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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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Thursday, June 4th 2020

4:38 PM

Infectious Covid Fashion

I hope this finds you well. I know. This whole upheaval has gripped many in fear and uncertainty.

You must remember that we have been down these roads before and that we have knowledge and history on our side to inform us on what to do. Plus, we have the most incredible collaborative tool that brings the knowledge of the world and the skills of a collective species in the palm of our hands via the internet; this alone is unlike anything mankind has ever had before. Already, some designers have banded together in a group facilitated by the Business of Fashion to address the problems within the industry exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic to address issues such as the fashion calendar, addressing profitable markdown cycles and how fashion is even presented (manifesto at rewiringfashion.org although you might want to do a cached search on Google if the link is having issues). Meanwhile, more informally, some designers and merchants in New York have begun the conversation of how to survive the economic consequences that have resulted from a global shutdown, sharing ideas and strategy (Fashion Observed, of course, provided some ideas that will be presented in this blog for your benefit). The point of bringing this up is that we are tenacious and resourceful, and if any industry can handle change, it is fashion. After all, change is integral to fashion itself. But while the industry struggles with survival in the face of rather daunting circumstances, an unlikely influence has emerged that is not going away anytime soon: Covid-19 itself. How fitting that a new category of covid fashion has taken hold.

Fashion has begun creating masks to protect wearers, many allowing the insertion of filters so the masks provide aesthetic as well as practical utilization while bringing a sense of style one expects form designers, regardless of what's happening in our world. While it is true that Instagram is inundated with the sharing of mask imagery thanks to a budding DIY explosion by the multitudes in quarantine, there are some interesting spin-offs from the design community. Within Haute Couture, the earliest innovator regarding sustainable high fashion, Ronald van der Kemp, recently put out a presentation in a luxury hotel in Amsterdam, pairing previous creations with accompanying masks that transcend art (here, here and here). These went beyond protection to become collectible. Many designers such as Three ASFOUR (here), Anrealage (here) and haute coutourier Maria Aristidou (here) have tapped into deadstock from prior collections to provide sustainable incarnations, and designers such as M. Patmos created masks using environmentally friendly materials (here).

As far as textile technology in the realms of mask production, there is a lot happening regarding producing materials to either kill or resist the corona virus itself. Some companies are specializing in copper-infused antimicrobial apparel, mainly because copper kills Covid-19 on contact. Already a few mask-producing companies like Copper Compression and Copper Clothing offer four-layered masks that block 99% of particulates, while another company called Copper Mask uses a combination of six-ply copper and HEPA filters to block 92% of particulate matter. Kuhn Copper Solutions has long been an early advocate of copper use in hospitals and specializes in copper mesh masks with inserts in traditional or cloth versions. News of copper's protective properties has, in fact, spurred mask production from unlikely places such as Atoms Shoes, CustomInk and the Futon Shop. Another implementation of copper has recently burst into fashion...and we'll get to that after talking more about masks. Innovative research has moved beyond this traditional material, and Israel in particular seems to be in the forefront of such research.

Coming off of what's already been tested at the Galilee Medical Center, mechanical engineering professor Eyal Zussman of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has led a team to develop a 3D-printed nanoscale fiber sticker coated with antiseptics that traps particles and neutralizes virus droplets that land on the mask. This sticker attaches to a traditional mask to provide extra protection, so it can augment any mask that one currently owns. Meanwhile, Chris Arnusch, a water research professor at Ben Gurion University spent five years developing porous graphene membranes with antimicrobial and antiviral properties for use in water purification but now he's trying to validate the technology for air looking to adapt it for masks and air filters. At another part of the globe, Hong Kong Polytechnic University researchers are also looking at laser-induced graphene, applying the material to disposable surgical masks to make them self-sterilizing and ultra water-repellent; virus-laden droplets would roll off upon impact. They also noted in a paper released in April of this year that sunlight could theoretically sterilize a graphene-coated mask by heating it to 176°F.

One design talent recently on Instagram flashed another untapped aspect of protection that could show design potential: the face shield. Utilized mostly by hospital staff, the face shield offers some protection from any particulate matter without affecting the visage, especially where cosmetics and preserving identity are concerned. While it doesn't filter what is breathing in, it does prevent flying particles from entering the mucous membranes, another potential entry point for Covid-19. And an example by Joe Doucet showcases how fashion can manufacture something more stylish as we brave re-entering the world at large while we await salvation in the form of a vaccine. He recently showed on Instagram a rather modern take on this item (here), bringing a chic aesthetic to something that was once clinical and utilitarian that is bound to spur further design exploration for those who want alternatives to the mask. Ideas like these that bring a modern "cool factor" tend to go viral, so you can be sure that some of the more established fashion houses will find ways to market their own versions that line up with their brand's design aesthetic.

Getting back to the use of copper, fashion has found inevitable innovation with this material is a sleek way. Vollebak, the clothing company that made a jacket out of graphene and a T-shirt out of carbon fiber (a material normally used in jet engines and sports cars), has come out with its most ambitious garment yet: a coat made of microbe-destroying copper woven into the coat material itself (here). The incarnation of this recent innovation is, in itself, fascinating. Vollebak co-founder Steve Tidball says he was originally inspired to create clothing out of copper after watching a TED Talk by Bill Gates about pandemics. After talking to friends who work in the aerospace industry who mentioned that astronauts immune systems are compromised in space, he thought of explorers and adventurers who wear their clothing. Those customers told them that they're in very remote places and are worried about getting sick. The combination of all this information and feedback prompted him to think about making clothes that could resist viruses or bacteria. And it's not just a hint of copper in these coats; each jacket is made of 65% copper, using approximately seven miles of the metal in every coat.

This pandemic has affected fashion in other manners, such as how other creatives are making use of their time at home while in quarantine. One newer designer, Meg Calloway, has been using quarantine time to produce handcrafted personal objects to keep her skills and design prowess alive (here). Ji Won Choi has been testing new design evolutions with materials at hand while being sequestered (here and here). And where fashion is at a standstill otherwise, students who could not have the traditional graduation platform are sharing their craft online, keeping inspiration going. Instagram has seen a continuous inspiring stream of inspiration as students and graduates keep their creative juices flowing (see the Fashion Observed Instagram feed for many examples).

The pandemic has made its impact on our culture as much as it has our economy. There is not much we can do while we wait for circumstances to play out beyond adaptation, but isn't that what we're good at?

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Saturday, February 15th 2020

7:14 PM

Where The End Of The World Leads Fashion

T he world is in a fascinating place in a time period like no other. Unlike previous generations, we have a level of technology to document with great detail a major shift in our global culture, with the cumulative effects of social advancement along with its failures and consequences piling up. Most pessimists tend to see threats to social world order, upheavals suggesting global conflicts (world war fears are justifiable as of recent), division along moral lines and belief systems, and environmental catastrophes unfolding before our eyes, with each hemisphere's summer seasons revealing the kind of environmental destruction we seem unprepared to deal with despite the decades of warnings. Conversely, most optimists tend to see the amazing advancements that come up with incredible innovative solutions tapping into the kind of intellectual power that science fiction can only dream of. Advancements in AI and computing power allow for far quicker processing of information while mass data accumulation (thanks largely to a global infrastructure) has provided the kind of knowledge and manpower base to meet these challenges head on. Our interconnectedness really does reflect the awe-inspiring complexity of mankind; on one hand, we see the range of our depths and yet we see the strength of our highest resolve and collective will as we seek answers and aim for solutions.

And then...we have fashion, an industry responsible for the livelihoods of 300 million people (according to Fibre2fashion) and yet has the dubious distinction of producing between eight to ten percent of the global carbon emissions. There is such power and responsibility on an industry that balances necessity with insecurity, and now it finds itself trying to move towards the higher moral path. Recognizing its impact along psychological and environmental lines, the industry has been making strides as it addresses a range of issues from body image and diversity to its environmental impact in the face of growing criticism and, at least with regards to its environmental impact, increased urgency as science notifies us that our time is running out to make the kind of changes necessary to avoid the impending decimation of life as we know it. No pressure!

It can be labelled as something so seemingly vapid in the face of what some would say matters more regarding humanity, and yet fashion has a well-earned place that never leaves us. It is a necessary expression of culture; a mirror of our identities reflected in practical versus ornamental terms, always a part of who we are and always will be. We are a creative species and fashion is highly personal for a mere collection of manufactured inspirations and retooled coverings that we adorn ourselves with. But the details and revelations of how it is made and the impact it has on our world is something new for the general public, and the timing...the beginning of the decades that define a century on the beginning of what defines a millennium...makes these shifts as well as the collective awareness of the world behind it culturally significant. We are laying the foundation for what will be the visual code for our new world and new era, and we have technical innovations that are going to transform how we dress in ways we're just beginning to imagine.

