As we at SPICE are centred on all things ‘Man’ this November and are just about recovering from the amazement of Fashion Weeks’ Spring/Summer’16 showcases, we’re taking a minute to consider the industry’s loss of two top men: Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz, who recently announced their departures from Dior and Lanvin.
Not just revered for their talent – Simons having famously joined Dior with just two weeks to create his debut collection, meeting critical acclaim in the process, and Elbaz considered the visionary responsible for the revival of Lanvin during his 14-year stay – both designers walk away leaving a great legacy and archive at the door of their respective fashion houses. In Elbaz’s case, a revolt has also been left brewing inside, with employees at the label outraged by his dismissal.READ MORE: OUR EDIT OF THE 2015 LAGOS FASHION & DESIGN WEEK COLLECTIONS
But more than just marking a change in the course of two of fashion’s most treasured labels, their announcements note a shift in the landscape of the industry as a whole; one that could be largely responsible for both creatives’ departure and may eventually stifle the industry altogether.
According to the former Dior creative director in a recent interview with System Magazine, 2015 could well go down in the industry’s history book as the year “fashion became pop” – a nod to the fact that no longer an exclusive, insiders-only circle, fashion is now for all; something to be seen, felt and enjoyed by people of varied backgrounds, career paths and spending power, with thanks mostly to the foursome that created Twitter, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger who made Instagram, and those lucky things known as top bloggers.
With the world now consumed via screen and our tastes drip-fed and developed by the images we find trickled onto them, having a presence online is important (or vital, in most’s view) for even the humble human being, lest we forget top fashion houses who should at the very least provide sneak peeks at the inner workings of their businesses.
Backstage pre-show, fittings, castings, studio regimes and even the inside of a designer’s bedroom is no longer out of bounds, with images of what were once private spaces being publicised in order to create opportunities to sell to new people, across all markets and in all corners of the globe.WATCH: SPICE TV SERIES, DIGITAL DIARIES – BEHIND THE SCENES WITH AFRICA’S TOP BLOGGERS
It’s not “TMI,” it’s the way we now live, apparently – through our phones – and even if the entire population isn’t a brand’s ideal target, keeping up with the Joneses (or rather, the Jenners) and what the masses are doing, is seen as the way to keep the interest of one’s clientele, who too are online and therefore at risk of being wooed by another brand. Hence, it’s the better looking and more personal pictures (invites into a brand’s world) that receive the most engagement (success); no one wants something that feels like a visual version of the “reply to all” email in their Insta feed.
It’s through this modern means of marketing that top labels have managed (willing, or unwillingly) to turn fashion on its head, going from sternly exclusive and not for outsiders, to cool, approachable and open 24/7. But such a mode of operation requires consistency (you know, ‘coz likes and follows – continuous content is key!) and such sharing comes at a cost, which could be why it wasn’t so surprising to find Dior’s creative director citing a lack of time and personal reasons as factors in his decision to leave his role, saying in his earlier interview with System;
“You know, we did this [latest Dior] collection in three weeks. Actually everything is done in three weeks, maximum five. And when I think back to the first couture show for Dior, in July 2012, I was concerned because we only had eight weeks… And now we never have time like that.”
Though Mr Simons isn’t just talking of the pressure to create content for the Gram; the designer is also pointing to the pressure to produce more clothes – the emergence of the Resort, Cruise and ‘Pre-‘ collections leaving creative teams across the industry in constant flux. Not that social media can’t be named here as the cause of this constant production, since the demand for the ‘new’ and the expectation to see it from every angle comes from online culture, where users ‘like’ as quickly as they unfollow, both fuelling and fan-girling the flames of what could eventually be the industry’s downfall.
In his interview, Simons continued;
“You have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important. When you try an idea, you look at it and think, ‘Hmm, let’s put it away for a week and think about it later.’ But that’s never possible when you have only one team working on all the collections.”
And let’s not forget the collaborative lines that help satisfy labels’ concern with being ever-present, everywhere – including on the backs of those who can afford their monthly data tariff but not necessarily the price tag on the designer jacket they’re using said data to view.
