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fashion week

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Instead of Fashion House Musical Chairs…

Why not repurpose the resources expended when putting a new designer at the head of an existing design company? The idea is to empower them by making the collection their own, even until they grow old and retire, much like for the designers who created these businesses. While the existence of the major luxury houses was made possible by Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Cristobal Balenciaga, their names now keep a kind of shadow over the design world. To take this approach would be a bigger gamble, maybe, and there might be some precious years in between where the decision makers, head hunters, chess players, don’t get it quite right (any designer at Paco Robanne since 1999) or it goes terribly wrong (John Galliano at Dior) later on, those seasons will either become undesired vintage, or the museum collection's rarest of all gems.

Dior by Raf Simons

Celine by Phoebe Philo

Louis Vuitton by Marc Jacobs

Hermès by Whoever’s-After-Lemaire?

Etc.


When I first made this suggestion to a friend, I was a bit more radical about it. (Ditch the Dior entirely and just call it Raf Simmons, for God’s sake) but the re-branding that would require is too momentous for any business, understandably. So simply change the label and change the attitude and expectations. Consumers will learn from us, if we show confidence, speak of longevity, and write reviews that show excitement and must-haveness.

And it really does get tiresome, the goings on back behind the scenes and in the board rooms and calculating the bottom line. If you consider the designer a commodity, they will feel it and want to leave. But, my theory is that if you treat the designer like the creative genius that he/she is (or that you must believe he/she to trust them at the helm in the first place) and give realistic goals and realistic critiques and surround them with a team who understand how to bring out the best in them and make the machine run smoothly, they will want to stay. And they will make you money. Premium salaries can be sedated a bit and drama and law suits can be avoided and this confusion that is a melting pot of lost identity, on the part of the designers and the brands, can instead begin to define new and pure distinguishing factors. Otherwise, once the lineage of all the houses begin to look the same, we'll just end up with more cross-referencing, more archive replicating, and more firing and more hiring (with ever elevating salaries and expenditures) if something doesn’t give.

Not to mention it is TOO much to have designers splitting their time between their own design businesses while also acting as the head designer or creative director for a major global brand. This can be 16 collections a year, give or take a couple of seasons, endless travel, and two teams to manage...it's just too much. The two can be one and the same: their own label, for all intents and purposes, and the major global brand.

Also, is it ridiculous to anyone else that the most common metaphor for this shuffling around is that of a children's game? Musical chairs is fun and all, but it's not an exciting spectator sport, especially when the game is rigged by those who have money on the outcome. 


The most important things needed for this change:

New Main Labels. (I’ve already taken the liberty of creating a few. I’ll send the invoice later, thank you.) (So, Check.)

A handful of Designers who have proven themselves over and over again no matter the name on the roof over their head (Check.)

Design houses that want consistency in their image and trust in the loyalty of their customer (Check.)


The closest thing towards this new system would be the dramatic and controversial revamp of the Yves Saint Laurent label, now Saint Laurent, under Hedi Slimane (I was recently trying to find it under the ‘Y’s on Style.com…oh yes, the name had a face lift). There are so many different ways this brand redesign can occur, and the right designer with the right team could work a magic in the fashion landscape if we just let them create without restricting them. Phoebe Philo or Alber Elbaz could be considered close in second, as the Céline label, for example, was all but dead until she made it the most forward and coveted (and expensive) collection of the fashion season. Why in the world is it not called Céline by Phoebe Philo? And even if it’s not on the label, and she is much less in the public eye than, say, Alexander Wang, she certainly has come to personify the look that she creates each season. 

If Ghesquiere had been able to make Balenciaga his own, the story might not have ended like this.


This does negate the prediction that the era of designer as celebrity coming to an end. But, for real, when the departure of a head designer from a luxury company is still making all the major headlines is this really going out of style?

Then again I could get behind that movement, too…We can talk about that later, though.

Either way, let's quit playing games. 



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The Shot Callers of the Fashion Capitals

In each fashion capital there is an entity that orchestrates fashion weeks and upholds the standards of their country's position in the fashion world: The Council of Fashion Designers of America out of New York, the British Fashion Council out of London, In Milan the Camera Nazionale della moda Italiana, and in Paris, the Fédération Française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode–That last one is quite a mouthful–And there's another chapter of the authority in Paris, The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which presides over the Haute Couture classifications and organization of Haute Couture Fashion Week. 

While they act more like men behind the green curtains, they are arguably the most important decision makers in fashion in the big picture sense. These organizations are responsible for the image that is projected on a national level through this multi-trillion dollar industry and maintaining their respective nations' status at the top of the fashion totem pole. This means creating programs for cultivating new businesses and catering to the long established houses to ensure they have what I consider the respect due to the the elders. 

