Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...
by Darryl S. Warren in Vancouver
N ow is the time when many are away recharging, resting from the hard work that will culminate in the 2017 Spring Summer releases. But what will come? Some hints have already arrived via early releases from Damir Doma, Julien David, Public School and Vetements regarding the continued experimentation influence of the 80s and 90s acting as a foundation for breaking new ground. Proportion play and silhouette/cut exploration hide within the desire for change amidst the need to cocoon and withdraw.
Already, the apocalyptic aspect is playing out in real life and in our entertainment mirrored in the measured tatters we saw in recent collections. But now we are past that. We aim for something more, something higher than ourselves. It comes for looking within and beyond. To do so, we take advantage of our technical advancements and balance this with a nod to what we know, what is familiar. This tether to the past is our safety line that grounds us as we take brave steps forward. This introspective and thoughtful part of us is coming as we face our fears, be they political, economic or otherwise.
We will soften as we create, open to our imaginations and play with form and pattern. We will embrace texture while rewarding us with tactile gentleness, and allow technology to bring innovation to continue comfort. Warmth will be light (textile innovation will rule here), colour will lean to fantasy as we allow darkness to have its place (think of the colours the last time we got lost in ourselves during those decades). Boldness is still among us but will not be alone, for memories we can lean on will guide us to attempt to recreate better times in similar circumstances and sentiments.
We want more. We want better. What this means requires tapping into our hearts and soul-search for what that is. Fantasy is subjective, and will be part of this expression just as it was during the last collective efforts of experimentation as we walked the precipice of our uncertainties. And, as before, technology will help us with the monologue, again fine tuning what creatives have in their minds to translate this aspirational escape.
The Haute Couture Fall Winter 2016 season is done, as is Resort 2017 and Men's Spring Summer 2017 while Women's Spring Summer 2017 Ready-To-Wear as you know already had some early showings breaking from the traditional calendar. But now is the time when fashion traditionally takes a break before jumping in to the full Spring Summer 2017 Ready-To-Wear season gets underway. The break is due to Europe's August tradition where most people go on holiday. Mills shut down; if you haven't ordered fabric beforehand, you are out of luck until September.
While "holiday'' might suggest something festive, we don't have much to celebrate these days. The UK revealed the power of ignorance and xenophobia in a referendum that has cost the UK already, while the US has shown how little has changed regarding issues of race as revelatory statistics of law enforcement and minority deaths, coming on the heels of public discussions on inequality ranging from gender pay to balanced opportunity as its political process underscores that peace relations are far from evolved. Ageism, fat shaming, and senseless random mass killings that now seem like a global phenomenon threaten the simplicity and innocence of daily life while further dividing the public on a myriad of sensitive areas revealing the power of our fears and the need for us to take a closer look at the choices we make and the consequence of our thoughts and actions. And let's not forget the recent coup attempt in the cradle of civilization; a cashmere urban camouflage print straightjacket seems "a propos" these days.
Our conscience has even struggled within the industry as we talk about what needs to be done yet seem hesitant to make the bold steps to embrace doing what we know would make the world a better place, be it better efforts on diversity or shifts supporting changes in what we consider acceptable body sizes in the runways and advertisements in the name of supporting healthier role models that contribute to better self esteem. And yet, on the whole, we cling to what has always been.
Changing what is aesthetically popular is the domain of fashion and it is powerful. Fashion is also reactive to the public as much as it is influential, and economics is part of that equation. Our choices to support and make popular personal aesthetics is the fuel that can initiate change. Right now, the social media landscape continues to support what we see. When the public decides by popularity to adopt a new preference of aesthetic standards, fashion will be on board.
Fashion can lead by providing the supportive platform for change. Many retro fashion creations that are continuously produced in response to big data based on public consumption habits. This data is brought to the designers in conjunction with forecasting information that informs the team to make sound design directions that will bring profit (remember, fashion is ultimately a business). But fashion is supportive of innovative design initiatives which shape other designers and the consumer. The continued play with deconstruction is fast becoming mainstream and its sophisticated evolution is supported with each season as the concept reappears in more complex execution stages.
As such, fashion can also be the agent of social change through the power of imagery. By making diversity of all types the new standard, fashion can be on the side of social advancement. It is the timely dialogue of common sense questioning why we aren't enacting the obvious changes in the face of our ugliness in our hyperconnected real-time technical world that signals hope.
It's not that we haven't had these topics discussed in length, but now we have the technology supporting hard data and democratic platforms to host these discussions to a broader audience in the name of betterment of man(and woman)kind.
So how does this relate to trends and what we wear? The clinging of the past via retro designs versus the newness of technology and new concepts that break for convention to become the new convention is something evident in current presentations these past weeks. Attempts to push boundaries versus tradition show a wide range, which represent the range we as people have. We're trying to figure it out and coming to terms with where we stand, what we value and what is right, all subjective and up for evolution...or revolution, which is the catalyst for evolution.
Some will lose interest in fashion citing that its place is low on the totem pole in the face of more important global concerns while others need it to soothe in the escape that it brings. Fashion has the power to distract, an antidote from the bombardment of world woes that seem too large to handle. It is likely that designers will find ways to react to all this seriousness in their own ways much as they did after 9/11. But it will go on because we do. The core inspiration from the 2000s, the best-of from past decades as a mashup revisited, will continue to comfort; that is a natural reaction when faced with fear. But...and this is a more positive interjection... there will also be defiance that deconstruction coupled with technical innovation provides. As Donatella Versace showed post 9/11 as a preamble to her show, she declared that our creativity will not be held hostage. We will find a way to cope, to express, and to move forward, finding a way to coexist with the chaos that is fast becoming de rigueur. It is what we as human beings ultimately do.
Now ends another chapter of the fashion calendar, that being the Haute Couture Fall Winter 2016 season. Within these luxe presentations represents the range that fashion faces: wearability and classic appeal that ensures sales versus the risk of experimentation that breaks boundaries which can either fall flat or become doorways to groundbreaking influence that shapes fashion for seasons to come.
Even though there is a lot of play with form and assembly with a healthy embrace of technology, the familiarity of twentieth century foundations within every collection tells us that we are still reluctant to move completely into a future yet unwritten; the retro sourcing betrays the innovative steps incorporated these days. This is not for want of the designers who painstakingly create from the heart. Haute couture is the height of passion supported by the kind of budgets and access to artisans many creators dream of. But the public...even the exclusive world that couture caters to... isn't fully ready to leave the last century behind.
The presence of technical materials utilized now suggest a willingness to embrace the future, and the proliferation of deconstruction and creative upcycling show that we are willing to embrace new mainstays to support new results that can usher in unlikely yet innovative directions. The problem is that everything is still approached from a 20th century way much the way early 20th century designers with ties to the 19th century fell back to approaches rooted in their experience. It was only when those with no ties whatsoever to the 19th century came into power that they took the innovations of their day and translated these into what they felt related to their experience. This was free of prior generations' perceptions pop appropriateness and embraced a combination of values and lifestyle.
We want to go forward. The current experimentation of Iris van Herpen, Maison Margiela and Viktor & Rolf seen in these couture collections reflect the key elements of the kind of platform that will lay the way for the new way of fashion we have yet to fully actualize. It embraces new technology, disruption of assembly convention and ecology via repurposed materials to satisfy this desire to grow forward. And as we speak, continued experimentation and technical progress hold the keys to further us into new frontiers. But just as the Art Nouveau era could only hint the sporty disruption the Deco period would bring, so to is this experimentation within the limitation of time yet arrived.
We are getting there, wherever that may be. To some, it seems like madness in the making. But then again, what we consider as the norm these days would have been considered the territory of insanity for those the century before. They couldn't "get" us any more that we will not fully "get" those of the coming years that will define and represent our new century. To arrive, we have to go to the edge, ready to greet whoever is purely on that side of the 21st century to "get" what we are trying to be. At least we now know what some of the components are, and eventually they won't seem nearly as crazy as the world seems to be right now.
