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Wednesday, December 23rd 2020

11:57 AM

What Are We Toasting To?

B efore we begin, please note that the next round of articles will arrive after Fall Winter 2021 winds down. Also, if you're looking for articles on modular fashion, covid fashion or part one of the two part series on what we can do to survive and thrive in the midst of this upheaval, check the archives. Now, where were we? Oh yes, the future....

I want to be able to tell you everything that's good over the next year. The vaccine trials lead us towards the end of this pandemic and we return to normal societal function and savoring all the trappings that we took for granted. Our renewed appreciation allows us to enjoy all aspects of life with new eyes. Touching and embracing finds us emotionally recharged and brings forth the kind of healing we've long needed because we are a social animal too long deprived. Experiencing the fullness of unencumbered life finds us active. Economies bounce back and life returns with an elevated consciousness from all the downtime that forced us to reflect.

The reality is that we have far too many people who have lost faith in facts and the institutions that allowed these to become fast and loose. Resistance to vaccines means it will take longer to get them to the population, which means these measures are with us for far longer. Relapses will challenge faith in many as antimaskers and conspiracy theorists continue to sew seeds of doubt that interfere with and sabotage our attempts towards normalcy. Fear accompanies touch, further enhancing isolation among the single. Pronounced economic impact increases because bankruptcies take time and we haven't even begun to see the impact unfold. This translates into higher unemployment exacerbated by stagnant wages and income gaps that render life more Dickensian than ever before. More may be active due to increased homelessness or more looking for work and/or cutting back on spending on transportation. Just as we find our health, we step into a different plague: poverty, exacerbated by runaway inflation resulting from the economic attempts to reinvigorate the economy that have irrevocably damaged fiat currency values. The haves versus the have-nots spur resentment to a widespread social breaking point.

Okay, that's bleak and that's possible. And so is this: governments working together to institute universal basic incomes; technology creating new job sectors; governments funding jobs training; our bumbling our way into an entire new kind of life path where creativity becomes a more valuable commodity that makes opportunity more likely; work becoming more technical in every facet of life yet accessible thanks to advances in ease of use; and AI allowing us to explore unusual solutions with higher probabilities of success in rapid time thanks to clever algorithms based on collaborative research and big data. Environmental concerns add to new sector development, and better quality of life base levels ensure more have a decent standard of living as we take the opportunity to transform our adversity into opportunity. Feel a bit better now?

The question this blog asks is this: how does this translate to fashion? It won't be far from what we see now. Artisinal items become special occasion investments. Advances in textile recycling and closed loop processes such as what H & M demonstrated recently in Stockholm with their Looop project (cleans and shreds old fabric, mixes in some new fibres and reweaves new items on the spot) and with textile recycling via liquification like what Evrnu has done (waste garments are turned into a pulp and liquefied then extruded into a new yarn) result in on-demand recycling and local manufacturing but for now it will be tested out in a few major cities at a novelty level as scientists work towards finding a way to mass produce the process more affordably. Between the two, fashion continues more individual detail expression that the pandemic initially supported. Modular design expressions will continue, and class distinctions will be expressed in how tech or how intricate the handiwork is; knowledge of process is the "tell". We'll see crispness in colour, a sea of blacks and navy blue, greys, banker browns and punches of calm colours with vivid hues that click with gaming, and hidden flashiness. And regardless of the spin, the Pantone colours for this coming year are really about detachment and cheery, comforting fear; the fallout from our uncertainty due to politics and whether people really use the vaccines lines up with those sentiments nicely. Anything more celebratory is accents to augment to reality-based foundations. Any form goes. Any hem goes. Textures will beg for touch. Function and versatility will matter more. We want clothes that work like we do, as long as the fun stuff connects well with our phones. And for those who cannot handle the future, the 70s will be waiting for you.

That should give you plenty to talk about until the next round of collections comes. Houses that promised to cut down on number of seasons will determine how quickly this blog will respond. In the mean time, keep stockpiling that gold and silver. You never know how handy it might come.

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Sunday, December 20th 2020

3:29 PM

VR's Second Chance

W e have grown a lot while navigating through the Covid 19 pandemic and so has the fashion industry. The lockdowns have forced companies to rethink their approaches, their manners of production and even what kind of garments they create. Designers and their teams have had to learn new ways of working together, resulting in more digital approaches within the design and sample process. Whereas pre-covid inspiration was geared towards environmental reasons, the pandemic has accelerated measures that support those initiatives and goals.

Part of the processes that have been innovated has been the runway. A 20th century construct, it allows all senses to be engaged, bringing a fullness of the design house's vision for the season it showcases. But once travel was shut down and lockdowns were initiated, most places had to find alternative means to get their vision out there. Some houses did produce audienceless shows with the objective of streaming, while a few brands have held shows with a much-reduced guest list and amped up social distancing measures. Some have decided to utilize digital means, resulting in accessing the latest in digital imaging and animation to breathe life into virtual images in combination with live images or in just the designs themselves.

Vaccines are expected to start being disseminated and it will take time until a sufficient percentage of the population is inoculated. When that happens, travel is likely to be restricted for the next while. Outside of the larger houses, those brands that do survive face both reduced budgets and client bases as the repercussions from the pandemic continue to unfold, and anyone in fashion will be able to tell you that a runway show is not cheap. Speaking of money, despite measures to jumpstart economies, the damage has been done and is extensive, so much of fashion will be scaled down in response. Even with a vaccine, much of the mask and distance measures will be remaining in place as we slowly monitor to ensure we reach a base level of safety before we can return to something that approaches how things were previously. The days of shoulder-to-shoulder mobs are definitely history, and this plus budgetary constraints mean it will be a long while before we return to runways.

On the flip side, as technology becomes more commonplace it becomes more affordable, and the pandemic as accelerated digital technology to the advantage of many designers, both established and aspiring. We have gone from in-house textile sample construction to scanning avatars that convert drawn ideas into digital samples that mimic textile qualities more accurately and, from those, can convert the avatars into patterns that can be forwarded to manufacturers. Those same avatars can form the foundations of images of the whole collection, ready to be shipped off to publications or directly on social media. Animated versions aren't as out of reach, either. And those designs can even be uploaded onto apps that allow people to use augmented reality (AR) to see how those designs look on themselves, so the design process can skip most of the traditional avenues that result in an almost farm-to-table design approach.

