The State of Fashion

An essay about the about the Autumn/ Winter 2016 fashion season, and the changes the fashion industry must face in order to adapt. Written by Zakirah Rabaney

Fashion always tries to uplift the mood of a season with shiny dresses and more-over-the-top-than-usual theatrics when bad news headlines begin bringing everyone down – headlines we’ve been getting a lot of lately. And during the Fall/ Winter 2016 collections, designers employed plenty of frills and thrills to conceal the world’s dire state of affairs – electing to entertain and distract their audiences with couture-worthy lamés and plush velvets. But all the glossy fabric in the world, couldn’t drown out the noise about fashion’s broken system, or tell us how we should cope with the changes that come with living in a plugged-in age. There was also an antagonism present: between fashion’s history and fashion’s modernity. But what really contextualized and defined this season, was how designers were adjusting, not only to the changes happening within the fashion industry, but also to the aesthetic transformations trickling up into the ateliers of fashion’s most established brands.

The fashion industry and its consumers are evolving, and this central trend of transformation truly affected this season’s temperament. In fact, the consequences of change were present even before the Fall/ Winter 2016 ready-to-wear collections could begin in New York. Early in February, the fashion industry was battered with a sequence of statements about a new B2C presentation strategy that some luxury fashion brands, like Burberry, Vetements, Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger, would adopt for fashion week, called: “direct-to-consumer.” It declared that retail drops will be aligned with fashion show presentations, so customers could shop the runway immediately after viewing the show – instead of having to wait six months to purchase what they were already liking and sharing all over Instagram.

It’s true that the fashion industry is overwhelmed by the sensationalist social media coverage the New York, London, Milan, and Paris fashion weeks accumulate each season. But this new business model will essentially convert fashion week into a consumer-activation event, instead of an industry presentation, as it was historically purposed to be. Though the business and marketing logic behind this move is understandable, there are some who disagree with the change, like Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, and Ralph Toledano, the president of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. And while luxury fashion brands, like Burberry, amend their supply chains to get product to customers faster, I’ve been contemplating the repercussions this new scheme will have on sustainability and fair trade practices. This strategy could be approached from a range of angles, but I feel it’s worth mentioning in this report about the Fall/ Winter 2016 season because of how much this news polarized the industry; drawing more attention to our changing times, than the actual clothing. It’s also what initiated this season’s premise of uncertainty and launched anxious inquiries into how flexible brands will have to be in order to adapt.  

In fashion retail, speed-to-market has always been important to maintain competitive advantage, and although this new direct-to-consumer strategy supports that tradition, it comes at a price. It takes time to create and appreciate quality products, and it’s unfortunate that we’re moving too fast to admit that. So at Chanel’s Fall 2016 show Karl Lagerfeld exposed the problems of fashion’s relentless pace by giving everyone (all 3000 guests) a front row seat, and in true Lagerfeld parody, he arranged that the collection’s 92 looks be presented so fast, that even though people were sitting front row, no one had a chance to really appreciate the clothing’s details. Functional, zipper-slit skirt suits in colourful tweeds, buzzed by the audience like social media notifications on a Kardashian’s smart phone.

Sometimes we forget that a large part of the fashion dialogue, begins with these types of messages, which creative directors, like Lagerfeld, manage to skillfully weave into shows – without compromising the integrity of the clothing. It’s their inspired creativity that makes me want to understand their messages, and what ultimately influences how fashion forecasters, editors, buyers and critics, define the mood and trends of a specific season. And if fashion was a religion, the celebrated role the creative director plays would be close to divine. Just think back to what industry legends like Tom Ford did for Gucci, or what Phoebe Philo is still doing for Céline, what Riccardo Tisci is doing for Givenchy, and what Raf Simons did for Dior after John Galliano’s departure. And since Simons’ exit from Christian Dior last year, his presence was especially missed this season, because while Dior is still searching for a suitable replacement, without Simons’ (or any) creative directorship, the brand’s studio team, headed by Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, had to produce Dior’s Fall/ Winter 2016 range, as a “placeholder” collection. In terms of silhouette, the collection contained everything one would expect from the historic fashion house. But it was the deficiency of Simons’ graphic precision in colour, shape and print, which I was longing to see again.

