Fashion on the runway is not only more accessible, its purpose and targets are also changing. When did runway fashion outside of the major capitals become important? Moscow? Los Angeles? Mumbai? How are the established and respected fashion weeks catering differently to their audience? And who exactly is filling the tents and galleries that house these fashion events? Much-traveled editor (Financial Times, Vogue Pelle, Vogue Gioiello, WGSN) Robb Young answered our questions from London, and weighs in with his discontent on how catwalk shows are not living up to their full potential.
JCR: How is the idea of fashion on the runway changing?
RY: Well, in Europe at least, catwalk shows are more and more a sterile commercial showcase. In the ’80s when the catwalk was often fashion disguised as theatre (think Mugler, Gaultier, etc.) and even in the ’90s when runways were straightforward (such as with the Japanese), the purpose was more about making an overall statement. Then at the turn of the millennium, young designers began to explore alternative ways of presenting fashion. Now it seems we’re coming full circle and it’s expected that each passage of the models will make what amounts to not much more than an animated look-book.
Remember a few years ago when Jeremy Scott made a parody of it all and MC’ed his usually high-voltage show in a salon like in the old days of couture Christian Dior? In those times, models sometimes held numbers to identify each outfit. If the shows today were as intimate and cozy as back then, maybe they wouldn’t seem quite so tedious as they often are. But most “shows” these days, in Europe and America at least, remind me more of an assembly line than any kind of spectacle. That’s
not to say that we need a dozen more circus runways like Galliano! Designers are under huge financial pressures and survival is the name of the game so it only makes sense in today’s
climate, overshadowed by dominant mega brands, to be sensible instead of sensational. Who can blame them really?
JCR: Tell us about runway fashion’s current entertainment value?
RY: That brings me to the other side of the Atlantic. In New York, you have the so-called “celebrity designers” taking center stage on Seventh Avenue. What a sham. On the other hand, when J-Lo presented her collection at New York Fashion Week, there’s not a doubt in my mind that that season of NY fashion got more mass media coverage than they had in ages. And I feel that’s at least one positive outcome.
But fooling the public into thinking apparel endorsed by pop stars is high fashion by putting them under the same tent is a crime. And here we go again — I hear through the grapevine that there’s yet another high-profile celebrity launching her “collection” this coming season. What’s next, Paris Hilton pret-à-porter while we’re waiting for the Michael Kors show? Where do we draw the line?
Whose fault is it though? Why would middle America or the rest of the world for that matter want to see a play-by-play of the runways of most of the big designers like they already have droning past on Fashion TV? When I’m traveling, I use Fashion TV to help me fall asleep — turn down the volume and Mr. Sandman is soon at hand.
The missing link as far as I’m concerned is just this — provocative television and internet video media. In the leading fashion markets like France, Italy, the US, Britain, and Japan, there is a huge void of programming that would cover fashion in a fresh, entertaining, and informative way for the masses. Most programs in our part of the world are dying or already extinct. You can list the broadcast channels and programs that regularly cover fashion on one hand from these countries. Absolutely shameful. No one is delivering the moving image of fashion, its world and its colorful characters to the heartlands.
The flip side is that in booming regions that are just discovering fashion like Russia, China, Brazil, and even the Middle East, the entire topic of fashion is newsworthy and the public is fascinated. It’s our duty in the West to create some new outlets that are appropriate to what fashion can convey to a wider audience here. Fashion’s entertainment appeal is still massive. There’s such potential and it’s not being exploited. We just have to convince designers that they can be a bit more daring again with their shows (and collections) and find the right hosts, perspectives, and media outlets to present and interpret what we do to John and Jane Public.
JCR: With the advent of more globally recognized fashion weeks, what does it
mean for your calendar?
RY: I see part of my duty in this business as talent scouting, so, theoretically, the more fashion shows and the more places I see, the better. If you mean the upstart fashion weeks like in São Paulo, Rio, Shanghai, Singapore, Melbourne, and so on then, it means I’m traveling a lot more — but not every season necessarily. These are still very much secondary to the fashion capitals. And I don’t think they’ll ever really rival the major centers because we only have so much time and energy as professionals to trawl through the runways. It’s in everyone’s interest to have a few concentrated centers where we gather
and get business done. These regional fashion weeks are just that — regional. They’re local hubs still finding their identities, but dynamic and buyers and press should always keep an eye-spy there or touch down themselves occasionally.