Fashion is facing an avalanche of presentations as we speak, as the Resort 2017, Menswear Spring/Summer 2017 and The Haute Couture Fall Winter 2016 collections roll out to compete with the slow trickle of sooner-than-expected Womenswear Spring/Summer 2017 collections. If last season was talk of disruption, this season shows that it is now a bonafide fact. Not only do we have challenges to the calendar while facing the division of gender more set in presentation, we also now are coming to celebrate the entrenchment of deconstruction and proportion play as increasingly a new norm. But that is not all; class distinction in fashion is relaying choice as the new luxury, and even with luxury we are seeing rules being broken with purpose to underscore how challenging convention permissively is the new privilege.
The variety of design DNAs present during the recent couture showings illustrate the hallmarks of each designer, bringing distinct points of view to the fashion arena. Each designer so far is bringing their distinct voice, their earned reputation and hallmarks of their label. Some have chosen the security of tradition while others seek to rewrite what that means. Be it either direction, the choice underscores value of investment, which is what couture is.
While we have variety within the couture ranks, another disruption is being lauded during the calendar as Vetements chooses this period to roll out Spring Summer 2017 with a stab at the couture process that fashion is enjoying…and watching carefully.
Following the lead of Damir Doma, Julien David and Public School, Vetements joins the collection shakeup to bring collections to stores sooner. Regardless of the reasons, Vetements has taken disruption a step further by, in effect, crowdsourcing the couture process, creating a collection based on collaboration and customization of other brands. Whereas deconstruction usually means reconfiguring ones own designs, designers such as Maison Margiela introduced artfully repurposing existing materials from other sources several seasons back. Here, Vetements took it a step further by working directly with the sources, letting them recreate based on the their direction. Showing in a department store during regular hours, they covered upending all aspects of hallowed couture ground while producing exclusivity honouring mass influence.
Is it couture? Not by convention, no. But in a modern way it is honest in the uniqueness that couture supports while admitting how the modern world is redefining status. Tradition has standards regarding location and handwork with exotic materials and painstaking effort that define what gets to be called “haute couture". This variation still requires customization but in whole items, not in elements and reflects specialness but in new terms. What is unique in an age where utility matters is the ideas, in effect our new currency. In an age where luxury is mass produced and internationally accessible to the point where what defines it is lost in the drive for profit, a tongue-in-cheek approach as unwittingly nailed the new form of luxury. It’s known yet limited in its incarnation, can fit our world yet can stand apart. And as we look for cues on what will constitute 21st century fashion, this becomes another important part of the puzzle in plain sight. No only are we witnessing the unravelling of the fashion calendar, but we are seeing a new consideration of what fashion design is. And it looks like we’re frank about outsourcing and redesign as integral to breaking new ground.
It has been said before in this blog that we fully recognize how hard it is to be in the fashion industry. It requires a lot of work to balance creativity with business acumen. Our sentiments still hold true today, especially as expectations add pressure for design teams and houses to come use with collections that can hold interest while attract investment...emotional and financial.
We understand how it is ultimately a business, and the climate is more challenging than ever, especially now that the UK has made decisions that impact the industry following the vote leave the EU charmingly tagged as Brexit. These recent events compound ongoing concerns that have been recognized but downplayed. But anyone who has followed this blog knows that the complex global economic picture is not as rosy in the eyes of the general public, largely thanks to the years of alarm we have conditioned ourselves into.
We're flattered that the much-respected and informative industry online magazine Business of Fashion recognizes this climate and its impact on the industry as they discussed this in a recent posting; it's a message we know has been fuel for collections for some time, even if we also acknowledge the more positive threads within the collective psyche. But it's also clear that we are more fragile than we choose to let on, and we don't always hide it well, especially in the age of information. And now that we have yet another concern, we bring it to the fore to discuss how to weather the impending storm.
Many 2017 Resort collections reflect a rather safe approach that cannot be faulted. The public as a whole is still nervous about taking too many risks, and seeks familiarity while knowing we are in a changing world. Most collections are wholly retro-influenced with modern touches but the cuts, shapes and even volumes are still familiar, evoking good times where the world was less complicated. Some collections are even safer, stirring into clean simple classics much the way many lines did in the 90s to ensure profitability when tightened purse strings meant the end for some houses. But we also live in a connect world where globalization and technology have allowed designers access to markets in ways never-before possible, increasing chances of survival if not fostering growth.