Similarly, Alber Elbaz’s absence could also be felt at Lanvin. Although Bouchra Jarrar has been named the new Artistic Director of women’s collections, after Elbaz’s resignation last year, her first collection for the house is only expected to be for Spring/ Summer 2017. And consequently, Lanvin’s Fall/ Winter 2016 collection was left in the hands of studio director, Chemena Kamali. But disappointingly, even though there were heaps of rich-old-lady brocade and other shiny things, the 1980s-party-frock collection left me underwhelmed by its shortage of dazzle and contemporary punchlines – creative signatures Lanvin’s audience has come to love and expect. However, Kamali might’ve garnered more praise, had she continued in the direction of that glossy black, patent leather ankle-length coat with the sheer black ruffles sewn into the seams. That coat has the ability to transform any woman into a Lanvin lady vamp, and it was that kind of appeal, the overall collection lacked.

And then, as if to remind the industry why strong directorship is so integral to the creative and commercial value of a global luxury fashion brand; Demna Gvasalia nailed his debut as Artistic Director for Balenciaga, while still holding his role as Head Designer for fashion’s latest “it” streetwear label, Vetements. His collection for Balenciaga was arguably one of the most anticipated (and talked about) shows, and had some of the most covetable coats and jackets of the season. I was impressed that each look could stand on its own, without the use of excessive styling, a tool which too many designers have come to rely upon. Though the brightly coloured sportswear jackets in this collection appear to be styled off-the-shoulder, in a genuine tribute to the tailoring skills Balenciaga is known for, Gvasalia actually constructed these streetwear classics to hold the haute-couture-like elegance of their portrait necklines. But while Gvasalia should have been basking in the praise of his critically acclaimed work, the Internet confronted him with an onslaught of opinions about the lack of racial diversity on both the Balenciaga and Vetements runways. A potentially fatal faux pas in these times of social consciousness and racial diversity in fashion. Especially considering how much trouble brands like H&M Studio and Miu Miu went through to cast models of every colour, shape, age and gender. Practicing political correctness in matters regarding body image, race, political stance, class and gender equality, is now as much a part of the fashion industry as good taste is.

Being a purveyor of the zeitgeist, it’s fashion’s role to challenge society’s standards of beauty, race and gender. And this season, there was a clear visual rivalry between historic standards of feminine dress, and today’s description of how women should dress. My mother’s generation had strict rules regarding this, and I found this nostalgia for a structured era in fashion present in this season’s (sometimes kitschy), Victoriana-cum-fairytale-princess look. They almost served as reminders of how women were once expected to dress. Simone Rocha’s dresses appeared haunting and maternal, as though the models were drenched in lavish, ill-fitting family heirloom dresses made of tulle, tweed and silk. At Alexander McQueen, creative director Sarah Burton embraced more tailored silhouettes, but continued the timeworn idea of female clothing decorated with ruffles and embroidery – a collection that appeared more couture than ready-to-wear.

But what is the modern woman supposed to dress like? What does she need from her clothing? There’s such a severe difference between that idea of classic femininity and the languid, gender-fluid aesthetic of my generation. Miucca Prada shared her thoughts on this, as well as her collection’s exploration of womanhood: “we need to understand who we are today… I thought of it as like someone who has all the clothes she’s ever had on the floor in front of her in the morning, and she must choose how she’s going to assemble herself.” And that’s exactly what I felt when I saw the Prada’s latest collection. Just like the countless, complex layers of a woman, a blouse would be tucked beneath a brocaded dress, which would be layered beneath a vintage-looking coat, and then, as if to try and keep it all from falling apart, Prada bound these layers together using wide leather belts, coiled around waist-cinching corsets – as if these women needed the combined support and protection of both the corset and belt to prevent all those layers from coming undone.

Like Prada, the Gucci collection was also influenced, in part, by vintage womenswear, but where Prada’s clothing was a sweet retrospective about womanhood, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, expressed an affinity for the cross-referencing, Internet-age girls of today. And this season, it was easy to see why Michele is one of the industry’s latest darlings. He skillfully managed mingle 1980s couture silhouettes, with the antiquated opulence of renaissance balloon sleeves and bodices, whilst infusing it all together with streetwear credibility. He also used sparkly brocaded fabrics, with puffs of brightly-coloured fur, and then accessorized almost all 70 looks with what will be next winters hottest-selling bags. It truly was a collection inspired by today’s high and low culture. But it was Jonathan Anderson’s latest collection for Loewe, that struck the curated balance between the strict femininity of yesteryear, with today’s languid elegance. The third look in the collection was an elegant demonstration of modern daywear. It consisted of a dark mesh turtleneck worn with a sand-coloured, pleated handkerchief-hemmed skirt. Each look in the collection was both structured and light – a validation of Anderson’s deftness in the manipulation of fabric, and his understanding of what a modern woman needs from her wardrobe. Stella McCartney’s presentation closely rivalled Anderson’s genius, creating a comprehensive collection that could effortlessly service almost any occasion. Two standout pieces for me included a midi-length jean jacket dress, tightened by two rows of cord, as well as a long puffer jacket made of midnight blue velvet. McCartney’s elegant take on these streetwear basics, elevated them to high fashion status – menacing signs of streetwear’s growing influence on luxury fashion.