The likes of sports label Adidas and high street stores Topshop and H&M have continued to take opportunity to partner with top names, including Kate Moss, Alexander Wang and Jeremy Scott, in order to quench consumer’s thirst for something designer to selfie in – H&M being a leader when it comes to such ventures, creating lines with the best in the field.READ MORE: BALMAIN CREATES COLLABORATIVE COLLECTION WITH H&M
A great example of just how determined people are to own something even remotely designer could be found in the many videos circling online, showing shoppers raiding stores on the morning Balmain dropped its current collection with H&M – some possibly taking their induction into the ‘Balmain army’ a little too seriously, with scenes on shop floors that more than parodied pandemonium.
Balmain tagged the line “#Balmaination” (though some stores were left looking more “obliteration”), with the collection reportedly aimed to provide people with “the unique possibility”of being welcomed “into the world of Balmain, getting a piece of the dream.” But of fashion’s wide-open flood gates, Mr Simons told System;
“I can’t make up my mind if that’s a good or a bad thing. The only thing I know is that it used to be elitist. And I don’t know if one should be ashamed or not to admit that maybe it was nicer when it was more elitist, not for everybody. Now high fashion is for everybody.”
And while there are probably thousands feeling the same way and thousands more wishing that fashion could return to the time when it felt as special, insular and expensive to wear certain labels as it was to be able to purchase them, there are a million more double-tapping into this new era of the industry, where at the forefront sits Balmain’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing.
The designer king of social media has seamlessly infiltrated feeds with a sort of self promotion that can *sometimes* feel less like advertising and more the like stuff you’ll see from your best friends – Instagram in particular, he has nailed.
Cue killer selfies and endless screaming into ‘the streets’ (hey kids) through a smartphone, with what appears to be the “perf” online presence: inspirational pictures of hisjet-set #LifeGoals, hanging out with stars, but with a sense it’s something we can all be a part of – even if really ‘It’ is just pictures of clothes you’re inspired to buy in order to fulfil your own life goal of gaining more likes in your feed.READ MORE: OLIVIER ROUSTEING DANCES IN CAMPAIGN VIDEO FOR BALMAIN X H&M COLLECTION
Whatever you make of it all, a lot has been achieved by the Balmain brand via Rousteing’s social media saturation (when else have you seen shoppers literally elbowing others to the floor for clothes?), but what if all the speed and nature of the beast leads other designers to no longer feel inspired, or that this unrelenting version of fashion is something they wish to be a part of?
For Raf this seems to have been part of the case, telling System;
“This is the feeling I have all the time… There’s never enough time. You get a tension. I know how to pull out from this in my personal life. We go and look at nature for three hours. It’s heaven. We go to a bakery and buy a bag of stuff and lie in the grass. Sublime. But how to do that in the context of your professional life?”
And what of Alber Elbaz and the near riot he’s left at the House of Lanvin? While news ripples that the remaining staff have demanded a face-to-face meeting with the label’s owner Shaw-Lan Wang, we can only wait for word and look for clues as to the sort of conversations that lead to the designer’s shock dismissal – the talent well-noted as the driving force behind Lanvin’s turnaround success over his 14-year stay as creative director.
The most poignant clue may have been left by the designer during a speech he gave just days before the announcement. Saying, as he collected an award at FGI’s Night of Stars event, Albaz hinted;
“We designers started as couturiers with dreams, with intuitions and feelings… And now we have to become image-makers, making sure it looks good in the pictures…
…Loudness is the new thing… I prefer whispering.”
While whispers are that fashion may well implode under the strain of social media and consumers’ constant demand for ‘new,’ now, let’s hope this pivotal moment isn’t overshadowed, buried and forgotten in the feed of stuff we’re seeing every day online – this pretty important moment in 2015 when a top designer unsubscribed from what was a dream role and when a top label unfollowed the man who made garments that the world more than just ‘liked.’
Image source: Readymadeinvest.com, @Dior, @Olivier_rousteing, @Therealmarcjacobs, Rai.tv