New York, London and Milan provided constrasting spectacles this September. Each separately highlighted (for better or worse) pertinent trends in the world of fashion and business.
In New York, large scale events by big designers upstaged the humble catwalk shows, pandering to milenials in the west and Asia who crave ‘experience’ over product. Many critics were left pondering the runway’s future as it gives way to these lavish, all inclusive events. Some of these events (Thom Browne, Pyer Moss) even expressed explicit or implicit socio-political themes.
London was even more political: sustainability was the buzzword in positive (Christopher Kane’s Eco-Sex collection), ambiguous (Vivienne Westwood’s absence in support of sustainability) and negative (Extinction Rebellion being the one performance nobody enjoyed but that nobody criticized) senses.
Prada in Milan fused high-end luxury with subtle understatement stripped of any hypebeast/fast-fashion excesses and Gucci went completely carbon free. It was as though they’d both taken note of the need to turn it up (New York) and down (London).
At the heart of all these shifts were economical and political anxieties and collective guilt over equality and diversity, the environment and sustainability. The West is also concerned about Asia.
What was surprising (and disappointing) was the reluctance of brands to confront any one of these complexities in an aesthetic sense. There were representatives from the windrush generation wearing ‘compensation not detention’ t-shirts and gospel choirs forwarding the black lives matter movement; subtle understatement that acknolwedged austerity of spirit (not wallet) and flashes of colour that avoided making a noise.
But there were no middle fingers, absurdities; no running for broke from within. The tendency to assimilate – more than climate change, sustainability or inclusion – was style’s biggest threat, detracting from the individualism and ecentricism that make fashion week so potent, and that gives designers the license to come out and deal with these issues on their own terms.
In this sense Vivienne Westwood (who knows a thing or two about making a valid political statement and making it interesting?) was sorely missed in London. Thankfully she’s showing in Paris, a place where politics and asthetics can lock horns in ways that are parts ugly and beautiful, tempestous, frequently essential and sometimes completely meaningless.