The Internet generation’s new aesthetics continue to confront the old structures of fashion, as the streetwear phenomenon trickles up into the ateliers of fashion’s biggest luxury brands. And designer-of-the-moment, Demna Gvasali’s appointment at Balenciaga might be getting the most press, but it’s the way creative director of Hood By Air, Shane Oliver, is doing streetwear that truly challenges and disrupts. His shows always have a political point of reference, and I hope that fashion’s colonization of streetwear as a trend, will not compromise or dilute the messages which brands like Hood By Air bring into the fashion diaspora.
Unlike Alexander Wang’s recent Fall/ Winter 2016 offering, which cherry-picked elements of street/pop culture and created a collection that could best be described as a pastiche. If you’re going to try and leverage street culture, at least have a real concept behind it. As fashion spins faster, presenting from a point of view is the only thing that will save streetwear brands from commercial annihilation and digital irrelevancy. The concept of relevancy today has become so fickle in our age of overexposure. Trying to adapt to the quirks and whims of our age, just for the sake of keeping up with the times, can be just as bad as not adapting at all.

If there was a key message the Fall/ Winter 2016 ready-to-wear season craved to divulge, it’s that whether you’re in the business of fashion, or a devoted patron of its many “it” items – no one can hide from the strange and fragile climate the world finds itself in today. Just like Karl Lagerfeld said: "the world is changing — not always for the best — but we have to follow the changes and the Internet, but there is a way of doing it, you know? It's not just about talking bullshit." So whether women decide to take refuge from these changes in the ruffled charm of McQueen’s princess dresses, or whether street-cred-conscious girl gangs prefer Vetement’s Internet-age wardrobe; apparently, the surplus of puffer jackets, and defensively-oversized outerwear on the runways this season were purposed to come with a warning: take cover next season, because fashion is evolving – adapt or die.

PUBLISHED:

Fashion tends to try and uplift with shiny dresses and more over-the-top-than-usual theatrics when bad news headlines begin bringing everyone down – headlines we’ve been getting a lot of lately. And this season, designers employed plenty of frills and thrills to conceal the world’s dire state of affairs. They elected to entertain and distract their audiences with couture-worthy lamés – but all the glossy fabric in the world couldn’t drown out the noise about fashion’s broken system, or tell us how we should cope with the changes that come with living in a plugged-in age. There was also an antagonism present in Autumn/ Winter 2016 collections: between fashion’s history and fashion’s modernity. But what really contextualized and defined this season, was how designers were adjusting, not only to the changes happening within the fashion industry, but also to the aesthetic transformations trickling up into the ateliers of fashion’s most established brands.

Since the fashion industry and its consumers are evolving, the effects of this change affected everything this season. In fact, the consequences of change were present even before the Autumn/ Winter 2016 ready-to-wear collections could begin in New York. Early in February, the fashion industry was battered with a sequence of statements about a new B2C presentation strategy that some luxury fashion brands, like Burberry, Vetements, Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger, would adopt for fashion week, called: “direct-to-consumer.” It declared that retail drops will be aligned with fashion show presentations, so customers could shop the runway immediately after viewing the show – instead of having to wait six months to purchase what they were already liking and sharing all over Instagram.

It’s true that the fashion industry is overwhelmed by the sensationalist social media coverage the New York, London, Milan, and Paris fashion weeks accumulate each season. But this new business model will essentially convert fashion week into a consumer-activation event, instead of an industry presentation, as it was historically purposed to be. Though the business and marketing logic behind this move is understandable, there are some who disagree with the change, like Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, and Ralph Toledano, the president of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. And while luxury fashion brands, like Burberry, amend their supply chains to get product to customers faster, I’ve been contemplating the repercussions this new scheme will have on sustainability and fair trade practices. This strategy could be approached from a range of angles, but I feel it’s worth mentioning because of how this news has polarized the industry into pro and con factions, drawing more attention to our changing times, than the actual clothing. It’s also what initiated this season’s premise of uncertainty about the changes which must occur, and how the industry will have to make itself flexible enough to adapt.

