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Does Fashion Need A Spiritual Reboot?
With fashion month here, Ben Pechey asks whether fashion has lost its soul
Fashion has long been one of my true loves, both as a fashion critic, and as a personal collector. But over the past few seasons, I really haven’t been liking the direction fashion has taken. It is a shift of energy, a mood change that I cannot quite put my finger on.
A recent post by Phillip Lim on Instagram mirrored my own thoughts, and in seven words really said what we all needed to hear; “I think fashion needs a spiritual reboot”.
The post – and its accompanying caption – is alluding to the fact that the fashion industry has become a vacuum of spending. It has reached new heights of commercialism, making what was once a revered art form into a commercial hypermarket of algorithmic spending patterns.
If you look back ten years, the landscape was vastly different. Fashion as an industry is almost unrecognisable. There is not an inch of the business that is not geared to take our money – nothing new there. However, it is being done in such a transparent way that it feels cold, and so far removed from the fashion that I fell in love with.
You never forget the shows that made you love fashion. For me it will always be Chanel AW14. Maybe easier if I introduce it as a friends episode; The One with the Supermarket. This was March 2014, just under six years ago. Instagram existed, but it was much less of a big deal. This show was all about the clothes and the moment. Rihanna shopped in the aisles after the collection, posing with a Chanel doormat. When was the last time you saw such utter joy at a fashion show?
The joy and excitement that I felt watching that show has long since ebbed and dried up. Fashion has moved on and become so commercial that, in essence, it is no longer the same industry. Chanel is one of the few brands that has been left unchanged in this massive period of flux, yet even they are improving its e-commerce platform.
We all have so many clothes, and that was never really the point. The industry thrived on the artists behind the clothes, the inspiration, the love of pure fashion. Now trends are set years in advance via social patterns, and buying is set accordingly. To be a brand that goes against this system is pretty much unheard of.
Even brands that you consider to be unique will have pieces that are designed to be bought via Instagram. We are presented with so much stuff, how are we to know when to shop, why we are shopping and what it’s all about? Fashion has become so corporate, that it is actually unrecognisable. And I don’t mean sexy corporate like Melanie Griffith’s makeover in working girl. No, this is all about buy now, sell, sell and sell some more. That sort of corporate.
Of course this is no new phenomena. Not being commercial enough can stifle creatives to the point their business no longer makes sense. Issac Mizrahi, a darling of the 90s who had financial backing from Chanel sadly had to fold. Christian Lacroix, fashion royalty, famously ran his house at a loss, racking up $44 million in debt from 1987-2005. Pure artistry is a tough tightrope to walk.
Alexander McQueen is a successful modern reference for designers who have huge vision but still have a commercial edge. With the Gucci group investing in his business in December 2000, McQueen was able to float his business with sales of commercial products such as scarves, bags and jeans. This all aided him to reignite his creativity through his RTW collections and dominate the world until his death.
But how many other McQueens will there be? Fashion needs a kick up the arse just like McQueen gave it two decades ago. We are entering murky and stagnant waters, where new collections don’t feel new, and if you can’t get your hands on it in the next few days, then what is the point?
It may seem like a huge load of nonsense, but in the UK alone, the fashion industry is worth £26 billion. If this industry were to stall it would be catastrophic for our economy. We should listen to the heads of large companies when they red flag issues.
So Does Fashion Need A Spiritual Reboot?
Lim may have put his feelings out in a light-hearted way, but his post goes much deeper, which strikes a chord with the larger state of our society. We are at a crossroads, the direction we go is in the hands of so few, but will affect us all. So what can we do, for fashion and beyond?
Well it may sound odd, but we need more people to do what Lim did; say how they feel, and begin conversations that spark new thoughts, new directions and provide answers to problems as they arise. We all have voices, but we need to be able to utilise them in the right way, galvanising the fact that in a time where we have more and more to say, we can actually make a difference.
So does fashion need a spiritual reboot? In short, yes it really does. Fashion needs to represent all our diverse beauty, it needs to be accepting, it needs to be sustainable, and most importantly it needs to learn how to blend commercial success with all of these important and emotive qualities. With London Fashion Week just around the corner, let us hope that this unison of voice will begin to set a course for actual change, and the spiritual reboot that we all want, need and deserve.
Artwork by Esme Rose Marsh