When fashion comes down to the bottom line, the goal is to ensure that the major companies on a global scale, like Louis Vuitton to France or Ralph Lauren to the USA, continue to thrive, and that new companies continue to open and find success to keep the economy dynamic and growing.

There is a lot at stake here, far beyond the spectacle of fashion week parties and runway shows. And because of the major publicity tool it has become, has fashion week outgrown its own reason for being? Or has it just taken on a new role? 

These are questions for the fashion councils, answers to which we might be seeing in the next few years. Or maybe ten. (For an industry that moves fast, fashion sure can move slow).


Logistically, it is hard to imagine how fashion week ever ran, or how these cities developed the fashion identity we know today without these groups to coordinate the schedules and uphold the creative and qualitative standards of the city's official calendar. CFDA was founded in 1962, The Fédération Française in 1973 (Syndicat de la Haute Couture, however has been around since 1868), the BFC in 1983, and the CNMI in 1958. Then again, the fashion week we know today is far from the private, no cameras allowed showrooms of couture and the early days of ready-to-wear, and is almost nothing like fashion week as it existed even ten years ago. Recent phenomena in particular, such as the internet, then bloggers, then social media, made sure of that.

Evolution continues, but within the unchanging structure of fashion week there is a feeling that fashion week has become too much. Too formulaic. Too crowded. Too messy. Too scene-y. But is that feeling shared across the board by the decision makers? There is little pressure to change when the establishment is so powerful that any challengers are quickly dismissed. Maybe it's a question of changing leadership, fresh eyes, that will ignite some kind of transformation. Maybe it's a question of time, and change coming from the decision of individual designers to break the mold. Think of Oscar de la Renta, for example, reverting to a private showroom presentation rather than producing a full-on runway show.

The recent appointment of Ralph Toledano to replace Didier Grumbach at the Fédération Française creates an oportunity for change, much like the installment of Jane Reve to the Camera della Moda. While Grumbach is a champion of many modernizing efforts to the French fashion industry, and has arguably witnessed and participated in the major moments that have transformed the identity of French fashion, any person in one position for too long can lead to stasis. 

Ralph Toledano, president FFCPAP

Ralph Toledano, president FFCPAP

Didier Grumbach, former president FFCPAP

Didier Grumbach, former president FFCPAP

Jane Reeve, chief executive of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana

Jane Reeve, chief executive of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana


While Fashion Weeks are popping up in other cities all over the world from Berlin to Beijing, they have followed the same model and thus add to the content without contributing to the modernization of the system. And so the aforementioned capitols still represent the four pillars of identity that explain modern fashion: Paris, the original fashion capitol, is the hub of the Avant Garde and the no-expense-spared creative artistry; London, the hip and edgy side with a dose of traditionalism and Savile Row heritage; Milan, the home of timeless, understated luxury and family run businesses; New York, the sportswear and street-savvy mega brands. 

Across all boards, France remains the city where international designers come in to show on the official calendar, while London, Milan and New York are more nationalistic. I think, in particular, of the Belgian and Japanese designers who represent some of the most exciting moments on the Paris calendar. 

It remains the most exciting of all the cities for that reason, as well. The diversity and the creative richness being unmatched & leaving it appropriately as a climax at the end of the long month of running around the globe to runway shows and showrooms.

The barrier for entry in Paris feels higher than in any of the other cities, maybe because of the showmanship required to be considered for the official calendar. In all cities around the world there are off-calendar events, many multi-brand showrooms, and boot-strapping efforts to gain visibility from the traffic brought during fashion week. But until a company is recognized by their country's fashion council, they have to fight that much harder for visibility. And that recognition has to be earned.


Natalie Massenet, centre, chairman of the BFC. Caroline Rush, right, CEO of BFC   

Natalie Massenet, centre, chairman of the BFC. Caroline Rush, right, CEO of BFC
 

While the leaders of these organizations share similar job responsibilities, the structure in each city is quite different, as are the initiatives that they develop to further their country's fashion industry. Among many other things, New York is celebrated for their Fashion Fund and incubator, and also for their legislative efforts in Washington to pass the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, while Paris has recently introduced the Designer's Apartment showroom and the Mode et Finance fund to influx cash into promising young designer businesses. 

Although the Didier Grumbachs and Steven Kolbs, along with their teams, are the drivers behind these programs and the authority behind so many decisions regarding the fashion world, they are surprisingly under the radar for the larger fashion community. A broader look at the boards, however, and some more familiar names appear at the top of the list. In London the Chairman of the BFC is Natalie Massenet of Net-a-Porter fame with Caroline Rush as Chief Executive, and in New York Diane Von Furstenberg is the president of the Board of Directors–and is arguably the most prominent face of the organization because of her celebrity–while Steven Kolb acts as CEO.

