from dreams to reality, look to fashion’s new fantasy
What will Burberry, Vetements and Tom Ford’s move to a ‘see-now, buy-now’ model mean for the sense of wonder and fantasy in fashion?
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans
Fashion as fantasy is often the bastion of the old school fashion set. It is the grounds for arguments that want to maintain archaic structures within an industry that is all about selling image; skinny models, white models, multi-million dollar shows, custom bags which go for £100,000 at auction -- elitist and unequal structures that are clearly outdated are justified as being 'fantasy'. Of course for these negatives, there's positives. Endless amounts of wonderment have come from fashion's ability to be fantastical and inspire fantasy: for without it we'd have no McQueen, no Galliano at Dior, no Gaultier, no Leigh Bowery, no Ziggy Stardust and no Beyoncé in the Formation video...
And it is on the runway where fashion as fantasy is so often realised. Designers and their teams spend six months funnelling ideas, money and energy into creating moments that take your breath away. The show routine is key for a brand's success in two ways: one — to inspire press to give the collection the write up a show needs to be hyped in order to two — make the customer remember what the hell happened six months ago when what they're buying was actually exciting. The system goes show, Instagram, online press, long-form articles (providing the collection was noteworthy/groundbreaking/offensive), editorials, store, you. A six-step process which takes all of six months. It's pretty safe to say that by the time a luxury collection drops we've seen the runways on the high-street, our rent has gone up and we've gotten our 'I need that item now impulse' out of our system. Vis-a-vis loss of profit for labels.
It makes sense, then, that in the last week the rebellion began. Burberry and Tom Ford — two of fashion's biggest players - and Vetements - one of fashion's hottest and hypest of tickets - have all decided to scrap the system introduced by Charles Worth in the late 1800s. Speed is society's obsession — since the rise of the net — our attention span, and our patience to wait for anything is in rapid decline. Christopher Bailey, Demna Gvasalia and Tom Ford are just the first to answer the cries of the customer. But what does this mean for fashion's fantasy? When the aim of these brands is to tie the creative process to the commercial, what will happen to fashion as we know and love it?
First off, the new gender rule works. It's kind of ridiculous that an industry which has been pushing the genderless agenda for a while now bases its entire calendar upon whether the customer has a penis or a vagina. In the short term it means more time and less overheads for brands — one show per season keeps often over-stretched designers, as well as press, models, buyers, and general industry folk, in better stead to do their job throughout the year. Long term, the melding of male and female shows into one could proffer continued and exciting explorations of gender presentation through fashion and that is a conversation that needs to keep on progressing. Bailey is also taking Burberry non-seasonal — simply September and February. Again, non-weather tethered collections make a lot of sense on the global scale — when a shopper in the heat sees a Wintery fur coat on Instagram, their attention, and profit potential, is naturally lost.
Straight from show to shelf though, is where it gets a little scary. What happens to a whole industry already in existence? The buyer who works on margins and deliveries seasonally; the factories who actually have to produce the clothes; the critic who loses four-months worth of sleep every year to get their opinions out the day the show happens; the magazines and editors whose entire job is to present the clothes in multifarious settings to tempt your wallet and maintain your six months of interest; these are all roles which will have to completely shift to match fashion's new landscape. And they will. In an industry whose content is based entirely on change, trend and newness, there's no set of people better equipped to adapt to seismic shifts in fashion's overall form. It's the customer who indirectly pays everyone's wage anyway, so maybe the industry should be aiming to satisfy the hand that feeds it.
One must question the purpose of the catwalk under these new circumstances, however. The new system proposed by Burberry, Vetements and Tom Ford is all about speaking directly to the client. Now one can instantly pick up what they see on the runway — the show has to be all about product, begging the question of how important the fantasy constructed on the catwalk will be in the brave new world. If this system is about directly inspiring sales, thus binning the system of creating a magical setting to maintain industry and customer interest for an extended period, could this change signal the beginning of a shopping channel style catwalk? A conveyor belt of fashion as reality, not fantasy?
If the system cuts out the need for column inches and editorial images, then surely fashion will lose its 'all about aspiration' allure that customers are looking to buy into. For it's not only the show, but the six months of shoots and celeb-watching which also makes you truly fall in love with a garment. It's the saving up, the dreaming of the moment your need-it item arrives in store, it's the planning of what and when you'll wear your new look that also contributes to the romantic, fantastical and addictive side of fashion. Delayed retail gratification, too, is part of the fantasy.
But with the removal of this delay, perhaps designers will in fact have to work harder to ensnare their customer. It's doubtful that runway shows will become moving catalogues devoid of emotion and magic, because even the most clueless person knows that people won't part with their money in any rush. People need to be romanced, they need to fall in love, so whether it's speaking directly to the consumer, or the press who speak to the consumer, the runway show still needs to invoke feelings, excitement and adrenaline or else the product is just another product. Blurring the boundary between long-term love and impulse, Ford, Bailey and Gvasalia will be preying upon the 'want it now' instinct which usually wanes six months on — upping profit for their, already multi-million, brands. Fashion is where escapism meets rampant capitalism — but as consumerism consumes the system, let's hope there's enough room left for dreaming.
Text Tom Rasmussen
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans