Fashion Observed

Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...

by Darryl S. Warren  

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T he fashion industry is facing a climate change of its own, as it were. Gone is the rigid season adherence, although many labels still show their respective collections within the same calendar frame. Some labels are blurring lines by releasing fall winter and prefall into the fashion mediasphere at the same time while still selling the items at the proscribed fashion seasons, a fact not lost to anyone who follows fashion. It appears that the industry at large is struggling with the decision to remain part of the pack versus supporting striking out on their own. On one hand, by releasing collections on their own terms they control the dialogue regarding newness and creative leadership. On the other hand, one can get forgotten as most of the other labels that stick with the calendar framework wash over the memory of these first releases, competing for attention in a climate where attention spans and memories are trained to be brief. And given that labels can produce new drops in a tight turnaround period, other more conventional labels can undercut the innovation, providing variations that steal the thunder and profit from the innovators.

Oddly enough, we have been a lot more conscious of times itself these days and many factors contributing to the conversations surrounding this subject at hand. In fact, it's really one that this blog itself was founded on, how time and history finds its way into the design process and has inspired others to follow, ranging from companion assessments such as those looking at the psychology of fashion to articles in major dailies that now follow the anthropological examination of design and trend paths. Our coming into a new century and a new millennium, the attention on our habits and use of retro, the awareness of cycle changes and disruption...all these contribute to the growing interest in why we do what we do and how it connects to the past, our present and the future. So strong is this awareness that the Metropolitan Gallery in New York City has an upcoming exhibit and gala (the well known and star-studded Met Gala) that looks at the relationship between time and fashion itself.

How can we not, when the constant anachronisms become omnipresent in the collections. The past few years has seen the post-war decades constantly mined for inspiration, with the more recent decades of the 60s through the 90s in favor and the "oughts" coming back; these were really best-of mishmash (and a dose of cheap and trash) of those decades anyway. Events that currently happen remind us of similar situations in our past. The political situation unfolding in the USA (think Nixon), renewed battle for gender equality and environmental alarm bells hark of earlier scenarios from the 70s; the legendary excess of consumption coupled with fascination with wealth and renewed global nuclear fears trigger memories of the 80s; and the fears of austerity, fetishing of the past and the excitement and wonder of technical advancements remind of the 90s. We find ourselves repeating multiple social life lessons all at once, unwrapped in real time on full throttle thanks to the internet, social media and the proliferation of smart devices that are fast becoming a personal staple.

What this blog notes is that wherever there is fear, the hesitancy to move forward gets stunted. The post-9/11 years saw a push back that seemed to reset everything (by eight years, looking at colour trends as a marker) and found a decade where everything retro came to soothe us. We retreated to our best memories to cope with an event coupled with a benchmark time change that, together, blindsided our psyche. Now that we have the kind of chaos that contributes to global political instability, threats of war, environmental consequences magnifying and non-stop warning of an impending severe recession, the fears are mounting. The collections for Pre-fall 2020 and now even Fall Winter 2020 have far too many examples to mention any specific designer; one glance will satisfy this claim. It was a bit hard to find the hoped-for volume of innovation outside of new textiles, and those aspects have to be seen personally to notice. But that so many designers are producing retro designs and minimalism is a clear signal that the industry is bracing itself for a repeat that nobody is looking for. And let's not forget the environmental aspect; one of the statements that accompanied the Prefall 2020 collection for Christian Dior was specific for sustainability, saying that designing timeless items that can be combined freely is what qualifies. Having established retro-sources as staples certainly qualifies.

Through this, we have the continued march of progress because we cannot escape where we are at, especially where the influence of technology ion our daily lives is concerned. Whether it finds a place by being cost-effective and accessible while meeting new demands for honoring sustainability is another matter. The growing movement for consuming less and producing within a closed-loop mandate is going to produce a byproduct that many have not thought about: existing labels will have to cut back, shrink down or cease to be. Having too many labels overproducing will not fly in the new consumer mindset, and the fashion rental market will only further erode growth incentives. While existing labels with an established following will weather the storms, the impending economic woes are a sign for the wise that, unless one has innovation under its belt to attract customers, this is not the time to jump in, especially if one is expecting to conquer the world at a scale that the more established houses have achieved.

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