But even industry media outlets know what is all to true: this safety is becoming almost formulaic and while sales are still there, it seems like the sure bets are taking some of the passion that fashion normally brings to our lives. The blending of elements of the past with materials of the present are producing some beautiful clothes, many that are wearable and that shouldn't be bad...and it isn't. But it shows a cultural stagnation and that is bad if we are to evolve.
Fortunately, not all designers have held back. Some designers continue to push the boundaries in small ways, toeing the border of familiarity while edging "the new", smartly pulling us along safely while positively reinforcing us to go forward while still embracing enough familiarity to guarantee sales. A few others, though, are trying some new steps, taking chances and banking on the desire we all have for something different and uncharted. So far, collections from Acne Studios, A.W.A.K.E., Dion Lee, Issey Miyake, Ji Oh, Louis Vuitton, Maticevski, Mother of Pearl and Ports 1961 are showing signs of experimentation in cut, form and material play as they attempt to take us into new places and it will be interesting to see how these collections influence upcoming ones next season.
Of course, the 2017 Resort collections aren't done yet, so anything else could come up to upend the game. But...really...what's wrong with that?
Fashion is busy these days, with the 2017 Resort collections continuing while the men's collections are also competing for attention. This blog recognizes that menswear is showing more range and creativity than in past years, similar to during the 80s when boundaries were tested the first time around. But ultimately, innovation lies where the most allowance is, and as much as menswear pushes past its limitations, the real play with form, cut and silhouette is found where the most range is offered. Until change really takes hold, women's wear offers the most latitude to experiment, and still leads when looking at trend creation.
Lately, the fixation of retro has become almost a perennial mainstay. The connections between past and present as it plays with familiarity are ever-present references the public can relate to. But it's not just the draw to the familiar that is driving this creative direction.
The rise of vintage clothing purchases these days can be seen as thrift, but this is not exclusive as motivation. Vintage clothing offers something that our trend-fixated world cannot: the offer of something special and unique that cannot be easily coveted by others. The rise of DIY supported the quest for individuality; vintage satiates this desire without taxing the wearer to work in having it...or by breaking the budget to acquire often-costly bespoke items. And when fashion supports creative expression while blending innovation with retro, such as in the latter portion of the last century, vintage gains popularity. That we have such hybridization aided by freeform styling and heavy retro influence in fashion further invites incorporating past fashion finds into the wardrobe. These things become special, not just in that they are one-of-a-kind, but that they have a story, a history. They carry a piece of the past and in doing so, bring greater meaning to a world where technology and speed compete.
During a recent review of the 2017 Resort collections, M. Patmos was explaining to WWD her source for inspiration on the "modern-day heirloom". She wanted to create items that had the specialness that comes with something personal for the past, albeit with modern tweaks so they can fit with today's sensibilities, referencing the kind of quirky and unique things one would find in one's grandmother's closet. Such specialness is felt in items that have the craft edge, much in the way the mid 90s embraced this during there art-and-crafts phase as people grew tired of the sameness surrounding the return to minimalism and the subsequent initial incarnation of what we now call normcore. Back then we wanted something unique and of the hand versus something mass-produced from an efficient factory.
From time to time, we tend to do that, to swing between embrace of the new versus appreciation of the old, such as when Maison Margiela embraced and reworked heirloom materials in the inception of 2012 Fall/Winter, 2013 Fall/Winter or 2014 Spring/Summer couture shows. Now, we have this return of appreciation of handcraft alongside the upswing of technical execution and clean modernity all at once in this season, and while it's not as prevalent, designers such as Antonio Marras, Cinq a Sept, Delpozo, Gucci, Missoni, Moschino, M. Patmos, See by Chloe and Ulla Johnson have embraced the spirit of this aspect of the 70s/ 90s, bringing the specialness and quality of craft to the fore while approaching it with current modernity that we expect as membership of the new millennium.
This approach should not be exactly seen as revisiting familiar territory; each incarnation of creative expression carries the awareness that comes with the level of sophistication that we are at merged with sensibilities our technical prowess affords. They show new appreciation that, as time passes, will become appreciated as hallmarks of personal expression evolved as we have become, honouring the past and making a distinction of our new present. And this will add to the complex equation that will shape our century's creative path...one stitch at a time.
