It seems fashion cannot live without fashion shows, or at least something that will replace them. A few days ago, the British Fashion Council, Florence’s Pitti Uomo trade fair, and Paris’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode have announced their A/W 2021 line up packed with physical or digital shows and presentations. Balenciaga, on the other hand, is set to unveil “Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow” which it’s billing as a “record-breaking video game” set in the year 2031 and featuring Demna Gvasalia’s main collection for fall 2021. Exciting but hardly considered new.
Before that though, we had witnessed a series of retakes over the traditional formats with most prominent the Gucci approach to the fashion agenda. Alessandro Michele had expressed his goal to reshape the fashion calendar in his “Notes from the Silence,” open letter two months earlier; Now, he materialized it by presenting a series of events from November 16 to 22 that included several short videos directed by no other than Gus Van Sant and prominent collaborations with other creators such as Italian performing artist Silvia Calderoni. Dubbed the Gucci Fest, the house presented an agenda full of fashion and cinema in which, in addition to the latest Gucci collection by Michele, the works of 15 talented young independent designers were also exhibited, specially selected by the creative director himself. A very promising description, indeed.
We watched it all, probably along with most fashion experts and lovers.And we also read the reviews-they were mixed. What was surprising though was that most comments focused on the intentions and not on the overall content. Anyone who wishes to revolutionize the fashion calendar and offer something new should be judged favorably but not everything new is great, innovative, or useful in the long-term. Sometimes, it’s never even new.
That brings us to the question: Overall, in fashion, is the idea that matters or the execution of the idea? How should we approach a fashion show followed by a lot of show notes or a digital experiment that comes with a written (or spoken) manifesto? In the end, does it matter what designers have to say about themselves and their work? We let the Gucci Fest controversy to fuel further a discussion on concept and final product, on good intentions and good (or bad) executions.
For Iolo Lewis Edwards, the Director of High Fashion Talk, everything is important. “I think it’s a bit of both, but I like to focus on the ideas when thinking about them, and how they are expressed. “ he notes, “Of course the way you communicate this is also important.I try not to think of high fashion in terms of what I would wear but as an artistic expression.”Still, what if, in our perception, the show manifesto corresponds to the live or digital experience? “I think if this happens it’s just a missing link somewhere. Maybe I don’t fully comprehend a reference, maybe I have missed something. Of course, you have to take into consideration the limitations there are for a designer to realize their ideas; budget, time, capability.” he concludes.
Shonagh Marshall is a curator and the founder of Denier,a digital platform with conversations on fashion’s relationship to the three pillars of sustainability: people, the planet, and profit. For her, the show notes as another object to consider, a paper-based object that accompanies the collection to the archive. “Within the show notes, you hear how the collection was intended to be perceived, as an artist statement, you are welcome to imprint your own meaning on to the collection, contextualizing it within history, and contemporary discourse. Likewise, the catwalk show and the casting leave further clues for what the designer was thinking when designing this collection. What cannot be ignored is the commercial intention, this is a space for selling.” she adds.
Designers love to speak, write manifestos, proclaim their intentions to revolutionize design, the fashion calendar and the overall experience. Then we are faced with a final product, a show, a series of digital content that says otherwise-or says nothing. At the end of the day, there is only one question to ask: what matters more, the designers’ manifestos or what we see through their work? Do we need to actually take notice of what fashion creatives have to say about their work?
“I think so” says Shonagh.”Whether we disagree with what they tell us about their work it is important in the process of analysis to take their words into account. However, I think that the industry needs more critical voices, those who have historical and socio-political knowledge to analyze designers’ contributions. I think of fashion as ideological, and therefore it plays a large and important role in the construction of society. So the language employed to talk about it cannot hinge on accepting the words the designer has offered. These words have often been crafted as a clever and potent marketing pitch, adding constructed narrative elements to the garments and rooting them within a created trend.”
For Iolo, the designer’s narrative is perhaps the only thing that matters: “Nobody else can know everything that goes on in their head, and a designer is continuously trying to communicate this. If they have to provide a few notes to help everyone understand what they are saying it is great because I think one of the best things in life is to have a greater understanding of the world.”