Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...
by Darryl S. Warren in Vancouver
Y es, we know....Denmark just posted their recent fashion offering to the world and this blog will have something to say....after a few weekends of much-needed rest and relaxation that the rest of the fashion world has been having. In the meantime, please follow on Twitter (yes, tell everyone you know to do the same) and midweek while on holiday I will share items for your reading pleasure...just as we regularly do weekly. Happy Summer from Fashion Observed.
O f course the eyes of the world are on Rio de Janeiro as the 31st Olympiad takes place. Sports fans get their megadose of viewing pleasure while much of the world feels the collective pull of joint camaraderie that only global event can provide. The unease of world politics is hopefully put to rest as we engage in the simplicity of physical competition that underscores the power of democracy. That this year's theme is entered on hope is not lost in the long-reported ironies that somewhat stain the underlying message while shining uncomfortably vivid authenticity in the process.
Fashion has also waited for this moment as its role has become increasingly more pronounced. Not only do we look to the opening ceremony to see what the world is wearing but we also now look to see who is behind the creations as more designers jump on board to craft the wardrobes. Andre Tan (Ukraine), Castro (Israel), Christian Louboutin (Cuba), Dsquared2 (oh Canada), Georgio Armani (Italy), Lacoste (France), Masha Ma (China), Ralph Lauren (USA) and Stella McCartney (UK) were among the many supreme talents recruited to bring style to the games just as the fashion world enjoys athleisure as a predominant and now-anointed permatrend (or recurring one if anyone for the late 80s/ early 90s wishes to speak of the first sports wave that infiltrated fashion, thanks to hip hop). Countless other host labels that are the pride of each country join to bring the best to the world stage that truly signalled the cultural importance of fashion in our global culture by featuring a long solitary catwalk by Brazilian bombshell/supermodel Gisele Bundchen in a Alexandre Herchcovitch sequined gown. That this gesture is even part of the ceremonies at all speaks volumes of the power of fashion today, for this signals that fashion has currency in our global makeup. It also shows how we need a distraction to draw away from what is on the other side of reality; note that South Korea had their stylish uniforms infused with insect repellant to combat exposure to the Zika virus.
The message of hope was drawn against clear messages about current states of global poverty, growing strife of all manners and runaway ecological issues we cannot ignore; all are distressing and alarming and ever-present. The predominant colours of the ceremony in the fashion were bright and strong. True, the vivid colours from flags are always inspiration but the choices here were often hot and bright, filled with energy and reactive to fear; those knowledgeable on colour theory will attest to the ceremony show's leaning to alarm yellows and fantasy purples last reminiscent of the pre-Y2K and post 9/11 periods when such colours reflected the combined alert status versus the need to escape (note the fireworks and contrasting lights during the ceremony).
Also visible was the unspoken class distinction encompassed by the the incorporation of the traditional garment of formality: the blazer. This was joined this time by the more fashion-forward nod of athleisure and fashions subtle combination of the two as an unspoken gauge of relevance, showing the wealth and global status through this singular garment. Countries not as involved in the first-world fashion game tended to lean towards more traditional dress verse the more westernized uniform (and inadvertently provided more rich inspiration via cultural authenticity, African, Middle Eastern and island nations in particular). Much like the way those of higher means feel liberated to flirt with fashion versus formality in general life (largely due to the confidence that comes with deeper exposure to the world of fashion that the luxury of free time allows), those rising to the ranks but not yet in the "major leagues" showed up in more conservative tailored decorum of presentability, i.e. a safer approach. The jacket is what the suit was decades earlier or what the LBD is today: a general go-to when unsure but not wanting to be too underdressed, albeit in the Olympics colour play is welcome.
The takeaway for us today is how fashion will be influenced by what was seen during the ceremony and parade of athletes and mores what they tell us the world is ready for overall as fashion pushes us closer to the new identity that will be 21st century's overall cultural identity. The safer conservative cuts balanced by colour, some contrasts, vibrancy and flashes of ethnic rawness in between come against clean execution (supported by our image-conscious selfie culture) crafted with technical fibres combined with utilitarian function that sportswear offers. And for those concerned about whether one is underdressed, just bring long a blazer for added polish; that is now, as ever, universal.
