everyone always wants more-more-more: has the fashion system reached boiling point?
After Raf Simons’ departure from Dior last week and the rumoured departure of Alber Elbaz today, the industry is calling for change to a fashion system overworked and over-consumed.
Only a few days after Raf Simons' shock departure from Dior, WWD are reporting that Alber Elbaz is stepping down as creative director at Lanvin. The news follows the designer's speech at the Fashion Group International's Night of the Stars last week - where he accepted the Superstar award - in which he talked about the new roles of fashion designers. "We started as couturiers with dreams, with intuitions and with feelings," he said. "Then we became creative directors, so we have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have become image-makers, making sure it looks good in the pictures. The screen has to scream, baby - that's the rule. And loudness is the new thing. […] I prefer whispering. I think it goes deeper and lasts longer." It seems almost written in the stars that Elbaz will now take over at Dior, and while we try to process all this change in less than a week, the industry is wondering just what happened to its once so humane pace.
If the fashion media can't stop reading into last week's departure of Raf Simons from Dior, it's because his decision is symptomatic of an industry on the verge of a mental breakdown. "In the context of everything that's happening right now, I'm questioning a lot. I feel a lot of people are questioning," Simons told WWD before his last Dior show in October. He was referring to a show system on overload where megabrand designers such as himself are expected to produce and present three collections a season: haute couture, pre-collection, and ready-to-wear. Simons didn't do menswear for Dior - Kris Van Assche does - but had he done, he could have added another pre- and ready-to-wear collection to his grand total—and that's excluding his independent Raf Simons men's label, which is another collection for him a season.
Around the fashion landscape, this constant pressure to deliver has widely been considered the reason for his departure. Whether or not that's actually the case is now beside the point. Why? Because the reaction from the opinion-makers of fashion in the wake of Simons' exit says it all: our industry's Big Bang is coming, and it might be nearer than we think. His departure, American Vogue's Sarah Mower wrote, "is less a reflection on one particular designer and one particular house than on the entire fashion system, which has been crazily running away with itself for reasons that no one seems able to understand." Recounting how Simons didn't even have time to visit Frieze last year, British Vogue's Suzy Menkes asked: "No time to take one day to go from Paris to London, for inspiration […]? Has being a fashion designer really come to this?"
Going beyond the overwhelming time issue, British Elle's Rebecca Lowthorpe called Simons a hero for walking away on his own terms. "Simons is an authentic 'designer's designer' in a world which increasingly upholds hyper-superficiality as its greatest marker of success. Where Simons is at the forefront of pioneering fashion ideas, the world is more interested in how many Kardashian bottoms are parked on a front row." For fashion's arbiters of taste, the press and the buyers, who are obliged to cover the impossible amount of collections now produced every season, enough is enough.
From regular ready-to-wear fashion week attendance to travelling to faraway destinations for pre-collection shows (not to mention weeks of trekking around the studios of smaller designers, who present their pre-collections there), the fashion industry is now an entirely different world to what it was just a decade ago, let alone in the 80s and 90s. Those who filled the same positions back then as they do now have felt the change more than any designer - apart, perhaps, from Karl Lagerfeld - and as Lowthorpe observed, it's not just about the demanding schedule. While celebrity culture has always been a part of fashion, overworked editors and buyers are now sharing their mobile offices, if you will, with the entertainment industry, eternally present to put the 'show' in 'fashion show'.
Something's got to give—and it's not Kim Kardashian or her mythical derriere. Celebrities and Instagram culture have become the poster phenomena for the over-consumption currently happening in fashion, but they are merely side effects to the overzealous greed and lack of attention span of we, the consumers, and the conglomerates, who are only too happy to serve it all up on a platter for us to devour. This mentality isn't just sucking dry amazing creative and literary minds, but polluting the world on the whole. "I personally believe that the entire fashion cycle is actually impacting our planet," Nadja Swarovski argues in an interview for the Winter 15 issue of i-D. "Do we really need to have new clothes every six months? Of course it's business, but aren't there any other ways that we can adorn ourselves without having to go through the waste? I like to wear things from last season."
The solution is obvious: cut down on the mass-production, the collections, the shows, the more-more-more. And in that, the solution is totally impossible. Money, after all, speaks louder than sense. Rather, we need to look to those who get it right: Rick Owens, for instance, who owns a young and organically-grown company that's now big business, but who doesn't feel a need to constantly add to it and go bigger. Owens does three collections a season, but somehow it doesn't feel like the strain is there. His aesthetic develops quietly from season to season, while he goes to town on his showmanship, conveying all-important emotions and messages to fashion and its surrounding world. That's what the industry needs.
Dries Van Noten owns one of the biggest independent brands in fashion—and he doesn't even do pre-collections. "My success in part has to do with the fact that my take on fashion is completely different from the big 'group situation', which, I think, for fashion is not so exciting," Van Noten told yours truly in 2011. "A lot of collections are purely designed for marketing reasons. The sales are taken care of with the pre-collections, which is also why the clothes you see on the catwalks, you never see in the stores. And so, people really respect the way I do it because everything we show, we sell. There's not one thing specially designed for the catwalk. If you want to do that, make couture."
Right about now, Van Noten and Owens must be the envy of every designer in the industry. Alas, not everyone can have their own big, independent fashion brand, and old houses - the megabrands - will always need designers. But now, as the cauldron of fashion is boiling over, perhaps it's up to the generation of designers currently riding the merry-go-round of creative director positions to put their foot down - like the leading voices of fashion did this week - and demand change. "I feel like doing something calm," Simons told WWD before his show this season. "Calm and beautiful and sensitive and romantic." Amen to that.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams