As consumers adjust their appetites, they benefit by seeing their clothes in a new light.
When Marc Jacobs left Louis Vuitton in 2013 after 16 years as Creative Director, he seemed to be making a statement about slowing down – as evidenced in the notes at his show in New York this September which began with this quote: “There’s been so much going on. Can we move the house to a place where nothing ever happens and things are slower? I’ll be happy there.”
With this statement, once again Marc captured the zeitgeist – just as when he notoriously sent grunge down the catwalk in 1992, shocking – then shaping – fashion, a trick he’s repeated countless times since. Now he’s telling us that in a manic world governed by production and consumption, it’s time to slow down.
Karl Lagerfeld taking a stroll on the Spring 2015 Chanel catwalk. Photo: First View
A global economy and the internet have changed the fashion landscape dramatically in recent years, rendering the traditional model of designers producing just two collections a year redundant. Unpredictable weather (snow in April, sweltering Octobers) and an international clientele demand mini collections in between the main ones, and clothes that are non-season-specific.
It’s hard for fashion journalists to keep up – so imagine what it’s like for the designers who are stuck on this exhausting treadmill. (The only exception being the seemingly superhuman Karl Lagerfeld, who produces seven collections for Chanel each year, plus those for Fendi, his own label AND all his special projects, all apparently without turning a silver hair in that perfect ponytail.)
Stylist Rebekah Roy works with many emerging designers: “Most do two collections a year but pre collections are becoming more important. Most new designers can’t do four collections – they don’t have the time or the money, plus they are also running all aspects of their business, but if they reach a certain amount of sales or get funding I’m sure they would do pre collections.”
The idea that designers might benefit from slowing down gives a new twist to the concept of ‘slow fashion’ – a term coined by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion as a way to make us rethink our attitude to clothing. It fits with a general mood for a more considered approach to living – see the ‘slow food’ movement – an attempt to be more mindful of the materials we consume.
As consumers adjust their appetites – not constantly craving a fresh hit of ‘fast fashion’ – they benefit by seeing their clothes in a new light, cherishing garments over years rather than weeks, attaching memories and emotional significance to pieces beyond the immediate buzz of a new purchase. ‘Slow fashion’ allows clothes to tell stories again.
The high street is notorious for its obsession with newness (which goes hand in hand with obscenely low prices – someone is probably suffering along the supply chain if you’re buying a t-shirt for £3.) So Gap’s current ‘dress normal’ campaign is an interesting move. It almost counter-intuitively encourages shoppers to stop buying so much and instead to invest in garments which will stand the test of time, both in terms of durability and also in style – and of course if you buy them from Gap, so much the better.
Dame Vivienne Westwood at People’s Climate March in September 2014. Photo: AOP
Dame Vivienne Westwood advocated the same message when speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme. She explained the apparent contradiction in a fashion designer urging people to buy less like this: “Buy less, choose well, make it last. Naomi Klein said ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’… and to me ‘reduce’ is the most important thing. I continue to do fashion because I think it is an artistic expression. I think that what we do gives people a real choice. It’s not a choice of quantity, it’s a choice of quality.”
Luxury brands are perfectly placed to promote the ‘slow’ message to consumers. In an interview with Business of Fashion, Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer at Kering, explained: “Sustainability is embedded in the very concept of luxury. A cornerstone of luxury is the long-lasting endurance of an item.”
She makes the point that prioritising sustainability isn’t just morally right, it also makes sound business sense. “Luxury design is all about reinvention and innovation – whether in terms of the raw materials used or the products made – so we are arguably predisposed to embracing new approaches and being leaders in sustainability.”
Emily Johnston of the blog Fashion Foie Gras recently travelled to Bangkok to see how the jewelry brand is putting sustainability at the heart of its business. She said of the experience “It was so incredibly refreshing to step into a retail world where the focus is set on the people, the purpose and production, before the actual product itself. In doing so, each and every piece from Pandora comes with an identity and a stamp that, for me, signifies the future of great retail. They are leading the way with their innovation in practices and should be saluted for such forward thinking.”
Kering is leading the field in sustainability in the luxury goods sector, setting its stable of brands which includes Gucci, Saint Laurent Paris, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney ambitious targets to reduce waste and source materials from responsible suppliers. Gucci produced a range of sunglasses using a natural material based on castor oil seeds instead of plastic, as well as a limited line of handbags with components that are 100% traceable.
Similarly, this year Chopard worked with the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) to produce a jewellery collection made with Fairmined gold. ARM helps mining communities in Latin America reach Fairmined certification, which means gold is produced in accordance with high environmental and ethical standards as well as ensuring a fair price for the miners.
These might seem like small, isolated examples but they mark a change in attitude among luxury brands and a recognition of the fact that environmental issues will be vital for the growth of their businesses in the future. Where Kering leads, the rest of the industry will follow.
So is fashion getting slower? For those designers who have seen their peers destroyed by the unforgiving pace of modern fashion, yes. And for consumers who are sickened by bulging wardrobes of unworn clothes, absolutely. But there will always be those with an insatiable appetite for new trends and retailers will be only too happy to fuel that hunger. For them, fashion can’t move fast enough.
But if we are sensible we will heed Marc’s message – he has an unfailing ability to take the temperature of the times and tell us what we want or, more importantly, need, before we know it ourselves.
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