rather a deepening of symptoms and notions suspected earlier in February during the Autumn/Winter collections. While each week had its defining moments of anticipation, revelation and condemnation (Nicki Minaj and Cardi B bust up at the Harper’s Bazaar party and Hedi Slimane’s Celine debut most notably), what seemed to resonate most when assessing the entire month as a collective whole was a deepening and emboldening of themes and symptoms which are plaguing the industry as a whole. Even taken in singularity, the lessons learned from each represent a piece of the complex puzzle currently shaping an industry caught somewhere in between complacency and chaos.
For a city that supposedly doesn’t sleep, there was certainly an ere of fatigue which hung over New York Fashion Week; an event that’s recently been much in flux and in turmoil as of late.
Suffering from a mass exodus of big name designers, many decamping for others cities (Victoria Beckham being the most recent, deciding to cross the pond to stage a 10th anniversary homecoming show at LFW) or to rip up the rule book and define their own schedule, more friendly to a season-specific and social media friendly production cycle (such as Alexander Wang, who showed his bi-annual #WangFest in June and the next coming in December), New York Fashion Week has done its best to keep appearances as the CFDA continues to try to revamp and steer the course. There were still the usual suspects and plenty to be proud of; including Ralph Lauren’s celebration of 50 years, Raf Simmons continued, sublime reign at Calvin Klein and the return of Proenza Schouler (below) and Rodarte. However, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of fragmentation and stagnation in the overall community and presentations unveiled.
Even without alluding or beginning to assess the sociological impact the Trump era has possibly imposed upon the city and the climate of NYFW and industry, much of the current ailments from the event seem to be self-induced exercises of recycling old tricks and hoping it sticks. Examples abound, but Marc Jacobs turning up over 90 minutes late for his NYFW closing show (causing many British based journalists to have to leave for JFK due to the fear of missing flights back back to London to begin that city’s fashion week). Jacobs eventually issued an apology via his Instagram, and blamed the delay, among other things, to limited resources stating “more is always expected from us with fewer and fewer resources (year over year)”.
Even posting his statement, gossip and fury still fermented, with a rumour taking traction the delay was staged to spite Rihanna’s launch of her Fenty x Savage lingerie collection, who shared his long coveted space as the new closer of NYFW. Whether or not those rumours were true, it still a glaring benchmark when comparing the statement from Jacobs, a NYFW pioneer and veteran from the 90s era, and looking at the massive, well funded and non-traditional spectacle Rihanna simultaneously put on. Both brands, sharing the same slot. Yet one played by the old rules and the other did it her ( digital) way; livestreaming the entire spectacle via a partnership with YouTube and flanked with every influencer saturated model to boot to the tune of bombastic and massive exposure.
New Yorkers are known for being both a hardworking but stubborn bunch, and as Tim Blanks recap and analysis of the week noted, that may be in fact what’s causing the perception of the fashion week to feel in limbo. While smaller brands feel the opportunity to rewrite the rules and legacy brands, most notably as Oscar de la Renta lethargically struggle to find footing in the modern era, it seems New York may be ground zero for the existential crisis which is baffling everyone. Yet, just like New Yorkers, no matter who you are there still oddly is a sense that, even in times of struggle, we’re still all in it together.
If you were judging by sheer number of press mentions and headlines alone, then the hallmark moments and names on everyone’s lips would be Victoria Beckham and Riccardo Tisci. Beckham celebrated the 10 year mark of her namesake brand by returning to her roots, taking her show from New York Fashion Week to London, and showcased an impressive, no nonsense yet sublime ode to the modern elegant woman. Native born Italian and self-professed anglophile (his first London love affair as a student attending Central Saint Martin), Tisci staged his own homecoming by applying his signature blend of sophisticated sexuality, street style and bold tailoring for his inaugural collection at Burberry.
With Brexit also looming large and bleeding into many show reviews and conversation, the assumption would be to think the mood and corresponding collections would reflect the bleak, ambiguous times London and all of the UK are facing with the clock ticking toward March 2019. With nearly 90% of the industry voting Remain (in the EU), It’s no secret London’s fashion community was less than pleased with the disruption thrust upon it when the rest of the UK chose to leave Brussels (and the corresponding trading bloc) behind. However, and if collections from rising talent were any indication, London Fashion Week actually turned out to be very much the opposite.
