In fashion, the only constant is change
Last week a report began circulating online that Phoebe Philo might be leaving Céline to take the helm of Azzedine Alaïa, a rumor which the latter quickly squashed.
This year, all five weeks of it, has been rife with those. Is Hedi Slimane leaving Saint Laurent? Sarah Burton moving to Dior? And where will Alber Elbaz go next? Besides making the fashion world feel a bit like a school cafeteria, it’s also heightening a collective sense of hysteria. With each new whisper, comes a sense that the sky is falling.
Factor in the ever-present discussion about how the current fashion system is broken and the fact that a range of brands including Burberry, Tom Ford and Rebecca Minkoff has announced plans to make their runway collections immediately available to consumers and do away with the traditional, and frankly a little confusing, concept of runway ‘seasons’, and a frenzied picture begins to emerge.
This moment in history, more than any other before it, feels like the cusp of the kind of sea change those in the fashion industry have long talked about. It’s one thing to imagine how the world would look in the future (how many of us have spent our childhoods fantasizing about artificial intelligence and flying cars?), but it’s another to live it and watch one era end and a sweeping, once-a-century level of transformation begin.
What does all this mean for consumers? A lot, actually. For one, everything about the way we shop will look a whole lot different. And the concept of fast fashion won’t just mean Zara and H&M, but rather the luxury brands that have previously distanced themselves from the idea. Second, digital and social media will reach a new level of importance in driving sales. The days of seeing an image of a covetable shoe in a magazine or on social media and then spending the next six months plotting how to get your hands on it (or growing bored with it) will be over. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on who you ask.
When discussing the decision with The Business of Fashion, creative director Christopher Bailey described Burberry’s move to show men’s and women’s together and make both collections immediately available as progress, ‘I remember saying, this show has historically been shown to essentially an industry audience of press, media, buyers and people that we collaborate with. We are opening it up to an audience who just do not, and should not, have to think about our industry’s ways and approaches and timings. You can’t force a different audience to understand something that is designed as an industry event.’ Tom Ford echoed similar ideas when he made his announcement: ‘In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers, is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense. We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era. …Fashion shows and the traditional fashion calendar, as we know them, no longer work in the way that they once did.’
But ultimately, all of this might be undermined if the fashion industry can’t reduce the burnout rate of its top talent. No matter how storied a fashion house’s history, a shopper might think twice about buying from a brand if its entire look and message rotates too quickly. ‘When I spend £1,000 on a piece and then a designer leaves or gets fired the next year, it makes the investment feel less special. If the designer doesn’t make it past a few years, it makes me feel like I’m owning a failure,’ said one industry insider anonymously.
It will all make for an interesting show season, as we had into a month of autumn/winter 16 catwalks — possibly the last as we know in its current shape and form. Ultimately, this evolution is exciting and long overdue. But as fashion speeds up, let’s just hope the turnover of people making it, slows down.