And yet, we still want to see a show and a film doesn't quite cut it. There's a huge difference between seeing the clothes in real time walk by you versus watching them on a screen, and being immersed in the presentation environment supports the tone of the collection. There is a technology that can make access at that level more possible in these challenging times, and it has an uphill battle with its reputation. But it's the changes in infrastructure along with hardware advancements might change one's mind.

What are we speaking of? Virtual reality. VR. It holds such promise and has consistently disappointed. Why? Speed. It takes a lot of bandwidth to get the kind of detailed images to upload and it takes a lot of data to make those images move in real time with us. Fashion tried to use VR before. Topshop (unfortunately now filing for bankruptcy) tried using it to show its fall 2014 runway show in stores from a few days. Tommy Hilfiger tried, also showing it in its flagship stores for its fall 2015 runway show. 7 For All Mankind showed off their spring 2015 collection to exclusive Elle customers and in-house. Rebecca Minkoff went online showing its fall 2015 runway to anyone who could get Google cardboard glasses. Then it disappeared, save for when Balmain offered a VR seat at their shows for Spring Summer 2019. It's easy to see why. The quality is not enough to be a draw. Images need much higher resolution and images need to move along with us. Ask those who tried VR tech such as Oculus; when you turned your head it took time for the image to follow along, so one gets nauseous and that's not an attractive association for fashion. Cue to today: Hilfiger still offers VR as an in-store addition to review collection pieces, and Coach installed VR headsets in a few malls. But now we have a few changes. Technology and processing power has increased. Resolution, better image immersion and better movement tracking have been worked on. Comfort has also evolved with a better price point. And we haven't even brought the other half of what will make virtual reality a far more attractive reality: 5G.

As the 5G network comes into being, you can expect that the quality of VR will become a game changer and the use of digitization from the gaming world that we've seen in fashion this past year is bound to help this along. As a matter of fact, we don't have to wait for the pandemic to subside if Balenciaga gives any indication. Using the latest scanning software to upload more realistically detailed avatars, they've released a twist on gaming. It's a huge statement recognizing the deep pockets that want access to fashion that can be in both the virtual worlds and in real life. The crossover innovation not only emphasizes a wealth of market opportunities for virtual as well as actual garments, it shows that the technology can allow designers to create virtual models to create digital shows that can be uploaded onto VR. Designers will be able to provide both the traditional passive audience and an active user options on how to review a collection, and access can be widespread. and remember that existing software infrastructure exists to allow AR options for "trying on" clothes. Save for production, the entire process becomes the closest to immediate access to fashion that anyone can get

Lot's of articles have spoke about VR being the next big thing for fashion. It's a promise that many have grown weary and suspicious of. But as technology advances to fine tune the issues and gaming supports the evolution towards mass appeal, you can be sure that those promises are looking more tangible. Once we have that network and the volume of data it can process, you can be sure that this prediction will become virtually a reality.

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Wednesday, December 16th 2020

2:43 PM

Artificial Influencer

T echnology is the big buzz these days. Strategic management company McKinsey & Co. itself found that our adoption towards digital was huge. It was expected to take us years to switch over to a more digitally-focused landscape and, instead, it took us months to become more digitally aligned. This crosses over a wide variety of aspects ranging from design and sample creation to manufacturing chains and retail with increased incorporation of big data and program integration at every step. Why, we're not surprised that technology does the thinking for us, too.

Oh...wait a minute...we almost forgot AI.

We know, this isn't new news. Fashion, from companies such as StitchFix to retail goliaths such as Amazon and Walmart have been utilizing machine learning with AI algorithms to track and indicate items that sell, making design recommendations along the way. Amazon Israel's AI has been going further, with its AI making value judgments on whether some designs are considered fashionable while its San Francisco location has created programming that can take existing designs as a creative launch point and design new incarnations, like fashion design spin-offs. Another company, Glitch, sells designs created by their AI, which generates unlikely combinations into wearable designs.

It was a few years ago when IBM and Jason Grech launched a couture collection at Melbourne Fashion Week in 2016, which was developed by using AI algorithms to analyze and predict fashion trends from runway. They didn't just look at a few pictures, either; they analyzed over 500,00 images based on a decades worth of fashion images and social platforms to inform of new trend directions that informed this collection. In 2018, IBM, Tommy Hilfiger and New York's Fashion Institute of Technology Infor Design and Tech Lab all teamed up to create a project that was called Reimagine Retail. What did they do? They took over 15,000 of Tommy Hilfiger's product images, around 600,000 runway images and an estimated 100,000 patterns (all from public sites), combined all of this with added design qualifiers such as silhouette, colors, prints and patterns and let AI do it's work, generating new garment ideas based on the information. From this, they released a sample as proof of concept to demonstrate the power of AI in design innovation. India's largest e-retail site Myntra doesn't just sell fashion, they make it and have come to rely on their AI to churn out best-sellers in a fraction of the time, cutting the design process from six months to just one. This is done via their in-house team called Rapid, utilizing a software called Vorta (although they have their "pet name" for this: Ratatouille). Their AI informs the team on what designs are sure to be top-sellers after qualities and constraints are entered into the program. This coupled with their accumulated data sets results in pieces that are likely to appeal to their customer base and this has proven to be more successful than they anticipated.