In fashion retail, speed-to-market has always been important to maintain competitive advantage, and although this new direct-to-consumer strategy supports that tradition, it comes at a price. It takes time to create and appreciate quality products, and it’s unfortunate that we’re moving too fast to admit that. So, at Chanel’s Autumn/ Winter 2016 show, Karl Lagerfeld exposed the problems of fashion’s relentless pace, by giving everyone (all 3000 of them) a front row seat, and then, in true Lagerfeld parody, he arranged that the collection’s 92 looks be presented so fast, that even though people were sitting front row, no one had a chance to really appreciate the clothing’s details. Functional, zipper-slit skirt suits in colourful tweeds, buzzed by the audience like social media notifications on a Kardashian smart phone.

Sometimes we forget that a large part of the fashion dialogue, begins with these sort of innuendos, which creative directors, like Lagerfeld, manage to skillfully weave into shows – without compromising the integrity of the clothing. It’s their inspired creativity that makes me want to understand their messages, and what ultimately influences how fashion forecasters, editors, buyers and critics, define the mood and trends of a specific season. And if fashion was a religion, the celebrated role the creative director plays would be close to divine. Just think back to what industry legends like Tom Ford did for Gucci, or what Phoebe Philo is still doing for Céline, what Riccardo Tisci is doing for Givenchy, and what Raf Simons did for Dior after John Galliano’s departure. And since Simons’ exit from Christian Dior last year, his presence was especially missed this season, because while Dior is still searching for a suitable replacement, without Simons’ (or any) creative directorship, the brand’s studio team, headed by Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, had to produce the Dior’s Autumn/ Winter 2016 range, as a “placeholder” collection. In terms of silhouette, the collection contained everything one would expect from the house of Dior. But it was the deficiency of Simons’ graphic precision in colour, shape and print, that I longed to see again.

Similarly, Alber Elbaz’s absence could also be felt at Lanvin. Although Bouchra Jarrar has been named the new Artistic Director of women’s collections, after Elbaz’s resignation last year, her first collection for the house is only expected to be for Spring/ Summer 2017. Consequently, Lanvin’s Autumn/ Winter 2016 collection was left in the hands of studio director, Chemena Kamali. But disappointingly, even though there were heaps of rich-old-lady brocade and other shiny things, the 1980s-party-frock collection left me underwhelmed by its shortage of dazzle and contemporary punchlines – creative signatures Lanvin’s audience have come to love and expect. However, Kamali might’ve garnered more praise, had she continued in the direction of that glossy black, patent leather ankle-length coat, with sheer black ruffles sewn into the seams. That coat has the ability to transform any woman into a Lanvin lady vamp, and it was that kind of appeal, the overall collection lacked.

And then, as if to remind the industry why strong directorship is so integral to the creative and commercial value of a global luxury fashion brand, Demna Gvasalia nailed his debut as Artistic Director for Balenciaga; while still holding his role as Head Designer for fashion’s latest “it” streetwear label, Vetements. His collection for Balenciaga was arguably one of the most anticipated (and talked about) shows, and had some of the most covetable coats and jackets of the season. I was impressed that each look could stand on its own, without the use of excessive styling, a tool which too many designers have come to rely upon. Though the brightly coloured sportswear jackets in this collection appear to be styled off-the-shoulder, in a genuine tribute to the tailoring skills Balenciaga is known for, Gvasalia actually constructed these streetwear classics to hold the haute-couture-like elegance of their portrait necklines. But while Gvasalia should have been basking in the praise of his critically acclaimed work, the Internet confronted him with an onslaught of opinions about the lack of racial diversity on both the Balenciaga and Vetements runways. A potentially fatal faux pas in these times of social consciousness and racial diversity in fashion. Especially considering how much trouble brands like H&M Studio and Miu Miu went through, to cast models of every colour, shape, age and gender. Practicing political correctness (and diplomacy), in matters regarding body image, race, political stance, class and gender equality, is now as much a part of the fashion industry as good taste.

Being a purveyor of the zeitgeist, it’s fashion’s role to challenge society’s standards of beauty, race and gender. And this season, there was a clear visual rivalry between historic standards of feminine dress, and today’s description of how women should dress. My mother’s generation had strict rules regarding this, and I found this nostalgia for a structured era in fashion, present in this season’s (sometimes kitschy), Victoriana-cum-fairytale-princess look. They served as reminders of how women were expected to dress by society. Simone Rocha’s dresses appeared haunting and maternal, as though the models were drenched in lavish, ill-fitting family heirloom dresses made of tulle, tweed and silk. At Alexander McQueen, creative director Sarah Burton embraced more tailored silhouettes, but continued the timeworn idea of female clothing decorated with ruffles and embroidery – a collection that appeared more couture than ready-to-wear.

