When we speak of a designer’s collection, we imagine a group of garments or styled looks that tell the story of the season. The Fall collections, for example, that just showed in February and March. But when one has a collection, such as a stamp collection or a collection of art in a museum, it is meant as something you build over time, add to and exchange pieces in and out of.
What if a fashion collection was built the same way? Instead of a series of transient creations, a collection of garments that is built upon, without the finality of a seasonal collection or the demand of merchandising within each season? In an industry where the supply of designers so outweighs the demand, maybe there is a way to step back from the ‘collection’ business model and move into a ‘pieces’ model.
A couple of thoughts that this generates:
1. We might make room for, and even encourage, more designers to carve their way with a few key pieces. It involves less over head and challenges the designer to focus on elements that mean the most to them. This means fewer resources are squandered and they build a strong identifiable foundation. Think about the current buzz of Donna Karen’s Seven Easy Pieces and Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress, both celebrating anniversaries this year. Those are pretty cool legacies to leave behind. And both women built empires out of these concepts that found a huge audience where design based purely on aesthetic story telling has much less reach. The concept of those original ideas still tells the story of the woman who identifies with each of these brands. So decades later for both women, that foundation is rock solid.
2. With so much product out there, a designer should never feel pushed to produce a garment for the sake of merchandising. Just like a curator would edit down to the perfect selection of works, not adding an extra room with works that are less important to the story like the garments that only appear in a designer’s showroom and not on the runway. At a certain point it just becomes stuff.
So what does a collection mean in fashion? There is something magical about storytelling in collections, but there is something magical about problem solving as well. Timelessness comes in two ways: living on in memory and living on physically. Both are possible in fashion, but are reserved for the few not the many. This leaves an ever growing number of designers who will start collections destined to be lost. One can build a collection as a body of iconic story telling (think of recent retrospectives of Jean Paul Gautier at the Brooklyn Museum or Alexander McQueen at the MET), or a collection as iconic pieces that increase in value over time (think of a Burberry trench or DVF Wrap Dress). The first is more like collecting the works of an artist, while the second is like collecting items of industrial design. A body of work worthy of a retrospective, or an iconic design with its own anniversary.
Fashion can be both, but today we are missing the latter. Rather than consider fashion items that solve real problems in the way we dress, so many designers approach fashion like art. While this is admirable, and an important part of the industry’s allure and cultural relevance, we could also use more design thinking. It might be the pragmatic side of fashion, less sexy from an artists point of view, but it is a great opportunity and frontier for the design minded problem solvers struggling to find their place. It is the time to forge that path and generate a norm and a business model that can merge art and problem solving and redefine what a Fashion Collection can mean.