It's not just the big companies that are using AI, either. Cross & Freckle is a t-shirt producer that has gone beyond using AI to generate image on their product; they've used AI in every creative aspect of the company, from brand logo to marketing copy. This is using AI to design entirely, and we've been seeing this happen in a few places thanks to one individual with vision. Last year, MIT graduates Pinar Yanardag and Emily Salvador recently launched their fashion brand which seems to be unsure of it's name (in articles they have it as Coven.ai but social media has it as glitch_ai and their website is Little Black Dress so we hope to get an update soon) but is sure of their goal of aiming to re-imagine dress design using AI to create new design approaches. They took inspiration from artist Robbie Barrat, who had been working with AI algorithms to turn out new design creations. You might have heard of him when he took a catalogue of Balenciaga designs, put them through AI and had the algorithm generate new incarnations based on what wasn't made yet. Fashion was immediately inspired, and this caught on like wild fire. Soon after, he found himself collaborating with Acne Studios on a menswear collection for Fall Winter 2020. Looking at these, it's easy to see how the pioneering efforts of one have reverberated through fashion in general. Collections from Accidental Cutting (here & here), Adeam (here), Adidas' Y3 (here), Agartha (here), Alexander McQueen (here), Atsushi Nakashima (here and here), Balenciaga (here), Denisa Dovala (here), Emil Heliot (here and here), JT by JT (here), Kepler London (here), Kiko Kostadinov (here), Krystal Paniagua (here), Locoone (here), Maxxij (here), Meanswhile (here), Moschino (here), NIHL (here), No. 21 (here), Ricardo Preto (here), Ronald van der Kemp (here), Sabina Bambino (here & here), Social Work (here), Sportmax (here), ThreeASFOUR (here), Yohji Yamamoto (here), Y Project (here, here and here) and Zero + Maria Cornejo (here) along with work from students and graduates such as Anna-Karin Friberg (here), Alida Bard (here), Benedetta Lanzione (here), Ellis Cynthia Whitehurst (here), Flora Nisbet (here), Jade Cropper (here), Joe Cheng (here), Johanna Parv (here), Lauren Daccus (here), Lisa Helena Jacobsson (here), Luca Holzinger (here and here), Nattapong Khongruk (here) and Sasha Heinsaar (here) show the boundary breaking and material combination and construction innovations resulting from inspiration via technology in an unlikely manner that, really, has given licence to attempt design from unlikely parameters.

That's right: we can now officially say that AI has become the influencer.

But will it replace human beings? Hardly. The advantage of technology is that it can create without boundaries because, unless these are programmed, do not exist within the algorithm. It means that innovation in fashion can be created easily by AI because it doesn't know the rules, rules that can sometimes limit and undermine a creative mind. And while it can even be programmed for taste, it still ultimately needs a human touch. We are the ones who take the results and fine tune them. Without our influence, it doesn't connect. But thanks to technology, we sure found a cool way out of our comfort zone, and with continued collaborations, we will see our 21st century identity evolve.

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Sunday, December 13th 2020

3:34 PM

Aesthetic Armour

T hose who have read this blog know that our moods inform our fashion collections, with ample evidence upholding the observation. As fashion gets its juice from art and art is the language that finds expression where words fail us, it's a given. Yes, fashion has a fickle quality and it is a product of business. However, it doesn't hold much sway if it doesn't connect in an emotional manner and that is where art finds its place within its inception.

There is a climate of fear these days. Most days if you look at our history. Our connectivity enhances what media finds profitable, which is why there's so much bad news available. Bad news gets our attention more easily. It's just unfortunate that there's so much of it these days. When we get fearful, we look for comfort and protection. When we feel empowered, it's comfort that takes precedence. When insecurity becomes more likely, protection becomes more important. During the cold ware eras of the 50s and later in the 80s, volume found its place, as did structure. Having a protective shell rings hollow when faced with nuclear annihilation, but if a psychological placebo can bring peace of mind then you can be sure it will be embraced. The post 9/11 years saw cocooning with added structure as well, and now that we see global instability getting more "hairy" and seeing this plus our pandemic tied to economics, it's a wonder we haven't all completely lost it.

Now we have a vaccine on the horizon and no sooner does this ray of hope come along that we have amplification of warning of economic crises. The news announcing business closings, the threat of more chapter 7 and chapter 11 filings, talk of fiat currency challenges and fringe groups threatening to undermine our safety in the name of distorted ideology with more aggressive fervor can certainly bring feelings of defensiveness (if not hopelessness). And yet, we seek something more soul satisfying as compensation. If, in the past, this protective cocooning had more utilitarian aspects, this time we have a new influence in our armour: a desire for something thought-provoking, long-lasting and special.

Part of it is a response from our awareness of our role in consumption. We are hearing more about how fashion pollutes and how too much of it is made only to be thrown into landfills or destroyed. We haven't just learned about our excess, either. During the lockdowns we have been forced to reflect...not a bad thing, really. Mankind was overdue for a time out. In that reflection, we've had the time to look over our things, like what's in our closet. We ponder over the amount we do have, the amount we don't wear, the items we could wear that sit unworn. And as more of us who are lucky enough to have a job work from home, we see how many items are no longer as necessary, either. Even Saville Row has shifted in the kinds of items they create, recognizing the demand has moved to a more casual nature; suits being offered in more versatile and comfortable textiles versus more formal cuts and colours. But if you think that has sent our tastes packing, think again. Being cooped up all day or having little to do or to go to has made us reprioritize our desires. We hunger something that is worth our investment. If we have to spend our hard-to-come-by dollars, we want it to be special.

That brings the other aspect: distinction. If we're buying less, we're not only looking for what lasts; we're also wanting what's special. Trends no longer have the same meaning as what was traditionally. Before, when the environment wasn't as much a concern, consumption always fueled turnover. This allowed trends to flourish. But a globally connected world at a standstill? It has pushed us to inhabit our own tastes. As isolation has taken the bite out of having to physically conform to belong, we've been given a free pass towards individual expression as a way to cope with such. Some may choose safer choices such as retro items, and with multiple themes there is no "right " choices as before. The other path lies in individuality. The creative exploration of so many ideals has resulted in a wide selection of cuts, colours, folds, pleats, materials, patchworking, layering, you name it, its out there. Through it all, we have more general aspects versus something as basic as "safari" or some other easy-to-read theme. And one of them of note is the sculptural stiffness. These are clothes that hold their own for uniqueness of personal tastes while upholding a protective structured armour. The need for protection has once again found its place in designs from Antonio Grimaldi (here & here), Bianca Saunders (here), Bibhu Mohapatra (here), Charles Yueh (here), Christian Wijnants (here), CrisisWear (here), Emporio Armani (here), Maxmilian Davis for Fashion East (here), Gareth Pugh (here), Graham Tyler (here), Marwan & Khaled Couture (here), Maison Margiela (here), Moon Choi (here), Ralph & Russo (here), Rick Owens (here), Robert Wun (here and here), Rochas (here), Saedels (here), S.U.K.E.I.N.A. (here and here), ThreeASFOUR (here & here) and We11done (here); from artist Angie Hainzer (here); and from fashion fledglings Benedetta Lanzione (here), Cerys Mullaly (here), Gsign by Ghada (here), Jisoo Jang (here) and Mel Harris (here).

