where next for the runway?

What to make of the industry’s painful adolescence, and the hope that comes from change? After New York and London Fashion Weeks, we reflect on a changing schedule, flustered economics, and the return of normcore.

by Jack Sunnucks
28 February 2017, 4:00pm

It was sometime German philosopher Heidi Klum who memorably once opined, "In fashion you're either in, or you're out." Whilst this Sphinx-like proclamation still rings true, it's now harder than ever to know what's, well, in. Is it combined men's and women's shows? Is it not having a show at all? Is it the shoppable runway? Is it rejecting fashion altogether in favor or the trend that refuses to die, normcore? Whatever it is, it has the industry in a deep identity crisis.

The main news this season in New York wasn't what was happening on the runway but off it. Proenza Schouler, long a conceptual highlight of the sportswear capital, is moving its show to haute couture week in Paris. For anyone else (perhaps save Marc Jacobs) this wouldn't be such a blow, but Proenza is beloved not only for its designs but what it represents — New York as a design innovator as well as a commercial powerhouse. The schedule in New York now seems a little empty, with two advertiser shows a day maximum. Add to this is the fact that most magazines now don't have the budget to send press to New York, and you're looking at a rather empty front row. It's a sorry start to the season.

It's in fact hard to remember when the actual clothes were the center of attention. Many of the major brands are now showing men's and women's combined. Coach is the latest to adopt this model, following in the footsteps of both Vetements and Gucci. Their aesthetics differ wildly, as do their initial reasons for showing combined collections. Gucci's creative director Alessandro Michele isn't much of a fan of gendered collections, and from day one has delighted in ambiguous clothes that could be worn by either sex. Vetements simply enjoys being contrary, and would rather everyone wore a bomber jacket and hacked-at denim. What the storied Italian house and the Parisian upstart have in common is a desirability rarely seen in fashion these days.

What this could mean, however, is that men's week, long somewhat hard to justify, is on its way out. The last decade has seen incredible innovation from men's brands, combined with increased sales and general fascination with the male as fashion plate. Raf Simons, Hedi Slimane, and Miuccia Prada have produced some of their very best work for the male form, upending the silhouette and playing with long held codes of dress. Right now however, it seems to be more modish to wear a Patagonia fleece than a conceptual androgynous blouse.

What this could mean however is that men's week, long somewhat hard to justify, is on its way out. Right now, it seems to be more modish to wear a Patagonia fleece than a conceptual androgynous blouse.

This is perhaps the central issue, and the reason for the industry's crisis — fashion just isn't fashionable right now. You only have to look back a few seasons on Vogue.com to see when it was most definitely in to wear a full look, replete with colored fur, perilously high heels, and a hat made of glittery fruit (and that was just the men). Now you're much more likely to see the fashion press, and everyone else for that matter, shlubbing about in a North Face down jacket over a hoodie. And definitely nobody's interested in highfalutin heel concepts.

This is in part just a turn of the roundabout. The global political climate no longer seems very amenable to frivolities, and it seems wiser to save one's money rather than spend it. If you are spending it, it's to blend in. Normcore, that much derided trend of five years ago, has refused to die, and to be honest is now more like the rule than the exception. This too could be laid at the foot of Vetements, intent on embracing and remixing stereotypes. When the ultimate status symbol is a slightly too-large bomber jacket, differing from the one at the army surplus store only in price, there's not much further you can go. The world's also fallen under the spell of sportswear. There's not much better than Nike, the sportswear behemoth. Apart from maybe Supreme.

Ah yes, Supreme. It's gone from treasured skate secret to gold standard of cool. Louis Vuitton even collaborated with it for fall/winter 17, sending Instagram into a frothing hypebeast meltdown. It's kind of a far cry from when the house's collaborators were Takashi Murakami, Stephen Shore, and Richard Prince, but it's also rather genius — whatever the trends, a Louis Vuitton monogrammed purse will always be the ne plus ultra of luxury. Jones excels at the kind of discrete design that's so in vogue, and has a knack for capturing the zeitgeist. It's like the very apex of normcore erupted at Paris fashion week.

All these ruptures and ripples in the fashscape — coupled with rumors that the world's most powerful publishing house is looking to sell — it seems like we're living through the death of the old fashion industry. But maybe this is just what fashion's been needing. The industry used to be just that; an industry, mainly remarked upon by those who worked in it. You might read about it in a column in the newspaper during fashion week, mainly if Tina Turner showed up to an Armani show, but that was it. The era of smartphones put an end to that, but maybe we're seeing an end to the incredible saturation of fashion related content. Why wouldn't one want to dress plainly, and sensibly, when faced with the constant online deluge of people looking either dreadful or dreadfully fashionable.

We're just seeing an end, even if only for now, to the decades of excess that typified the 80s. A streamlining, and a necessary one at that. The current system of fashion weeks does seem truly unworkable.

Of course, any change is painful, and from young designers to the most established houses, it's effecting the bottom line. It's easy to be nostalgic, but actually since 2000 there have been a plethora of crises that saw dips in sales, whether it was 9/11 or the 2007 recession that we're still stuck in. Fashion's in a kind of eternal crisis, which perhaps is why everyone's so hysterical. We're just seeing an end, even if only for now, to the decades of excess that typified the 80s. A streamlining, and a necessary one at that. The current system of fashion weeks does seem truly unworkable. For one, it's always fashion week somewhere. Even if you only cover the men's and women's shows, press and buyers are on the road for at least four months of the year. Not to mention couture, and pre-collections. And resort. The mind really does boggle. Isn't a pairing down what we've been needing?

There's also the normcore issue, but this too could be a positive. For one, it can't last forever. Just as peacocking outside shows had its moment, now happily passed, dressing like a dropout from Minnesota will pass into fashion history too (Minnesota's lovely by the way, and doesn't have a fashion week). It's already losing something of its luster — once you've bought a few overpriced hoodies it seems foolish to add to the collection. This aesthetic, like most of them, is really wildly nostalgic, reflecting the fact that young designers now are looking to their teen years in the 90s. In another ten years, designers will be looking to the noughties fondly for inspiration — perhaps they'll alight upon street style pictures and find them delightfully maximalist, ripe for mood board inclusion.

Is the fashion industry in crisis? Most definitely. Designers, editors, models, and their agents, all must change how they work in order to survive. I mean, not literally — nobody's going to die, and of course there are more pressing issues at hand. Saving the planet comes to mind, amongst other things. But on planet fashion, for those that can wait it out, what emerges in a few years is sure to be, if not better, then at least more suited to our times. What we need is not more choice, but less. Part of fashion's magic, seemingly forgotten, was its unattainability. The internet has radically democratized it, but also made one want what it offers less. What better than a drastic reduction of the industry to create scarcity and desire again. After all, people are always desperate for what is out of reach. Time to put fashion on a pedestal again. 

Read: From slogan tees to refugee models, the biggest trend at New York Fashion Week was being political. Should the runway be used as a platform for protest?


Text Jack Sunnucks
Photography Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Adidas

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