From the continued evolution of the signature disco chic of Michael Halpern (below), to the sustainable second coming of Pedro Lourenço via his inaugural gender-bending ZILVER, to the ascension of pattern wizard and the Queen’s favourite Richard Quinn, the diverse yet potent power of emerging designers couldn’t be ignored. When juxtaposed against the backdrop of the political and cultural uncertainty Brexit has injected, it was undeniable the vibe flowing through this year’s presentations and shows was a deliberate doubling down of defiance by design and decadence.
Against the odds, and in true British tradition, London Fashion Week’s ended up being a coherent display of empowering camaraderie and innovative elegance across collections, and smacked of a city and community hellbent on using these ambiguous times to define a new generation. If history is any indication (The Swinging 60s style revolution in contrast to rampant food rations and post war austerity comes to mind),
There may be nothing more British than that.
Similar to New York, Milan also shares a consistent stubborn streak, and like most conventions of Italian culture, is only more exaggerated with time and legacy.
There was the usual offerings from the influencer drenched Dolce & Gabbana extravaganza to the usual controversy igniting Moschino (above) á la Jeremy Scott (who true to form, also continued a tradition of being accused of strong allegations of plagiarism and poaching inspiration from smaller, lesser known and funded brands and designers). Similar to Ralph Lauren’s retrospective in New York, Armani continued a full on media blitz that felt like legacy tour; fashion feeling a bit of an afterthought in the entire melee.
Yet one of the biggest news items from Milan Fashion Week was not from what was shown but rather from something which was missing.
As a part of a 3-part conclusion to his homage to Paris, Creative Director Alessandro Michele chose to move his the always theatrical Gucci presentation to Paris, leaving a very gaping hole in the week’s calendar. Having been accredited almost as the saviour of Milan Fashion Week for breathing a blast of both bombast and innovation into the brand, Michele has been practically crowned the mayor of the Italian capital and the reason for the city’s new renaissance and optimism. However, with Gucci’s hiatus, It is equal parts concerning at how much gusto can be gone when the golden child decided to go elsewhere, but the biggest shame often comes from the lesser of those who are overlooked.
What may be most concerning from the ire and destress caused by Michele’s decision to move this season’s collection to Paris (which was also inspired by the City of Lights), is what it says about the mood and offering of the city as a whole. While it may be unfair to say Gucci is indeed the only game in town, Milan like New York seemed to suffer from resting on the laurels of past legends, one trick ponies and gimmicks that are always a constant in the Italian mecca. However, there were more collective bright spots that were understated and said more about the shift in mentality behind the week..
Examples were plenty. Jil Sander and Marni continued consistent strides of excellence in defining modernity through a return to class elegance. Which was a part of a larger, encouraging trend that Milan, a fashion capital notorious for capitalising on the notion sex sells, that it’s actually sophisticated tailoring and new form which sells (as the Guardian so poignantly assessed in its recap). Diversity of models was also more noticeable, even at Dolce & Gabbana (below), where the brand has made more headlines as of late for the controversial comments from its founders.
Which may be the larger lesson for Milan. That being a city nor a week nor an industry can rest on the back of one brand, and to truly be a community, younger designers must be given an equal platform (and at least credited as Jeremy Scott and Moshino continue to struggle with). However, and also seen in using New York as a mirror, Milan is also making impressive strides in changing its old ways to embrace diversity and internal evolution at its core. Rebirth of any movement always starts from behind the curtain, and if such shifts are any indication, and in the backdrop of a city steep in tradition, maybe Milan was proof you can evolve.
The grand finale which also proved to be the episode provocateur.
Gucci was the new kid on the block and guest of honour, continuing its world tour of camp and geek chic to stage its latest collection. Maria Grazia Chiuri staged a modern dance recital with what was rumoured to be her final performance and closing collection as the helm of Dior (image below), Galliano continued his well asserted reputation of modern ingenuity at Maison Margiela, and Chanel outdid itself with another multimillion dollar production taking attendees to the beach (including real life tide and water washing into the dock). There was a strong ebb and flow washing over the entire week in a collective sense, with many of the top brands making bold, blatant statements about dressing the modern woman in the #MeToo era.