With this trend go by the wayside? It depends. On one hand the vaccine will herald a freedom and optimism we haven't had in awhile, albeit it won't be as sudden as we might have hoped. this could translate into more movement and lightness. On the other hand, should the economic aspect prove more insurmountable than we imagine, we'll find ourselves burying under shells, layers and padding. We want to feel good. Only time will tell how we achieve that and whether clothes reflect our measures, or merely compensate because of them.

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Wednesday, December 9th 2020

5:18 PM

Rerun Recap

H ow nice to see you all again. This blog did let you know that the changes in the fashion calendar meant that the dissemination of blog articles would be affected while on hiatus mode, and your patience is now rewarded.

First, a general recap on fashion. In the past, this blog has brought attention to how trends tend to regress and park itself in retro when faced with shocks such as economic declines. The past year (and the upcoming Pre-fall 2021 so far) are no different. The covid-19 pandemic brought double duty as far as negative influences, for not only has it given the precarious economy a terrible global hit, it has also dampened the public's embrace of investing in creativity during the bulk of the year.

While the second hand market and fashion resale has been seeing a boom, much new fashion retail has been left languishing in warehouses while the public has found less reason to shop, given that there is far less activity at access. This is compounded by shutdowns cutting jobs, creating a domino effect that has triggered less spending, which of course exacerbates the economic picture. Innovation has not been totally obliterated, though; the bulk of runway collections that have come out of Resort 2021 and Spring Summer 2021 have reflected the repercussions, translating into revisits in safe clothing designs that maintain existing trend periods such as the 70s, 80s and 90s. In particular, the late 80s and bulk of the 90s, harmonizing with the last time the economic collapse of the end of the 80s negatively impacted the fashion landscape and, in a way, the skin obsession of the 2000s, an era when spirits were crushed by the suddenness and global intensity of 9/11. This means returns to normcore, retro pieces that connect with happier times and, in a way, athelisure which is now rebranded as workleisure as it becomes modified for work with aesthetic upgrades combining sport materials with more professional cuts. The Instagram feed for Fashion Observed is more interested in innovation and creativity so you'll have to look at general fashion resources for evidenciary support, of which there is plenty of it online.

The lockdowns that shifted work to being home-based allowed for people to invest in a lot less of a wardrobe, focusing on whatever video screens could capture. No need for any special investment below the waist, it seems, reinforcing Instagram-minded choices but at a narrower garment focus. With most options to socialize removed, the need for formal wear or occasion-shopping has dropped considerably during the year, so people no longer needed to refresh such items in their wardrobe. In fact, the threat of deep negative economic impact really did double duty. For one, out of survival, priorities shifted and wearing anything ostentatious and overtly expensive (think of obvious luxury expressions), much like the early 90s, became gauche again. The whole world accepted dressing down as acceptable with so many facing economic uncertainty; the sudden overwhelming fiscal threat that the pandemic brought has made conspicuous consumption incongruous with the current general state of affairs. Second, the emotional toll triggered general resignation. The magnitude connected with uncertainty over how long or even how permanent this pandemic would be resulted in a priority shift; what mattered was connecting, not dressing to impress. Shutdowns hit us at primary self-care access. No salons or barbers were open, theoreticians were shut, and we all were forced to "let go". Because it was so widespread, we accepted a drop in aesthetic standards in favor of what really matters: relationships. Fashion and the cultivated personalities that social media had long fostered seemed incongruous with our shifted values. A plus side, though: we allowed ourselves to experiment with homegrown attempts and allowed our actual selves to come forth, a testament to what authenticity meant.

On that note, it was interesting to see how things like influencers or what social media focused on changed. Influencers became a lot less relevant when priorities shifted from image and superficiality to deeper aspects of the human condition. Celebrity lifestyles seemed a lot less important. There was some social media backlash, particularly when celebrities attempted to rally support of "being in this together" when many pointed out that there was a huge difference between a first responder being isolated in a one-bedroom flat versus someone in a twenty room compound with unlimited resources trying to connect with the public as if the experience was shared. As these typed would push demand for luxury via inspiration and imitation, their influence would wane.

The pandemic was great in forcing a massive time out that drove people to look within. However, not all people were comfortable with being forced to that level of introspection, a telling aspect of society at large. Some seem to have found it very hard and resorted to channeling their focus to DIY and creativity expression to unusual extremes and this actually pushed more to revisit repairing and reworking garments versus the usual use and toss approach we've long accustomed ourselves to. This supported ideas such as investment purchases versus fast fashion and increased use of rental and, moreso, second-hand shopping with the latter enjoying a huge boom. Those who enjoy membership with Pej Gruppen will have read my article covering the rise of the fashion rental market as well as steps to profit from it and the article holds more relevance than when it came out several years earlier.

As mentioned earlier, one of the big, unspoken aspects of 2020 is how designers and manufacturers are sitting on a lot of stock that is going nowhere. Some are thinking of reintroducing these next year while others are looking at disassembling pieces that no longer seem relevant to remake into new, more relevant incarnations. The denim market took a big dive as less people went out to hang out or do activities that denim would support. Being homebound meant the need was for comfort over outdoor performance outside of covid related material creation which this blog covered months ago. Some younger designers interested in sustainability via recycling existing garments are looking at ideas to repurpose denim while some denim items have made a resurgence so far as far as Pre-Fall 2021 is concerned. As vaccines come out, we could see denim roar back by 2022.

