apparently fashion is dead… again

Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort has declared the death of fashion.

by Sarah Raphael
02 March 2015, 6:11pm

Li Edelkoort is not the first and certainly won't be the last person to make this statement. So who is she, does she have a point and should we all just quit our jobs, fold our magazines and concede to her accusation that we are "a ridiculous and pathetic parody" of ourselves?

People are constantly declaring the death of things. When the media started working online, it was the death of magazines and newspapers. Every year, there's someone clever saying the world is going to end and providing evidence that looks legit enough to make headlines. And yet, nothing much changes. The shelves are still full of print publications, and we are still, as far as we know, alive.

Edelkoort is an influential trend forecaster. She's written lots of respected books forecasting trends, colors, textiles, fashion, design and beauty. Her General Trend book hypothesizes trends two years in advance. She has consulted for huge brands such as Coca-Cola and Disney, been involved at the top level of the fashion industry since the start of her career and by all accounts, knows her stuff.

So what's she on about? The website Dezeen posted an interview with Edelkoort this weekend, in which she makes the following observations. We assess their merit and make some predictions of our own.

"We will see couture coming back." Edelkoort offers this as an antidote to the death of fashion. Which feels like a paradox. Can fashion save fashion? If fashion is the dying — sorry, dead — and irrelevant thing she says it is, how could the most exclusive and inaccessible pillar of the industry — couture — be the savior? If fashion is indeed excluding itself from the cultural conversation of the new generation, surely couture is the worst offender. With only a handful of designers still bothering with the art of it, and Kanye West telling the world fashion should be affordable and democratic, it's hard to imagine this high-brow art form making a come back. It's worth noting too that couture itself is in a state of reinvention. The popular couture of today (including how it is presented) is an entirely different entity to what it was a decade ago.

"We still educate our young people to become catwalk designers; unique individuals, whereas this society is now about exchange and the new economy and working together in teams and groups, which happens in every other discipline, yet not in fashion." I suppose her point is that the collective voice is much more important now, but every successful designer has a team of people working with them. Sarah Burton is a product of Alexander McQueen's team, Proenza Schouler is a double act, the Mulleavy sisters are equal parts Rodarte. No man is an island, and I don't think that's what fashion schools promote. When I did my masters in fashion, the focus was on working across the faculties. As a journalism student, I had to pair up with a graphic design student and a photographer and a marketing student, and so on, in order to make something worthwhile. Edelkoort's statement is particularly hard to stomach while sitting (as I am now) in an office surrounded by talented people who work together on everything — like everyone else in fashion…

"Fashion is insular and is placing itself outside society." This is a valid point, but Edelkoort doesn't go into detail so it's hard to interpret. It's something i-D has and is always trying to address. How do we talk about fashion and clothes in the wider social and cultural context? Is it still ok to talk about clothes and what's cool when people are being beheaded and the world is such a terrifying and messed up place? There is cause to say that the fashion industry just exists for those who are in it and that it can't see outside of itself, but the impact of fashion is inherent in society, isn't it? Clothes have always been a window into, or at least a painting of society and social behavior. Take that horrifying image seared into our minds now of the Coptic Egyptians being beheaded on the beach wearing bright orange jumpsuits and being held by men cloaked in black. What do these colors represent? What do the uniforms mean? It sets up an us and a them, a light and a dark, a good and an evil. Yes, of course you can argue that fashion has lost sight of society and many will agree that it has become "a ridiculous, pathetic parody," but it is still, in its first principles at least, a subject about history and substance. What humans wear will always reflect something and say something about the world we live in.

"Then there is the making of, which is done in countries where people are killed for making our garments." The conversation about manufacturing and conditions must be prioritized. It's easy to live in the UK and buy clothes from cheap shops and not let it cross your mind where and under what circumstances the garment has been created. Again, at an educational level, this is something professors and tutors are considering all the time. London College of Fashion tutor Andrew Tucker told me, "I look for students who have a really interesting take on fashion, and who understand how fascinating it is. It's a subject that goes from air-kissing and fashion shows to Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. If you're really interested in fashion, you're interested in its entirety, its past and its future." Fashion students now are more aware than ever of the problems in the industry, and are being educated in the social and political effects.

"And then marketing of course killed the whole thing… It's governed by greed and not by vision. There's no innovation any more because of that." Yes, this is a problem. Everyone in the fashion industry, at every level, is under pressure to PR themselves and what they're doing, to commercialize, get hits, make money. But then so is every other creative field. Society and business has changed and fashion had to adapt in order to survive. It has adapted and it will continue to do so, and this has displeased Edelkoort, but it hasn't killed off "vision." Designers might have to consider things they didn't have to before, and it's really, really hard, but they're still creating important work and we should be celebrating that.

"Fashion shows are becoming ridiculous; 12 minutes long. 45 minutes driving, 25 minutes waiting. Nobody watches them any more. The editors are just on their phones; nobody gets carried away by it." We don't disagree. The fashion show is archaic. Most people don't want to read show reports or see image after image, look after look, model after model. Not even the editors sitting front-row do, and they are on their phones all the time, actually, trying to find a way to spin it into relevance. Journalists have been talking about the demise of the fashion show for years so this isn't a new argument. Ask any older editor, who watched early John Galliano shows and early Yohji Yamamoto shows, and Alexander McQueen shows, and they will tell you that fashion isn't what it used to be. It's an industry that is struggling, like every other, to embrace digital and find its identity in the new world. So yeah, the jury is still out on this one.

There is some truth in Edelkoort's views but she's a pessimist. Fashion is an easy industry to lambaste because it is very flawed. Education and the internet generation aren't to blame though; they're exactly what's exciting about fashion right now. Edelkoort isn't just criticizing the present but also the future. Fashion's heyday of iconic shows might be over, but there's more than enough talent and intelligence in this industry to keep it relevant. Some parts of it are ridiculous and it's definitely culpable, but it's not dead.


Text Sarah Raphael

Sarah Raphael
li edelkoort