All across New York, London, Milan, and Paris, Fashion Week was awash with speculation. How will the industry adapt to the modern consumer? Can Demna Gvasalia live up the hype? Who will land the head role at Dior? At Lanvin? In every crowded corner of the industry, conversation was reaching a fever pitch.
Fashion is intriguing because it is ever-changing and always evolving, but never has it been in such massive upheaval.
As I cast about for answers to these questions, bouncing them off of my peers and internally speculating as the weeks progressed, only one thing was clear: this is an exciting time to be involved in the fashion industry. Fashion is intriguing because it is ever-changing and always evolving, but never has it been in such massive upheaval. As a critic, my role is to discuss both sides of the business – the creative and the commercial – and to parse for the reader what was successful in a collection and what was not. There is a massive difference between visionary design and visionary marketing, and sometimes a designer will execute both in tandem with a collection that satisfies our insatiable thirst for the “new” while meeting the investor’s bottom line. Alessandro Michele is doing just that at Gucci, with sales that reflect the commercial strength of his work and designs that uphold his particular artistic vision. Take his collaboration with GucciGhost for Fall/Winter 2016, for instance. Michele just as easily could have had the graffiti artist sued for appropriating Gucci house codes for street-art purposes, but instead he brought him into the fold and made him part of the collection’s narrative. This move supports the idea that Michele is tuned in to what the kids want, and they’re responding to his strategy by voting with their wallets. Talk about a symbiotic relationship.
And so it goes, from New York to Paris and at all points in between, we are beginning to see who is excelling at solving fashion’s problems and who is failing to grasp the need for change and adaptation. While I was in Paris, the CFDA released the much-anticipated report by the Boston Consulting Group, the results of which seemed laughably obvious in hindsight. To briefly summarize the lengthy report might be a foolhardy maneuver, but, essentially, the conclusion was: every brand is going to approach change differently. Some, like Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry, will adopt the consumer-facing model that puts collections in stores the second they debut on the runway, some will continue on the normal schedule (which is still aggressively stacked with seasons, from spring/summer and fall/winter to resort and pre-fall), others will make showings private for buyers and select press only, and still others will try a combination of methods to reach today’s product-hungry-but-forgetful audience.
While at Paris Fashion Week, I took the opportunity to ask many regional designers how they were handling their output. Nathalie Trad shared her frustrations with the current model that places increasing demands on designers to produce. “There’s too much going on all at once,” she confided. “We’re selling Spring/Summer 2016 in stores, which is what I am currently communicating to my customers. At the same time, we’re selling Fall/Winter 2016 to the buyers, and creatively I’m working on Spring/Summer 2017.”
Syrian-British designer Nabil Nayal, who was recently short-listed for the LVMH prize, has a different approach. When I talked to Nayal about his retail model, he revealed that the intensive process that goes into creating his amazing “Elizabethan sportswear” collections, which combine the lost art of Elizabethan pleating and 3-D printing, is so time consuming that buyers and clients are happy to wait for as long as it takes to receive them. He answers orders as they roll in, but his timeline for delivery is unique. Even though he is creating two collections a year, he is also delivering at his own pace.
Individuality, it seems, is the key to unlocking the complexities of industry operations at a micro level, but it also applies broadly to the identity of the four major Fashion Weeks.
Nour Hammour is similarly situated. With her atelier on premises, her company can fulfill orders in rapid time, which is great for her clientele that includes Kendall Jenner, who comes to the showroom and snaps up six to eight of Hammour’s gorgeous leather jackets at a time. Essentially, delivery of goods is dependent on the size of the brand, its resources, its atelier, manufacturing costs, and other factors. Every designer is responding to the increased pressures of the industry in distinctly individualistic ways.
Individuality, it seems, is the key to unlocking the complexities of industry operations at a micro level, but it also applies broadly to the identity of the four major Fashion Weeks. Street and sportswear abound in New York, innovative prints and textile manipulation occur in London, Milan’s gaudy excess has finally taken a backseat to more creative and wearable fashions (see the “new” look at Versace as a good example), and Paris runs along a multitude of currents that saw some of the biggest changes of the entire month.
Much attention was given to Paris in particular, which is the seat of most industry speculation. First, the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, which governs Paris Fashion Week, announced that it will stand with the current system of showing collections six months in advance of the retail calendar. Additionally, with so many vacant seats at top houses, talk of Dior and Lanvin dominated conversations. Now that Bouchra Jarrar has been appointed to Lanvin, the gossip has ceased, but Dior’s position remains open. However, interim designers Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux have done an excellent job with Dior’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection, which pulled threads from classic house signatures and Raf Simons’ work and wove them into slick new products that had wide commercial appeal.