T he lazy embrace of summer break allows the designer a chance to ruminate their work and direction, to ponder inspirations and new influences in order to remain at the precipice of creative innovation, and to consider all options with an eye on profitability. There is much to consider these days; one of these points of contention is our changing preference of proportion and dimension in the wake of diversity awareness.
For the longest time fashion has embraced a rather restrictive model that showcased the design, utilizing a body type, age and race that failed to represent the actual populace. Those designers fortunate to have an international reach are aware that different ethnic groups can have variations on proportion and fit; for example, local lines in Japan will not sit well on a more Nordic frame and need alteration to suit the body type it wasn't originally meant for. In our global market, designers need to consider the variations when creating design that goes global to satisfy diverse markets.
Cultural values has also recently influenced collections. Before, we'd find some years where covering up the body was preferred while in others the glorification of sexualization would allow strategic lack of coverage to be showcased. Now, with diverse values to satisfy we find designers providing both options, thus altering the formula and changing the trend landscape.
With the rising cry of inclusion for all body types and ages more pronounced, new challenges will shape collections further. Some designs translate better on a wider variety of body types, while others do not. Therefore, the maximizing of profitability will provide influence over which pieces become more pronounced and shape trend directions for a wider audience. As well, some design challenges for previously ignored body ranges may open doors to new design approaches that can alter the greater aesthetic. This new form of exclusivity (something that always is favoured in fashion) will shape influence in greater design collections and, eventually, the general public that gets influenced by them.
Our growing awareness inclusion and acceptance is fostered by the democratization that our connected world provides, yet this inclusion creates new exclusion as we create novelty in the "discovery" of new type territories to glorify; fashion feeds on this as it seeks newness as its constant.
So while the bad news is that, at some point, your "type" may not be the flavour of the month, the better news is that we have grown the roster so that we all have a chance to be special in the eye of fashion. And so it goes, so it goes....
N ow is the time when many are away recharging, resting from the hard work that will culminate in the 2017 Spring Summer releases. But what will come? Some hints have already arrived via early releases from Damir Doma, Julien David, Public School and Vetements regarding the continued experimentation influence of the 80s and 90s acting as a foundation for breaking new ground. Proportion play and silhouette/cut exploration hide within the desire for change amidst the need to cocoon and withdraw.
Already, the apocalyptic aspect is playing out in real life and in our entertainment mirrored in the measured tatters we saw in recent collections. But now we are past that. We aim for something more, something higher than ourselves. It comes from looking within and beyond. To do so, we take advantage of our technical advancements and balance this with a nod to what we know, what is familiar. This tether to the past is our safety line that grounds us as we take brave steps forward. This introspective and thoughtful part of us is coming as we face our fears, be they political, economic or otherwise.
We will soften as we create, open to our imaginations and play with form and pattern. We will embrace texture while rewarding us with tactile gentleness, and allow technology to bring innovation to continue comfort. Warmth will be light (textile innovation will rule here), colour will lean to fantasy as we allow darkness to have its place (think of the colours the last time we got lost in ourselves during those decades). Boldness is still among us but will not be alone, for memories we can lean on will guide us to attempt to recreate better times in similar circumstances and sentiments.
We want more. We want better. What this means requires tapping into our hearts and soul-search for what that is. Fantasy is subjective, and will be part of this expression just as it was during the last collective efforts of experimentation as we walked the precipice of our uncertainties. And, as before, technology will help us with the monologue, again fine tuning what creatives have in their minds to translate this aspirational escape.
The Haute Couture Fall Winter 2016 season is done, as is Resort 2017 and Men's Spring Summer 2017 while Women's Spring Summer 2017 Ready-To-Wear as you know already had some early showings breaking from the traditional calendar. But now is the time when fashion traditionally takes a break before jumping in to the full Spring Summer 2017 Ready-To-Wear season gets underway. The break is due to Europe's August tradition where most people go on holiday. Mills shut down; if you haven't ordered fabric beforehand, you are out of luck until September.