Steven Kolb, CEO at CFDA

Steven Kolb, CEO at CFDA

Diane Von Furstenberg, President of the Board of Directors, CFDA

Diane Von Furstenberg, President of the Board of Directors, CFDA

What it comes down to is that these people behind the scenes create the space in which fashion is presented and received and born and grows and finds community. The inner workings of individual companies will ultimately determine their longevity and their relevance, but the way the greater fashion community, and public at large, understand fashion, national identity, big brands versus emerging companies, rally behind young designers and anticipate big shows as we count the days off on the official calendars is through the context of these shot callers. 

Having a structure does limit the flexibility for change because there are more approvals to seek and more rules in place, but change will come, as change is inevitable. These organizations are vessels for change, and for communication. Maybe the hold up is that we don't know where to go next. And until that question is answered, we assimilate where we should innovate. We continue doing what we know. 

A good place to start is for the larger fashion community to recognize the importance of these organizations and to communicate through them. As a centralized force, their influence is wide and the community reactive when that influence is applied. Sometimes it's good for the man to operate quietly behind the green curtain, but sometimes we don't see the big picture until he comes out and talks to us face to face.

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Species : Homo Effingo Modus

I took liberties with the naming of this species, but in all forms, the word fashion comes from the meaning "to make"  

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These are two fashion cartoons on the Fashion crowd as a species all their own. Rough drafts, as all incomplete projects are.

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This was a concept just tapped into but recently revisited. I'm excited that a full series is to come out at fashion week September 2014.

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Can Fashion Tech Surpass Novelty?

CuteCircuit Jacket

CuteCircuit Jacket

The more buzz that disseminates about the mergence of fashion and technology, the more evidently we see the current priorities of this shift. While we should all be grateful for the brave few who take risks to experiment with the possible directions, most efforts to date feel more like novel ideas than timeless design breakthroughs. It seems that all futuristic designs that come down the runway are either interpreting costumes from Sci-Fi movies, or superfluously incorporating wearable technologies. By treating technology as a novelty, designers are skewing the expectations of what future fashion can be.

So often, directional aesthetics recall too literally the stereotypes of an imagined future. This has been evident over time, as aesthetics of the future evolve with industrial advancements. When new materials are introduced into the market, imaginations take off. Costume design in films is an excellent example of this phenomenon. When lycra was invented in 1958, it became a ubiquitous choice for all superheroes, space travelers, and citizens of the future. Plastic, whose versatility was greatly explored over the course of the 20th century was another protagonist in the aesthetics of the imagined future. Suddenly industrial designers were able to achieve forms and develop constriction methods impossible with natural materials and manual construction methods.

Fashion reflected these changes with the outrageous aesthetic of the space age that I discuss here, but also, in some cases, with subtle acknowledgment in refined, timeless design. This will be design made possible by new fabrics, new finishing techniques, and new closure technology (think about the revolutionary invention of the button! the zipper!) In timeless design, the innovation is in service of the design. In novel design, the design is in service of the innovation. For the most successful, the innovation will be invisible. It will only be recognized through the quality of the experience.

Most of the technology we see in fashion today is anything but invisible: It is overtly tech-y. Of the novel things we see today are wearable light shows on the runway: Dresses with pixilated images glowing from the surface and jackets with color changing shoulders (see On Aura Tour Vu Spring 2014 Haute Couture and Cutecircuit RTW). There are mood-sensing garments, changing color when you’re angry, happy or embarrassed. Even within the realm of novelty the effects of literally displaying your emotions seems like a questionable concept. These capabilities could be valuable for specific purposes, including R&D, but will have a hard time becoming mainstream. Even Google glass is too tech-y for it’s own good.

If anything, designing for the future will be about editing, minimizing and streamlining. If we’ve learned anything from the sleek appeal of modern glass architecture, the pleasure of engaging with well-designed user interfaces, and even the aesthetic success of apple products, it is that less is more. The impetus is not for designers to run out and plug in all of their dresses, then film them with drones. The idea is for designers to employ technology to improve the customer experience from discovery to purchasing through to use of the product. We should be thinking of the future needs of the consumer and incorporating that into better practices so that technology is applied with purpose, not superfluity. Put simply: technology should simplify our lives. For the time being, fashion tech is just ‘stuff,’ but if we shift our priorities and think long term, we can tackle greater mysteries and reap greater rewards. 

