As we venture off into the world of virtual fashion weeks and socially-distant seasons, I sit at my desk less inundated with shots of street style models and whimsical set designs. Instead, it seems, the industry is continuing to slow down, slowly redefining itself a couple of percentage points at a time. Burberry instated a matrix-esque woodland Hunger Games while Moschino opted for a cameo-based puppet show.
This year, Vogue also decided to turn a new page and document fashion weeks from the stance of the under-dogs, the underwater currents that are trying to reshape what fashion is and means today. One of my favorite episodes has been the one about London Fashion Week, and in it, we meet emerging sustainable designers as well as Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall*.
I thought he did a tremendous job concisely highlighting the differentiating cultural factors of his brand. I loved it when he noted that a black art does not need to explicitly show a black face for it to be black — it can be more abstract: asymmetrical lines standing out for the ‘otherness’ in society. He calls his brand a ‘case study’ in many ways, being able to represent many viewpoints into his abstract art. In another interview, Ross says,
I resonate with this completely and am inspired by his mission to put his uniquely positioned voice into the community of luxury brands, fighting against the currents of the status quo. Although Ross isn’t one to disseminate his narrative – those who know are bound to be comforted and encouraged by it in some way. 🙂
My good friend, Chase, sent me this NYT article that perfectly encapsulated my thoughts on the ‘busyness’ of the fashion industry. It speaks to how Scott Sternberg, founder of Band of Outsiders, created Entireworld, envisioning it as a “rejection of the traditional fashion system.” It was created to disband the notion of wholesale, seasonal collections, and fashion shows – the current landscape of designer and luxury fashion. When I first came across the brand a year ago, I thought it was two things: 1) innovative, but 2) purposeless. I didn’t understand the natures of ‘starting a brand for the sake of a brand’ (“To some extent, I didn’t lose the narrative, because I never had one”) but in hindsight, I didn’t truly understand Scott’s mission to become an anti-‘fashion’ brand.
The article goes on to highlight a couple of things:
The unsustainable herd mentality of ‘fashion’ – “While incurring all those losses, designers were still putting on shows roughly every three months, productions that ran hundreds of thousands of dollars”
“I think in general, we’ve created a system that is unrealistic and a strain for even the largest of brands… It could be that some younger designers were playing the same game and trying to keep up with the big brands rather than determining what’s best for them.”
Anna Wintour, NYT
COVID’s impact on the industry: Cancelling the current trend/medium of fashion shows and turning designers to livable, home-centric collections
I’m just like, OK, we’re home more, but why does that have to be sweatpants?… Can it be a dress? A housedress is completely easy. You can throw it on, zip it off, whatever. Maybe I’m going too far imagining a future where we’re constantly in and out of quarantine, but business-wise, I’m sort of preparing for that.”
Batsheva Hay, NYT
And Chase’s favorite line – releasing seasonal collections for the actual season
“With factories shut down and deliveries delayed, many of this year’s fall collections will, for the first time in a long while, actually arrive in season.”
The entire industry is changing, but I loved the article’s emphasis on human-centered fashion (design thinking!), and presenting views on a brand that is trying to do so.
Fashion is, by definition, unpredictable. People buy clothes for illogical, emotional reasons. The challenge, as Sternberg saw it, was to build a brand that could be immune to trends and novelty and whatever dystopian disaster was coming next. “The trick with fashion is that we’re not selling toilet paper,” he said, “which of course during Covid, toilet-paper sales go up. But ultimately it will level out, because there’s only so many butts in the world. That hasn’t changed — people are just hoarding. Fashion is really different. You have to assume the cycle will change even if you’re doing commodity. And how will you keep up with that? How do you build a business that can sustain those fluctuations over time?”
So who knows where the future of fashion is heading, let alone the narratives in that industry. I think the big players, designers, will continue to dominate the scene by in what way? From Virgil Abloh taking a ‘seasonless‘ approach at Louis Vuitton to Jonathan Anderson releasing ‘show-in-a-box’, who knows what kind of innovation, or lack of, will bring in the coming years.