While "holiday'' might suggest something festive, we don't have much to celebrate these days. The UK revealed the power of ignorance and xenophobia in a referendum that has cost the UK already, while the US has shown how little has changed regarding issues of race as revelatory statistics of law enforcement and minority deaths, coming on the heels of public discussions on inequality ranging from gender pay to balanced opportunity as its political process underscores that peace relations are far from evolved. Ageism, fat shaming, and senseless random mass killings that now seem like a global phenomenon threaten the simplicity and innocence of daily life while further dividing the public on a myriad of sensitive areas revealing the power of our fears and the need for us to take a closer look at the choices we make and the consequence of our thoughts and actions. And let's not forget the recent coup attempt in the cradle of civilization; a cashmere urban camouflage print straightjacket seems "a propos" these days.
Our conscience has even struggled within the industry as we talk about what needs to be done yet seem hesitant to make the bold steps to embrace doing what we know would make the world a better place, be it better efforts on diversity or shifts supporting changes in what we consider acceptable body sizes in the runways and advertisements in the name of supporting healthier role models that contribute to better self esteem. And yet, on the whole, we cling to what has always been.
Changing what is aesthetically popular is the domain of fashion and it is powerful. Fashion is also reactive to the public as much as it is influential, and economics is part of that equation. Our choices to support and make popular personal aesthetics is the fuel that can initiate change. Right now, the social media landscape continues to support what we see. When the public decides by popularity to adopt a new preference of aesthetic standards, fashion will be on board.
Fashion can lead by providing the supportive platform for change. Many retro fashion creations that are continuously produced in response to big data based on public consumption habits. This data is brought to the designers in conjunction with forecasting information that informs the team to make sound design directions that will bring profit (remember, fashion is ultimately a business). But fashion is supportive of innovative design initiatives which shape other designers and the consumer. The continued play with deconstruction is fast becoming mainstream and its sophisticated evolution is supported with each season as the concept reappears in more complex execution stages.
As such, fashion can also be the agent of social change through the power of imagery. By making diversity of all types the new standard, fashion can be on the side of social advancement. It is the timely dialogue of common sense questioning why we aren't enacting the obvious changes in the face of our ugliness in our hyperconnected real-time technical world that signals hope.
It's not that we haven't had these topics discussed in length, but now we have the technology supporting hard data and democratic platforms to host these discussions to a broader audience in the name of betterment of man(and woman)kind.
So how does this relate to trends and what we wear? The clinging of the past via retro designs versus the newness of technology and new concepts that break for convention to become the new convention is something evident in current presentations these past weeks. Attempts to push boundaries versus tradition show a wide range, which represent the range we as people have. We're trying to figure it out and coming to terms with where we stand, what we value and what is right, all subjective and up for evolution...or revolution, which is the catalyst for evolution.
Some will lose interest in fashion citing that its place is low on the totem pole in the face of more important global concerns while others need it to soothe in the escape that it brings. Fashion has the power to distract, an antidote from the bombardment of world woes that seem too large to handle. It is likely that designers will find ways to react to all this seriousness in their own ways much as they did after 9/11. But it will go on because we do. The core inspiration from the 2000s, the best-of from past decades as a mashup revisited, will continue to comfort; that is a natural reaction when faced with fear. But...and this is a more positive interjection... there will also be defiance that deconstruction coupled with technical innovation provides. As Donatella Versace showed post 9/11 as a preamble to her show, she declared that our creativity will not be held hostage. We will find a way to cope, to express, and to move forward, finding a way to coexist with the chaos that is fast becoming de rigueur. It is what we as human beings ultimately do.
Now ends another chapter of the fashion calendar, that being the Haute Couture Fall Winter 2016 season. Within these luxe presentations represents the range that fashion faces: wearability and classic appeal that ensures sales versus the risk of experimentation that breaks boundaries which can either fall flat or become doorways to groundbreaking influence that shapes fashion for seasons to come.
Even though there is a lot of play with form and assembly with a healthy embrace of technology, the familiarity of twentieth century foundations within every collection tells us that we are still reluctant to move completely into a future yet unwritten; the retro sourcing betrays the innovative steps incorporated these days. This is not for want of the designers who painstakingly create from the heart. Haute couture is the height of passion supported by the kind of budgets and access to artisans many creators dream of. But the public...even the exclusive world that couture caters to... isn't fully ready to leave the last century behind.
