Saturday 24 February 2018

All change as fashion comes under pressure

The fashion world is facing serious disruption, says Constance Harris, with collections being shown without designers, and designers opting for 'ready to wear, ready to go' - and it's because of social media

Saint Laurent model
Roland Mouret
Louis Vuitton

It isn't often that the fashion industry reassesses itself unilaterally. But right now there is a sea change going on. Many see it as a reaction to the influence of social media, which puts everything in the here and now, has new opinions every moment and insists - just like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - that it wants it NOW.

Retailers are doing both long (sometimes up to eight months in advance) and short (straight to store) buying, as they are feeling the pressures of social media and its constant demands.

Designers are taking control from buyers, selling their collections when they want to, again prompted by pressure from social media as well as the fact that their ideas are being copied. Meanwhile, the fashion media complains about big brands failing to deliver decent collections.

The big factor in all this turmoil is how social media and its immediacy feeds into the high-street's knock-off business model, which is so damaging to the designer market. After all, how often have you read that a high-street chain can get a version of a red carpet dress onto its shop floor in two weeks?

A dress that might have taken a designer several years to conceive and develop can be reproduced in a fortnight of frenetic production in a Far East factory, to be then sold in a high-street outlet at just 1pc of the outfit's original cost.

While it might sound great for the consumer, this isn't really the case when you take into account the abuses that take place at various stages of the dress's production: the people in the Far East who are paid poorly for their labour, the designer whose idea has been robbed without being paid.

In any other industry, such behaviour would be actionable.

Big brands have tried to hit back. First, they created elaborate, costly fabrics, using complex dyes and colours that the high street would find too expensive to copy - or so they thought. But the high street got near enough to the colours, so the designers' efforts had been in vain. Then they resorted to elaborate embellishment. Easy, said the high street, the East is great at all that.

At the designer catwalk shows held over February and March, which show next season's collections, several big fashion houses announced that they were showing their collections - and that they would then sell them immediately to the customer.

Dubbed 'ready to wear, ready to go', it's fashion's response to the high street's constant plagiarism of its work and an attempt to take advantage of social media-generated hype.

It all started with Burberry's abolition of the six-month wait between a collection being shown on the catwalk and arriving in stores. Then Tom Ford announced he was doing it too. Michael Kors said he would do it, partially, as did Diane von Furstenberg.

How much this strategy will spread is unknown. What is known is that everyone is under the same pressure.

And international terrorism is taking its toll, too. At Paris Fashion Week for autumn/winter 2016/17, the absence of many regulars was noticeable, both at the shows and the trade fairs. Designers I spoke to said that they felt people were afraid to travel. It is a cruel blow to the capital of fashion.

Then there was the absence of leading designers at big fashion houses. Nowadays, when a designer leaves a fashion house, the team that used to work under them takes over. Think of McQueen after his death.

Raf Simons left Dior back in October 2015. Alber Elbaz left Lanvin around the same time. Shockingly, there seems to be no hurry to find their replacements.

If this happened back in the 1990s, the big French fashion houses would have rushed to London and grabbed one of Central Saint Martins' best graduates to take over the lead design role, in order to keep their brand at the centre of the fashion stage.

But despite all this, there was some good news in Paris.

Louis Vuitton by Nicolas Ghesquière was the highlight of Paris Fashion Week. Ghesquière's collection has a 1990s feel - the decade when fashion was becoming truly modern. The upwardly mobile, working woman was to the fore, sports wear technology was new to fashion design and extraordinarily talented and beautiful designers such as Rifat Ozbek were at their peak.

Though I thought the Lanvin offering of late-'70s American TV glamour was a bust, I thought the Dior team, made up of Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier, delivered beautiful clothes in rich colours and fabrics, while skirts and knitwear were very strong.

As ever, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel delivered clear direction.

As in New York, London and Milan, Paris showed the themes of the season: quilting and puffas in coats and jackets, rich colours, velvet, leather, frills, embroidery, bare shoulders, embellishment, the coat, skirts, as well as '70s, '80s and '90s influences.

Though the fashion industry may be in the doldrums and considering big changes, we consumers need not fear - next season, whether we wear designer or high street, we will be looking very good indeed.

Sunday Independent

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