I think photography and cinematography play such powerful, under-rated currents in storytelling. It is what the audience subconsciously takes in without a doubt. When done correctly and effectively, it can convey so much more of the storyline than the dialogue or character development itself. As we say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Two very different forms of cinematography come to mind as quite masterful. The first is Better Call Saul, arguably one of the best TV shows produced in history. Not only does it illustrate incredibly deep characters with ends in sight, it also creates textures and dynamic through camera angles and movements, and colors. There’s a constant play on widescreen angles, zooming into multiple character shots, but rarely a 1:1 unless done through indirect angles. It’s provides more information to the viewer and allows the viewer to infer the status of character relationships and character progression.
I also appreciate how BCS uses really dark shots well – though difficult to see, and shoot, they add so much texture to the plot. Whether it be Jimmy and Chuck’s scenes, or night-cover drug smuggling scenes, it’s like the directors said ‘light is overrated.’ And hid so much unspoken plot into the darkness. It’s an interesting style of storytelling: paint the story rather than tell it. Who knew darkness could be so interesting? This also obviously reflects the characters’ descent into the Breaking Bad world, as we lose sight of lighter-colored characters, and deep dive into the colorful red and yellow world of crime. I feel like these illustrated scenes help us emphasize with the characters’ descent as well – that such were circumstantial – that you can’t judge a character without observing the surroundings.
One of the keys to this is the opening sequence as well – and how static the sequences gets symbolizes Jimmy’s transition to Saul. When I studied digital media, my professor noted that the staticness or low quality of videos in our digital age brings viewers the sense of authenticity — well since we didn’t have powerful video editing equipment or Photoshop back then. And I think in part, it reveals that Saul’s coming out is Jimmy sadly becoming more authentic to who he was meant to be.
The second, though very different, cinematography measure I’d like to point out is Rachel Nguyen’s form of video editing. With the effortless music, the shakiness in the video at times, the raw cuts of editing without the visual effect layovers, really bring the viewer into Rachel’s world. I’ve written a couple of times about her, but I seriously cannot get over how authentic she is able to edit — rawness of it all. I love how you can use uncut versions of yourself to create such a cinematic experience. Of course, the editing on the back end must take so long to match the voiceover, the music, the choppiness at times, but it shows you that authenticity is not about having the fanciest technology – it’s about having a vision and executing against it.
Anyhow, these are two very different types of storytelling through visuals but still manage to convey authentic sentiment to the relevant audience. I hope to emulate this type of editing and video work one day as well in some scale.
After reading Manrepeller’s article on ‘Should we still be shopping?‘, my friends and I got into an interesting discussion on the topic of shopping to save the industry vs. shopping to distract ourselves from endless sources of tragic news and pure boredom. The crux of the argument, the article well summarizes with this:
Because even beyond the debate over where our money is most impactful right now, there’s also the concern that continuing to order non-essential things puts warehouse and postal service workers at risk, but on the other hand, I know a lot of employment is probably dependent on those orders coming in. It’s really a double-edged sword.
Personally, during the first week of the new normal, from facetiming and zooming friends to eating takeout, I spent $1,000+. On things I needed for a WFH setup to cute Lunya shorts that looked incredible to lounge in (with loungwear being, of course, the new Wear-to-Work fit that you need). As silly or essential I deemed my purchases, I realized that I justified each one through the lens of COVID: I will work better if I look and feel better at home, I am giving businesses money to sustain themselves and their employees, I’ll likely need that in the coming weeks if social distancing continues.