JCR: Do you feel that these fashion weeks remain solely for editors and buyers or should we be expecting more broadcast of these events via television, etc. to attract a wider viewing audience?
RY: In terms of fashion weeks in the West, I’ve answered that above. Fashion on the catwalks and behind-the-scenes should most definitely have greater exposure in mass media like TV.
These secondary and even smaller “fashion weeks” that are popping up in Athens, Eastern Europe, and more and more obscure places around the world are, in my view, an excellent development. They provide a local access point for people in parts of the world that were largely isolated from where fashion was happening. Most are not at all essential viewing for the heavyweights in the industry but keeping an eye out is certainly a good idea. How these national fashion weeks evolve into local platforms and, more importantly, how they affect the market in terms of fashion retailing, trends, and creating new consumers for international high fashion is what’s interesting to me.
They’re also a stepping stone for aspiring designers. Instead of having to make the big and scary jump from some post-Soviet reality to Avenue Montaigne or Fifth Avenue, now they can remain in a protected environment where they’re local stars and inspire locals to be more enthusiastic and educated about fashion as a whole. Granted, most designers in these places remain very much in the incubation stage, and so what we see is amateur at best or light years away from our expectations from the heart of fashion. But watch these spaces.
JCR: What about the Internet, what’s its role in the deploying runway information?
RY: For us in the industry, we have style.com and vogue.co.uk and the news and subscription sites that act as virtual encyclopedias and make our lives so much easier than only a few years ago. Thank god.
But as a “new” medium for those interested in fashion and even a general audience, we need more e-magazines like Hintmag and JC Report but with different perspectives. A lot of what’s out there in terms of fashion cyber news is still geared toward us, insiders. Sure, you get the odd fashion image and caption on the BBC.com, Yahoo news or whatever, but that’s their idea of including “light news content.” What we need are existing lifestyle, music, etc. sites to have more strong fashion
content and crossover coverage that appeals to different people. Also, totally new sites and programming.
That’s why I applaud grassroots efforts like Diane Pernet’s www.ashadedviewonfashion.com, which has an editorial spin on fashion
that captures a certain audience, albeit largely insiders now. But all kinds of creative are logging on for her diary-style blog that speaks to a broader populace while simultaneously having a very sharp opinion and specific kind of fashion content.
JCR: What about finding fashion’s future superstars, are these fashion events making a mark in finding new talent?
RY: I’m actually investigating that now for an upcoming article. The organizations that are linked with the fashion weeks such as the CFDA in NY and the BFC in London are finally taking the initiative to find ways to financially support young designers in a very unprecedented way, through fashion awards like Fashion Fringe, Fashion Fund, and start-up programs like ANDAM in Paris. It’s just a shame that it took an entire generation of talented designers to flounder and go bankrupt before they realized there wouldn’t be any bloody “next generation” unless they helped counterbalance the massive edge the mega brands hold over the buying public, with their billion-dollar advertising and monopolies on the best production facilities.
And there are private support mechanisms, too, apart from the fashion week schedule, like the Swiss Textiles Award for which I’m deeply involved with € 100,000 prize on offer.
JCR: What region is currently having significant influence?
RY: Between the major players, Paris and Milan will remain the prime destination for designers to show in Europe because of their commercial dimension of successful showrooms and trade fairs.
But I’d say to watch out for São Paulo. It’s still the world’s best kept secret. The Brazilians have a tradition in European apparel manufacture linked with its familial ties to Italy, Spain, and Portugal. They can undercut European manufacturing and still keep a certain level of quality. Most designers there derive or outright copy the main themes or collections in Europe and America, but a few are carving out a unique brand. In such a vibrant place as Brazil, creativity is not far behind. Imagine a tropical and Latin touch to everything we now have in the West. That formula is really attractive to me, and I’d guess lots of others too.
Naturally, I hope that London can get back on track as it’s my home, but it will probably take an entire aesthetic or cultural movement here before that happens. It’s not about screaming louder — but having something to scream about in the first place.
Photos: Robb Young
Jeremy Scott fall 2001
Moscow Fashion Week
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (Los Angeles)
Sweetface by J. Lo fall 2005