But what is the modern woman supposed to dress like? What does she need from her clothing? There’s such a severe difference between the classic femininity of my mother’s generation, and the languid, gender-fluid aesthetic of my generation. Miucca Prada shared her thoughts on this and her collection’s exploration of womanhood: “we need to understand who we are today… I thought of it as like someone who has all the clothes she’s ever had on the floor in front of her in the morning, and she must choose how she’s going to assemble herself.” And that’s exactly what I felt when I saw the collection. Just like the countless, complex layers of a woman: a blouse would be layered beneath a brocaded dress, which would be layered beneath a vintage-looking coat, and then, as if to try and keep it all from falling apart, Prada bound these layers together using wide leather belts, coiled around waist-cinching corsets; as if she needed the combined protection of both the corset and belt, to prevent all of those layers from coming undone.

Like Prada, the Gucci collection was also influenced, in part, by vintage womenswear, but where Prada’s clothing was a sweet retrospective about womanhood, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, expressed an affinity for the cross-referencing, Internet-age girls of today. And this season, it was easy to see why Michele is one of fashion’s latest darlings. He skillfully managed mingle 1980s couture silhouettes, with the antiquated opulence of renaissance balloon sleeves and bodices, infusing it all together with streetwear credibility. He also used sparkly brocaded fabrics, with puffs of brightly-coloured fur, and then accessorized almost all 70 looks with what will be next winters hottest-selling bags. It truly was a collection inspired by today’s high and low culture.

But it was Jonathan Anderson’s latest collection for Loewe, that struck the curated balance between the strict femininity of yesteryear, with today’s languid elegance. The third look in the collection was a dark mesh turtleneck, worn with a sand-coloured, pleated handkerchief-hemmed skirt; and it exemplified modern daywear. Each look in the collection was both structured and light – a demonstration of Anderson’s deftness in the manipulation of fabric, and his understanding of what a modern woman needs from her wardrobe. Stella McCartney’s presentation closely rivalled Anderson’s genius, creating a comprehensive collection that could effortlessly service almost any occasion. Two standout pieces for me included a midi-length jean jacket dress, tightened by two rows of cord, as well as a long puffer jacket made of midnight blue velvet. McCartney’s elegant take on these streetwear basics, elevated them to high fashion status – signs of streetwear’s growing influence on luxury fashion.

The Internet generation’s new aesthetics continue to confront old structures of fashion, as the streetwear phenomenon trickles up into the ateliers of fashion’s biggest luxury brands. And designer-of-the-moment, Demna Gvasali’s appointment at Balenciaga might be getting the most press, but it’s the way creative director of Hood By Air, Shayne Oliver, is doing streetwear that truly challenges and disrupts. His shows always have a political point of reference, and I hope that fashion’s colonization of streetwear as a trend, will not compromise the messages which brands like Hood By Air, bring into the fashion diaspora. Unlike Alexander Wang’s recent Autumn/ Winter 2016 offering, which cherry-picked elements of street/pop culture and created a collection that's best described as a pastiche. As fashion spins faster, presenting from a point of view with substance, is the only thing that will save brands from commercial annihilation and digital irrelevancy. The concept of relevancy - even in fashion - has become so fickle in our age of overexposure. In addition, trying to adapt to the quirks and whims of our age, just for the sake of keeping up with the times, can be just as bad as not adapting at all.

If there was a key message the Fall/ Winter 2016 ready-to-wear season craved to divulge, it’s that whether you’re in the business of fashion, or a devoted patron of its many “it” items – no one can hide from the strange and fragile climate the world finds itself in today. Just like Karl Lagerfeld said: "the world is changing — not always for the best — but we have to follow the changes and the Internet, but there is a way of doing it, you know? It's not just about talking bullshit." Whether women decide to take refuge from these changes in the ruffled charm of this season's princess dresses, or whether street-cred-conscious girl gangs prefer an Internet-age wardrobe; this season's trends celebrated styling aesthetics both contemporary as well as antiquated. However, the defensively-oversized puffer jackets were undoubtedly the trendiest it-items, and I suspect they were purposed to come with a warning: take cover next season because fashion is evolving – adapt or die.