I never quite bought into the thought philosophy of ‘are we prolonging the virus because we’re asking retail employees and the supply chain to continue, when in reality they should also be at home and resting with their families?’ And especially in all of this, realizing that many do not have the luxury to fill their time with online consumerism because they have babies to feed or have lost their jobs. I mean, is shopping prolonging this pandemic, or helping the economy survive? It’s like we’re asking people a cruel ‘would you rather’ question:
Would you rather lose your job? Or be exposed to potential death…?
I mean, sorry to put it so bluntly, but it’s quite true. You don’t know whose mother packaged your yoga mat, or whose grandson delivered it to your door. The truth is, anyone who has the power to spend cash on frivolous items are likely out of the loop a bit. We’re definitely not grounded in truth or any types of harsh reality. Yes, we might be sad and feel like we’re drowning in NYT or WSJ daily updates on death toll, but we’re really not living the tragedy of the mass.
On the flip side, we’ve become so reliant on our governments to do everything for us. They push out a stimulus package, and we immediately say it’s not enough. Even with that arena, we seem to think that this is ‘someone else’s problem’ and that when things go wrong, we have someone else to blame. Whether it be the government for their lack of funding and care, or the ‘evil retailers’ laying off their workers left and right. It’s never us, but rather ‘them’, that we call the enemy.
This COVID crisis seems to be an affirmation of how capitalism really helped put into structure more prosperity and peace in some ways (not in every way, but definitely in some ways). We now see capitalism having unraveled, and more socialism come into play – how… interesting and also somewhat tragic that has been; it seems like when billion dollar giants fall, we all fall. Success, in large part, feels like it comes from helping everyone succeed. Not one person can be healthy and happy by themselves, but we need a collective mass behind that movement for it to have an affect on you.
COVID affects every single person: even the Canadian on the sailboat by himself. And a soon-to-hit recession will be felt by everyone, whether rich or sick, poor or healthy. We are all in this together – and it feels like this is one global lesson God is teaching us.
As we start enclosing ourselves into our own caves, we can spend the time better understanding the world around us. It’s a time of self-reflection, and ultimate introversion in some sense, as we find different ways of connecting with each other…. in the comfort of our own home.
Some short reads below to look into while we sit at home:
This past weekend, I was able to attend my first ever fashion week in London. Typically not open to public, fashion week is a celebration of new, innovative art and design coming together. As of British Council September 2019, London Fashion Week was the first to open its doors to the public.
This meant that LFW would dedicate two days to hosting the public, opening doors to 6 catwalks shows during the height of LFW. Guests could buy tickets for 2 hour slots, which included the following experiences:
Designer show (this year, designers were Temperley London and De La Valli)
Industry panel, with personnel such as Alice Temperley and Tommy Hilfiger
Immersive designer exihibition
Positive Fashion exihibit
I was able to attend the Temperely London show, which showcased Spring/Summer ’20 looks and an industry discussion hosted by Alice Temperley on starting a new brand and her life story.
Although the whole experience really played up the consumerism that exists in the fashion industry, it was also inspiring and incredible to be in the midst of the whole fashion scene in London. There were so many incredible people who came in their best clothes: whether that meant they wore the most expensive items in their wardrobe or found the ugliest and quirkiest piece to put on.
It makes sense that the BFC would open shows up to the public – I think it’s a great financial and awareness move, and it helps consumers express themselves, better understand the industry that most people think is so trivial and materialistic. It opens up eyes and allows consumers to see the art and tedious details that go into running your own clothing line or setting up a 15 min catwalk.
I must say I highly enjoyed the experience. It’s not every day that 135 pounds can get you a seat at the table, and yet, there I was in the midst of it all, zebra pants on and champagne in hand.
The way you dress impacts many things in our world – from the environment to the economy to your own psychology. I think the way fashion can bring together the intricacy of art but also the way we think about ourselves and the globalization that exists around us is really something special.
I love this quote from Devil Wears Prada because it simply illustrates how much bigger the industry is than what typical consumers think:
You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? … And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.
