Today, Kylie and Kendall Jenner announced they would collaborate with Topshop on a capsule collection that they described, incomprehensibly, as “eclectic design aesthetic”. They follow in the footsteps of supermodel Kate Moss’ collection, whose decades-long experience in the industry allowed her to produce a sell-out range. Recent collaborations between Topshop and young designers’ Meadham Kirchhoff, JW Anderson and Marques Almeida have also been provocative and exciting. What’s the thing all these young designers have in common? They’re driving the fashion industry, and society, forward via their work.
Image: Meadham Kirchhoff for Topshop
Meadham Kirchhoff, who have become one of the most highly anticipated designers on the London Fashion Week calendar, recently announced they probably wouldn’t show their winter 2015 collection, devastating the ever-articulate Susie Bubble, who wrote this excellent piece about the news. They’ve since announced they will remain on the schedule, but Style.com and US Vogue both reported their first decision was financial, and that they are currently figuring out “the best way forward”. Ben Kirchhoff told Style.com: “Is there a way of selling directly to your customers? Can you avoid doing a big catwalk show? Maybe it’s better to just quietly have a store. Or do private orders. I don’t know. At the moment, even thinking about the alternatives seems too exhausting.”
Meadham Kirchhoff’s problems follow in the footsteps of similarly brilliant, young, cult label Luella (designed by Luella Bartley who is now co-creative director at Marc by Marc Jacobs), who closed her label in 2009, “Straight after I’d won Designer of the Year in November 2008, [I closed my label]. I’d made money—from Target, for instance—but I watched it all go down the drain. I was paying for everything, the production, the shows…”, she explained to Fashionista at the time.
Image: Luella spring 2008
Closer to home, Josh Goot has just announced he has entered his eponymous label into administration. He recently explained the problem of balancing the creative aspects and business aspects of a small business to Ragtrader: “I think it’s important to realise that innovation and creativity on the one hand and being commercial on the other, are not mutually exclusive and that is the challenge.” Hey, even international brand G-Star Raw can’t make it work in Australia.
Image: Josh Goot resort 2015
It’s clear that genuinely creative fashion designers struggle, and often collapse, under the pressure of producing, marketing and selling their creations in a highly competitive market.
That competition has increased exponentially in the past decade.
Fast fashion retailers commandeer and dilute the most wearable pieces from these brand’s runway shows, often making them available in store before the original brand can. Furthermore, the economies-of-scale of production these corporations have, make it impossible for small designers to compete with regards to price. Further still, while the Internet has created a global marketplace, it has also created a marketplace that favours the millions-of-dollars-investment in development and marketing of those same corporations – think about how much the video runways ASOS produce for every single product cost, not to mention their ability to have offices in all of their major marketplaces, worldwide.
We’re currently experiencing a kind of weird, democratic totalitarianism in the fashion industry, some of which I touch on here.
I know what you’re going to say: “there are examples of small designers who doing really well”, or “designers just need to create things people actually want to buy – supply and demand!” (even though getting those products seen, and trying to convince customers to buy expensive, well made product in the age of fast fashion is nearly impossible). It’s true: there are example of small designers making it work. There are also other ways young designers can survive. JW Anderson, for example, struck a deal with LVMH, who took a stake in his company. He also became the creative director of Loewe in the same move.
But Meadham Kirchhoff, like other punk-y, innovative (read: powerful) designers (Vivienne Westwood, Katharine Hamnett to name just two) of the past, are highly unlikely to strike a deal with LVMH.
The attendees of their spring 2015 London Fashion Week show were each given a zine in which the content effectively gave a huge middle-finger to the corporatisation of the industry, akin to zines of politically important cultural moments of the past, like punk and riot grrrl.
Image: a spread from Meadham Kirchhoff’s zine
Their message was pretty simple: “Freedom is not true. We live in this disgusting culture where freedom is this myth that everybody sort of believes in.” The show itself featured the outsiders of society in a riotous celebration of acceptance of diversity.
Meadham Kirchhoff’s spring 2015 collection looked hella-weird in the show, but as Susie Bubble points out in that aforementioned article, the individual pieces are actually beautifully constructed works of expert craftsmanship – they are wearable.
Image: Meadham Kirchhoff spring 2015
Meadham Kirchhoff are kind of like Vivienne Westwood for today: they have staunch political beliefs that they work into progressive, exciting fashion collections. The likes of Meadham Kirchhoff and Vivienne Westwood are crucial parts of the fashion landscape, because, unlike a bunch of cute dresses designed by Kylie and Kendall Jenner, their work drives social consciousness forward. I don’t think it’s an overreaction to say that their output makes us better people. The same cannot be said for fast fashion retailers who exploit labour and environmental chains to rip the likes of Meadham Kirchhoff and Vivienne Westwood off.
Image: Vivienne Westwood with Malcolm McLaren
Vivienne Westwood managed to build an ethical clothing empire because in the ’70s, when she started out, there weren’t the same kinds of industry pressures the likes of Meadham Kirchhoff face today.
What does the future hold for the fashion industry and creative young designers? Will production chains become necessarily ethical, increasing prices across the board and making the market more balanced? Will consumers turn on to purchasing high quality, long-lasting product over cheap garments, most of which they throw away anyway (in the UK the average consumer buys 35KG worth of clothing and throws away, to the landfill, 30KG of it)? It’s hard to say – although some corporations, like Boohoo.com, are returning to onshore manufacturing to meet the demands of this fast-paced industry, which is hopeful.
Regardless, one thing is certain: something has to give, or change, if the fire that made most people love fashion in the first place is to keep burning
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