Derek Lam, via Quintessence
So. It’s New York Fashion Week. Meaning that all kinds of designers are holding all kinds of fashion shows for all kinds of people. In New York City.
Perhaps that last bit was unnecessary?
Let us ask this. If you are interested at all in style – defined as ensuring your clothing communicates your beliefs, follows your aesthetics, and flatters your body – will you care about Fashion Week?
Kind of. If you want to. Bear with me.
The fashion industry is in the midst of one of those paradigm shifts we in technology know well. For other businesses, unused to running full-steam in one direction, halting on a dime, and running in another direction, unfamiliar with disorienting pell-mell change, these moments may feel scary. For any industry, they present to the wise an occasion for profit. It’s a time interesting both to those who like style and to those who like business strategy.
Let us deconstruct.
What Happened To The Fashion Industry We Used To Know?
In the old days of the fashion industry, the world looked like this.
- Couture houses, and eventually ready to wear enterprises, held small shows to show, well, clothes
- Magazine and newspaper editors covered the shows as news
- Influential socialites and movie stars ordered couture clothing
- Department stores, prestige boutique, and eventually single-brand chain store buyers ordered RTW for future seasons
- Magazines showed RTW pictures
- Movie stars wore clothing seen in magazines
- Off we went to buy “the look” on Main Street
- We discussed our purchases with friends
- We wondered what would come next
This fairly monolithic supply chain generated waves of fashion, if you will, in which consumers participated to greater or lesser extent.
Over the past decade, e-commerce and Internet image proliferation has provoked all sorts of disruption. One might even say an explosion.
- Designers can rise to fame via television shows such as Project Runway and the Rachel Zoe show
- Images of collections emerge immediately from shows and proliferate, everywhere
- Commentary about fashion can be found on every blogging corner
- One can make any actual purchase online at either sites owned by brick and mortar retail or by Internet-only and flash sale sites such as net-a-porter, and Gilt Group.
- Vintage clothing has been added to the mix
Rachel Zoe. I know. Via Lily Lemontree.
Are we done yet?
No. Although it might feel that we have reached an apogee of change, I estimate we’re maybe 60% through. At least for this particular detonation. To wit,
- Carine Roitfeld, the former editor of Vogue France, just quit to, “do something on the Internet.” Read more here.
- Jennine Jacob, founder of Independent Fashion Bloggers, and blogger herself at The Coveted, organized a one-day session last Friday, before Fashion Week. It was held in Milk Studios,a premiere fashion venue, and Jack and Lazaro of Proenza Schouler gave the keynote address. Yes. Those guys. (who make this amazing bag, but I’m in business mode here, so I won’t digress.)
- As of last week, technology now allows for Dylana Suarez, a young personal style blogger, to tag the clothes she wears in her photos. In other words, we can buy what she’s wearing. One-click.
- Fashion has always taken cues from movies and television. Now technologies available for video viewing collide, as competing interests in the television and online video industries battle over which system will command what functionality. The speed with which we can act on style cues will increase exponentially. (A Mario Brothers game comes to mind. Industries on platforms, bonking each other, we the consumer collecting fallen loot below.)
- Designers now stage large and ornate shows open to many, rococo reinventions of a previously necessary ritual. To the point that the truly forward thinking Tom Ford made his show this year small and exclusive. You know, setting the bar for cool.
All of which has led to highly diverse trends in style. Even The Cut, New York Magazine’s excellent style blog, proclaimed this year’s New York Fashion Week “Something for everyone.”
The impact? It’s hard to generate waves of anything when the beach is exploding. What was once a wave of fashion has become rivulets. Quite active rivulets, at that, bordering on roaring floods.
We have street style, as defined by The Sartorialist and his ilk, teen style, midlife style. Academic chic. Nerd chic. Rocker chic. One might even argue that the current “boho chic,” and “many points of light” looks, characterized by multiple accessories, is style’s response to the change in industry structure. As in, “Fine! You won’t make up your minds about what we ought to wear? We will just wear EVERYTHING. All at once.”
Or it could be the deep truth that everyone’s different has found a broader playing field. Let’s say that’s it. We can’t know everything.
Will Change Continue To Accelerate?
Are we left, then, in a world where anything and everything goes? Where the pace of change becomes ever more rapid? Will we wind up like lonely hikers making their way across a fragmented landscape? I think not.
Some very high level trends are still visible, despite multi-variate offerings. Here’s what we see at Fashion Week this year.
Our silhouette shifts… This year we’re making the shift to a wider leg, a higher waist, and bigger stuff around our neck..
…but the “many points of light” trend carries on, i.e. lots of variety in accessories, print and texture. Note statement shoes, dishevelment, and head ornaments. Use of several different colors at once is part of this approach.
Via The Cut, Five Things We Liked On Friday
Another thing. Fashion provides value in belonging, as well in self-expression. Our need for taste makers remains, anchoring us through disruption.
The question is, “Who will they be?” Answer? Multiple and eventually converging. Taste makers emerge within within creative visual online communities,
- Tumblr (they sponsored Tumblr bloggers to Fashion Week. I know!)
- Pinterest (Communities of pinned images)
- Polyvore (Kindergarten cut and pasting for the clothing-obsessed)
- Shopstyle (The best way to find and mark outfits of clothing that can actually be bought)
Not to forget blogs. The usual suspects include, Already Pretty, Inside Out Style, Passage des Pearles, Une Femme, A Femme (no they are not the same people), Mop Philosopher, Fashion for Nerds, les anti-modernes, and the inimitable east side bride. Not to mention blogs I’ve more recently discovered, including The Coveted, Color Me Nana, What Would a Nerd Wear, et alia.
Of course, we all live in real life communities too. In the context of our very own Main Streets, albeit more and more closely tied to the online world via geographically-aware systems and services. Real-life people, on real live streets, will continue to affect us. I know you were starting to worry about this online stuff, what with Avatar, turning blue, growing cat faces, and all. Phew.
Industries Are Structures, Not Forces Of Nature, And Someone Is Going To Make A Lot Of Money On This Blow-Up
Industry structural changes are par for the course. (And why talking business always brings out the sports metaphors we still don’t quite know). Fashion is treated differently because a) it involves artists, who flummox the business sorts b) there’s a very volatile risk/return curve c) it requires the capture of a woman’s imagination and many venture capitalists are the kinds of guys who are apt to say, “I just don’t get women.”
Still, industry structure is only structure, no matter how many feathers, sequins, or skulls we may affix. And right now, fashion and technology are playing with dynamite. Once technology arrives on the scene, venture capitalists follow.
Let’s be clear. Someone is going to make a heck of a lot of money in all this change. Someone who relocates taste-making and/or commerce to a platform they control. For good reason. Predicting shifts is tricky, and often driven by a technology that’s still unborn, waiting, in a difficult technical person’s mind. Implementing business operations without misstep, or correcting the missteps quickly, is also tough. So those who manage, profit. Big-time.
Style Will Never Go Out Of, Well, Style
OK. I feel the technology hormones leaving my body. Very testosterone-producing, the prospect of wealth.
If you care not one whit for industries, and only for style, what then? At the end of the day, and happily, my liking for this Jason Wu piece bears more significance now that it did 10 years ago. Because Jason may be listening. I like just enough color and pattern to make the fashion birdie cheep in my heart. Something one can wear to stride about, all the while feeling like a girl. I might even want a veiled hat.
In the brave new world, I’m likely to find what I’m looking for. So are you. (Unless you want good, classic women’s khakis. But I digress.)
Someone with a different body might not like a full skirt. They might prefer this. Instead. To each her own.
On the other hand, to the victor go the spoils.