In an industry that lives within the rumour mill, I was taken aback when the news of Raf Simons' departure from Dior reached me. This seemed like a well-kept secret. As an enormous fan of Raf, both as a designer and a person, and an enormous fan of Dior, my heart sank. The subsequent news of Alber Elbaz leaving Lanvin did not help either.
While it's true that “when one door closes, another one opens”, and even though one can only hope that great talents and great brands will benefit from a change of guard, it's hard to deny that we have become immune to the revolving door of talent. How did this happen? Is creativity under threat? I feel that these impactful departures should serve as a wake up call for the industry, as there's more at stake.
Fashion fatigue has started exceeding the borders of our industry.
The rapid speed at which fashion is moving is often confusing for industry insiders and consumers alike. We are now seeing endless images swirling in real time on social media, a continuous flow of news about shows and presentations, and celebrities wearing pieces that will not be available until six months later (if at all). In a time-pressed world, presenting customers with images of desirable things they won't be able to purchase for a long period of time is becoming a frustrating proposition. Fashion fatigue is exceeding the borders of our industry and has started to settle within the psyche of the customer. We can't let this happen.
The collection frenzy is not a new phenomenon in our world; it has been a crazy, chaotic cycle for some time, but these insane schedules are becoming an obvious concern within the industry. It's hard to say if it's just the brands that got more demanding from their designers over the years; everyone in the industry appears to be pushing for more. It has become all too necessary in a world that survives on newness and reinvention.
But creating collections that appeal to a wide spectrum of people internationally is just the tip of the iceberg. You have pre-collections, menswear, handbags, shoes, jewellery, overseeing store design, campaigns, media interviews, singing, dancing, and doing the splits. And above all, designers have to create a magical fashion moment that will bring the world to its knees, season after season!
Clothes need to look good on camera and on red carpets. Huge numbers of social media followers and 'likes' are necessary for brands to remain relevant and attract a new customer. Editors have to be pleased, retailers have to be pleased, brand executives have to see a return on investment so that they, in turn, can please the shareholders. All of this culminates at the speed of light, leaving designers and creative directors with very little time to dream or to go around the world and see, meet, and interact with the customers who adore their creations and pay good money for them.
The need for a creative mind to refresh and re-examine is paramount.
The ability for a designer, at any level of business, to go anywhere in the world and meet the customers they dress, learn about them and their needs is invaluable. It's a life lesson everyone in this industry should learn: know your customer! In addition, the need for a creative mind to refresh and re-examine is paramount. Not only for designers, but for anyone working at a fast pace, ever-changing world like fashion, movies, music, or the arts. More importantly, true talent is a rare and beautiful gift, more valuable than money. Celebrating and nurturing it is essential to the longevity of our industry.
Of course, there are people like Karl Lagerfeld, who is in a league of his own. His tireless talent, imagination, and intellect, coupled with his ability to surround himself with bright and brilliant people keep him at the top of his game. Karl doesn't fear Coco's legacy, he embraces it. He doesn't fear surrounding himself with talent, he relishes it. This keeps him beyond being relevant, it's giving him the ability to transcend generations and continually re-invent one of the most storied fashion houses in the world. But he seems to be an exception, not the rule.
How does the above translate for the consumer? Pre-fall clothes arrive in July. Resort clothes (cruise, pre-spring, or whatever we call it) arrive in November. Coats and boots are on sale before it gets cold, swimwear are marked down before it gets hot, runway fashion arrives just moments before it is ready to be marked down. This means that the customer has changed, the way they shop has changed, the weather patterns have changed. "Buy now, wear now" is the mantra du jour for most of them.
And then you have social media, which is both a blessing and a curse. It has opened up the conversation of fashion to many, creating an interest for an industry that was once considered gilded and held behind the velvet rope. It is giving immediate access to millions of people that never had the opportunity to experience things from an insider's point of view, and that's great.
The overflow of information is blurring the lines between seasons.
But this overflow of information due to social networks is also blurring the lines between seasons and what's available to purchase. It is not uncommon to hear a customer lament they are already tired of looking at something, when it has just arrived at the store, because of the amount of exposure it received before it was delivered at retail. It needs to be noted though, that while this is not affecting every customer, as more and more people become engaged with social media, the chances of creating fashion fatigue becomes greater.
One of the greatest challenges for retailers, brick and mortar and online, is re-igniting the customer's interest six months after the flurry of excitement created by a fashion show. The reason? Their interest has moved on to the excitement for items of the next season, items that are not going to be available for another six months.
How do we temper the amount of imagery we share so that the engaged fashion customer doesn't become bored before the goods arrive in store? Personally, I spend the balance of my calendar curating fashion shows across the country and around the world, talking trends and style with my many customers, educating and igniting their imagination, re-engaging them with the current season, and bringing relevance and validity to what's in store now!
We must not forget that the product needs to be an asset to the brand and the retailer, not a liability. Fashion's fast pace has also many in the mindset that if they wait for the items they want they will be marked down, so why pay full price?
Is anyone immune to this frenzied, never ending spin of the fashion world? I hardly think so. We all, myself included, step back from time to time and ask "what is this all for?". Then I remember why I do it: it's for the ultimate end user, the customer whose dreams and desires we fill through bringing the magic, the mystic, and the beauty of a simple craft, elevated by the vision of the artist who challenges us to see the world through a different lens season after season. And because I love this world, despite the challenges!
It's important to accept the fact that the industry is changing every day, every minute.
Therefore, it's important to accept the fact that the industry is changing every day, every minute in this technology-driven world. The old archetypes of doing business are no longer working and antique attitudes are for the fashion archives. It is interesting how an industry built on reinvention, forward thinking and with insight to the future, can suddenly become burdened with sacred cows and ideas that are all but outdated. We must embrace that constant change is the new normal, and fearless thinking is mandatory. Surprising, delighting and engaging a customer with an insatiable appetite for newness must always be one of our top priorities.
For the brands, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The designers and their teams know what's best in order to create and maintain a successful business, as their needs obviously vary. Do they need to offer fewer collections? Reschedule the runway shows so that are closer to the dates which clothes become available? Grant access to less people? These are all decisions that need to be taken by the management team and the creatives of each brand and based on their business model. What applies to everyone though, is the importance of communicating a clear vision of priorities. And last but not least, presenting less interesting clothes is not an option!
As I said on WWD, I look to the Hollywood model of making a movie: studios don't open the set to a major motion picture and let the world in. They create anticipation and appetite, building to the big reveal. It's very important to understand that we need to feed the customers' desire in real time, and not tempt and tease them so far in advance that by the time their fashion feast has arrived, they've already lost their appetite.
We must not fear movement of talent, which is natural and sometimes needed. However, preserving creativity should be the task we all are committed to and must guard it with everything we have. After all, it is the life blood of our industry.