Lately, a lot of people have been prophesying the death of the trend. It is true enough that, although many designers are currently digging the seventies, while plenty of others have been channelling Edwardian themes, there also seems to be a new mentality coming to the fore. The shift is towards presenting collections that represent the brand's core look over seasonal trends. Take MBFWA 2015, for example, which took place in Sydney this week. Sure, there were some show stopping moments, like Maticevski's couture collection at Carriageworks, and Romance Was Born's salon presentation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. But overall, we also saw a lot of the same thing. There were beautifully crafted pieces like Gary Bigeni's cotton draping and intricate details like those seen at TOME's Sylvia Plath inspired collection. But, overall, a lot of designers seemed to play it safe this year, with collections that were very similar to what they've done in the past. Has commerciality finally won out over creative expression and, if so, has the market simply become bored by outlandish craftsmanship?
This morning, on the final day of MBFWA, the Australian Fashion Chamber Chair presented Do You Need a Sleeve?, a discussion about the essential relationship between the creative and the commercial in today's fashion landscape. Hosted by AFC Chair and Vogue Australia Editor-in-Chief Edwina McCann, the discussion took place between Net-a-Porter's buying manager, Sasha Sarokin, and Australian designer Dion Lee.
The seminar's subject matter honed in on an issue that has become perhaps more important than ever in the fashion industry today: the delicate balance between creativity and commerce. One of Australia's most talked about designers from the past decade, Dion Lee, didn't present at MBFWA 2015. He did, however, show at New York Fashion Week back in February. One of Style.com's premier fashion writers, Maya Singer wrote, in her review of that particular collection, for Fall 2015, that "Sometimes, his collections can be vexing — you sense that Lee's immersion in the technical has abstracted him from other fundamental considerations, like style and wearability". Singer then went on to say that, "This time out, he found a nice balance". Here, Singer's observations really point to the increasing importance of wearability when it comes to commercial success in fashion today. Where once you could have said that the industry represented the very antithesis of this — instead a dramatic form of creative expression — today, movements like normcore and minimalism have driven us all to crave the functional more than ever. There is merit in this, of course, but has it been to the overall detriment of creativity within the field? Unfortunately, it seemed that most of the fantastical dressing of this year's MBFWA actually took place off the runways, outside Carriageworks where people were making a desperate bid to be snapped by a street style photographer or two. We, for one, want to see more of this eccentric creative spirit transplanted back to the catwalks, though.
That said, commercial success is obviously hugely important and it is true that fashion can be a pretty brutal industry for most. When it comes to the particular difficulties faced by young designers today, Dion Lee is exactly the designer best poised to discuss such matters, given that his business was acquired by the Cue Clothing Co. back in 2013. This was following on from a capsule collection that Lee designed for Cue and, according to the press release issued at the time, "both parties see the partnership as a strategic opportunity to develop the Dion Lee business and accelerate the brand's domestic and international growth". Undoubtedly, Lee understands the pressures involved with running a successful fashion company, perhaps better than most. And, in fact, doing just that has historically proven to be more of an exception than a rule here in Australia, with many seemingly "successful" fashion businesses crippling under the commercial pressure over recent years. Another designer who knows all about this is Josh Goot, whose eponymous label only recently emerged from voluntary administration to present at Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival earlier this year. Speaking with News Limited at the time, the designer — once one of our most promising bright stars — said that young creatives looking to launch in today's retail market need to be smart. One can't help but feel concerned, though, that the balance is what's being forgotten here. Warnings such as this one — though certainly valuable — are likely just the deterrent for designers who are already fearful of presenting outlandish collections in the current market.
Something we have seen recently, as a sort of way around this, is designers presenting their diffusion lines at MBFWA, rather than their mainline collections. Indeed, Dion Lee is one designer who, following on from his impressive success overseas, only returned to Australia to present Dion Lee Line II last year. While these collections are certainly designed to link a designer's creative aspects with the commercial side of things, we would argue that fashion week should be reserved for the fantastical. Of course, it is very costly for designers to show on-schedule these days, but surely this is even more reason to make a real production out of it?
This recent trend is not just isolated to the Australian industry, either. In fact, fashion journalist Dirk Standen recently wrote for Style.com that "companies are no longer content with monolithic brand statements and "seasonal messages" and are looking instead to forge a more direct and perhaps more personal connection with their customers". Standen illustrates this point by referencing the appointment of relatively young creative directors to lead storied fashion houses. Take Alessandro Michele's recent appointment at Gucci, for example. Standen goes on to argue that the most successful designers today are those that aren't necessarily reinventing the wheel, but instead tapping into what their customer really wants. Take Saint Laurent, for example. According to Fashionista, this particular company's revenue "has doubled in the three years since Hedi Slimane came on board as creative director. In 2014, sales rose 27 percent to €707.3 million". As far as Standen is concerned, Slimane "was the first to see that conceptual fashion had reached an impasse and who is articulating a consistent vision at Saint Laurent rather than making a 180-degree turn each season". Then there are also the new labels cropping up like Vetements and Jacquemus that, though certainly having a distinctive aesthetic all of their own, seem to be talking more to the real life women wearing the clothes, rather than simply making a statement. The former brand in particular has taken quite a Margiela approach and focusses more on good, consistent design than showmanship.
It is clear, then, that this most recent trend has been generating some serious wins as far as commercial success in the fashion industry is concerned. But isn't anyone else concerned for the future of creativity within the industry? Surely we need to focus most on striking a balance between the two, if for nothing else than to retain the art form of fashion, as well as the practicality. With the Australian Fashion Chamber's recent efforts to raise awareness about the importance of balancing both creativity and commerce, though, we can only hope that things will get better from here on out. Commercial success is undoubtedly important in order for labels to survive but we, for one, are hopeful that the creative side of things won't get lost at the same time. After all, fashion week is designed to inspire, is it not?
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