Fashion is all about the new, and yet somehow it’s become stuck in its traditional ways. Now’s the time for a change; the future’s so bright and magical.
“Every year, buyers and the press come to see the spectacle of my show. But I want to generate something else, something for a wider audience… who don’t have a seat at the show. Really, what I’m aiming for is world domination!” Alexander McQueen
As much as I like the movie, I’ve never really understood the ending of The Devil Wears Prada. Why would Anne Hathaway abandon her Parisian fashion dream world for her old, provincial existence, for her drab clothes and her dull boyfriend. Isn’t that the past we’re all trying to escape from? However, there is one explanation that makes sense of this odd decision. Maybe it wasn’t actually her intimidating Anna-Wintour-a-like boss that drove her away… maybe, she was just fed up with all the fashion shows? All the waiting around, and the social networking, and the running out of phone battery. (Or maybe she just really hated bloggers?) In the essay next door my adversary Anders Christian Madsen will suggest that the shows are here to stay. But this is my story of how fashion shows fell out of fashion.
“It used to be possible to be special - to sustain unique differences through time, relative to a certain sense of audience. As long as you were different from the people around you, you were safe. But the internet and globalisation fucked this up for everyone. In the same way that a video goes viral, so does potentially anything.” K-HOLE, Youth Mode: A Report On Freedom
The above quote from future-telling New York trend forecasters K-HOLE illustrates how the internet has helped to destroy the mystique of fashion. The elitism of the old houses is so much more difficult to upkeep in a connected world, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, all the shows are instantly available on Instagram, as journalists race to upload the first look at the first look. Secondly, a lot of collections are instantly cussed down on social networks and in the unforgiving forums of Fashion Spot. Thirdly, bloggers are cluttering up the seating plans, so much so that New York Fashion Week is banning a lot of them. Announcing this decision, IMG Fashion’s Catherine Bennett explained, “It was becoming a zoo.” And (fourthly) what do you have outside a zoo? Escaped lions and tigers, roaming through the countryside attacking innocent people. That’s what it’s like outside fashion shows these days, with hundred of uninvited hangers-on taking your picture or, worse, not taking your picture. It’s crystal clear that New York, London, Milan and Paris are all losing that air of exclusivity.
Instagram and Twitter are so annoying over Fashion Week. It’s like the same photo taken, badly, by lots of different people. Actually, Instagram’s not intended for taking blurry photos from the back row of an over-crowded show, with countless other iPhones and iPads blocking your view; it’s for taking photos of kittens, or selfies (of which more later). Phones are designed for sexting not for catwalk photography. And really none of these fashion editors wish to tweet from every show anyway - they only wish to enjoy the collections - but everyone else is so they have to as well. It’s FOMO and paranoia, like the Cold War. On which note, my adversary Anders Christian Madsen has a BlackBerry and so cannot use Instagram. How convenient. That’s probably why he enjoys Fashion Week so much, because he doesn’t have to bother with all the photos and videos. (I’m 90% certain that as soon as he’s off the Fashion Week merry-go-round he’s on a secret iPhone, Tinder-ing and Snapchat-ting away like the rest of us.)
Anders also used to write his own show reports for fun, which is completely crackers. Still, if only fashion shows were full of such passionate and informed fans, but they’re not. Anyone can attend a fashion show these days. I’ve walked into important shows without a ticket and sat on the front row without a worry. Last year a writer attended the New York shows while tripping on acid, and was soon chatting away with Nicola Formichetti and hanging out with Olivier Zahm. Last season topless feminist protestors stormed the Nina Ricci show in Paris, and were subsequently walloped by Marbella model Hollie-May Saker. It’s not all industry icons and the beautiful people; it’s blaggers, and bloggers you’ve never heard of, and celebrities you’ve never heard of.
Nonetheless I like the colourful characters inside the tent, and the swirling street style circus outside. I wouldn’t want a show without the curiously stylish likes of Yu Masui and his ilk. Honestly, rather than forbidding bloggers from New York, the fashion industry should seek to understand the new world they represent. Attempting to ban bloggers is like attempting to ban file sharing; or a dinosaur going to the zoo and moaning about all the new animals. It’s ok if young fashion fans wish to dress up in silly, outlandish looks and lurk around outside, because it makes the world a more interesting place. But I think they’re about a lot more than the desire to be photographed for street style blogs. They’re about the desire to photograph yourself, and construct an avatar, and that’s everywhere now. For instance, Instagram has played a massive part in making Cara Delevingne so very popular; she shares her world through sweet selfies and regrams of positive-thinking mantras, she shows us what it’s really like at Rihanna’s holiday house party. Through social networks we’re closer to that elusive world of high fashion than ever before. Why watch only the occasional Balmain show when you can experience that Balmain life - palm trees, pop stars, supermodels - all day every day on Olivier Rousteing’s very own account?
However, because of the proliferation of camera phones, fashion houses have lost a lot of control over their own image. And what is fashion about if not image? So what should become of the shows… Maybe they should become more elitist all over again, like Chanel’s opulent Métiers D’Art shows; for which once a year editors are whisked away to unexpected locations like Fair Park in Dallas, or Linlithgow Palace outside Edinburgh, that cannot be crashed or hung around outside of. These trips look utterly luxurious, even from a distance. Collections could be unveiled at one-off extravaganzas on secret islands that only the super rich have even heard of; or even in spaceships, floating around in couture. Maybe they should become retrospectives celebrating a designer’s history, like the recent Meadham Kirchhoff catwalk shows at the V&A, for which tickets were on sale to the wider public. Maybe they should be opened up to anyone that wants to attend, as massive consumer events for the customers and fans that support their favourite labels; shows could fill the hallowed turf of Wembley, and entertain a capacity crowd of 90,000!