Speaking of trends, a review of past articles within this blog will see that many key trends have continued, such as patchworking (yes, still relevant) which seems to be segueing into monochrome and solids being sought after as people would get pattern and combination fatigue and design houses exhaust recycling options such as deadstock and surplus garments (this blog did say this was likely). No matter how bad things get, we have trained society to consume and part of that is to demand newness and variety. Technology is responding accordingly. Layering remains and won't disappear as it affords variety support. Modular elements also bring extended garment usage and is likely to remain as economics come into play regarding purchase decisions. And, of course, the innovations regarding recycling textiles itself are coming along nicely. Again, readers who subscribe to Pej Gruppen will see my upcoming article on sustainability in fashion and how it relates to textile recovery and recycling.

Is there anything that is new? In subtle ways, yes, and the next articles will touch on the very things we all have observed. Stand by for more.

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Thursday, June 18th 2020

4:02 PM

Where The End Of The World Leads Fashion Part II : What We Can Do To Prepare

T he world has changed plenty since the pandemic and the economic disruption that accompanied it arrived. We know that it's far from over and yet history also has shown that it will eventually pass. When that happens, people will repeat history. They have so far; look at the resistance to protective measures that is occurring. On the whole, people are creatures of habit, despite the warnings. But this post is about what designers can do once we overcome this hurdle and embrace our new "normal".

The full embrace of technology is a must if one wants to survive, and the investments to technology plus the steady pace of transformative innovation assures us that being invested in technological innovation is the best step forward. This starts at the design studio and how it connects to the manufacturing floor. At the most, investing in the kind of technology that allows one to turn ideas into patterns and digitize their designs and archives is a must. Not only is this for archival purposes, it serves multiple uses. For one, the ease of transforming ideas into patterns without wasting resources on sampling. Programs incorporating drape are much more sophisticated and will certainly be more so in the coming years. Gaming and the rush to explore digitizing collections in lieu of IRL collection presentation coupled with measures supporting environmental concerns practically begs it at the moment, fueling resource investment. The other is in the name of frugality. It costs money to maintain storage for archived garment. Digitizing removes this responsibility, keeping the ideas...the DNA of the label... on the cloud, taking up no physical room. But there is another aspect besides expenditure management where having garment patterns digitized come into play.

Designers need to be ready for when technology catches up to produce on-demand clothing printing when this technology arrives in a more accessible format. While it may not be cost-effective to keep actual garments, keeping the ideas...the DNA of the label... can be put on the cloud, and that takes up no physical room (again, another cost-saving measure). This way, when the technology comes available, a designer will have their archive on demand for times when the public is more interested in retro fashion, and allows for hybridization of pieces as one feels ready to move forward with creativity. All of this can be achieved, as can on-the-ready for garment production, when one's ideas are on stand-by. Plug the ideas into the appropriate program that can work with the kind of technology that produces garments, and one has garments on demand. Some technology, such as knitting machines, already exist to embrace this approach. And while early experimental research into 3D clothing printing was shelved, this was only due to technological and material limitations. Processes explored such as the collaborative efforts between Stella McCartney, Adidas and Evrnu involving liquefying cotton. Ecological innovations support the kind of material development that can be repurposed to harmonize with additive printing processes. Couple this with the technology to spin-print garments and you have the kind of innovation that only needs digitized ideas to convert into garments. Having archives ready for conversion puts one at the forefront.

Another possible business out of this will be servers that carry multiple designer archives and allow for on demand printing in more remote locations. Not only does this serve more established labels, it can also support fledgling design companies and independents, even at the student level. Some new companies can carry student or fringe designer works, and not necessarily whole collections either, allowing those at eh start-up level to put themselves out there without having to produce actual garments. This opens the door to more innovation by opening the doors for a larger talent pool to contribute at a global scale without creating a huge carbon footprint, especially as more and more of retail is being done at a virtual level online. The likelihood of a new influencer at the level of Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga, Martin Margiela or Alexander McQueen could be more likely (and more frequent) and in a more democratic fashion as technology becomes more accessible. Thus, we have more support for a new type of growth in the industry without the environmental consequences, given that it centers on its fully recyclable nature.

A whole new form of fashion industry awaits as these technologies merge and are fine-tunes by the incredible advancements that we are preparing for. The global preparation for a 5G platform to support the internet of things will herald the kind of connectivity that, harnessed properly, will elevate us in ways that will both address our concerns and meet our needs beyond our imagination. Hopefully we can get the rest of society to be as enthusiastic, and it would be a shame if it took devastating environmental repercussions from our wasteful carelessness to be the impetus. The current global tragedy that is our current reality can be, for those with vision and determination, a huge opportunity. It can be more accessible for those willing to collaborate to get there. We have the platforms and networks to do this. We just need you.

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Tuesday, June 16th 2020

2:43 PM

We All Know That We're The Problem...And The Solution

W ould you believe that this article was going to be originally titled "Black lives Matter, Inc." ? Before making any snap judgements, there's a few valid reasons for playing with fire to make a point.

For the longest time, we thought that we were among many who felt these issues, first confronted in the 60s and 70s (a period range that will most likely be remined in fashion yet again, to be sure), would be non-issues and yet every year...no, every week... we find how little has changed. And every day we see various aspects of regression interpreted such as over-compensatory measures such as victim hyper-empowerment and justification of reverse discrimination as ineffective stagnancy that holds us all back. In earlier eras, it was the recognition of safety in numbers and the power of collective protest; unification of all who were disadvantaged propelled the acceleration of equality for women, gays and non-whites. Today, it really boils down to who everyone who hasn't enjoyed an automatic advantage that's still a default, i.e. the straight white male. And yet, to pillar them makes us no better, for it misses the entire point of addressing the crux of the problem: how discrimination in any form only brings further problems that affect us all.

