Fashion Business reports: April 21
Farm to table = loom to wardrobe? Fashion in the time of COVID 19
If over the past years the entire concept of how we eat and what we put in our bodies has been called up for analysis and questioning shouldn’t we be following the same procedures for what we put on our bodies? It’s not simply a question of farm to table, it’s eating meat we know where the animals have been pastured, eggs we know how the hens live and greens and vegetables which have taken thirty minutes to reach us not thirty days. It all makes sense and although many people continue to eat “junk” food in whatever form that might take, more and more people are questioning how what they eat has gone from its seed to your table. We must now apply this same rigour to clothes, the journey is often more complex, since the equivalent of the kitchen is a factory and the preparation of the raw materials, fibres, yarns, threads, etc is often also multi process. Yet we should think about the journey, and the people engaged on that journey to enable us to get dressed.
As we look at the idea of food sourced nearby and in limited seasonal quantities, so clothes made locally and with a transparent narrative of production must become important to us. At luxury level many pieces are made in smaller quantities, with hand work often employed at some stage, often created in factories and workshops owned by the brands. A Hermes bag, or a Bulgari watch is easy to trace through every stage of its life, can you say the same about a Gap T shirt? The obvious answer is, no, but it shouldn’t be. Ethical sourcing, green attitudes, sustainability and all the current issues of clothing are about more than using easily recycled yarns, they’re about the entire system and its reality. The reality that many push to one side, ignore or simply think they’ve absolved themselves from by “buying sustainable”. What does this even mean?
I have no easy answers, and the purpose of this introduction is not to be unsettling, depressing or negative. It’s simply I’m fascinated by how we cannot truly say that all lives matter if we are unable to question how the people who make our clothes are treated. How we don’t know that the businesses and their processes involved in making those clothes are not open and transparent in their methods. It’s time to follow the complete narrative, to follow through on the words the protests and the placards to ask the questions.
Some years ago, I was lucky enough to visit factories in Sri Lanka, I’m sure carefully edited and selected but even so, named “Garments without Guilt” they recycled the dying water to the lavatories flush (a real surprise when you flushed as never knowing if the water might be lilac or turquoise) sensor activated lighting, women only factories providing shelter as well as employment, etc. Bizarrely although Marks & Spencer used some of these factories they chose not to use this story, why? Simply because people don’t care how their clothes are made. I believe it’s essential that this changes.
If you want to sell well in a specific market you target that market, and if your customer is culturally specific then you make a clear statement aimed directly at the customer. Christian Dior, French, has a designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, Italian, who clearly realises the importance of one customer, Chinese. This show was one hundred percent aimed at this customer and placed in Shanghai and was only about selling. I’m so doing it was also open to criticism as a commercial rather than creative venture, but commercial is key right now for big luxury brands with the global pandemic dragging on. Chanel, Dior, Celine, Vuitton, etc are only about money at both ends of the cycle, expensive to make and sell, expensive to buy and wear. The online criticism of this show was brutal in some quarters and it seems to have divided opinion on what the clothes represented. In my view it is simple, they represent sales and money, that’s it. Now watch and decide. It’s pre-collection, shown before and with just some party dresses added at the end.
Just a week after I discussed farm to table, a piece in the New York Times linked regenerative farming and fashion. This isn’t because I’m so clever but it’s because the time is right for these discussions. Every clothing customer in the world who has any interest in the environment, and the world in which they live, is asking questions. Those questions may be very simple or they may be the result of research or they may be because of a vested interest. However, you can be sure that for many questioning and evaluating life decisions is a natural progression through awareness to knowledge. To explain their decisions, not just because ethics is a trend or a fad, but because how we buy and behave matter. See updates from brands and plans for different approaches to the question of sustainability in this week's report.
Do seasons matter anymore? Who are designers and brands communicating with?
Dior pops a little something up online almost every other day, Saint Laurent let the press know they’re launching a film relating to the season we’re already in, and Balenciaga confuses us by naming a collection pre-autumn or something …...so what and who is it all for? It’s about changes, it’s for everybody, and most important of all; it’s about communication. Designers, brands, labels, houses need to tell us what they’ve produced, what’s new and sell the pieces.
Fortieth anniversary show. On Broadway with supermodels and Rufus Wainwright singing, and Michael talking us through the collection. Later this year the first of a two-part exhibition on American fashion opens at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute, this show encapsulated much of what American fashion is about. It’s slick, it’s pared back, it’s grown up and it’s got a hint of the movies and leading ladies making an entrance on stage. It’s relaxed in one way and impeccably groomed in another, it’s not cluttered with detail but it’s clearly beautifully cut and constructed. So, Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, Norman Norell, Ben Wragge, Pauline Trigere, Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karen, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Stephen Sprouse, Bill Blass and many, many more embody this attitude and this fashion signature; indeed, Kors had hints of several of these past leaders. It’s the kind of clothes we imagine are easy to create, these are the sort of pieces you imagine you can find for much less money, they should be at high street level; the surprise is they never are.
It takes a specific creative energy and approach to making fashion to successfully pull off this look. It takes experience and knowing your clients and the lives they live, it takes an eye to say “yes” and “no” to what does and doesn’t work. It’s why in the 90’s Celine engaged Kors and why Balmain also engaged Oscar de de Renta. American designers have their own heritage, their own inspirations and their own American attitudes and creativity. It’s not the same as other fashion cultures and it’s developed in its own way. If you’re interested; research it. Whatever you do don’t ignore, or dismiss, it since it has its own power and market and is hugely successful.