The true marker of Gvasalia’s success will only be known after time passes and quarterly financial reports are in. Until that time, I remain on skeptical standby.
Gvasalia’s hard-to-pronounce name was on many lips as well, as his debut at Balenciaga unfurled in a padded white room. Many people asked me what I thought about the show, and I responded, “First, tell me what you expected to see.” I was interested to see where expectations lay, mostly due to the fact that the brand named a practically unknown entity to the helm. I anticipated that Gvasalia would marry Cristobal Balenciaga’s aesthetic with his own streetwise, deconstructed aesthetic, and I wasn’t wrong. What was curious to me was the sudden cool caché of Gvasalia’s personal label, Vetements, which he created a few short years ago with his brother and a team of designers. Prior to his appointment at Balenciaga, I had never heard the name “Demna Gvasalia” or heard of the brand Vetements. However, as soon as the announcement was made, Vetements was everywhere, or so it seemed. I can’t figure out if this is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon at work or if I was just out of touch before. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is when you learn a new piece of information and then suddenly you start hearing it and seeing it everywhere. To me, Vetements’ surging popularity is a bit like the chicken-and-egg conundrum. What came first? Was Vetements popular before Gvasalia was picked to head Balenciaga? Or did Vetements become popular because of Gvasalia’s assignment? I had never noticed a single street-style shot of a Vetements piece until after Gvasalia took over Balenciaga, after which I saw his floral dresses and MA-1 bomber jackets everywhere. It seems like Gvasalia’s hype was built and sustained by the industry announcement, but this sounds like a meretricious accusation. The true marker of his success will only be known after time passes and quarterly financial reports are in. Until that time, I remain on skeptical standby.
Elsewhere in Paris, there were surprises aplenty. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld’s #FrontRowOnly show put viewers in an intimate setting where everyone was democratically assigned a front-row seat and a close-up look at the collection. There was no lavish set design, no spectacle to distract. As such, this proved to be one of Lagerfeld’s strongest shows for Chanel in recent memory, one that paid beautiful homage to house codes. Givenchy favored the same set-up, with every attendee given a front-row seat inside a maze-like set that saw a great Egyptian tale unfold on the runway.
Beyond Paris Fashion Week’s intimate settings and displays of individuality, there was a certain resolute attitude that bound all proceedings together.
Valentino was also in a contemplative mood, and backed its ballet-themed collection with a live piano soundtrack that elicited highly emotive responses from the audience. Shockingly, Saint Laurent followed suit. Hedi Slimane is not known for restraint when it comes to his shows, but this time the super-exclusive invitations were limited to a very select number of buyers and press. Slimane showed his Fall/Winter 2016 ready-to-wear collection in very couture circumstances. The presentation not only took place at the newly renovated Saint Laurent address at Hôtel de Sénecterre, but it was also created in the house’s two couture ateliers and was presented to many couture clients at the salon. It also took place in stark silence, save for the droning announcement of each look’s number by the same voice that had once announced Yves Saint Laurent’s couture collections. However, the brand maintains that, for all appearances, this was still not couture, but ready-to-wear with a couture bent. There are also rumors stirring that Slimane is opting to leave Saint Laurent, which casts this collection in a curious light. Was this a grand dénouement or simply a re-shuffling of the house aesthetic? Time will tell.
Not only did designers rise to the challenge of presenting some of their best collections to date, but they did so with tenderness that proved the resilience of the Paris spirit.
Beyond Paris Fashion Week’s intimate settings and displays of individuality, there was a certain resolute attitude that bound all proceedings together. The city is still fraught with anxiety after the tragic attacks that occurred in November 2015. Reminders of the attacks were everywhere: soldiers stood outside of venues armed with artillery, bags were checked, passports were matched to show invites, and attendees passed through multiple metal detectors on their way in to view the collections. Yet, the frisson of energy surrounding so much unanticipated sublimity injected somber real-world tension with a sense of emotional release. Not only did designers rise to the challenge of presenting some of their best collections to date, but they did so with tenderness that proved the resilience of the Paris spirit. Because of this, I found myself far more emotionally invested than usual and more excited for the future than ever. Although it is a time of confusion in the fashion industry – with no clear paths or answers readily available to the searching – it is also an exhilarating time to be involved and bearing witness to so many changes. The industry has been treading water for far too long, but now we’re pitched into a state of punctuated equilibrium where, after years of statis, things are about to evolve, branch off, and transform into a whole new species of fashion. In the words of Ernest Baker, “What a time to be alive.”