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Is it time to abandon the traditional fashion cycle?


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There's been a lot of chat recently about whether it is time to abandon the fashion cycle, so our contributor Charli Torode has decided to investigate...

In 1943 when workers in the fashion industry were unable to travel to Paris because of World War II, the first ever fashion week was held in New York City to give buyers alternatives to French fashion.  Milan Fashion Week followed in 1958, with Paris and London coming around in 1973 and 1984, respectively. 

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a fashion world that doesn’t revolve around seasons and the “Big Four” fashion weeks that monopolise February and September, but in a world that is becoming less and less bound by tradition with every passing day, is it time to fold up our calendars and do away with seasonal collections and fashion weeks once and for all?

Traditionally, designers show spring/summer Ready-to-Wear and couture collections in September and their autumn/winter counterparts in February to enable press and buyers a chance to preview fashion designs for the following season.

However, Frances Corner, head of the London College of Fashion, has identified that nowadays “many of the leading fashion houses have added to these four collections two inter-season collections, a pre-season collection, a resort collection and a diffusion line, not to mention accessories and jewellery”.  In sum, the fashion industry is saturated.

Given that the world is better-connected than ever before, it seems totally arbitrary to centre an industry on the seasons; be it through travel or the changing climate, we no longer necessarily lead lifestyles dictated by it being winter or summer.  We all know that when England is in the midst of an icy winter, Australia is baking under a scorching sun; doesn’t this mean that- within the traditional fashion calendar- one of these nations can only ever fully embrace a season’s trends late, and therefore risk being off-trend, or behind? 

Corner also highlights that in order for a fashion ecosystem to survive, some things are necessary; retailers, youth culture, museums, galleries, street style, professional stylists, editors, journalists, bloggers, photographers, illustrators, manufacturers, merchandisers, popular culture, individualism, and so on are integral to a thriving fashion hub.  Seasons?  Not so much.  If fashion and design are about freedom of expression, would it not be freer to stop scheduling a designer’s creative process and instead let them show what they want when they want? 

Azzedine Alaia once stated “I refuse to work in a static rhythm”, and it’s clear why; creativity and inspiration don’t come in biannual doses, so why should their result?

Surely this constant demand for creation negatively impacts a collection’s innovation?  Take Karl Lagerfeld as an example; as creative director of Chanel, he has shown ten collections for the brand since 2017: Spring 2017 Couture, Fall 2017 Ready-to-Wear, Resort 2018, Fall 2017 Couture, Spring 2018 Ready-to-Wear, Pre-Fall 2018, Spring 2018 Couture, Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear, Resort 2019, and Fall 2018 Couture.  Firstly, the addition of a Pre-Fall 2018 collection seems rather gratuitous; spring and summer are technically pre-fall, and Lagerfeld has two Spring 2018 collections already.  He also has a Resort collection which- depending on the resort in mind- surely also falls into the seasons of summer or winter which, again, are already accounted for in existing collections.  And let’s not forget that this tally doesn’t even account for his designs as creative director of Fendi and his own eponymous label, in addition to his collaboration with Riachuelo. 

We would never expect a musician to release in excess of ten albums per year- why are we so conditioned to accept this output is normal in the fashion industry?  Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo admitted that “the more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to create something new” so, unlike fast fashion which is designed for mass consumption, low price points, and limited wear, surely the approach of designer brands- which put an emphasis on innovation and quality over sheer quantity- must change?  Personally, I struggle to see how the revolutionary nature of fashion can be maintained when so many collections are being pumped out per year.

The question of sustainability doesn’t just apply to the creative side of fashion, but also the environmental one.  In terms of the intensity of trade, the fashion industry accounts for the second biggest economy worldwide and our consumption- and disposal- of clothes and accessories is ever increasing.  A statistic highlighted by Corner is particularly alarming: “If we all extended the use of a garment by nine months…we could save $8 billion a year on the cost of resources used to manufacture, launder and dispose of clothing.  The carbon, water and waste footprints of our clothes would be reduced by twenty to thirty per cent”.  In light of this, how can we possibly encourage and support an endless, ongoing cycle of production? 

Regardless of the fact high-end couturiers often employ techniques and systems that are less damaging to the environment than commercial fast fashion outlets, it still stands that their output could be reduced considerably without negatively affecting their own branding.  If anything, fewer collections translate to greater exclusivity, which we all know is what the fash pack are ultimately after.  Also, in this day and age who only wants their clothes to last for one season?  Surely pieces that can transition and withstand the test of time- both sartorially, seasonally, and sustainably- are a better investment for our time and money? 

It’s a lot to mull over, but please stop and think: if one of high-end fashion’s main precepts is “quality over quantity”, why are we so attached to a system that encourages quite the opposite? 

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