Natassa (1 Granary): The last fashion month expressed a tendency to perform joyfully, with optimism playing a big part in brands’ communication and collections. Do you think this optimistic vibe and approach is a reaction to the darkness of current events- a way to use fashion as an escape, or do you think it is more of an “excuse” to “just do fashion” and stay away from taking a stance on certain sociopolitical topics?
Carmen: I feel like designers in the post-pandemic times have this need to escape. Maybe there is this need to be optimistic and joyful when there are so many crises around. Covid is still around- it hasn’t gone away. There is this logic of “everything is getting better, why not enjoy fashion, enjoy consumerism, enjoy capitalism”; I think that this is the agenda that is pushed.
“While many designers in the F/W 22 season’s fashion weeks tried their best at a sincere show in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this season, as this war continues, many designers returned to business as usual.” – Kiera McMillan
Kiera: Can it really be suggested that the joys of fashion are what keep us ‘afloat’ in the world today? Given fashion’s impact on the climate crisis, with rising sea levels we may soon require that life jacket, and not as a nautical fashion statement.
Carmen: It is also so complicated to be opinionated right now. I am not sure though if not touching certain topics is even possible anymore. The public expects brands to speak on current issues.
Kiera: While many designers in the F/W 22 season’s fashion weeks tried their best at a sincere show in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this season, as this war continues, many designers returned to business as usual.
Natassa: It feels like it is easier to tackle topics where it is obvious whose “side” everyone is on than addressing global issues that might risk fashion companies a certain clientele. To be more specific, when it comes to taking a stance about the war in Ukraine, abortion rights or the Iranian protests.
“It is interesting that in times of social and political conflict, fashion holds back to its criticism, in order to be this spectacle that people can look at and enjoy.” – Lucy Olsen
Carmen: Yes. Especially, as some of these markets are very large.
Lucy: It is interesting that in times of social and political conflict, fashion holds back to its criticism, in order to be this spectacle that people can look at and enjoy. It is providing a lot of images of beautiful clothes that people can use for escapism, to avoid looking at pictures of war, or of the pandemic, etc. We want fashion to be so much more than a visual image but sometimes people in the industry put optimism at the front, aiming to create beautiful images. People do get a lot of joy seeing these images, and they don’t want anything else from fashion, that is what they want to get from it. It is interesting to think that if fashion is such a major part of our society and culture how do we ignore these humanitarian crises? I think it is very hard to get a balance.
Natassa: But when designers do address certain sociopolitical topics when does it become commodification? Is it more authentic if fashion is just fashion?
Sameera: Fashion used to be super superficial, and it turned into an industry that incorporates purpose. Since fashion turned into something that is a representation system of the beliefs of a brand, clients buy into that. We are the ones driving it. It is a very fine line, but the moment that fashion can be only superficial has passed. Creatives incorporate cultural meaning into their work. The industry only speaks for what it wants to speak about. People harness the pain that comes from sociopolitical issues into their creativity and that is also a form of escapism. Depends on the context you set it in.
Natassa: Do you think luxury can do this though? Can luxury “get it right”, and find the balance?
Sameerah: I don’t think there is a way you can address anything that can’t be commodified in the end. It depends on what brand is speaking on what issue in terms of authenticity.
Natassa: Yea, we also get mad when fashion doesn’t get a stance. So brands are put in a position to express an opinion that might be contradictory to what a brand actually does and how it contributes to real-life narratives and global issues. Balenciaga is a good example as it encapsulates these conversations. How did you find Balenciaga’s latest shows?
Kiera: Balenciaga’s AW22 show which took place around the time that the war in Ukraine started was impactful because the models that took part donated their earnings to aid for Ukraine. It wasn’t just a slogan on a garment. I think the only way to make a difference is by practically doing something.
Natassa: And was your initial reaction when you first watched this season’s show?
Kiera: I think Demna’s statement about not wanting his work to exist under the label of luxury is a bit of an excuse, to create luxury but without having to be accountable for how controversial this can be.
“It is strange that brands are vocal about certain causes and are silent about others.” – Carmen Baniandres Gomez
Natassa: There is also the fact that the people at the helm of big brands are artistic personalities whose philosophies might stand away from the concept of luxury and what this represents. I can imagine that as an artist, success to that extent can be a complex narrative to grasp. It is easy to feel detached and strive to prove that you are in touch with what is happening. There is also a big conversation around the notion of dystopia when it comes to fashion at the moment. What is more dystopian, creating fashion in the name of fashion within a dystopian present, or making the dystopia of the everyday part of the fashion narrative?
Carmen: Yeah, if fashion is a reflection of the zeitgeist what is fashion now? Is fashion dystopia? I am trying to find some collections of this fashion month that tried to say something important but noticed that the prevailing narrative was very much along the lines of “life goes on, especially for the privileged.” Normally designers that are artists, are aware that fashion is capitalist and is about buying, but there is also this artistic element to it, so it is difficult. Brands that really create fashion based on their beliefs and values; these are the brands we should support. It is when brands chose their causes that it doesn’t sit right with me. I find this superficial. It is strange that brands are vocal about certain causes and are silent about others.
“When it comes to experiencing fashion week I feel like everyone is experiencing it through their phones, so how real can fashion week even be?” – Sameerah Balogun
Natassa: It is also key to think about how a brand’s voice and the way the media experience and critique a show is linked to the internet.