“In the future fashion shows will finally be acknowledged as a consumer event. They used to be trade events but the consumer has been led in through the front door digitally for the last ten years. They’re right there alongside the trade watching the shows, getting inspired and wanting to shop.” Natalie Massenet, Net-A-Porter and British Fashion Council
Maybe shows should become interactive exhibitions, like the lush Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition that arrives at the Barbican this spring (complete with a chatty Jean Paul avatar conjured up through digital wizardry). And there’s no need to stop at exhibitions either, as today the world’s most luxurious labels are constructing their own contemporary art super-institutions; 2014 will see the openings of Rem Koolhaas’ industrialist Fondazione Prada on the outskirts of Milan, and Frank Gehry’s crystal-palatial Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation in the Bois de Boulogne. Fashion’s about building a timeless brand, and every fleeting collection is only one part of this.
Maybe the fashion show should be reimagined as a sort of sitcom, in the manner of the Victoria’s Secret show; a sexy yet strangely wholesome sitcom starring the most beautiful women in the world. It’s not really an event that the fashion crowd attend, it’s something that you watch on TV once a year, like the Super Bowl. Alongside some really rather amazing costumes - like last season’s floating emoji clouds - there’s pop stars singing live, and inspiring model backstories, and feel-good backstage fun. There’s also, of course, salacious off-screen rumours, of pop stars having sex with married supermodels in cupboards and such. It’s really quite captivating. Maybe now’s the time for fashion film, its MTV moment as it were. Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, showed how his aesthetic worked just as well on the silver screen as the catwalk. Prada not only designed all the costumes for The Great Gatsby, but commissioned its own Wes Anderson film, Castello Cavalcanti, in which Jason Schwartzman crashes his racing car into a statue of Jesus Christ in the Italian countryside.
Of course it costs a lot to make a movie or open an art museum; and even a small fashion show is too costly for fresh-out-of-college designers. But DIY culture is still alive and very well elsewhere. Look at the alt-lit writers and bedroom producers, the lo-fi filmmakers and internet artists, that often appear in i-D. Everyone has to find a way of making and showing their work. Raf Simons’ first collection, for autumn/winter 95, featured only two street-cast models in a video presentation. Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection, in 1958, was only a presentation; although, admittedly, a two-hour-long presentation. From small beginnings come superstars. Furthermore, apart from the cost of catwalk shows, they also place all the power in the hands of the Fashion Week organisers themselves; and those that aren’t included on the official schedule are often forgotten. Why weren’t the likes of Alex Mattsson, Martine Rose and Shaun Samson included in London Collections: Men this year? Why bother starting a dedicated menswear week if there’s so little space for daring designers?
At his thrilling spring/summer 10 show, Plato’s Atlantis - tragically, his last - Alexander McQueen worked with Nick Knight on towering robotic cameramen that travelled up and down the runway, live-streaming the show from the most unlikely of angles. He wanted to create a new way of seeing, for an audience around the world, because the traditional show format feels out-dated in our age of digital spectacle. Consider the otherworldly opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics - one of the greatest shows the world’s ever seen - which started with an invisible giant exploding across the city in fireworks. There was a scandal, of sorts, when it emerged that some of these pyrotechnics were only CGI effects rendered on the vast screens of the stadium, and our televisions, but who cares? I think the real and the virtual should be combined to create such special effects.
Today, with new technology like Google Glass and the Oculus Rift headset, virtual reality is available to all. Designers already commission amazing sets - Karl Lagerfeld imported an entire glacier from the arctic, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs made an actual train - but now they might conjure up whole worlds for their consumers, or sculpt their ideal person from scratch. Shortly before his death, John Casablancas, founder of Elite Models and father of Strokes singer Julian, created the first virtual supermodel... Webbie Tookay. At the time an agency spokesman explained, “She’s perfect. She’ll never have to complain about working long hours, never gain weight, never have to worry about boyfriends, lawyers or personal managers.” And, not only a pretty face, Webbie was also available for interviews: “She’s concerned about what’s going on in the world. She’s a very conscious person.” Sadly her career never took off. She looked awful; and the world of modelling is cruel and cut-throat, even when it’s not real. Nonetheless the sweet success of holographic Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku, who sells out stadium concerts, suggests that virtual supermodels will rise again. Perhaps one day fashion shows will take place in our offices and our bedrooms, projected around us like so many chic hallucinations. Perhaps our clothes themselves will become the internet: we’ll wear our Instagrams on our heart; our knickers will light up whenever a Tinder match approaches; our shoes will have LED illuminations like a boy racer’s car, and whenever we wear them we’ll be able to fly! What if we could remake our perfect selves in virtual reality; wouldn’t that be fun?
To tell the truth I love a good fashion show; I’ll never forget the first time I went to Meadham Kirchhoff or Christopher Kane. And I’ve always enjoyed attending alongside my adversary Anders Christian Madsen; there’s a lot of drinking and laughing and smoking, and he’s one of the finest show companions a man might ever hope for. I miss the shows actually. Fashion offers a window into another world of sex and magic and beauty, it offers an escape from the every day and that’s why it’s so compelling. The internet also offers an escape from reality, which is why I’m always lost in my phone. Whether buying some sneakers or uploading a selfie with a kitten, I’m remaking myself as I want to be. To hell with tradition! Combine these two fantasy realms of fashion and technology and the possibilities are infinite; as long as we’re living in the future, we might as well.