Another reason for the consideration of that original title was Fashion Observed feels that this subject needs to be mentioned, but not capitalized on and yet, here we are. Say nothing and be complicit. Say something on a professional platform and be an opportunist. Are we truly supporting the voices that need to be heard by proclaiming our affinity with the causes brought forward, or are we riding on the coattails of this explosive cultural response to hatred to garner woke likes and follows? When we in fashion translate it into how physical trends will come up or what will be the flavour of the moment in fashion imagery, why are we going there? Is it to empower the disadvantaged, or to merely find another more sophisticated manner in which to make a profit via engineered empathy? Yes, it's what fashion does and is this the time and the place? Is it ever? Has privilege blinded us to our mercenary avarice? What have we become?

For those who have any doubt, Fashion Observed has long supported and will always support diversity, inclusivity and equality; thumb through every social media platform posting if you must for your proof.

People should be judged by the merit of their character and the quality of their performance and actions, not their physical identity, personal image, the genetic expression of their physical characteristics and who they date and love.

This affects neighbours, coworkers, and friends who are really the family we choose. We cannot ignore the reality because all these voices... the ones experiencing discrimination... especially at the hands of those who are taxpayer-paid to serve and protect all of us as #BlackLivesMatter (and now #BlackTransLivesMatters) reveals, have been telling us how bad things still are. How can we even begin to dare feigning surprise? You'd have to be living under a rock to claim that this is something new. It's even long been in our entertainment and we still weren't getting it. We all share responsibility for allowing things to have come this far. Whether we turn our backs or turn a blind eye because it inconveniences us or threatens economic aims is, either way, a horrid reason on our part. This cannot be our world nor our future. We can and need to be agents of positive change. That means giving this situation... and all the ramifications it holds... the attention it deserves, not the kind of attention our industries and even this blog normally brings when viewing cultural shifts and watershed moments in our collective conduct.

We have a chance to change everything. Fashion is having the hard conversation, including diversity at every public turn, but that's not even scratching the surface. We can (and I predict we will) do more. Yes, ultimately all people should be offered an equal place at humanity's table and we need to ensure, in our quest for equality, that we don't initiate reverse discrimination to achieve the overdue fairness for that will only encourage backlash and bring us right back to where we've now been a few times. But for now, giving the platform to those who are speaking up and hurting the most is an apt start. Fashion Observed asks for you to talk and continue to talk among each other, to awaken us all so we know where we stand, where we need to be, the distance between those two points and the way to get to the more enlightened one. Fashion Observed asks you to listen to those living this reality, for they are speaking. They are sharing it all on social media. See it. Acknowledge it. And do something, anything to make this a better world beyond posting a few platitudes to appear woke. Be the change we want to be.

Fashion leads. Fashion influences. This needs us together. Somewhere there is a win-win. Let's crowdsource what that can and should be. If you have resources to share, please post them for us to disseminate in our comments section or do so on Instagram (link is in heading) when this article announcement gets posted. Thank you.

PS Thanks to SumofUs for these suggestions we've co-opted as starting points):

"The Skin We're In" by Desmond Cole

"Bread Out of Stone" by Dionne Brand

Donate: No One is Illegal

And off our Twitter feed:

Donate: Black Lives Matter - UK Support

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Saturday, June 13th 2020

3:56 PM

Something Beneath

M uch of what fashion has showed in Fall Winter 2020 has been written about in earlier articles. This blog would be amiss if we didn't talk about what we think is coming.

Now, the "good" news. As we approach eight billion people, there will always be people who shop. There will always be subcultures who push the limit, offering inspiration as they use their artist's minds to reinterpret what we see into creative expressions of what is coming. There will always be fledglings in and out of the educational incubators of the world with a voice and a point of view. And among the design community we still crave something to take us forward. It may be subtle, it may be harder to come by, but innovation marches on. The layering and architecture seem to be taking a more languid tone. It's like we are relaxing into our fate, yet the relaxed tiers, overlaps or effects similar, such as from designers Angus Tsui (here), Chanel (here), Farhad Re (here), Ji Won Choi (here), Stella McCartney (here), Thebe Magugu (here) and even budding creatives like Paulo Fernandes (here) or the layered shingling, such as in academic work from Danielle Feheley (here) and Megan Syme (here) suggest that we have more than what's on the surface if we are curious enough to maybe lift and see. It may be blending in to our natural state, but it's not invisible. There's room for conversation is we take a peek underneath.

And for all that is going on, for all the obvious, we know there's more to what is before us (speaking of the world at large). There are richer stories, deeper truths, and more to dig for, to lift under, to explore. It's not much to report, but it's all we got for now. Well, it's something, anyway...after doing a little lifting.

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Thursday, June 11th 2020

5:02 PM

Digital Diversion

O ne of the newest conundrums that have occurred from the Covid 19 pandemic is the acceleration of change in fashion. Not just in retail and collection creation, but the calendar and the presentation of fashion itself. No more can we have the traditional runway show for now at least, lest we set up multitudes of editors, buyers, celebrities, customers, influencers and other attendees to an extended stay at a hospital...or a morgue. Those days seem like they are on hold until a vaccine comes available, and we know fashion won't wait for that.

Announcements from some of the major houses such as Yves St. Laurent, Gucci and Georgio Armani have alerted us that the quarterly seasons are o v e r, while others such as Chanel seem to have stuck with the tried and true, so it remains to be seen just how much of the industry will ultimately bow to change. Fashion was facing burn-out from this frenetic pace, and now that the global economy is halted, it wouldn't make sense to create so much that wouldn't get purchased anyway, at least form the standpoint of most houses that don't have the scope and scale of the international behemoths. Fashion has pined for an "out" and serendipity has arrived to answer the call to slow things down and reinforcing this is economics; putting on multiple collections plus presentations can run high bills. The issue is now how to show fashion when one can't do the traditional catwalk presentation and, for many smaller houses, frugality has suddenly gained allure. The infrastructure of innovation and technology have been here, but it took our sudden isolationist lifestyle and the financial downshift that accompanied it that a global quarantine brings for an entire industry to give technology a second look. With our lives centered more on our devices providing immediate and constant solace, connectivity and entertainment, some in fashion are starting to decide that the digital landscape is its salvation.

