A Requiem for the Fashion Industry - Part One
Of all the things you wake up worrying about, I am sure that the imminent death of the fashion industry is not even among the first ten. And yet, we as avid consumers of fashion are at least partially responsible for its death. We do have some blood—er, buttons—on our hands. We owe it to this fallen comrade (now plunging like its beloved necklines) to at least take the time to understand what happened.
There are some who blame the pandemic for fashion’s demise, but in all honesty, the industry has been acting like an insecure teenager for years. It has been pushed over the edge by nefarious, self-serving bullies long before we got hit by the pandemic. Who are the culprits?
1. Fashion Education
The Business of Fashion asks the pertinent question, “Is fashion education selling a false dream?” It seems that a combination of Project Runway success and the democratization brought by social media has resulted in an enormous growth of demand for fashion education. As Sara Kozlowsky, Director of Education and Professional Development at the CFDA, says “In some cases institutions have experienced enrollment increases tripling student populations.” The result? There are thousands and thousands of designers that leave the schools every year and never find a job or are “unhappy with only making what sells” as one graduate says. Schools teach designers to be head designers and disruptors, but in reality most end up creating only safe, pragmatic stuff that sells. And that’s the best case scenario.
2. Designers who are recycling old ideas
That’s not quite an original idea of my own. I am referencing Li Edelkoort here, a Dutch trend forecaster and absolutely fascinating lady, who doesn’t seem afraid to serve uncomfortable truths to the industry she loves. According to her, “newness is a thing of the past,” and most designers are “simply making more and more ‘garments’ to finally conclude ‘With this lack of conceptual innovation, the world is losing the idea of fashion.’” There is a long explanation as to why designers—pushed by unreasonable deadlines—have given up on being creative and went on to just “create garments” but I am leaving that for another article.
3. The industry that let marketing take control of the creative process
According to Ms Edelkoort, “It is, without doubt, the perversion of marketing that ultimately has helped kill the fashion industries. Initially invented to be a science, blending forecasting talent with market results to anchor strategies for the future, it has gradually become a network of fearful guardians of brands, slaves to financial institutions and hostages of shareholder interests, a group that long ago lost the autonomy to direct change.” She continues, “Marketing has taken over power within the major companies and is manipulating creation, production,
presentation and sales.” Why did the industry put the cart before the horse? I would venture to say that an industry that should be driven by creativity has become strictly a money making machine… with little to no interest in creativity whatsoever.
4. And… Anna Wintour
Yes, you read that right. I blame the soulless fashion queen for the demise of fashion. Some love her and describe “her genius,” which according to designer Marc Jacobs, is “picking people very astutely, whether in politics, movies, sports, or fashion.” Some stopped liking her, like André Leon Talley who says she inflicted “huge emotional scarring” on many. I am with Talley here, because I do believe him when he says that she “was never really passionate about clothes”, and that she cared only about power (her own!). In her 30 year reign of Vogue, she single-handedly decided what we should wear and how. She handpicked and promoted designers that defined a decade of fashion: Alexander Wang, Derek Lam, Zac Posen, and Proenza Schouler. An ultimate dealmaker, she used her influence to exercise her power. When Michael Kors went bankrupt in the 90s, she waved her magic wand and found investors. She is credited for creating the Fashion Night Out and the Met Gala.
Do you know what all these accomplishments have in common? Proenza Schouler has gone from one investor to another and ended up with a firm that specializes in distressed investments. Last year, Derek Lam shut down his high-end line and Zac Posen went out of business. Fashion Night Out was cancelled and so was the Met Gala. It seems Ms. Wintour can do no wrong though as of this past December she got yet another promotion, shortly after acknowledging “hurtful mistakes” and for the treatment of Black talent at Vogue. I guess we wouldn’t be having this “conversation” if the industry was half as resilient as Ms Wintour.
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