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Is fashion dead?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

Mar 9, 2015

A recent article citing the death of fashion by trend forecaster Li Edelkoort has sparked a wave of response and contemplation. Is fashion as we know it really dead and what does the future hold for brands and designers, trying to forage their way to create both art and success?

Edelkoort's analysis only covers some of the territory of our complex industry, but her views border on the pessimistic. Below are some of her quotes and underneath our response:

"Marketing of course killed the whole thing… It's governed by greed and not by vision. There's no innovation any more because of that." - We reckon it is not just marketing, but also celebrities entering the realm of fashion that have killed innovation. Any person with an iota of fame has their own fashion label, using their followers and media presence to sell clothes. What a celebrity can achieve in one season the average designer starting his or her own label must sweat blood and tears over many years to achieve the same. However, despite the omni presence of celebrity culture, everyone in the fashion industry, in fact everyone in most creative industries, is under pressure to achieve maximum publicity. Consumers are savvy and have access to all the information on demand, so of course fashion must embrace innovation and technology.

In the digital age designers need to be uber visible

To do so in today's digital age designers need to be uber visible, commercial and have savvy social media presence in order to sustain their businesses and ultimately reap profitability. But it is not just fashion marketing that has changed, society and business have long changed since the turn of the century and why wouldn't it? Fashion must adapt in order to survive, as must every industry. Edelkoort refers to the 80s and 90s as the glory years of fashion, citing the amazing shows like Thierry Mugler which are incomparable to those of today. But at the same time the shows in the 90s were far off from the salon presentations of the Dior era in the 50s and 60s, and Yves Saint Laurent era of the 70s. Everything has always changed and always will change. That doesn't mean designers today are not creating important work that should not be celebrated, nor marketed.

"Fashion shows are becoming ridiculous; 12 minutes long. 45 minutes driving, 25 minutes waiting. Nobody watches them any more. The editors are just on their phones; nobody gets carried away by it." - We are not sure where the 45 minute drive comes from, perhaps it includes taxi waiting time, but yes, fashion shows have somewhat become ridiculous. The art of presenting collections to press and buyers is how the industry is organised, but it is the vast number of brands and shows that leave for little excitement and even less time. The schedules in New York, London, Milan and Paris are overflowing with shows, with hundreds of presentations simultaneously happening off schedule. The question is, do we need that much fashion? Does the world need so many brands? Is the industry so hungry for designers and fashion that there is room for everyone? Do we need another celebrity versus brand paring to sell us more clothes? It's Darwin's survival of the fittest and it remain a tough, tough game.

London remains hotbed for new talent

London has always been the underdog when it comes to catwalk shows, with the least number of established brands showing in comparison to the other fashion capitals. Championing new talent, London remains the place where many of today's global fashion leaders got their foothold in the industry. There is plenty of excitement upon discovering new talent, as their should be. A fashion show is still a bonafide format, perhaps it's better to be discerning about which one to attend.

But to agree with Edelkoort, go to any fashion show these days and you will see journalists on the front row, tapping away on their phones, with little or no interest in their surroundings. Perhaps they are playing catch up and sending reports to their editors. And are consumers really waiting to trawl through hundreds of show reports? This too has become oversaturated, with bloggers, online magazines and any individual who can upload a critique now labelling themselves a fashion expert. How many ways can you dissect a fashion collection in writing? Notable is that trend forecaster WGSN has stopped writing reports on every show and now just serves mainly as an image bank when it comes to catwalk shows.

It's true, of course, that in the era of digital technology, the kudos of the fashion show has disappeared. There is no six months waiting to see the first images in magazines and the excitement of seeing the clothes firsthand in the shops has all but disappeared. Journalists, of course, have been talking about the demise of the fashion show for years so this is not a new argument that Edelkoort has put forth.

"Fashion is insular and is placing itself outside society." - There is truth to this statement, especially when the world is in a state of flux and we are feeling global unrest, tragedies and events on our doorsteps almost daily. How does one talk about fashion, about hemlines, about trends about who wore what, when around us we are seeing images of people being pushed from buildings, airplanes crashing and global politicians being assassinated? How does fashion fit in with the world we live in today?

Perhaps we should address that fashion is a 700 billion dollar global industry making it one of the most important sectors of the global economy. It creates jobs and clothes for people all over the world, employs over 25 million workers in over 100 countries. It is too simple to label it insular.

As i-D magazine aptly noted, fashion is an easy industry to criticise because it is enormous, very flawed, sometimes fatally. But marketing and the internet generation cannot be blamed for all its woes, and they are also what is exciting about the changes that are happening now. Edelkoort is criticising the industry currently as much as its future. It's heyday are its halcyon days to her, but won't a decade from now make what is happening today another heyday? There is plenty of original talent, intelligence and depth in this industry to keep it relevant. The questionable parts do perhaps not make the sum, but definitely we can be assured that fashion is not dead.