Fashion’s Death of Ideas

by Katie on January 11, 2012

It happened quietly over Christmas. Bored of flicking through underwhelming ‘Best of 2011’ lists I started to search online for what was to come. Forget about the now, I wanted, if not The Next Big Thing, then at least some indication that there was still some creativity out there. I came up against a brick wall.

Writing about fashion means that I am always working months ahead. Indeed, with pictures of 2012’s “pre-fall” (oh how I hate that term) collections flooding in, we’re actually able to start contemplating the progression to Spring/Summer 2013. In fact, when magazines talk of “The New Mood” they’re actually discussing movements in fashion which have been around for up to 12 months beforehand, which is why most seasoned commentators have to stifle their yawns when discussing collections currently for sale in the shops.

Aaah The Shops – my happy place. Nothing used to fill the hole in my soul quicker than a spin around the Flannels store in Manchester, a quick dash through Selfridges’ menswear department, and a saunter up to the second floor of Harvey Nichols. Now though I am left cold by the selection, a hotchpotch of commercially prudent T-shirts, denim, and dark suits. Even the high street, once the retail junkie’s enabler, has become dominated by 5 or 6 major brands. You can’t walk for 250 yards in any direction without hitting G Star or Superdry. We might be told that we have a greater number of choices today than we ever had, but it’s hard to correlate this statement with what’s actually out there.
Women’s fashion has been stuck in a timewarp for what seems like the last couple of decades. The rise in popularity of “vintage” clothing means that a lot of collections seem to be taking old ideas and executing them in a suitably 21st century way. This might mean Cyberdog neon and laser-cut leather with Argyle at Christopher Kane, or retro prints in eyewatering colours at Jonathan Saunders, but remove those modern flourishes and you’re left with some supremely matronly silhouettes.

There was some hope out there; the languid, voluminous layering of Jena Theo, or Todd Lynn’s sleek sci-fi re imagining of the modern wardrobe. Unfortunately, possibly due to the current financial climate, these designers chose a more commercial route for the coming season.

London Fashion Week’s Great White Hope, the frankly astounding Mary Katrantzou, has brought an almost couture level of intricate detail and quality back to British fashion, whilst also utilising modern production techniques, but is this where we think high-end fashion should be heading? Marc Jacobs recently called out couture for being “archaic” and the sole reason for turning down the head job at Dior, ironic considering his perennial re-booting of ’70s thrift store finds. As the focus on craft sharpens, and the number of processes used to complete a garment creeps up, so too does the price. Soon we are left with fashion which is only achievable to that mythical 1% of the population.

Maybe it’s these economic restraints which have led to mainstream women’s fashion being caught in a never-ending “revival spiral”, forcing designer brands to stick with safe options, siding their revisionist garments with upcoming Hollywood blockbusters, or famous collections from 50 years ago (although, it has to be said, the furore surrounding John Galliano last year probably did more for Dior’s New Look than any landmark anniversary ever did).

But where is the Yang to this humdrum, middle-of-the-road Ying? Where is today’s counter culture, the backlash to the conservative-with-a-small-‘c’ society? The future’s holds…well, much more of the same. The exuberant prints of Spring, the only really stimulating movement in current fashion, has been replaced with a pared-down attitude for Autumn, and 20th Century inspirations are still being ransacked wholesale.
The New has been replaced by The Then. You might say that if it’s not broke then don’t fix it, that the wheels of commerce continue to turn, but ladies and gentlemen, this is an industry whose lifeblood IS new ideas. Creative stagnation will cause fashion, and potentially our economy, to flatline.

Worryingly, the in-box at Chutzpah Mansions has seen a deluge of “Get the Iron Lady Look” emails for the past week. It was during the 80’s, and Margaret Thatcher’s Government, that this country last ground to a halt. We need our artists, our designers, our musicians, to drag us out of this torpor, a side of light to the daily shade served up by our politicians and newscasters.

Culturally we appear to be back at the early ’90s, the last 2 decades swept away by career politicians, financial upheavals, illegal wars, and widespread dissatisfaction with our lot, compounded by a media obsessed with conspicuous consumption and depressingly-low levels of celebrity. It was New Labour who saved the day 20 years ago, albeit briefly. I’m not holding out for a hero this time.

Article written by Lee Clatworthy (@TeamChutzpah) for Katie Chutzpah blog
Pics enclosed from the DSquared2, Rochas and Carven Pre-Fall/Winter 12/13 collections.

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