Right now, the design process is jumping into using scraps and deadstock fabric while recycling vintage and repurposed pre-worn items. And, actually, this blog wrote about the kinds of fashion that are coming out of that approach not too long ago. Without a doubt, its only about to grow...for now. This is going to mean a rise in patchwork and colour blocked items, seam detail and continued deconstruction (90s, anyone?) that we already see in current collections, with some reworked garments finding incredible transformation into fresh incarnations, such as what has been coming from Maison Margiela for example (here). Innovative reworking will aid in exploring new shapes and aesthetic details, but we know drawing on vintage garments, scraps and older textiles as the foundation can only last for so long. In fact, that has already proven to be a new challenge for Viktor & Rolf; they disclosed recently to Vogue Runway that they had exhausted their textile remnants and cuttings and had to resort to using textile swatches for their most recent haute couture collection (example here). Also, anyone who knows a thing or two about fashion know that mankind is fickle and we have proven to bore easily; this is enhanced and capitalized on thanks to our conditioning with immediate demand satisfaction that our technology supports. and while environmentalism seeks to curb this with movements such as slow fashion and supporting buying garments that last, even the growing environmental crises that unfolded down under has yet to truly impact habits that have been long ingrained into the general public. So, although we have embraced patchworking and the coulorblocked results, it is only a matter of time before tastes and resources catch up. Eventually, it is in our nature that we will want something new and will tire of this direction, that we will have exhausted resources that force our hand, or that it will be a combination of the two. In this case it is technical creativity that has our back, both in the name of environmentalism and in meeting ingrained consumer demand.

If you weren't already aware, there have been advances in textile recycling innovations such as those by Evrnu and its recent collaboration with Stella McCartney and Adidas. Evrnu produced a new type of textile called Nucycl by shredding and liquefying old material to make new fabric. In itself, this is already amazing as the implications are huge, For one, this opens the door to a true closed loop process which allows less interference into current design processes. That is, to be environmentally friendly no longer means having to rely on accommodating the kind of restrictions in the name of environmentalism such as quilting or small segment assembly. We are back to having a wider design foundation range that allows for production while taking care of waste and contributing to a reduction in environmental carbon rather than filling the landfills and increasing the carbon footprint at current levels.

Now that your curiosity is piqued, let's factor another technological advancement path that is slowly making further inroads in design: 3D printing.

Fashion has been dabbling with this process, albeit with more creative and innovative high-minded creatives such as Danit Peleg (here), Threeasfour (here) and, in the haute couture world, Iris Van Herpen (here). The more mass-produced uses are still in infancy when looking at the industry at large and, so far, are limited to the footwear and accessory industries and have yet to reach the full potential. Also, there have been experiments with creating the type of technology to produce full-spun garments. One in particular named Electroloom held great promise but stalled out due to lack of funding and technology being in infancy to continue. But that was in 2013. Now, imagine the technological innovation of liquefied recycled textiles coupled with 3D full-spun printed garments, and imagine that we have come a long way to make more sophisticated machines thanks to the progress of technology itself, especially now that we have big data and high-powered AI to accelerate advancement. In fact, let's merge this combination with breakthroughs in digital design that transforms design modelling into viable patterns (these are already in operation). Sounds exciting, now, doesn't it?

But wait, there's more. Let's expand on this further with an introduction of another element: incorporating modular design elements (see prior article for details) within the design framework to expand wearing options and add value by providing enhanced wardrobe versatility, and let's merge this design approach with all these other elements together. Can you now imagine how amazing that entire amalgam of aspects will be in the hands of adventurous creatives?

It will only be a matter of time before these approaches collide and unleash the kind of technological marvels that are truly sustainable and create the kind of dimensional creativity that exists only in our imaginations. Imaging garments from the product of such merged technology (albeit the modular aspect wasn't included) was described years ago in this blog ("Recombinant Deconstruction Is Its Name-O", September 19, 2015 and "Fashion Future Humblebrag", Sept 11, 2017) (example here), and with the pact of innovation under pressure from environmental concerns, these are within grasp. As these would be fully recyclable, they become within the social mandate we aim for: a garment that is environmental, affordable, potentially unique personal, tailored and, above all, accessible.

That, my friends and dear readers, is our future for fashion. At least from where this blog sits.

It's going to be a wickedly astounding world to live in if we can stop being our own worst enemies by getting over our fear of each other and overcome our need of greed. There is more than enough to go around, and more than enough room to be. And that is the $90.4 trillion-dollar question that we need to figure out fast if we want to see this future unfold for all. That bring us to this: what do we do to prepare for it? Well, what a designer can do is....

Don't you love cliffhangers?

When I get enough responses and requests, the answer will be posted in the next article.

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Wednesday, February 12th 2020

11:21 AM

Modular Magic

N ow that fashion is more on board with measures to reduce consumption as well as the carbon footprint, the challenge then becomes one of how to attract the public to invest in a garment that does more than merely become a versatile staple. After all, fashion is inundated with those already, and producing a parallel of a classic, especially in an environment where rumors of an impending recession grow louder, one doesn't want to corner themselves into a place where they become redundant.