*As a fashion pragmatist, my main prerogative is to understand and interpret fashion as it is intended for every day use. And so while I use examples of runway fashion, it is with the understanding that these garments are intended for commercial use and to communicate on brand identity. I purport simply that this superficially futuristic aesthetic is misleading and ultimately wasteful. And while I am a believer in the purity of a design vision, I believe that the validity of any design is achieved once it finds it’s audience (paying customers), and not before. (In this, I distinguish fashion from art for art’s sake).

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Fashion Journalism : The Departure of Cathy Horyn from the New York Times

Yesterday's announcement of Cathy Horyn's departure, a figurehead of fashion journalism for the New York Times, recalls the news of departing head designers from Europe's leading fashion houses.  In most cases, the designers play a game of musical chairs, a small pool of Creative Directors who move from one house to the next leaving little surprise when the announcements are officially made. 

Suzy Menkes, Cathy Horyn, Sarah Burton and Phillip Treacey | Source: Bacca da Silva via BofF

Suzy Menkes, Cathy Horyn, Sarah Burton and Phillip Treacey | Source: Bacca da Silva via BofF

Names in journalism like Cathy Horyn, Suzy Menkes of INYT (previously IHT), Bridget Foley of WWD, and Vanessa Friedman of the FT, and Eric Wilson now at InStyle to name a few, represent that same enclave but within an industry that has not seen an empty throne in many years. I was too young and unaware to follow the transition into Horyn's reign after the death of Amy Spindler in 2004. Known for her insightful and valued criticism, Spindler laid the path for Horyn's famously sharp words. Now that designers are shutting out any negative criticism, will the paper, much like design houses select Creative Directors with dollar signs in mind, select an even keeled voice to regain and maintain access? Or will they seek to keep an opinionated and potentially controversial critic at the helm? This article in the Star on 'the beleaguered art of fashion criticism is worth a read.

Recent hires John Kolbin from Deadspin, and Matthew Schneier from Style.com are speculatively suggested as successors, but, according the Capital, interviews are being lined up which suggests that these hires in the wake of Eric Wilson's departure were not premonitory of Horyn's decision. For now Suzy Mekes will be the predominant eyes and ears for both INTY and NYT.

In any case this announcement did cause me to realize that I am not familiar enough with today's fashion writers aside from the 'Front Row' set. The current generation of Notables, will soon give way those rising in age and experience. In fact, it's already happening. (Think Hilary Alexander's retirement in 2011 from the Telegraph). It is an evolution worth paying closer attention to, and one that I, for one, am late for. 

I would like to draw a distinction between fashion writers and fashion critics.

While I am familiar with many curent fashion writers, I don't know who the next generation of critics are. In order to critique fashion in a valuable and constructive way, one must understand not only present context and direction of the future, but the history of fashion and of each design house and each designer. Relevance and poignancy are musts for a successful collection, within which the critic can address aesthetic to varying degrees- but it's more than a dance of hemline rhetoric. It's about understanding whether or not the designer was in tune with the climate of the times, which designers are leading us into the future, and which once had, but no longer, their finger on the proverbial pulse. 

These are the critics who bring designers up the ranks and put others sleep. The critics who ask the most of designers in their creative output, and the most of the consumer to apply their own critical eye. Without such critics, fashion looses it's grandeur and its power for social impact because there is no longer a distinction between the good and the bad. It's al lukewarm. Writers are doing more harm than good being agreeable in spite of themselves. 

Good critics are necessary in every industry. They need to be free to express their opinions without fear of repercussion from their employers, despite the potential fallout from the subject of critique. I hope the fact of this dialogue will play a part in the NYT decision. And I hope they will encourage this approach in their new hire, and set an example for future critics taking up the pen.


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Runway Opening Act : Creative Disruption

After seeing a number of Haute Couture shows this past week, I challenged myself to imagine the different Mise-en-Scènes possible at the various venues.

One of the amazing things about this initiative, is that it could take ANY shape or form.

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These are meant to require minimal production efforts, just enough to send a strong and lasting message about the new-coming brand.

Imagine a performance involving as little as one model, changing outfits behind a screen on the runway. Or a video projection with some tactile components in the space. Or some actors creating characters around the backstory of the collection. Or a few girls voguing in the middle of the runway. 

Whatever the spirit of the brand, the presentation will take on a form to suit them. Theatrical, impactful, Moving, Conceptual, Ostentatious. The standards must be held high, both to honor the host brand, and to cultivate the state of mind for the next generation of knock-your-socks-off runway designers.

We all know that there are certain collections that fall flat on the runway, and are better reserved for the showroom racks. This is the kind of show that has made fashion week the mess of overbooked madness that it is. As spectators, Journalists, Buyers, and other Creatives, what is better than to see a show that moves you? The kind of show that takes on a life of it's own.

Let's add another opportunity for creativity and excitement during this week of wonted chaos and routine.

Who wants to go first?

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