Why designers don’t really have a voice anymore

Action takes place in Paris, just half an hour before Ann Demeulemeester’s Spring/Summer 2018 show. A rather lazy fashion crowd doesn’t rush to enter the AccorHotels Arena, where the presentation is going to be held. Budding and more professional street style photographers are desperately searching for someone exceptional to fill their memory cards with. They seem to get some satisfaction from shooting an army of the notorious Balenciaga “dad trainers”, Gucci jumpers and Off-White bags. The guests don’t seem to be in tune with Ann Demeulemeester’s demure ant avant-garde vibe at all, but does anyone really care? Romantic collection with grunge undertones will definitely stay on their phones or even appear on Instagram feeds, but will it make to their wardrobe? I genuinely didn’t think so. It was the first time I started thinking about the bland uniformity of the fashion week guests and why designers struggle to establish a meaningful conversation with them.

Today fashion brands face completely new challenges and understanding the market is one of them. Be it an old fashion house with longstanding traditions or a recently set up brand, they are both equal, because operating in the influencer economy is still an unexplored and risky terrain de jeu. As a result, representatives in the decision-taking level must explore possibilities within their reach. Most of the strategies, especially if not meditated upon, result in handing out the decision power to the crowd rather than preserving it in the hands of designers. It seems that the good old days of fashion aficionados wondering curiously what the next sartorial season would bring, are in the past. When brands start chasing likes and comments, ordinary people decide what is the next big thing.

One could argue, isn’t it brilliant to dictate what kind of clothes you want to wear to those who make them? It could make sense, in a way, but what is the main preoccupation of designers then? Once creatives were capable of surprising the clients with their original interpretations of a modern wardrobe, but right now it’s all the way around – the clients are dictating how precisely the brand should interpret its needs. That is why major brands find themselves producing items slightly out from their agenda (now everyone must design sneakers, even if it’s completely incongruous with the brand’s DNA), this is why they experience identity crisis and struggle to find an authentic, uncompromised voice.

Street style and sport philosophy gained such a momentum it started suffocating all the other creative directions. With the pressure of social media, mirroring what others wear has become ridiculous to such extent that it took only some major fashion bloggers to post cycling shorts as their ‘new favorite style obsessions’ to get random influencers all over the world pretending they started liking these things ‘too’. What a coincidence!

We are all witnesses of a major shift in mentality. It makes sense for designers to be product oriented, because a single product is easier to sell than the whole philosophy – especially for a clientele, which doesn’t invest much time to get familiar with the brand, its values and history. A major influencer campaign for Dior’s re-launched Saddle Bag, including all the biggest fashion bloggers posting a photo with the bag at precisely the same time, is an illustrative example. The new Saddle bag presented earlier this year was supposed to ignite the sentiment of nostalgia and desire, showing that even the it girls of 2018 want to wear this famous bag, presented almost twenty years ago. Forget models or specially curated ads – the most relevant billboard right now is an Instagram feed with its most famous girls.

Necessity to present the next big thing capable of generating social media buzz – you know it’s become a very important criteria when LVMH emphasizes Louis Vuitton’s dizzying performance on social media as one of the key elements to its success – leaves the creatives with no choice but participate in the rat’s race in order to please the social crowd. The big question is – are companies coming up with marketing strategies in order to promote a particular product, or is it the other way around, with products being tailored around certain strategies that are supposed to generate the desired effect? If that is the case, design is going to seriously suffer. It is already suffering.

Even a bigger problem is that in the current situation, it is virtually impossible to defend fashion as a cultural phenomenon. Let’s be honest: there isn’t much thought behind aggressively monogrammed clothes, oversized jumpers or “fugly” trainers; their wearers are not looking to define their authentic character, but display belonging to the supposedly stylish camp. Throughout its whole history fashion has been pretty much defined as an entertainment for the shallow and it took so many visionaries (Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Martin Margiela to name a few) to prove that fashion deserves a more profound, intellectual, cultural regard. There aren’t that many creatives who fight for fashion’s legitimacy anymore.

On a more positive note, there are some counter examples. One of them could be the French luxury giant Hermès, which doesn’t invest in aggressive marketing schemes and marches quietly to its own drum. Shoe designer Manolo Blahnik openly denounces the sneaker dictate and doesn’t plan to include them in his creative repertoire. There are also environmentally conscious brands like Hesperios. It seems that the only way for designers to keep their authority and autonomy is to keep a healthy distance from the social sphere and operate on smaller levels. Yes, it’s not possible for big brands and sounds too difficult to accomplish, but a certain degree of consciousness is absolutely necessary. The Fashion needs more diverse design and more diverse attitudes. At the end of the day, do we really all want to look the same?

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