Miranda Priestly, Devil Wears Prada
As we expand into more experiential retail and continue to move into a world of widespread information, I hope we’ll become more in-tune with the trillion dollar industry that we encounter everyday.
I think it’s really interesting to think about what “sustainability” even means in fashion. At the route of the industry is the need to be materialistic – “fashion” wouldn’t exist without the need to be a bit excessive or “consumeristic.” If we are pursuing sustainability to “avoid the depletion of natural resources [and] maintain an ecological balance” then it seems that fashion and true sustainability cannot co-exist.
According to a McKinsey report, the number of clothing produced annually has doubled since 2000, and exceeded 100B for the first time in 2014. Not only the production count of fashion is increasing, the number of styles we expect as consumers in a season has also grown exponentially. Then fast fashion was born. This democratized and transformed the way consumers thought about clothing – consumers now demand trendy pieces at affordable prices with… free and fast shipping.
Clothing, cotton and polyester, has never come hand in hand with environmentally friendly practices. It takes 2.7K litres of water to produce a single t-shirt (WWF). According to the UN, the fashion industry currently produces 10% of all global emissions (more than international flights and global shipping) (BoF).
I’m not focusing on colour right now as I am about designers who are going to focus on sustainability, who are going to focus on responsibility, who are going to talk about fashion as something that is not so much disposable or can be easily thrown away … I want to hear about why fashion is worth it.
Anna Wintour, VOGUE: Go ask Anna
And yet, sustainability is the “new trend” of the fashion industry. It advocates designers and consumers to look for sustainable practices – to shop vintage, to reuse materials (e.g., Reformation), to use more sustainable materials (e.g., Girlfriend Collective). But at the heart of it, shouldn’t the industry be promoting a conscious decision to consume less in totality?
But as Business of Fashion reports, this type of “true anti-consumerism” is not scalable.
Anti-consumption designers can be limited in their ability to scale. It’s virtually impossible to grow a brand that relies on unusual, often expensive or hard to find materials into a global business. Often that isn’t their goal.
Sustainability in fashion just doesn’t quite work – or realistically make sense. Yes, the industry has made strides in becoming more environmentally conscious. This past summer, major fashion players (150 brands that make up 30% of the global industry) met with world leaders at the G7 summit, agreeing on a “Fashion Pact.” This stated that companies will take action to lessen fashion’s impact on the climate.
When you’re in fashion, the best ‘police officer’ is not the state, but it is the consumer.
Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer at Kering
At the end of the day, any form of sustainability can only be dictated by the consumer, not the industry.
“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”
Rupert Pupkin, The King of Comedy
The Joker is one of the most compelling narratives of a man’s descendent into chaos. It’s a mashup somewhere between Nabokov’s Lolita and Camus’s The Stranger. A sad, momentous reality depicted in its organized and disorganized, prompted and impromptu, ordered and disordered moments. A twist on our sense of what we call morality and chaos.
Walking into the theatre, I had no expectations for what the movie would be. I hadn’t even seen the trailer nor really remembered what the Joker was like in previous Batman films. And yet, I sat there, along with a hundred other people, holding my breath, anxiously waiting for the inevitable to happen – for the Arthur Fleck to turn from a “mentally ill loner” to the king of chaos.
I think that was in a sense why the film was so compelling. It had me nervous and uneasy the whole time — not just because everyone knew what would inevitably happen, but because the acting of the “mentally ill loner” was so uncomfortable to watch. He was always, and only, a show character – someone who performs to get the gut reaction out of someone else. The film opens with a open airy shot of Arthur, getting ready for his act. As he prepares the camera slowly zooms in, and we see a single powerful tear fall.
Oh, and not to forget the painful laughter attacks, which is so unsettling to watch. The irony of the “joyfulness” of laughing translated to ostracization. The harsh reality of being yourself becoming a social target to anyone around you.
I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.
