What good is speed if the brain has oozed out on the way. —St. Jerome
Fashion’s speculators have been reeling since last fall when both Raf Simons and Elbar Albaz left high-profile creative positions without announcing a move to another similar post. Since then, others, most notably last week’s departure of Hedi Slimane from Yves Saint Laurent, have continued to underscore one of the most significant problems with fashion today: the current pace of eight collections a year is too much. Designers have been complaining for years and now, rather than continuing to put up with the relentless pace demanded by high profile houses, they’re leaving, taking their creativity with them.
This past Saturday, April 9, London’s Telegraph published an interview with Raf Simons that lays out the severity of this problem more clearly than previous statements.
“These days it’s a different way of consuming [culture]. It’s now looking and then swiping to the next thing – looking, next; looking, next; looking, next; next, next, next, next – there’s less dialogue and engagement with it in general”
Here would be the first place we need to slow down: taking the time to consider what we’re consuming so that designers have time to consider what they’re creating. When we engage in fast fashion, especially as we tend to do more online shopping through our smartphones and/or mobile devices, we’re not paying attention to what it is we’re actually buying. Some people don’t care; they buy for the look and prestige of a label and hope that they will be able to squeeze into the garment once it arrives. We don’t take the time to pay attention to stitching, to how well the fabric is going to stand up, or the type of care it’s going to require. Paying more attention to what we’re buying slows the purchasing process which, in turn, gradually slows the development process, giving designers more time to be creative and pay more attention to what they’re sending down the catwalk.
Simons also spoke to the pace at which designers are expected to develop. If a small designer’s work catches on in the right places, the explosion can be deafening.
“Fashion has become such a big thing. When you are just a kid from the streets somewhere you start slowly, maybe with just two people watching and then 10 and 50 and 100. These days that can grow really fast. Suddenly millions of people are watching.”
Creative fashion talent is something that takes time to grow and the traditional model allows for that. Designers first go to school then work their way up through a label, giving them time to not only hone their craft, but to learn the business as well before starting out on their own. Inasmuch as fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara pluck young designers directly out of school and start demanding store-ready work from them deteriorates that growth opportunity while simultaneously minimizing their personal brand. When fed-up and burned-out designers finally leave such a place, they’re often so discouraged and disenfranchised that they leave fashion altogether. Wonderfully creative minds are being killed before they have an opportunity to fully blossom.
As fast fashion kills the opportunity for creativity, it is making more and more fashion irrelevant, which cannot help but ultimately backfire on the retailers. While the stores may appear to be putting “new” fashion on their shelves on a daily basis, what they’re actually doing is replacing one vintage inspired piece with a different vintage inspired piece. Sooner or later, people begin to look at their closet and see that they already have the exact same things that are on store shelves. Simons hits the topic rather bluntly:
“Everyone is paying attention to the wrong thing in my opinion. There’s this huge debate about ‘Oh my God, should we sell the garments the day after the show or three days after the show or should we tweet it in this way or Instagram it in that way?’… You know, all that kind of bullshit. Will all that stuff still be relevant 30 years from now? I don’t think so.”
If fashion is not memorable, if a fashion style does not define its time and place, of what good is it, ultimately? Are we looking at a fashion future that is as bland and boring as what we’ve been seeing on runways the past five years? Is fast fashion going to kill every last ounce of creativity until designers are replaced by machines making random modifications to old patterns? Simons doesn’t mix words when explains how fed up he is with the current pace of fast fashion:
“Every season I see so many things evolving at such a speed that I think certain creative people, including myself, are just not willing to do it anymore. I don’t want to. If you work on that level, you miss out on a lot of things.”
After reading this interview, I’m not expecting to see Raf Simons heading another ready-to-wear label anytime soon. While I’m sure there are offers being made, he doesn’t seem the least bit inclined to return to the craziness and self-destructive atmosphere that is fast fashion. We should take this as a warning.
Consumers are the ones who must stop fast fashion. H&M and Zara and Forever 21 are simply responding to your buying habits. When consumers demand more, faster, they rip away the opportunity for designers to think, to explore, and consider all that comes with being creative. If we want to derail this destructive train of fast fashion, we have to change the way we shop. Look more at local designers and boutiques. Take more time and be intelligent about what we buy. Pay attention to quality and not be so driven by price alone.
Should we fail, we may soon see a day where we’re all wearing identical jumpsuits. We don’t want that.