Is the breathless pace of fast fashion and social media leading to a creative burnout,
SINCE THE ADVENT OF FASHION, it has been compared to a wheel. It’s always been a form of commercially-driven creative expression de ned by rapid movement. Wheels, like seasons and trends, are always ‘turning’. Critical analysis of consumption patterns has increased, particularly now as insiders have been reaching for the ‘pause button’ in the face of the onslaught of six seasons instead of three, with ready-to-wear, pre-fall, resort or cruise shows being added to the calendar. This is obviously a condition that has taken hold at the higher echelons of the fashion system yet we have all felt its effects; this constant stream of high fashion has sped up the cycles in every high-street fashion chain.
The designers burdened with dreaming up all the new concepts, prints, colour palettes and inspiration for these gazillion ramp shows are feeling the pressure the most. Creative inspiration might not be this mythical sensation that strikes at unpredictable times, but is it something that can be turned on like a tap? Lee McQueen’s suicide and Marc Jacob’s and John Galliano’s substance abuse issues have all been attributed to the punishing cycle of fashion. Raf Simons, whose resignation from Dior seemed premature, is thought to have opted out due to the fast pace, while Alber Elbaz, the creative director at Lanvin, was pushed out of the fashion house due to shareholder’s desire to up the pace and growth.
Are the spokes of the fashion wheel falling off? Opinion is divided among industry insiders. Fashion has always been the fastest creative cycle. Rick Owens views this period as ‘a breeding ground for a golden age of design.’ Karl Lagerfeld might be 82 but he has cockily suggested that ‘if you are not a good bull ghter, don’t enter the arena.’
What conditions precipitated this fast-paced arena in the rst place? Most obviously, greed and competition account for the shift. Technology or, more speci cally, digital and social media, has cultivated or accelerated an appetite for ‘newness’. A steady stream of new fashion images has come to satiate ‘the chase against boredom’, as Michael Kors has suggested.
‘It is a bit like what has happened with TV series, where now you get episodes instantly; you don’t wait for a week or a month. You want it now,’ says South African designer Thula Sindi. While building his brand, he would sometimes do six new collections in a year. He was exhausted and found the schedule not feasible nancially or logistically.
‘I used to be afraid that if you don’t show, people would forget you,’ he says. ‘But when you don’t show one season and you don’t see any effect on your sales, you realise that it isn’t fundamental to your business.’
‘Designer burnout’ is not simply a term to describe the negative effect on the psyche of designers, but the integrity of design itself.
‘The adjectives we are using to create urgency when we sell garments, such as “must-have”, suggest to me that fashion is no longer about design,’ says fashion magazine veteran Jackie Burger. The fast-fashion phenomenon is evident in this country, she says. ‘It is unavoidable, particularly now that we have so many international brands on our doorstep.’ Jackie sees value in the addition of resort collections; however, she is concerned by the lack of discernment that the fast pace of fashion negates in an effort by companies to accelerate consumption patterns.
The South African fashion industry is in its nascence and the proliferation of fashion weeks in this country are not necessarily seasonal driven – they are determined by individuals, most notably Lucilla Booyzen as head of SA Fashion Week and Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, director of Africa Fashion International, whose shows are geographically de ned Cape Town, Joburg and Africa fashion weeks). However, as our designers are under-resourced few have capital and nancial support), the pressure to keep up with seasonal shows and compete with the international brands that have set the pace is dif cult.
‘I have only shown a collection every six months but I have still felt like I am trapped in a hamster wheel, says Jacques van der Watt of Black Coffee. ‘I can’t imagine what kind of support you would need to do six shows.’ Jacques took a pause last year, opting not to show at SA Fashion Week Winter 2016. The Black Coffee consumer was confused by all the new looks and it made better commercial sense to rework existing lines more strongly identified with the brand than generating completely new ones every season, he says.
Thula only shows at the Durban Fashion Fair once a year. He holds small cocktail events to promote new designs and uses Instagram to communicate new collections to the public.
Jacques may be rethinking how and when to participate in shows but he still sees value in them. ‘There is nothing like the pressure of show to crystallise an intense vision for the season,’ he says.
As designers are at the centre of the industry, it seems that ultimately, they will have to set the pace and reclaim their power back, refusing to become fashion victims of another kind. mc
Clockwise from top left: Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Raf Simons,
John Galliano and Alber Elbaz