The presence of technical materials utilized now suggest a willingness to embrace the future, and the proliferation of deconstruction and creative upcycling show that we are willing to embrace new mainstays to support new results that can usher in unlikely yet innovative directions. The problem is that everything is still approached from a 20th century way much the way early 20th century designers with ties to the 19th century fell back to approaches rooted in their experience. It was only when those with no ties whatsoever to the 19th century came into power that they took the innovations of their day and translated these into what they felt related to their experience. This was free of prior generations' perceptions pop appropriateness and embraced a combination of values and lifestyle.
We want to go forward. The current experimentation of Iris van Herpen, Maison Margiela and Viktor & Rolf seen in these couture collections reflect the key elements of the kind of platform that will lay the way for the new way of fashion we have yet to fully actualize. It embraces new technology, disruption of assembly convention and ecology via repurposed materials to satisfy this desire to grow forward. And as we speak, continued experimentation and technical progress hold the keys to further us into new frontiers. But just as the Art Nouveau era could only hint the sporty disruption the Deco period would bring, so to is this experimentation within the limitation of time yet arrived.
We are getting there, wherever that may be. To some, it seems like madness in the making. But then again, what we consider as the norm these days would have been considered the territory of insanity for those the century before. They couldn't "get" us any more that we will not fully "get" those of the coming years that will define and represent our new century. To arrive, we have to go to the edge, ready to greet whoever is purely on that side of the 21st century to "get" what we are trying to be. At least we now know what some of the components are, and eventually they won't seem nearly as crazy as the world seems to be right now.
Fashion is facing an avalanche of presentations as we speak, as the Resort 2017, Menswear Spring/Summer 2017 and The Haute Couture Fall Winter 2016 collections roll out to compete with the slow trickle of sooner-than-expected Womenswear Spring/Summer 2017 collections. If last season was talk of disruption, this season shows that it is now a bonafide fact. Not only do we have challenges to the calendar while facing the division of gender more set in presentation, we also now are coming to celebrate the entrenchment of deconstruction and proportion play as increasingly a new norm. But that is not all; class distinction in fashion is relaying choice as the new luxury, and even with luxury we are seeing rules being broken with purpose to underscore how challenging convention permissively is the new privilege.
The variety of design DNAs present during the recent couture showings illustrate the hallmarks of each designer, bringing distinct points of view to the fashion arena. Each designer so far is bringing their distinct voice, their earned reputation and hallmarks of their label. Some have chosen the security of tradition while others seek to rewrite what that means. Be it either direction, the choice underscores value of investment, which is what couture is.
While we have variety within the couture ranks, another disruption is being lauded during the calendar as Vetements chooses this period to roll out Spring Summer 2017 with a stab at the couture process that fashion is enjoying…and watching carefully.
Following the lead of Damir Doma, Julien David and Public School, Vetements joins the collection shakeup to bring collections to stores sooner. Regardless of the reasons, Vetements has taken disruption a step further by, in effect, crowdsourcing the couture process, creating a collection based on collaboration and customization of other brands. Whereas deconstruction usually means reconfiguring ones own designs, designers such as Maison Margiela introduced artfully repurposing existing materials from other sources several seasons back. Here, Vetements took it a step further by working directly with the sources, letting them recreate based on the their direction. Showing in a department store during regular hours, they covered upending all aspects of hallowed couture ground while producing exclusivity honouring mass influence.
Is it couture? Not by convention, no. But in a modern way it is honest in the uniqueness that couture supports while admitting how the modern world is redefining status. Tradition has standards regarding location and handwork with exotic materials and painstaking effort that define what gets to be called “haute couture". This variation still requires customization but in whole items, not in elements and reflects specialness but in new terms. What is unique in an age where utility matters is the ideas, in effect our new currency. In an age where luxury is mass produced and internationally accessible to the point where what defines it is lost in the drive for profit, a tongue-in-cheek approach as unwittingly nailed the new form of luxury. It’s known yet limited in its incarnation, can fit our world yet can stand apart. And as we look for cues on what will constitute 21st century fashion, this becomes another important part of the puzzle in plain sight. No only are we witnessing the unravelling of the fashion calendar, but we are seeing a new consideration of what fashion design is. And it looks like we’re frank about outsourcing and redesign as integral to breaking new ground.