The 2017 Resort collections are in full force. For those who are paying attention, the most obvious observation is the choices that seem to be of two camps. One is the minimal modern architectural clean approach expressed in simple pieces with minimal embellishment. The other is the naturalistic and detailed counterpart, where drape, texture, colour join with various twists pulls accented by hardware and embroidery and the like.
This seems apt for the world we live in. We have extremes that occupy opposites with a range we refer to in clarifying and quantifying what we have before us. We want our world to be easy when we know it’s anything but. Having scales to fit the aspects of our lives in makes it easier to quantify. It’s a survival mechanism by default that we choose.
We do so to understand our heritage (what is your genealogy history?), our class and place within society (what do you do?), our roles within relationships (who wears the pants in your family?). It’s not the best habit; it’s what we do to make sense of your surroundings so we know where we fit and how to respond to interact with it.
Fashion reflects this in the extremes. Some of the collections (Acne, ADEAM, Akris, A.L.C., Area, ATM Anthony Thomas Melillio, Boss, Calvin Klein, Dion Lee, Helmut Lang, Isa Arfen, Joseph, Maiyet, Marc Jacobs, Mugler, Narciso Rodriguez, Roksanda, Organic by John Patrick, Pamella Roland, Piazza Sempione and Tibi) are along minimal lines while others are maximal (3.1 Philip Lim, Adam Lippes, Anna Sui, Antonio Marras, Delpozo, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Gucci, House of Holland, Milly, Missoni, Moschino, MSGM, Peter Pilotto, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Rebecca Minkoff, Red Valentino, Roberto Cavalli, See by Chloe and Tadashi Shoji). Most, especially those not listed here have both components to varying degrees or components combined in complement to each other, just as we do when it comes to various traits such as sexuality, gender expression, and stereotypical gender-specific behaviourists that we are now trying to undo in the quest to live a world where equality is more than just a marketing gimmick.
As we attempt to make sense of the world around us, we become more aware of the complexity that we have and are. This combination of extremes that currently occupy the 2017 Resort collections merely reflect what we observe. In time, as we rewrite the rules, our fashion will follow suit. How we reflect that will depend on what we redefine as parameters. For now, the traditional “hard vs. soft” will have to suffice until we evolve to a new definition…one that will aptly reflect our 21st century that we are coming into.
As the 2017 Resort collections stream in, variety demonstrates the range of tastes fashion aims to cater to. Some of the choices are cleaner while others are rich in detail.
Our world is rife with overload. We have more choices and inspirations for variety than what was available in any previous generation. The full access to what the world has to offer combined with our shift in attention spans leads us towards supersaturation. The noise of everything can be met on either end of the spectrum now. For some, it is tuning it out for focusing on singularity of choice. For others, it is there welcome of everything at once.
Plenty is the antidote of material insecurity; give more than what is needed when faced with threatening times and we are insulated from the woes of the world. The woes don’t disappear, of course. But hyper abundance within our grasp fills us.
Hence, collections from Acne Studios, Christian Dior, Christopher Kane, Erdem, Etro, Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, M Missoni, No. 21, Oscar de la Renta, Red Valentino, Roberto Cavalli Tory Burch and Ulla Johnson reflect this by through excess of detail and hyper print execution, much the same way that Lacroix had done in the 80s and in what we had in the late 60s during tumultuous periods where knowledge beyond expectations filled our minds.
There were other collections that did not go quite in this direction, and some of these reflect other aspects of our mindsets that this blog will faithfully reflect on over time, as we all do when faced with mass information ourselves.
More of the 2017 Resort collections are coming through, offering windows into the range of choices we have come to expect in fashion collections. Within these, individual creative efforts also begin to convey the shared vocabulary that defines this season.
To be sure, there is variety regarding the choice of simplicity versus complexity. Many collections so far lean towards the print embrace that disrupted the cleaner controlled executions of past seasons, owing in part to the well-timed retro revisit by Gucci that found a new audience fascinated by the kind of taste-challenging print overload the 70s jumped on before, albeit not as aggressive, such as what was seen by Etro, Fendi or Louis Vuitton. On the other hand most collections also contained a balance of solids and clean pieces, and some collections were, on the whole, very clean and minimal, such as those by Escada, Jenni Kayne and Jil Sander. What they all shared was the unmistakeable hallmark of our current century: the intricate execution of precision.
