Luxury and fast fashion were once at opposite ends of a well-understood spectrum, but changing times and recent comments from an exodus of high-end creatives from luxury lines suggest a new order is emerging.
The story starts like this. Once upon a time, luxury’s style was timeless; fast fashion’s ephemeral. Luxury was expensive, exclusive and tailored to fit, while fast fashion was cheap, generic and mainstream. Luxury insisted on the finest materials and craftsmanship, while fast fashion focused on price and cultural relevance. Luxury consumers, we were told, valued quality and exclusivity, while fast fashion consumers sought out cultural relevance, immediacy and low prices.
This is still true to some extent, but the line between fast and luxury fashion has become increasingly blurred over the past decades.
High street designs are so stylish, they can be seamlessly mixed and matched with luxury items; personal shopping services are now offered on the high street as well as within the finest maisons, and high street stores offer consumers the ability to do “one-stop shopping,” snapping up makeup, accessories, personal grooming and other services under one roof.
“ Luxury houses have increased the number of collections they produce, as well as the speed with which they take them to the shop floor ”
In response, the luxury houses have increased the number of collections they produce, as well as the speed with which they take those collections from the catwalk to the shop floor.
Using modern production techniques and better-managed supply chains, they typically now deliver at least two ready-to-wear and two couture collections for women each year, as well pre-fall, resort, menswear and accessory lines. They have also increased the variety of products available in their online and physical stores – but all of this comes with a cost.
High profile designers have been leaving prestigious positions, claiming the pressure of doing several shows a year doesn’t foster an atmosphere that allows creativity to flourish.
“ When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process ”
As Raf Simons, who recently declined to renew his contract at Dior, told journalist Kathy Horyn: “When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process…you have no incubation time, 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.”
Alber Elbaz cited similar reasons for leaving Lanvin. And we all know about the sewing needle and the damage done by the pressures of the fashion cycle on the likes of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Christophe Decamin, the former Creative Director of Balmain who was hospitalised for depression.
As Simons implied, when Creative Directors suffer, creative design suffers. And because the very foundations of luxury fashion are built on unique, ingeniously crafted pieces, if these fail to meet standards, consumers are disappointed.
Raf Simons, previously Creative Director of luxury fashion house Dior
“I’ve been surprised to see that more of my friends are shopping on the high street,” says Chere Di Boscio, Editor in Chief of Eluxe Magazine. “When I ask them why, they always say the same thing: they could get the original design from a luxury brand, but why bother paying the extra money when the two items are so similar, and will be out of fashion in a short time anyway?”
There’s something to this. Forcing the cycles of luxury collections to run at increasing speed results in not only a loss of talent, but a loss of exclusivity. The high street rapidly imitates what it sees on catwalks and the resulting ubiquity of these collections quickly bores consumers and diminishes the uniqueness of what was initially presented.
This in turn leads luxury brands to feel the pressure to create something fresh for our ever decreasing sartorial attention spans. Indeed, fashion cycles are now so fast, it’s difficult for brands to even track down all their imitators and sue them; but even if they can and do, by the time they hit the courts, the high street brand has likely already made a tidy profit and it’s time to move on to another design for them anyway.
“ The only solution is to slow things down dramatically ”
The only solution is to slow things down dramatically.
One design legend who has managed to do so is Azzedine Alaia, who creates but one collection per season. He doesn’t shoot ad campaigns; he rarely sends clothing samples out for magazines to feature, and he doesn’t produce massive runway shows for assorted bloggers, celebrities and press.
Instead, he creates for confident customers who know their style and body type and buy well rather than often. In short, he’s captured the very essence of luxury: sustainability. Shouldn’t there be more like him?
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