As we learnt in 2013 with Jimmy Kimmel’s video that went viral, in which he sent a film crew to Lincoln Centre in New York to ask professionals and journalists about designers and shows that had been completely fabricated, the fashion world takes itself very seriously. Each of those asked gave detailed and eloquent answers about people and trends that they’d never heard of, simply to save face.
I was once again reminded of this video today when I scrolled through my news feed and found an article being highlighted from September 2014 that VICE had published. It was titled ‘I Dressed Like an Idiot at London Fashion Week to See How Easy It Is To Get Style Blogged’. You can imagine how it goes. She turns up wearing charity shop hauls, things she found in a skip, a necklace made from a broken alarm clock and a plug socket, one man’s sock, a silver cape, eyeliner as lipstick, and she was snapped like crazy by ‘style’ photographers.
The general impression that you get from this – and other similar articles - is that the fashion industry takes itself way too seriously. There are quite a lot of people starting to laugh at this, and take advantage of it too. In many respects, I can see why it is such a big deal and why so many people would want to capitalise on it. According to data released by the British Fashion Council in February 2015, the UK fashion industry directly contributes £26 billion to the UK economy. Meanwhile, orders placed during London Fashion Week reach £100 million each season, and there is likewise £160 million worth of media coverage too.
5,000 visitors from across the globe - spanning from journalists, bloggers, buyers, photographers, influencers and broadcast crews - are expected to attend each season. And, thanks to social media and the Internet, it has an ever bigger audience online too; during LFW SS15 last September, the #LFW hashtag was used on Twitter 329,800 times. On Instagram, #LFW was used for 120,000 images during this same time. Statistics have shown that 94% of Twitter users were aware of LFW and 74% have an interest in it. And as for the live-streamed shows, they were watched during LFW SS15 in 196 countries.
When you have all of these statistics in front of you, it makes sense that the fashion circus exists. PRs run around crazed with clipboards, frantically scooping up last-minute attendees and celebrities. Journalists scramble out of their Addison Lee cars to get to every show on their packed itinerary, struggling to actually get chance to write about what they’re seeing in any great detail or with enough time to make it count. The designers are frantically pushing models down their runway for a ten-minute show that has taken thousands of hours of preparation. And they’re all doing this because there is a huge amount of money within the industry; not forgetting how everything presented this season will shape the editorial and advertising coverage in fashion shoots and magazines during coming months. More pound signs, more industry growth.
Yet at what point do we start reflecting on all this and begin looking at those taking advantage? How do we start to unpick the mockery and get it back to the fundamentals that it is meant to be about? After all, it is widely known that it is in fact the inter-season Resort collections that truly bring in the big sales and translate to shelf space in stores. We need to start redefining ready-to-wear.
Top on my to-do list is get rid of collaborations with huge corporations that really do nothing but undermine and devalue what fashion is truly all about. The unusual partnership between British designer Katie Eary and KFC springs to mind, in which her capsule womenswear collection for SS16 was produced during 60 minutes as part of the fast food chain’s #PackMoreIntoLunch campaign. Firstly, why on earth do those two names need to go side-by-side? Secondly, what does that say for designers spending months creating hugely intricate and bespoke runway pieces? Alexander McQueen would have sobbed.
Next comes celebrity collections – and front row positioning, while I am on topic. It makes sense. There’s money in it – and status. It’s just one step up from branded perfumes and merchandise. But seriously – let’s talk Yeezy. As Cathy Horyn wrote in a recent article for The Cut titled ‘Kanye West is Fooling The Fashion World’: “This second round of drab, broken-down basics proved he can’t be taken seriously as a designer, but nevertheless many people in fashion do seem to take West seriously - they keep showing up expectantly for his performances - and that makes them fools. Because they wouldn’t bother with this stuff if it were offered by an unknown, and if it’s the spectacle they seek, it changes as little as the clothes.”
I quote Horyn because I couldn’t say it better myself. When I first saw the collection, my thought was that this looked like an advertisement for Spanx. I asked for the opinion of a stylist friend, questioning – “This can’t be a serious collection right? It makes a mockery of true designing.” Said stylist admitted he actually loved the collection, until I challenged him to produce a beautiful, inspiring shoot with it. I mean, what can you do with a beige hoody and leggings? I wear that same ‘look’ to the gym! I certainly couldn’t see it taking off as the next big trend. Sure, it had a certain captivating element – although many ascribed this to the fact that the models looked like prisoners of war – and it was definitely one of the more racially diverse shows on the fashion week calendar, of which many have drawn in-depth political statements. But ultimately, Miuccia Prada and her embellishments or Tom Ford and his tailoring it certainly was not.
Let’s start to get some perspective and look at who is laughing at whom within the fashion industry. Of course we need to take it seriously – it’s an incredibly important and valuable currency for the UK economy – but we also need to get back to what it is truly about. Talent – explored and enjoyed with a sense of time. The mockery needs to be discarded; otherwise it’ll become nothing but a joke.
Words: Grace Carter
Image source: Vogue Runway