The remedy for economy is maximum utility and usage to justify a purchase as an investment. A well-made classic does this, but one doesn't want to necessarily become a cookie-cutter one note, especially in the age of Instagram where variety in self-imagery counts, and not everyone has the skills to DIY their own wardrobe. But one can be taught to modify their garment if the options are built in, and the times are right for this.

In the 1930s, and especially in the Great Depression, designers who didn't close their doors faced shrinkage of business and profit, but one designer was growing despite this: Elsa Schiaparelli. Not only was this designer responsible for concepts such as the artist collaboration, the power suit, the wrap dress and the introduction of trompe d'oeil, but she also was the forerunner or using high tech and innovative textiles. And...she also was a fan of modular design.

The ability for a garment to transform usage and become dual or multi-purpose allows a person on a budget to maximize her wardrobe through the addition of versatile pieces that can bring variety without burdening the pocketbook. By having pieces such as these, Schiaparelli wasn't losing money in the Depression. On the contrary, these innovations helped her make money and, for being in the Depression, that was a miracle of a feat. When there is talk of an incoming recession and encouragement to invest in quality pieces that decrease consumption in the name of environmentalism, it's surprising that more designers haven't explored modular design. And yet...we have a few designers who are doing that, such as Beaufille (here and here), Dzhus (here), Fendi (here), Flavia la Rocca (here), Ropa de Genero (here) and Undercover (here and here).

Not only does modular design address conservation and economy, it also encourages innovation in design influences. A new shape or unlikely combination could be at hand from a deft use or clever incarnation thanks to a skirt that becomes a jacket...or something else equally innovative. It bridges the wearer with the designer in an unexpectedly collaborative relationship and, if done right, can save the designer from extinction while doing good for the planet and the consumer in tandem. How's that for multi-pupose design?

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Friday, February 7th 2020

11:48 AM

The Value of Time in Design as a Fashion Language

T he fashion industry is facing a climate change of its own, as it were. Gone is the rigid season adherence, although many labels still show their respective collections within the same calendar frame. Some labels are blurring lines by releasing fall winter and prefall into the fashion mediasphere at the same time while still selling the items at the proscribed fashion seasons, a fact not lost to anyone who follows fashion. It appears that the industry at large is struggling with the decision to remain part of the pack versus supporting striking out on their own. On one hand, by releasing collections on their own terms they control the dialogue regarding newness and creative leadership. On the other hand, one can get forgotten as most of the other labels that stick with the calendar framework wash over the memory of these first releases, competing for attention in a climate where attention spans and memories are trained to be brief. And given that labels can produce new drops in a tight turnaround period, other more conventional labels can undercut the innovation, providing variations that steal the thunder and profit from the innovators.

Oddly enough, we have been a lot more conscious of times itself these days and many factors contributing to the conversations surrounding this subject at hand. In fact, it's really one that this blog itself was founded on, how time and history finds its way into the design process and has inspired others to follow, ranging from companion assessments such as those looking at the psychology of fashion to articles in major dailies that now follow the anthropological examination of design and trend paths. Our coming into a new century and a new millennium, the attention on our habits and use of retro, the awareness of cycle changes and disruption...all these contribute to the growing interest in why we do what we do and how it connects to the past, our present and the future. So strong is this awareness that the Metropolitan Gallery in New York City has an upcoming exhibit and gala (the well known and star-studded Met Gala) that looks at the relationship between time and fashion itself.

How can we not, when the constant anachronisms become omnipresent in the collections. The past few years has seen the post-war decades constantly mined for inspiration, with the more recent decades of the 60s through the 90s in favor and the "oughts" coming back; these were really best-of mishmash (and a dose of cheap and trash) of those decades anyway. Events that currently happen remind us of similar situations in our past. The political situation unfolding in the USA (think Nixon), renewed battle for gender equality and environmental alarm bells hark of earlier scenarios from the 70s; the legendary excess of consumption coupled with fascination with wealth and renewed global nuclear fears trigger memories of the 80s; and the fears of austerity, fetishing of the past and the excitement and wonder of technical advancements remind of the 90s. We find ourselves repeating multiple social life lessons all at once, unwrapped in real time on full throttle thanks to the internet, social media and the proliferation of smart devices that are fast becoming a personal staple.

