Paris fashion week goes online for the first time in its history tomorrow, with fashion rocked not just by the COVID-19 pandemic but by a growing revolt from within the industry.
The virus has brought designers’ long-suppressed frustrations with the system and its unforgiving pace bubbling to the surface.
Many are questioning not just the infernal rhythm and environmental impact of five and six collections a year, but whether fashion weeks or even fashion shows still make sense in a digital world.
“I can no longer cope with an industry built on abuse and consumerism, thriving on environmental destruction and perpetuating racial and gender-based injustice,” Francisco Terra, a rising Brazilian creator and the brains behind the Neith Nyer brand, said on Wednesday.
Terra — one of a wave of young designers to have broken onto the Paris catwalk in the past few years — said that from now on he would only show once a year, “maybe twice.”
He is far from alone. Spanish wunderkind Alejandro Palomo said he is not sure if costly Paris shows really work for him, while Colombian Esteban Cortazar said he has turned his back on them for now.
“I love the shows, but I am not going to put the pressure on my body of having to do one” every few months, Palomo said.
Nor is the rebellion confined to smaller independent labels.
The tectonic plates began to shift in April when Saint Laurent designer Anthony Vaccarello said that he was pulling out of Paris fashion week this year.
From now on the label would “take control of its pace and reshape its schedule,” he said.
Gucci’s Alessandro Michele delivered another bombshell last month, slashing his shows from five to two a year, and questioning the whole idea of seasons, on which the fashion calender is built.
“Clothes should have a longer life,” he said, and should be “seasonless.”
Mugler designer Casey Cadwallader said on Thursday that he would follow the same path.
The cracks really began to show after several hundred industry players led by Belgian master Dries Van Noten signed an open letter last month arguing for a major overhaul of the industry.
Brands such as Chloe, Thom Browne, Y/Project, Lemaire and Alexandre Mattiussi, as well as some top-end department stores, have since joined the call for “fundamental change that will simplify businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable.”
They want the fashion calendar redrawn so winter clothes hit the shops in winter and summer ones in summer — rather than months before as they do now.
For others, the fashion show itself is as “outmoded” as the calendar. A broad-based coalition called “Rewiring Fashion,” uniting the likes of hot US labels 1017 ALYX 9SM, Rodarte, Proenza Schouler and Phipps with several Paris stalwarts has laid out another top-to-bottom reimaging of the system.
“We find ourselves facing a fashion system that is less and less conducive to genuine creativity and ultimately serves the interests of nobody: not designers, not retailers, not customers — and not even our planet,” they said.
They also said that the “fashion calendar is out of sync with the customer, unsustainable for industry professionals and damaging for sales.”
“It’s time to slow down,” their manifesto said.
In a digital world staging fashion shows six months before the clothes hit the shops makes no sense, and was an open invitation to fast-fashion rip-off merchants, it added.
Like Van Noten, they also want an end to discounting and Black Friday-type sales, which they blame for much of the industry’s wasteful overproduction.
However, some top luxury brands are not yet ready for revolution.
Dior chief executive officer Pietro Beccari defended both the calendar and shows, saying that “a live performance is like nothing else. We believe there will always be a place for a live show.” However, Palomo believes the video presentations forced upon Paris fashion week by the pandemic might be a blessing in disguise, opening the door to freeing up the way designers present their creations.
While Paris fashion week prides itself on giving young guns a place in the schedule alongside iconic houses such as Dior, Chanel and Hermes, Palomo and Cortazar said that it was also “killing them economically.”
“Everyone is trying to keep up their image, to make out that everything is fine, and behind the scenes we are spending money that we do not have,” Cortazar said.
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