Sameerah: When it comes to experiencing fashion week I feel like everyone is experiencing it through their phones, so how real can fashion week even be? Obviously, they live off of media coverage, but then imagine a fashion show where you just sit there and enjoy the show instead of experiencing it through your screen, because did you really experience it then? Everything seems focused on intensifying our lives, creating viral moments, etc. Are we really living for fashion or is fashion living for social media? All the video content we consume from the people in the shows always have the same camera movement. They go from one look to the other. Celebrities walking on shows as well; it is about creating this moment that gets coverage, but people will remember the moment and not the clothes.
Natassa: It feels like the success of the brand lies in the reach of the show. Coperni is a good example, because the brand is on the map because of its marketing moves, from the bags to Bella Hadid. Would Jacquemus be what it is today if there wasn’t the phenomenon of creating moments as you said?
Kiera: Dazed also did an article on this, about creating viral moments around clothes that noone interacts with. The purpose of the clothes is to create that moment.
Lucy: I find it really interesting that quite a few shows were set in natural environments too. Coureges did sand, and Jil Sander did trees. I went into it, thinking the brands were making a comment about climate change, but it was not the case. I don’t know if this was because the viewer is meant to make what they want from it and imply that fashion is aware… Especially with the Jil Sander one, I thought it was a clear comment on sustainability but this was not mentioned in Vogue Runway or anywhere. Nobody looked into why this set was chosen, everybody focused on the aesthetic value of it. Even with the Balenciaga show; I could not bear seeing expensive items getting destroyed in mud. It seemed so wasteful. It seemed like shows tried to paint a picture but not provide us with the right context.
“The people that consume luxury fashion it is not us [the younger demographic] but we are the ones that consume the shows from our phones.” – Sameerah Balogun
Carmen: Everything is and feels staged. There is also a danger around the constant filming of shows too. An example is the Valentino show where the models seem to be stumbling on their heels, not being able to walk. This went viral from the show and of course, was cut out of Valentino’s video edits. It is dangerous that people are choosing what they want to portray and edit out what they don’t want to push to the public.
Sameerah: These strategies are also a way for brands to take money from the younger demographic that might not have the money to buy the clothes. The people that consume luxury fashion it is not us, but we are the ones that consume the shows from our phones. Brands know how to make money off of that as well.
“The industry is so focused on presenting itself as individualistic, but is really collectively still leaning toward a certain beauty standard.” – Sameerah Balogun
Natassa: There is also the fact that filming a show and proving your presence there has commercial value for the editors and personas that attend the events as well. It affects their careers positively, adds to their status and can be translated into revenue. It is interesting to note which moments become “viral show moments”, especially if we put it in the context of diversity or sizing. On one hand, there are young, independent designers like Karoline Vitto and Sinead O’Dwyer who are really pushing the conversation on sizing, yet the last fashion months’ most iconic moment was with Bella Hadid.
Sameerah: Generally, the industry is so focused on presenting itself as individualistic, but is really collectively still leaning toward a certain beauty standard. The issue of sample sizing has also been brought up over the past years, remembering a post which went viral from a model who didn’t fit in a sample size at a shoot and got bullied and felt bad for being “too fat”…
Carmen: We can’t get over certain stereotypes.
Sameerah: Body diversity is also a huge issue in menswear. That is why designers like Ed Mendoza are important. It seems like we have stopped talking as much about thinness- maybe we are also internally glorifying the thinner body. There is this false preconception that clothes look better on thinner bodies.
“Fashion’s understanding of feminism speaks so much more of this idea of sexual freedom.” – Lucy Olsen
Natassa: When a designer designs on a sample-size doll, clothes will necessarily look better on sample-size people. They are designed like this.
Lucy: I think fashion’s understanding of feminism speaks so much more of this idea of sexual freedom. Sample sizes are so linked with how the system operates and produces clothes that it is almost too much of a challenge to tackle.
Natassa: Would change only happen if everyone collectively just stopped supporting designers that haven’t changed up their process and are not really making an effort with true body diversity?
Sameerah: When Rihanna had her Savage X Fenty show we celebrated it for its inclusivity and that was such a huge thing. It also didn’t feel tokenistic. Now, whenever it happens it feels tokenistic. The discourse is there, it just doesn’t take that much space on the catwalk. Why do we even have sample sizing, since we all know bodies don’t follow this logic? We have been talking about it for quite a while but nothing happens. It’s a bit sad.
“Capitalising on Black models but to still not knowing how to deal with Black hair, as well as not having qualified people on call to handle is a high level of disrespect.” – Sameerah Balogun
Natassa: I think it has to do with practicality for designers, and this is why it is an educational issue. Fashion schools have a responsibility to address this and educate designers about how the fashion industry should be and not on how the fashion industry is.
Sameerah: Education can be transferable to many areas. Such as colonialism. It all starts with education. If a fashion designer gets trained differently they can be prepared to create change. I’ve seen a couple of tik-toks from Black models, whose hair wasn’t properly dealt with – again. This is an issue I’ve noticed throughout the years, whereas first there were no hair stylists qualified for dealing with Afro hair available at all. Now one or two people backstage were able to. Capitalising on Black models but to still not knowing how to deal with Black hair, as well as not having qualified people on call to handle is a high level of disrespect. The relationship Black women have with their hair especialy in regards to eurocentric beauty standards is still being ignored and not effectively catered to in the industry. It makes me quite angry.
Natassa: We all have become so good with words as well. We now have the vocabulary to sound “woke” or in touch, and this might make us passive when it comes to doing.