However, it was Hedi Slimane’s lightning rod debut collection for Celine (formerly known as “Cèline”, with Slimane removing the accent) which commanded attention long before fashion month even began. Coming off a juggernaut, career defining tenure at Saint Laurent, turning the brand into a billion dollar cash cow for Kering, Slimane became a cult figure for his hallmark of California cool kid cum club kid . However, his appointment proved polarising from the onset, as this aesthetic was in stark contrast to Philo’s design style which seemed an easy fit for the brand and was christened as definition of the modern Parisian woman for press, consumers and her equally devout fans.
The show, as anticipated from his diehard pack of fans and as feared to the infuriated legions of of Philo fans, proved to confirm everyone’s assumptions and be textbook Slimane. Celine officially entered the matrix with hyper tailored jeans and mini dresses, rock and roll peasant inspired vibes, leather jackets and all black everything and everywhere. While versatile may be the incorrect term to describe a collection that heavily referenced the aesthetic he made famous at Dior Homme and Saint Laurent, Slimane also added in the press notes “the entire wardrobe worn by the male models is unisex, and therefore will also be available for women.” The reaction from the press was a mix of cautious praise of predictability to outright fury. There may have been no better indicator of the collective anger than the @OldCeline Instagram account, which served as a moratorium of sorts to Philo’s helm of the brand and has already amassed over 100k+ followers.
From not having enough diversity in the models cast to portraying a dangerously unrealistic and unhealthy body image in the noticeably thin models, the accusations and condemnations lauded at Slimane were complex and poignant beyond the obvious inditement of desecrating Philo’s vision. Yet maybe the true outrage stemmed from the fact that even in Paris, in all its supposed superiority and tradition as being the most prestigious and avant garde of all the fashion capitals, it too is no longer above the hype and social media chatter. As with so many other critiques that contribute to dominate the industry, Slimane and others like Michelle, design is trumped my hype and cult of personality. This is Even some of the most provocative and praised emerging players and designers were not immune and prove such a notion to be true.
Creative darling Demma Gvasalia, the mastermind behind former fashion black sheep and now cultural and retail phenom Vetements, made no bones or apologies about using his cult kid status to rip up the rule book, which ultimately opened the door for him to also assume the act of head maestro behind Balenciaga, While Balenciaga, a brand which has legitimately staked a tradition and reputation of using experimental, extreme designs concepts and silhouettes to drive genuine buzz and sales, was overshadowed by the frenzy surrounding the cult of social media driven personality from the likes of Michele and Slimane.
Time will tell if indeed the flash, buzz and strategy, that being, similar to Michele’s/Kering/Gucci’s, which is to massively expand product catalog and looks presented while doubling down on more mass market, accessible items (such as handbags, accessories and footwear) will translate for Simane as it has for Michele. Buyers seemed to be far more optimistic than press reviews, and were cautious of the collections potential. However there already seems to be signs of a slow down to Michele jaw-dropping momentum at Gucci compared to quarters past. While every brand now seems obligated to walk the tightrope of being digitally savvy and cultural credible, However, the entire notion smacked not just of sell out, but also the state of the industry as a whole to throw everything at the kitchen wall and see what sticks.
Which leads to a more profound takeaway of Paris fashion week. That being the real brilliance in the steady hum and undercurrent of the underestimated and unsung heroes, with Clare-Wight Keller’s stunning show for Givenchy being exhibit A (photo gallery below). Keller, who ironically took the reins after Tisci’s departure to Burberry, presented a breathlessly wearable, sublimely androgynous with master tailoring leading the way. There was no press release or big splashy interview with Figaro to lead the way, just letting the clothes speak for themselves.
Make not mistake: these are strange, often mad times we live in; regardless of where you are in the world. However, when stepping back to assess all the collections as a State of the Union for the entire industry, the lesson may in fact be eerily applicable to events playing out on the current geopolitical world stage. That being, try as you might, the tides of change are coming, the future is most certainly female and full of diversity, and try as you might, through all the hoopla, fake news, social media pandemonium and distraction, true talent and a return to form may indeed the only thing which truly stands the test of time.