This would appear to translate into 3D imagery via digital design and reconsidering VR and AR along with it. Platforms that have established on-demand purchasing see how digital presentations can be attractive while offering reduced expenditures on the kind of costs associated with more conventional shows. One designer, Hanifa, has already made recent headlines within the industry by presenting a digital 3D collection online (here), and this seems to be a possible stopgap for designers looking for affordable alternatives in showing their collections to an audience trained to consume via social media. Other creatives, such as Rachel Sager (here), Axel Goulee (here) and companies such as Tribute Brand (here) and Robhau (here) show that imaging advancements and exploration in contactless cyber fashion have the capability of translating ideas into viable design images, especially when looking at how the world is really parked online while in the midst of a pandemic. For Robhau, which launched recently in February, in a two-week period between March 23rd to April 5th, online store visits doubled and sales increased by five hundred per cent, and all they were selling was one submitting their image, trying on and purchasing virtual garments.

This was not lost on some innovative entrepreneurs that have capitalized on the new retail climate from the Covid 19 pandemic and the opportunity it affords via adaptation with 3D digital design. A new app from Forma Technologies Inc., launched in 2019, that allows users to "try on " garments has grown so popular that it is seeing progressive growth, with double the amount of usage versus pre-Covid 19 circumstances. Its success lies in ease of usage (one front-facing selfies all it takes) and a shared archival inventory accessible to its users. Further, it has allowed brands to add their app to their e-commerce pages; this makes the app valuable for all involved. Forma has their eyes on a unique use in this regard: on-demand shopping from the moment items hit the runways. By allowing brands to upload images in advance of presentations, people can see and try on garments literally as they roll out, and make purchases before the show even finishes and gets reviewed by editors. The data mined from this is extremely helpful for brands, allowing them to see popularity in real time at every stage. This access to data allows designers to cut down on waste by reducing overproduction. It also transforms the retail landscape as anyone can see how this effectively cuts out the middleman. Another company, Wannaby, also allows virtual try-on of sneakers, so this technology is not limited to clothing.

Not only this, designs can be digitized, working with production programs that translate 3D imagery into workable patterns that can sent to production centers, streamlining the manufacturing chain process (in itself another cost-saving measure). On-demand manufacturing and even sampling can see reduced timings when houses have more integrated processes established. And these do not have to be limited to more established houses, either. Smaller houses can collaborate to share costs with tech suppliers to ensure more people are included in the digital revolution that fashion is inviting. And as technology has advanced thanks, in part, to the gaming industry, the quality of digital presentations has vastly improved. This means that the promises of virtual reality can be revisited. This also means the intimacy of attending a fashion show can be preserved. Editors will be able to see collection details they are used to, despite being presented in digital formats as the aspects such as textile details, drape and fabric movement have come a long way.

Another unexpected revenue bonus from digitizing one's collections stems from the last time we had economic upheaval. In the earlier post 9/11 years, a plucky young company called Linden Lab created a virtual world called Second Life that exploded in popularity by 2007 to the degree that Adidas, American Apparel, Calvin Klein, Reebok, Lacoste, and Jean Paul Gaultier were selling within this platform. It caved soon after (too much effort to use, tech issues and security) though it never really died; it lives on with renewed vigor and a sizable user base as it integrates a newer VR platform called Sansar with the hopes of addressing the issues that plagued them before. Given that people have made and continue to make money within this platform (its GDP in 2016 was a reported half a billion dollars, with users taking home a collective sixty million dollars) and that this platform protects intellectual property of its "residents", this set the stage for the kind of market that seems to be reviving in part due to the pandemic.

Fashion and digital's relationship within the gaming world has been nothing new. In April 2012, several characters from Final Fantasy XIII-2 modeled clothing from Prada's 2012 Spring/Summer collection in a collaboration between Square Enix and men's fashion magazine Arena HOMME+. In January 2016, Louis Vuitton announced that it was using Final Fantasy XIII's Lightning as a model for their Series 4 campaign (both Final Fantasy collaborations can be viewed here). In April 2019, Moschino found itself collaborating with the Sims to produce a shoppable capsule collection. Adeam, Marc Jacobs, Maison Valentino and Sandy Liang are the tip of the iceberg of designers who have their fashion translated into digital renditions on the video game Animal Crossing; Instagram has an entire feed devoted to these sartorial expressions although these are more for showing than selling. Louis Vuitton reprised its connection with video games but this time for League of Legends to dress a virtual K-pop group within with its most recent collection (here). A recent addition to the gaming world called Drest is, of all things, a fashion gaming app that has seen fifty percent per month increase, which tells you something when it has only been around for half a year since inception. Imagine the smart gaming company that does a variation that allows users to win credits that can be applied to buy the actual garments from the featured designers! Well, this one doesn't do that, but you can click on the garments you favor and buy them from designers, so the link is there to allow added access to revenue potential. Another gaming platform, Roblox, allows users to go a step further by being the designers themselves, creating a market of virtual fashion that has resulted in average revenue for full-time users to be $26,000 (and a few going as high as six-figures). So, the world of gaming is finding a valid argument for expansion beyond traditional avenues. But the real draw for investigating the possibilities of digital design lies within a financial coup pulled off by a collaborative effort between Dutch startup The Fabricant, Dapper Labs and AR creative Johanna Jaskowska, selling a one-of-a-kind digital garment (here) that only exists on blockchain for $9500 at a blockchain conference. That move got the attention of many a designer. And with platforms such as Kitely offering the kind of lucrative experience as Second Life does and with Second Life looking to overhaul its platform for a more updated and improved incarnation coupled with advances in 3d digital design itself, we now have the capacity for virtual fashion to be a more possible income stream alternative.