It has been said before in this blog that we fully recognize how hard it is to be in the fashion industry. It requires a lot of work to balance creativity with business acumen. Our sentiments still hold true today, especially as expectations add pressure for design teams and houses to come use with collections that can hold interest while attract investment...emotional and financial.
We understand how it is ultimately a business, and the climate is more challenging than ever, especially now that the UK has made decisions that impact the industry following the vote leave the EU charmingly tagged as Brexit. These recent events compound ongoing concerns that have been recognized but downplayed. But anyone who has followed this blog knows that the complex global economic picture is not as rosy in the eyes of the general public, largely thanks to the years of alarm we have conditioned ourselves into.
We're flattered that the much-respected and informative industry online magazine Business of Fashion recognizes this climate and its impact on the industry as they discussed this in a recent posting; it's a message we know has been fuel for collections for some time, even if we also acknowledge the more positive threads within the collective psyche. But it's also clear that we are more fragile than we choose to let on, and we don't always hide it well, especially in the age of information. And now that we have yet another concern, we bring it to the fore to discuss how to weather the impending storm.
Many 2017 Resort collections reflect a rather safe approach that cannot be faulted. The public as a whole is still nervous about taking too many risks, and seeks familiarity while knowing we are in a changing world. Most collections are wholly retro-influenced with modern touches but the cuts, shapes and even volumes are still familiar, evoking good times where the world was less complicated. Some collections are even safer, stirring into clean simple classics much the way many lines did in the 90s to ensure profitability when tightened purse strings meant the end for some houses. But we also live in a connect world where globalization and technology have allowed designers access to markets in ways never-before possible, increasing chances of survival if not fostering growth.
But even industry media outlets know what is all to true: this safety is becoming almost formulaic and while sales are still there, it seems like the sure bets are taking some of the passion that fashion normally brings to our lives. The blending of elements of the past with materials of the present are producing some beautiful clothes, many that are wearable and that shouldn't be bad...and it isn't. But it shows a cultural stagnation and that is bad if we are to evolve.
Fortunately, not all designers have held back. Some designers continue to push the boundaries in small ways, toeing the border of familiarity while edging "the new", smartly pulling us along safely while positively reinforcing us to go forward while still embracing enough familiarity to guarantee sales. A few others, though, are trying some new steps, taking chances and banking on the desire we all have for something different and uncharted. So far, collections from Acne Studios, A.W.A.K.E., Dion Lee, Issey Miyake, Ji Oh, Louis Vuitton, Maticevski, Mother of Pearl and Ports 1961 are showing signs of experimentation in cut, form and material play as they attempt to take us into new places and it will be interesting to see how these collections influence upcoming ones next season.
Of course, the 2017 Resort collections aren't done yet, so anything else could come up to upend the game. But...really...what's wrong with that?
Fashion is busy these days, with the 2017 Resort collections continuing while the men's collections are also competing for attention. This blog recognizes that menswear is showing more range and creativity than in past years, similar to during the 80s when boundaries were tested the first time around. But ultimately, innovation lies where the most allowance is, and as much as menswear pushes past its limitations, the real play with form, cut and silhouette is found where the most range is offered. Until change really takes hold, women's wear offers the most latitude to experiment, and still leads when looking at trend creation.
Lately, the fixation of retro has become almost a perennial mainstay. The connections between past and present as it plays with familiarity are ever-present references the public can relate to. But it's not just the draw to the familiar that is driving this creative direction.
The rise of vintage clothing purchases these days can be seen as thrift, but this is not exclusive as motivation. Vintage clothing offers something that our trend-fixated world cannot: the offer of something special and unique that cannot be easily coveted by others. The rise of DIY supported the quest for individuality; vintage satiates this desire without taxing the wearer to work in having it...or by breaking the budget to acquire often-costly bespoke items. And when fashion supports creative expression while blending innovation with retro, such as in the latter portion of the last century, vintage gains popularity. That we have such hybridization aided by freeform styling and heavy retro influence in fashion further invites incorporating past fashion finds into the wardrobe. These things become special, not just in that they are one-of-a-kind, but that they have a story, a history. They carry a piece of the past and in doing so, bring greater meaning to a world where technology and speed compete.