Arthur Fleck, The Joker (2019)
I think there’s something so powerful about the play of comedy and tragedy, and the subjective truth that lies in between. I love that the Joker made you sympathize with his tragedy and loss, and that his actions, though violent, were his way of redemption and imprint on social life. I don’t think he ever really intended to kill, yet, he found himself when he did. And I think that’s the tragic beauty of what it means to be Arthur Fleck, the Joker. His identity is only known in true crime, and that’s the hard truth that viewers have to somehow reconcile with.
There is no punchline.
Arthur Fleck, The Joker (2019)
Suffocate his mother because she suffocated him. Then stand between the curtain, awaiting his applause. Taking a life, to show that he is living and real, not just a comic threat. There’s great beauty in all the cinematography that Lawrence Sher enacted carefully yet on a whim.
And yet, the film also touches on points of what the sense of dreaming and reality, and points of subjective morality. I think there are some worthwhile, poetic discussions to be held where we wonder what the lines are between what’s wrong and what’s right – does context ever matter? Does your history of abuse tick off boxes of insanity or humanity? Does it ever make right or make art the finite sense of morality?
Comedy is subjective Murray, isn’t that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much: you decide what’s right or wrong the same way you decide what’s funny or not.
Arthur Fleck, The Joker (2019)
I can’t quite articulate how the film made me feel at the end of the day. It left me wondering, what social judgments cast away and ostracize people, which then make them act in some “unfavorable” way. Is it that we always have different methods of redemption – of self-redemption, if that even can be a thing (in which broken humans try to repair themselves). I think the movie opens up so much ground and pathways for discussion to how we consider other people, and in ways, how we can show the lost, the lonely, the wicked, any sense of justice or mercy.
LOUIS VUITTON S’20
Belle Époque–era Paris – “‘It’s a part of French history that’s very interesting in art, as well as culturally, in terms of emancipation of women, and, of course, in literature with Proust,’ he explained. It’s also a period that more or less coincided with the birth and rise of the house of Louis Vuitton. In the late 1800s, advances in construction and technology ushered in a new era of travel for the elite, to whom Monsieur Vuitton and his descendants catered with their monogram trunks.” Puffed sleeves, mismatched colors, everything modern and nothing new at the same time. Resonating “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“
MIU MIU S’20
“Italian ingenuity in times of scarce resources.” The playfulness of structure with individualized add-ons. The appeal of creativity stemming from within all we have, and all we don’t have.
Virginie Viard’s first RTW show on her own highlighted the quintessential Chanel wardrobe. Wavering between the new cinema of 50/60s. The tiered layers, evoking the French Riviera on the sunset on the rooftop. // Would be a miss not to mention Marie Benoliel’s prank when she went up on the catwalk during the finale. Not quite sure how I feel about it, given that a show is not just representing the creative director but all those in the atelier that worked long hours to showcase their work for that to not to be the highlight. But then again, maybe it plays well with the artfulness and lightheartedness of fashion shows that we need sometimes.
GIAMBATTISTA VALLI S’20
Floral imagery everywhere – structured dresses lined with accentuated details – all evoking the sense of beautiful flours.
Bookend with map imagery – Abe brings together the sense of contemporary longing and of loose fabrics and sentimentalism.
MAISON MARGIELA S’20
“Stories of hope, heroines, and liberation are forgotten as history draws ever closer to repetition.” Army hats, structured corsets, caped jackets — theatrics to remind you the liberation from wartime – the hope that encompasses you after tragedy.
“Ethereal, poetic, and aristocratic.” Jonathan Anderson has mastered the fine art of layering lace, embroidery, fabric, evoking meaningful shapes: wedding dresses, nightgowns, chemises.
Nothing new for Hedi Slimane this season. He stayed true to his 60/70’s specials – mixing in his nostalgia of nonchalant French girls, with undone hair and makeup.
A fashion assembly, filled with power dressing and accentuated features, on all parts. Something floating along the lines of casual wearable and non-wearable apparel coming together.