This means that designers could collaborate to create collections for gaming platforms or mirror The Fabricant by creating digital collection separates on blockchain to be used on VR platforms. Further, with more and more people getting comfortable as home, the prospect of developing AR can be many-fold. For one, people that work from home would have the option of having virtual wardrobes for video conferencing, so the virtual wardrobes could serve in practical platforms as well as recreational, and the savings on wear and tear, cleaning, and storage alone would be great selling points. These could travel anywhere more affordably (i.e. be stored on the cloud), wouldn't need tailoring, and could be returned to the developer for modernization or colour changes as fashion moves along. Design companies would benefit from investing in this technology for a few other reasons. Clothing created on digital platforms could be connected to design programs so they could be converted to patterns and be sold as actual garments. Having software that measures accuracy of fit allow for custom fits, which could aid in reduced returns and less environmental waste. Also, this allows people to get around the obstacle of trying on garments that are restricted due to current pandemic restrictions. here, people could "try on" the garment. because the software would be in place connecting the manufacturing chain with the virtual programming, on-demand fashion resumes.

This doesn't mean the runway show is finished, as the recent Resort 2021 collection by Chanel showed that tradition still has a place (well, for now, anyway). Eventually, we will have a vaccine. Eventually, our world will reopen. And as it does, we will return to the kind of live presentations that digital landscapes cannot substitute at this time. And let's not forget the kind of lobbying the other aspects of fashion have, such as models, cosmetics and every other industry that has been in partnership with fashion. To be honest, although one can argue how impressive recent images are regarding textile detail and movement, the technology isn't quite there yet to the degree where it would replace the runway show mainly because the level of detail doesn't exactly parallel reality yet...at least as far as editors are concerned, although this pandemic scenario certainly is forcing our hands to adapt. This plus the ongoing advancements that technology has may mean that we might become accustomed to this new reality. And let's not forget that there is stigma from the last time VR and AR was lauded. People do have a right to be skeptical when promises failed to live up to reality. The initially lauded VR world is a case in point where lack of resolution put the brakes on its full inception, and fashion never found a plausible use for it that justified its replacing entrenched institutions. But these are clearly different times and, for the foreseeable future at least, the digital world is in a far better position to fill these losses when looking at social distance protocols and population assembly concerns. Given the manner in which technology improves itself, we might find the need for live presentations to be less necessary if the pace of technology is faster than the creation of a medical solution.

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Monday, June 8th 2020

3:07 PM

Great Depression 2.0; How To Survive

A h, yes, the economy.

There is no escaping the ramification of this sudden global upheaval. This blog has, along with many within the various financial sectors, anticipated a grave downturn but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who could have predicted the reach, scope and suddenness of such a financial shift. Nonetheless smart readers had ample time to formulate some kind of strategy to cope with anticipated economic austerity. Well, we hoped, anyway. But one of the perks of following our blog is the information and inspiration we provide to help you and we will do what we can in the spirit of unifying support.

Recently, Fashion Observed found itself in a casual conversation with a few designers talking in New York. As you know, that city got severely hit with the effects of Covid 19 in a country that has a lot of political chaos exacerbating economics. Yet the tenacity of this wonderful place never ceases to amaze. Within the confines of this metropolis are creatives with fortitude who vow to survive and thrive, and their collective wills showcase admirable adaptation. The conversation centered on survival strategy, and these ideas may be something to consider if not implement if one is looking to make it through what will be a huge challenge over the next few years.

One of the first concerns is operating costs versus maintaining a public profile. Rents have long been in the news and it was already a challenge while in times of prosperity, so of course this is the stuff of nightmares now. The decision involves one's liquidity. That is, can one afford to keep what would be a rather expensive warehouse when restrictions form the Covid 19 pandemic render one's store inaccessible? And if one's storefront is the way to stay relevant in the public eye, what would be a compromise or solution when having to make harder decisions like whether to keep a store open at all?

One pattern we can agree on is that the economy has changed, and that the bulk of purchases have become online purchases. Given how most retailers aren't willing to open change rooms means that it matters little whether one comes in person or orders online, that one will take their purchase home to try it on, and the risk of exchanges rises. So, having a physical store right now isn't as important. But one clever solution is to rent a store window. This way, inventory can be moved to a more affordable storage solution while key items can be set up in a window space. The pandemic has seen a lot of store closures and retail faces greater profit loss now that retail has taken a nose dive. It's far less likely that landlords will see the kind of premium rent scenario as was in the past, and arranging a window rental may now be a compromise that allows both parties to win under dire circumstances. And one doesn't have to rely only on this move.

Some may have read recently how po-ups may not be the best idea, but people don't get out of their house just for fresh air. People are creatures of habit, and some look for some semblance of normalcy as they try to regain the life they once took for granted. One can initiate a combination or pop up shops and window rentals to keep one in public eye and that solves the visual aspect that online cannot compete with. Pop-up shops have long been a great alternate for smaller labels to find new customers within smaller and/or newer urban markets without expending a lot on a brick-and-mortar presence. Pop-ups needn't be solitary enterprises, either; there is no shortage of collaborative initiatives a designer can undertake. The distinction is how to get around the lack of tactile experience that normal retail therapy offers. Here, designers can have a pile of sample textiles on stand-by where the interested client can touch the fabrics. These would be laundered and reintroduced another day. Some can be exposed to UV light therapies. Accessory sample textiles could fall under this category. Conversely, any dense materials can be wiped clean with antimicrobial agents....something to think about when looking at making accessories down the line.

One can work with various similar aesthetic groupings, can collaborate with non-apparel alternates to create a lifestyle collaboration and work together, bridging customer bases, doing online shared social media campaigns and even website collaborations. Savings doesn't have to be limited to the physical space, wither. Various retailers can share PR, web maintenance and pooling warehouse storage costs to ensure group survival. Efforts can focus on online presence building, while resources can focus on survival for the interim. Pairings to share costs such as getting group shipping discounts with delivery suppliers can also be instituted. This means that more ambitious creatives can collaborate to create a virtual marketplace online, and can extend to creating a co-op with membership and subscription discounts.

If there are any other ideas, this blog heartily encourages your sharing them Comments are screened, but that doesn't mean they aren't seen or won't be shared. In this situation it benefits us all when we work together. Sharing strategy creates the kind of win-win that we need these days. It's how we'll not just survive but thrive as we eventually make it through this incredibly historic period of transformation.

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