There's No Room For The Weirdos In Fast Fashion

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | Features

Image: from Meadham Kirchhoff's spring 2014 ready-to-wear London Fashion Week presentation. Image source. Cover image: from Meadham Kirchhoff's 'Fashion In Motion Meadham Kirchhoff' presentation at the Victoria & Albert museum. Image source.

Fast fashion is responsible for much of what’s wrong with the fashion industry today. Not only does the speed of these global processes place unprecedented pressure on other designers, but the price crunch also introduces all sorts of limitations across quality and creativity. We saw this when Raf Simons stepped down from Dior — citing the pressure of time constraints and the subsequent limitations felt in terms of creativity. It raised its head yet again as we lamented the loss of labels like Jonathan Saunders and Band of Outsiders, both of which folded their operations last year. But what does all this mean for the weirdos in fashion? The brilliant mavericks like Alexander Mcqueen, Vivienne Westwood and Meadham Kirchhoff, whose avant-garde perspectives have helped to push the boundaries of creativity in fashion. If brands like the Madonna and Michelle Obama-favoured Saunders, or the preppy-popular Band of Outsiders cannot survive the storm, then how can we expect the rebels to either?

Unfortunately, fast fashion is far from going away. Forbes reported that, despite consumer apathy overall last year, fast fashion brands like H&M or Forever 21 only continued to grow. And, according to Fashionista, the growth trajectory of Zara’s parent company Inditex is nothing short of “relentless”. Although some consumers have wisened up to the dangers of fast fashion over recent years, the Spanish retailer still saw sales rise in the first half of 2015, resulting in a 26 percent increase in net profit to €1.16 billion (approximately AUD$1.7 billion). The impacts of this sector are felt right throughout the fashion industry, too, imposing punishing new schedules on independent designers and historic houses alike. They cannot realistically keep up with the 52 ‘micro-seasons per year of brands like Zara, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Image: Meadham Kirchhoff’s spring-summer 2015 collection. Image source.

This is especially true for independent designers like Meadham Kirchhoff. Known for their fantastical designs and don’t-give-a-fuck spirit, we all shed a serious tear when this brand officially shuttered their doors last year. Once considered one of fashion’s most popular British brands, theirs was always the show we most looked forward to at London Fashion Week. And they were a contemporary label that felt truly reminiscent of London’s premier fashion provocateurs like John Galliano or McQueen. At the time of their closure, Ben Kirchhoff (one half of the label) insisted that the fashion industry wasn’t to blame. “Meadham Kirchhoff wasn’t killed by the fashion industry, it was killed largely by itself,” he said. “We were in a quagmire of debt and it was impossible to keep up with anything”. But, again, that focus on speed and cost seems to come into play. And if these have become fashion’s key driving principles — a direct influence of the fast fashion sector — then how can any independent designers really be expected to keep up?

To me, this poses a great risk to creativity in fashion overall. Because many of the best ‘weirdos’ started out as independent designers. This is not least of all because the lack of corporate control breeds creativity more than a major maison ever could. We have seen evidence of this over recent years with brands like Jacquemus cropping up — brands that reject the status quo and make their own rules up as they go along. Demna Gvasalia’s Vetements is another example of an offbeat new label that eschews a traditional approach. And it is from here that the Georgian-born designer was quickly snatched up to helm Balenciaga. What will be interesting to see here, though, is whether or not he can maintain the same maverick spirit at a major house; with all of its corporate pressure to sell, sell, sell. Although designers such as these may be pushing boundaries in terms of format, they are still limited in many ways. Like the desire to be recognised by corporate bodies like Condé Nast or LVMH. The Vogue Runway (née reviews still remain a marker that a brand has ‘made it’, for example, and have now featured both labels. Meanwhile, each of them was also nominated for last year’s coveted LVMH Prize.

Image: Kate Moss for John Galliano's spring-summer 1994 presentation. Image source.

Looking back on the archives of the most prolific fashion mavericks like Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, or John Galliano, it is clear that many of their most notable moments were more about sending powerful messages, than they were about selling shit. Fashion has been grappling with this whole creativity vs commerce thing for a while now, but it is a process ever amplified by the fast fashion industry. Raf Simons said it best when he said that: “When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process. Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important.” So in the desperate race to make ever more money, it is really creativity that suffers in the end. Which makes me wonder how long the new innovators like Eckhaus Latta or Simon Porte Jacquemus can continue to compete with the fast turnaround times and low production costs now expected industry-wide. What is even more worrying is that the new guard of ‘weirdos’ might go silenced altogether. Without proper nurturing, the young talents who may go on to be our next McQueen or Kawakubo could simply find their maverick spirits stifled by a machine that is just too busy to listen.

This article was originally published on Catalogue.

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