Fashion is pretending everything will be alright. And it will be, eventually.
We’ve just finished the latest round of women’s fashion weeks. What would, usually, have been a month of hundreds of shows stretched between the US and Europe, was a skeleton of former schedules with international fashion councils trying to cobble together something that resembled normality and hoping by the time these clothes hit the stores they’ll be some light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Even before COVID, the traditional idea of fashion weeks and shows was being questioned yet fashion weeks seemed to continue to grow exponentially, becoming a bloated calendar of designer egos. They rarely paid their way.
Left - An underwhelming Louis Vuitton womenswear SS21 collection
What this latest round of SS21 shows did was put a spotlight on the product. Without the fashion circus; the celebs on the front row, hundreds of people pushing and hustling for a ticket, and the subsequent social media onslaught and hype, the clothes and accessorises were the main focus. Replaced by fewer brands, a socially distanced frow, if any, and, a hoped for digital audience tuning in, the product had a chance to shine. It didn’t.
A hard-to-believe audience of 5 million was supposed to have watched the much panned Nicolas Ghesquière collection for Louis Vuitton womenswear telling consumers to ‘Vote”. Seeing inside the soon-to-be-unveiled Samaritaine department store was the highlight.
Other mega brands, such as Chanel and Dior, produced critically underwhelming collections. Some brands tried to think differently though. For example, Moschino hired the Jim Henson studio to make puppets dressed in its collection and a complementary characterful front frow. While the concept was great, the clothes weren’t memorable.
It’s not so much that this season was particularly better or worse than previous seasons, it is more the fact the clothes had less distractions to hide behind. For years, fashion brands have flown everybody - press, buyers - to exotic locations or spent millions on expensive sets and concepts which have all add to the spectacle while helping to disguise the fact that many of the clothes or accessorises weren’t very good. This stripping away of the shows for SS21 has exposed what many have thought for a long time; the majority of product no longer stands up on its own.
This is a broad generalisation and there are still some great ideas in fashion, it’s too big for there not to be, but many brands rely on gimmicks, and, what I call ‘design-by-email’, which tries to squeeze as much as it can from a popular line or style. Brands milk a popular style to death. Rockstuds, anyone?
There has also been this attitude, over the last few years, that ‘brand’ is bigger than any product. As the volume of product grew, so it diluted the ideas, but the ‘brand’ got bigger. It sold, so why question it? Those inside the brands didn’t or don’t seem to be.
But, COVID has made many consumers switch off. It has made many people realise they can live without a lot of this stuff and buying new and expensive stuff was just a perpetual habit they didn’t realise they had.
If nobody can see you wearing or holding it, then what is the point? For many, there isn’t one. Also, without social events, a large proportion of fashion is redundant. Sales follow need and without the need, then want starts to wane and sales dry up. Fashion is going to need fantastic product to re-engage this dormant buying audience. Some of these consumers could be lost forever.
The formulaic fashion cycle of collabs., capsule collections and drops, put a veneer of newness onto tired products and exhausted brands. Brands need to make things that people want to shout about from the roof tops and tell all their friends about.
Quality has also become an issue. People are more likely to shout about inferior quality and poor customer service than good. They are quick to social media when complaining or pointing out issues or problems. Many consumers have started to question their last purchases from these ‘luxury’ companies and the inflated price tags for mediocre workmanship. Can they justify the prices? I wrote this last year Gucci: has it sacrificed its quality in pursuit of the quirky? It is going to have to be really good to get people who don’t feel they need something to buy again.
Right - Moschino showed its SS21 collection on puppets
The luxury brands are also humouring the resale market knowing that a strong resell value makes it easier to sell the original item. It’s becoming like the used car market.
Luxury brands need new IT bags and products. Products that stick and become classics and tropes in their repertoire of styles. For example, Dior has been pushing its Saddle bag over the last couple of years, for both men and women. It is a design with a price tag of £2,500 from over 20 years ago. Where is the new Saddle bag for that house?
Brands have become obsessed with newness, but it’s also made the whole business feel more disposable and it needs the brands to stand behind designs and give consumers the confidence to buy. Gucci has done it with its bag collections. Most have become like the fragrance market; continual launches, usurping previous versions with very few lasting more than a few years.
It doesn’t look like things will be much different come next February and March when the next round of AW21 shows are due. Fashion is reactionary but it also needs to go back to the basics of product. While it’s harder to create classic styles, they can do something about quality.
They’ll still be a physicality to showing fashion, whatever happens, and, while brands are concentrating on stemming their losses atm, post-COVID, it has to be about product, product, product. And it needs to be good.
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