Being that I am unable to sleep until pen gets to paper, I must begin this telling now, whether I want to or not. During the past 2 months, I have written what seems to be innumerable reviews of everything from seasons that never really existed on the calendar to haute couture to the seemingly endless fashion train that began with men’s in January and just ended with the Paris Collections this past week.
Having been a player in the game of fashion for more decades than I truly care to admit to and always having been an avid , if not voracious reader of all media concerning the” business,” this season it struck me in a most blatant way that indeed the “game” had changed drastically on every level possible. The “players” whom will account for the team of fashion; editors, reviewers, designers, conglomerate giants that own large chunks, if not all, of many design firms, and the re-emergence of many design “brands” who were revered in the annals of fashion history and have been so called re-imagined to supposedly fit into the so called current world of global fashion.
What is seemingly ignored is that the fashion business has emerged as one big incestuous family business which involves “intermarriage” of family members, wife swapping of sorts, auditions for successful pairings and even genetically enhanced reproduction; of course all spoken about rather metaphorically but it is all there if one chooses to merely examine it rather than dissect it.
Having just finished Grace Coddington: A Memoir just prior to beginning this whirlwind of writing and visual overload, the words that constantly came back ringing in my head was “I liked it better when fashion came first!” Well, indeed I did like it much better then as well. This is not to say that fashion was never a business or to be taken seriously but given the degree of incestuous intermarriage involved today, the business of fashion MUST be taken far more seriously than ever before. Today no matter where you show, we are involved in a global business that has never ever been as widely distributed nor taken as seriously as it is now. My question is really very simple: “How much did we ”pay” for this to happen?” For me the price has outweighed the end result and on a day to day basis, I am reminded that this is no longer the business of those who had fairy tales beginnings and meteoric rises to fame and fashion superstars. Today is it very simply who has got the biggest wallet behind them, the biggest media machine working on their behalf and under what awning is your business …. Whether literally in the business of manufacture or media.
I am no economist or business wizard or fashion prodigy but I am keenly aware that with our global expansion and with the incessant drive to be bigger and newer and trendier and most embraced by the public and media, we as a business have made a huge trade off in terms of our “quality of life.” What once passed as greatness in times gone by is now looked upon as being not commercially acceptable and conversely. It is difficult to extrapolate talent, meaning it is no easy task to ask what would have happened if Balenciaga started in the year 2000 and the same goes for Armani or Charles James, Anne Klein or or even Claire McCardell … ponder it! Conversely, would “designers” like Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Jil Sander or Raf Simons be anything more than designers of uniforms if they had begun or even had a trajectory path 50 to 75 years ago… ponder it.
But I digress here and want to return to the incestuous way of life that now is the new modus operandi of how we know the fashion business in it current incarnation. First let’s look at the designers themselves who are either hugely recognized and part of some huge ass conglomerate that winds up owning many of them either in total or becoming a controlling force in that designer’s business. For a little lesson, let’s talk LVMH who now either totally owns or retains controlling interests in Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Berluti, Dior, Maxime Simoens, Celine, Loewe, Fendi, Donna Karan, Givenchy, Kenzo and more. On the competitive side there is PPR who owns Balenciaga, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, McQueen, Stella McCartney, Chris Kane and Brioni to name a few. Then there are the mega independents such as Prada group, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Ferragamo, Kors and Valentino, to name a few, who may be publicly held but still basically driven by the namesake designer. I would have to say that this is a reasonable core portion of the players that make up the higher end of fashion and control immeasurable and at times endless amounts of advertising dollars.
For decades and decades, there were publications who were regarded as the absolute last word as to who was the”it” designer who had the “it” look and who was going to be fashion’s next sweetheart. The fact is that those days were heady and quite thrilling to be part of as while not always as rational as they were supposed to be in their choices, the publications, critics, editors and reviewers were of a special breed. They were considered to be voyeurs of sorts, clairvoyants, taste makers, the epitome of good taste and while you didn’t necessarily agree with them, each one had an opinion and a point of view. Today the pervasive M.O. is me too and we can’t really not like the collection as what happens if we piss them off and they pull their advertising? Today we get nonreviews where writers spend more verbiage on inspirations and venue than on collections. The other possibility is getting reviews which speak to some high minded invisible ideal and has not one iota of relevance to what was seen on the runway. In essence, there are no longer opinions, there are fawning, evasive, wildly imaginative creative writing exercises that in the big picture reflects the finances of fashion rather than the fashion itself.
On the more editorial side of things we have Conde Nast who now controls/owns Vogue, WWD, Details, GQ, Vanity Fair, Style.com and most recently a large stake in Farfetch which is an internet shopping portal. Yes, they are a media power house and if you look at it in a certain light, a rather bright one at that, they control to great degree what fashion is looked upon favorably if at all as many of the so called reviews that have any gravitas are controlled by one HUGE mother ship. Are you getting the picture? Yes there is Hearst and newspapers and many niche magazines out there but Conde Nast owns the outlets that count and are most notable.
The next influence that they court is the next step after the reviews which is the editorial content that appears in the hardcopy magazines for each title. Chances are, the most heavily featured are the largest advertising contributors or whomever the new flavor of the month might be despite their lack of financial clout or talent. So now let’s look at what constitutes editorial exposure which used to be uber visuals that featured clothes that the reader might be able to see, might lust for or just ogle in amazement; think Veruschka and Vreeland, think Avedon and Hutton, Mellen and think mega movie star covers not Lady Gaga and Terry Richardson snap shots and models who look like they are barely past puberty and frozen in time, let alone that the photos are more for mood boards than for the readers of fashion magazines to see the actual clothes. yes, kiddies, once upon a time you could actually see the whole dress including shoes, and models looked like they might plausibly own the clothes rather than digging them out of mom’s closet and then there are the clothes themselves that spun dreams and inspired awe in the reader. Today, there are times when you have no clue what you are looking at let alone any interest to find out what it is and chances are it is just some other thing from another of their top advertisers. At a time when information far outweighs its need, you would think that magazines would be much more concerned with the reality of selling clothes and not just pretty pictures of indeterminable origin.