During a recent review of the 2017 Resort collections, M. Patmos was explaining to WWD her source for inspiration on the "modern-day heirloom". She wanted to create items that had the specialness that comes with something personal for the past, albeit with modern tweaks so they can fit with today's sensibilities, referencing the kind of quirky and unique things one would find in one's grandmother's closet. Such specialness is felt in items that have the craft edge, much in the way the mid 90s embraced this during there art-and-crafts phase as people grew tired of the sameness surrounding the return to minimalism and the subsequent initial incarnation of what we now call normcore. Back then we wanted something unique and of the hand versus something mass-produced from an efficient factory.
From time to time, we tend to do that, to swing between embrace of the new versus appreciation of the old, such as when Maison Margiela embraced and reworked heirloom materials in the inception of 2012 Fall/Winter, 2013 Fall/Winter or 2014 Spring/Summer couture shows. Now, we have this return of appreciation of handcraft alongside the upswing of technical execution and clean modernity all at once in this season, and while it's not as prevalent, designers such as Antonio Marras, Cinq a Sept, Delpozo, Gucci, Missoni, Moschino, M. Patmos, See by Chloe and Ulla Johnson have embraced the spirit of this aspect of the 70s/ 90s, bringing the specialness and quality of craft to the fore while approaching it with current modernity that we expect as membership of the new millennium.
This approach should not be exactly seen as revisiting familiar territory; each incarnation of creative expression carries the awareness that comes with the level of sophistication that we are at merged with sensibilities our technical prowess affords. They show new appreciation that, as time passes, will become appreciated as hallmarks of personal expression evolved as we have become, honouring the past and making a distinction of our new present. And this will add to the complex equation that will shape our century's creative path...one stitch at a time.
The 2017 Resort collections are in full force. For those who are paying attention, the most obvious observation is the choices that seem to be of two camps. One is the minimal modern architectural clean approach expressed in simple pieces with minimal embellishment. The other is the naturalistic and detailed counterpart, where drape, texture, colour join with various twists pulls accented by hardware and embroidery and the like.
This seems apt for the world we live in. We have extremes that occupy opposites with a range we refer to in clarifying and quantifying what we have before us. We want our world to be easy when we know it’s anything but. Having scales to fit the aspects of our lives in makes it easier to quantify. It’s a survival mechanism by default that we choose.
We do so to understand our heritage (what is your genealogy history?), our class and place within society (what do you do?), our roles within relationships (who wears the pants in your family?). It’s not the best habit; it’s what we do to make sense of your surroundings so we know where we fit and how to respond to interact with it.
Fashion reflects this in the extremes. Some of the collections (Acne, ADEAM, Akris, A.L.C., Area, ATM Anthony Thomas Melillio, Boss, Calvin Klein, Dion Lee, Helmut Lang, Isa Arfen, Joseph, Maiyet, Marc Jacobs, Mugler, Narciso Rodriguez, Roksanda, Organic by John Patrick, Pamella Roland, Piazza Sempione and Tibi) are along minimal lines while others are maximal (3.1 Philip Lim, Adam Lippes, Anna Sui, Antonio Marras, Delpozo, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Gucci, House of Holland, Milly, Missoni, Moschino, MSGM, Peter Pilotto, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Rebecca Minkoff, Red Valentino, Roberto Cavalli, See by Chloe and Tadashi Shoji). Most, especially those not listed here have both components to varying degrees or components combined in complement to each other, just as we do when it comes to various traits such as sexuality, gender expression, and stereotypical gender-specific behaviourists that we are now trying to undo in the quest to live a world where equality is more than just a marketing gimmick.
As we attempt to make sense of the world around us, we become more aware of the complexity that we have and are. This combination of extremes that currently occupy the 2017 Resort collections merely reflect what we observe. In time, as we rewrite the rules, our fashion will follow suit. How we reflect that will depend on what we redefine as parameters. For now, the traditional “hard vs. soft” will have to suffice until we evolve to a new definition…one that will aptly reflect our 21st century that we are coming into.