What this blog notes is that wherever there is fear, the hesitancy to move forward gets stunted. The post-9/11 years saw a push back that seemed to reset everything (by eight years, looking at colour trends as a marker) and found a decade where everything retro came to soothe us. We retreated to our best memories to cope with an event coupled with a benchmark time change that, together, blindsided our psyche. Now that we have the kind of chaos that contributes to global political instability, threats of war, environmental consequences magnifying and non-stop warning of an impending severe recession, the fears are mounting. The collections for Pre-fall 2020 and now even Fall Winter 2020 have far too many examples to mention any specific designer; one glance will satisfy this claim. It was a bit hard to find the hoped-for volume of innovation outside of new textiles, and those aspects have to be seen personally to notice. But that so many designers are producing retro designs and minimalism is a clear signal that the industry is bracing itself for a repeat that nobody is looking for. And let's not forget the environmental aspect; one of the statements that accompanied the Prefall 2020 collection for Christian Dior was specific for sustainability, saying that designing timeless items that can be combined freely is what qualifies. Having established retro-sources as staples certainly qualifies.

Through this, we have the continued march of progress because we cannot escape where we are at, especially where the influence of technology ion our daily lives is concerned. Whether it finds a place by being cost-effective and accessible while meeting new demands for honoring sustainability is another matter. The growing movement for consuming less and producing within a closed-loop mandate is going to produce a byproduct that many have not thought about: existing labels will have to cut back, shrink down or cease to be. Having too many labels overproducing will not fly in the new consumer mindset, and the fashion rental market will only further erode growth incentives. While existing labels with an established following will weather the storms, the impending economic woes are a sign for the wise that, unless one has innovation under its belt to attract customers, this is not the time to jump in, especially if one is expecting to conquer the world at a scale that the more established houses have achieved.

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Wednesday, February 5th 2020

5:51 PM

Aesthetic Appreciation of Technicalities

I f you have ever watched 20th century film or television programming, it's fascinating to see what is valued and appreciated versus what is upheld as normal. This is not just with behaviour, but also with what is accepted as a standard of life, such as the material aspects and their interaction with our world back then. Be it then or now, we embrace the things that act as props for our sensibilities, such as the way plot-lines are created that hinges on our innovations. Stories in the ages before the advent of the cell phone would be reduced to a blip, or would cease to be; our whole lifestyle has changed dramatically with a swipe or two due to a block of technology we carry with us in our pockets or our bags. We marvel privately at this; think of how many times have you had a conversation where you talk about how you'd be lost if you lost your phone, how your world would crash...until you got a new device and retrieved whatever you did back-up on, of course, but still, look at that. What a contrast from how people lived not more than a generation ago..or even a decade ago. Never before have we depended upon something so small that did so much.

For those who lived longer, i.e. those who had the formative years before Y2K, this chasm is more astute. It's like those who lived before and after the age of the automobile, the telephone and electricity. They remember how things were so different and how technological advancements had overhauled their world and, along with it, their worldview. Ours is the condensing of technology, the access to the wealth of information nobody before thought possible, and the accessibility of both. It's more cerebral, too. And knowledge is sexy. Whenever we have a technological milestone evolve, we almost fetish it and then commercialize this appreciation. The impact it makes becomes rather apparent when it impacts things we consume, so when fashion includes it in its dialogue, it's worth having a second look.

Our appreciation of all things technical has broadened. It is connected to our technology, but not in the more obvious manner. Yes, we are surrounded with the things that were once the domain of science fiction, but rather it's the ability to be informed that has changed our capacity to be more sophisticated in our understanding of things beyond our conventional grasp. With a click of a button, we can learn more about anything around us. We have apps to take a picture and define what we have before us. We have links to explain and expand our knowledge, if need be. We can become experts of any topic without having a four-year degree thanks to the collective compilation of the world's knowledge in the palm of our hands. And how can we not appreciate more complex things when our awareness and knowledge become more enhanced. So, whereas a blueprint or a schematic would once only appeal to someone who was immersed in the technical field it was connected to, now we have a broader appreciation where the art of the execution is given more consideration. Again, knowledge is sexy; it certainly is in our century.

Hence, we see some creatives from a range within the fashion world toying with the fascination of complex information and data imagery, such as those from Balmain (here), Mary Katrantzou (here), Nike (here) and Shenova (here) . Sparse as these may be in the scheme of things, these displays of information appreciation are found along a broad spectrum. Yes, they "look cool" but they also enlighten the passive curious mind that we now support, and the items chosen are interesting for their subject matter as much as for the pattern and design. It says a lot for a society when we find art in anything informative we choose, validating the benefits of appreciation in the process, and more encouraging to find these shared on social media, inspiring others as they get passed along.


More to come, fashion fans. Lots more to say.

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