The world of luxury fashion has been losing its appeal for some time now. Merely a constant re-interpretation of past seasons and decades, it has been a long time since an iconic house of fashion has taken some action of note. Brands that established themselves on the backs of visionaries have reduced themselves to pumping out designs that appeal to the masses and with an overwhelming roster of collections and runway shows, have lost their identities along the way. Couture shows now meld in to ready-to-wear, with the same old dresses and suits populating the runways of brands like Chanel and Dior season after season with a disappointing loyalty to the traditional.
Fast fashion is largely to blame for much of this, as the markets expectation for constant product has, over time led brands that would otherwise be focusing on innovative design to instead focus on what will sell in a trend defined industry, where freedom of expression would most likely result in lost profitability. Notable designers such as Iris Van Herpen are overlooked and overly critiqued by the leaders of the industry, highly reminiscent of when critics would clutch their pearls at Alexander McQueen shows, likely due to their challenging nature and lack of appeal to the average consumer.
However, while a fear of change defines the luxury industry, a revolution has been brewing, with smaller labels and designers at the helm. A return to slower fashion, defined by a focus on sustainability and innovation while leaving behind the societal definitions of the male and female has been slowly chipping away at what has become the industry standard and now, with a pandemic on its heels, Gucci has become the first of the major fashion houses to join in by committing to a permanent rethink of its business.
Alessandro Michele, the current creative director of Gucci, held a video conference announcing that the brand will reduce its number of shows each year from five to two. He also shared his intention to abandon the distinction between men’s wear and women’s wear and the traditional seasons of fall/winter and spring/summer. “We need new oxygen to allow this complex system to be reborn,” he stated. While this change may purely be a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought the industry to a standstill, closing stores and impacting profitability, it is likely to serve as the dawn of a new era in the industry, causing a domino effect.
Saint Laurent has also now announced it will be dropping out of the fashion show season, intending to follow its own schedule. Driers Van Noten will not hold a show until 2021 and Armani announced that it will be merging its mens and womens shows in September.
Given that Gucci has been one of the most influential brands over the past decade, embracing gender fluidity is likely to have a significant impact on the industry, leading the way in what was a much needed change of interpretation and a reflection of a societal shift towards inclusivity.
The designer expressed that while in lockdown he had “time — time I have never had before to think about my work, my creativity, our future, the future of the company”. He felt that the traditional approach of the industry had compromised his creativity, limiting freedom in an environment that should be defined by innovation. He has also expressed uncertainty as to how shows will be going ahead, physical or digital and that discussions were ongoing with other brands and the Camera Nazionale della Moda, the governing body of Milan Fashion Week.
Excerpts from Alessandro Michele’s diary, dubbed “Notes from the Silence,” were shared on Gucci’s Instagram account. It is an interesting read, offering an insight into what challenges the industry is facing and what direction the brand may be heading in. An expression of his reconnection with nature and our place in the world, challenging our capitalist, consumerist lives.
While this is a step in the right direction for the fashion industry, the impact a move away from fashion shows will have on local economies should be noted. Fashion weeks are largely no longer about the clothes, but rather the marketing surrounding them. A fragmentation of the show schedule will likely have major economic repercussions on the cities capitalising on these events. The New York City Economic Development Corporation revealed that New York Fashion Week was responsible for generating close to $600 million a year in income. This should not be a hindrance to change and the much needed overhaul of a stale industry, however it may pose an economic challenge for the cities impacted and should be something to acknowledge, as it may be a determining factor in what the industry looks like moving forward.