As more and more collections are revealed, the exactitude of the cut demonstrates more than our appreciation of technical prowess. It reveals our new minimal expectation that can only come from the standards we consider the new norm. Technology is becoming more integrated into all aspects of our lives to the extent that there are few things that are not touched by our technical hand. If it not in the tools and we use in our daily lives to work and play, it is in the foundations that shape the things that are not already wired and connected. And as we tap into the exponential power these technically enhanced tools provide, we become accustomed to new levels of perfection. Details that would have been the domain of exclusivity are now democratically accessible. And so, the sophistication is amped up.
If there is simplicity, it is deceptively so; the technical aspect may seem absent but it finds its way in the perfection of a print or evolution of a classic textile woven with intricate nuance of technical sophistication a technician would be able to detail with glee.
This is our world now. An expert eye can decode what we now expect as the standard. This precision is as focused as the formats that support our media. In this precision we find the clarity of vision...the specificity of expression...that is our new standard. Spoiled for choice and fortunate in what is democratically accessible, our computer-assisted lives are finding us becoming accustomed to a new norm. And in a world where chaos and uncertainty are weekly news feed fodder, this certainty expressed in the material becomes a desired antidote of balance, our comfort…our destination resort.
As the 2017 Resort collections slowly start to show, the initial observations are solidifying, and the title of this week's blog sums things up clearly.
Three collections have come forth: Bottega Veneta, Oscar de la Renta and Sonia by Sonia Rykiel. These are established houses with an understanding of the bottom line and on the power of classic dressing regarding relevance and longevity. The deceptive simplicity and straightforwardness of the collections reflect the underlying mindsets that we carry.
One of the primary hallmarks of the 90s was the utilitarian aspect that saw houses survive the crash that set the decade up for years of austerity and a reigning in of explosive creativity from the decade before it. For all the excitement in breaking away to explore new forms and techniques, the 80s forced too many to keep up with a pace of change that could not be sustained by its growing audience. Leaning on more innocent and joyful times (joyful at least from the vintage entertainment that the 90s generation and its designers grew up on) coupled with the absence of vintage styles that could compete with the marketplace allowed the resurgence of the 70s' no-nonsense geometric cuts and embrace of the classics in odd colours and prints to proliferate. These mixed with the embrace of sportswear as daywear that the youth carried forth thanks to hip-hop cultures' rise. All of this plus the safety of the first incarnation of what we now call normcore set the stage for the foundation of the 90s and its differentiation from the prior decade...and the start of the retro fashion overload we now see as mainstream.
The bottom liner of these design directions linked the wearer to feelings of familiarity, comfort and safety, mirrored in the early 2000s after the horrors of 9/11. Now, we face similar fears of terrorism, tech bubbles, real estate woes and ugly politics with global environmental concerns as the norm. Not everything is doom and gloom...although the upcoming Olympics with the venue issues and the recent Russian doping scandal, this may not be the gleeful summer we hoped for. But it is an energetic one; through all collections we have the hard, clean cuts and structure in textiles to protect us, the familiarity of vintage cuts form times we now have romanced thanks to our distance form them, and the colours are off and bright. The unusual nature of the colours show us willing to go off the beaten path and the brightness shows energy. Sonia by Soni Rykiel holds to the athleisure ease while Oscar de la Renta maintains the ladylike poise via 40s and 50s cuts thrown in the 90s mix, giving clean sophistication and calm association. The defined contrast trim at Bottega Veneta underscores our boundaries. All houses keep it clean, restraining our form while allowing our "colour".
In reflection, all lines for this season so far show a fun mood while keeping things sensible. The use of cliched retro forms to convey expectations falls within our desire to be safe as we continue on. The technical aspects that we cannot escape, our 21st century innovations, is subtle in the textile and construction. These are kept under radar but not absent. Time will let us know what else will come out to shape the 2017 Resort picture, and for now we know it won't be anything too reckless. At least, that is the picture so far.