I'm a fashion journalist, but I hate fashion shows. Instagram, it’s your fault
Fashion designers have got their priorities all wrong. To be frank, the national lockdowns were a bitter-sweet excuse not to attend their shows
With a new crop of fashion shows coming up in June, it made me realise that fashion week is not how I expected it to be when I applied to study a bachelor's degree in fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins in 2017. To my surprise, I'm not alone; conversations with several classmates in the university library revealed mutual disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it. In fact, I’m excited to see the London collections by young designers such as Bethany Williams and Priya Ahluwalia. Although, that doesn’t change the fact that I generally find contemporary collections underwhelming.
Growing up, I practically salivated over the bi-annual Paris ready-to-wear (RTW) collections by Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. John Galliano’s spring/summer 98 collection for Christian Dior in homage to Marchesa Casati ticked all of my boxes for an outstanding, memorable fashion show: a thoughtful balance of glamour, fantasy and spectacle. Now, fashion shows are 90 percent spectacle, 10 percent fantasy (don’t quote me) and you’re more likely to find glamour in Traid Dalston’s charity window displays than on the catwalk!
Due to the blogging evolution that surfaced in 2006 and the advent of Instagram in 2010, fashion shows have gone from one extreme to another. Formerly private events for trade buyers, private clients and eventually the press after World War Two, shows have transformed into a playground for influencers and TikTokers who often lack the subject knowledge of critics. As somebody who has dedicated the last four years of their life studying at a top art and design university to learn how to write an outstanding show review, this makes steam come out of my ears.
When the late Alexander McQueen teamed up with SHOWstudio to live-stream the world’s first fashion show – Plato’s Atlantis – in October 2009, he demonstrated an innovative use of technology that could make the historically elitist fashion industry more accessible to the masses. But nowadays, brands are so occupied with riding the viral wave that they seem to have forgotten the need for their clothes to appeal to real people. Take Viktor and Rolf’s SS19 couture collection as a case in point. Titled Fashion Statements, the Dutch fashion house sent straight-faced models down the runway in Molly Goddard style tulle ball gowns, emblazoned with meme-worthy slogans like “No photos please” and “I am my own muse.” When was the last time you saw somebody wear one of the looks from the collection in real life? I’ll wait. Before any die-hard fashion victims attack me in my DMS, let me remind you of Comme des Garçons’ autumn/winter 2012 RTW collection. In what appeared to be a visual commentary of the disservice done to fashion designers by two-dimensional online coverage, felted coat-dresses and trousers were compressed to lie flat on the body like the clothes used in tv ads for vacuum storage bags.
The other thing that really winds me up is when the theatrical element of a fashion show trumps the clothes – Rick Owens, I’m looking at you. In the American designer’s SS16 RTW show, gymnasts hung from models’ shoulders, blocking the audience’s view of the clothes worn underneath. In an interview with the New York Times, Owens admitted he was inspired by Leigh Bowery’s art performance at Wigstock festival in 1993, during which he gave birth to his wife, who was strapped beneath his coat. I appreciate Owen’s vision to represent female strength, but did he seriously have to be that literal? Let’s be honest, if the clothes were good, they would have spoken for themselves. As much as it pains me to say, the same criticism applies to Chanel. From a supermarket to a life-size rocket ship, the late Karl Lagerfeld’s set designs for Chanel never failed to amaze, but his collections started to feel quite repetitive in his last few years as the creative director of the French house.
It’s not only the impact of social media on design, but also its impact on the pace and perceived value of fashion shows that is a problem. Last May, three separate fashion groups, which included Dries Van Noten, Philip Lim, Rodarte and Tory Burch among others brands, called for a change in how the industry presents and consumes new collections. One group wrote an open letter to the fashion industry, which proposed logical changes such as presenting collections at the start of the season they intend to be bought as opposed to six months ahead of hitting stores. Gucci and Saint Laurent even opted out of the traditional fashion week schedule. You could argue that Jean Paul Gaultier set the trend when he said farewell to the runway back in January 2020.
If any designers are reading this column, here is my message to you: I desperately want to look forward to your fashion shows again, but you’re not making it easy. Please revive your house codes and don't be influenced by social media because the industry needs its wow factor back. Yours sincerely, a frustrated fashion journalist.