History curator Claire Regnault discusses the declaration that ‘fashion is dead’ – a question at the heart of this year’s End of Fashion conference, hosted in Wellington.
In 2015 Li Edelkoort, a highly regarded trend forecaster, made international headlines with her declaration that fashion is dead.
To support her claims she published an anti-fashion manifesto in which she listed 10 problems contributing to ‘the end of fashion as we know it’.
Outmoded models of education that train students ‘to become catwalk designers, highly individual stars and divas, to be discovered by luxury brands’, come in for hefty criticism as does the failure of the industry to tackle sweatshop conditions, and the decline in the understanding of the very materials of fashion, cloth and its production.
The End of Fashion conference
In December, scholars, writers and designers from around the world will be descending on Wellington to discuss fashion’s future at a conference inspired by Edelkoort’s manifesto, the details of which have been both refuted and supported.
Whether you agree with all of Edelkoort’s points or not, fashion is definitely in the midst of change.
The organisers of The End of Fashion conference write:
‘When designer Yves Saint Laurent departed from the fashion industry in 2002 declaring “I have nothing in common with this new world of fashion”, this was an indication of the changes that lay ahead.
‘Fashion had reached its apogee, its end time in the ways that it was being produced, manufactured and consumed.
‘Bloggers have emerged as power elites shifting the terrain of traditional fashion reporting and dramatically altering the ways in which fashion is disseminated.
‘Commerce and media have united to create new ways of experiencing designers collections as runway shows now compete with Internet live streaming, digital fashion films, Instagram and Pinterest.
‘Fashion has claimed the museum and gallery space. Major designer retrospectives, installations, concept stores, and online sites have now replaced the department store and traditional forms of retailing.’
Valerie Steele, a fashion historian and curator, who has been described as ‘one of fashion’s brainiest women’, kicks off the conference with a scene-setting keynote address on Fashion Futures.
Amongst the many questions that she will address is one that is of particular relevance to New Zealand designers, especially following the recent frenzied arrival of Topshop and H&M on our shores – ‘How can independent designers in cities on the periphery hope to compete with high fashion mega-companies like LVMH and fast fashion behemoths like H&M?’
If you are interested in questions like these but are not up for the conference, you can join the discussion through a number of public events being held throughout the region.
On Wednesday 7 December Valerie Steele will join designers Kate Sylvester, Margi Robertson (Nom*d), Liz Findlay (Zambesi) and Margo Barton, Deputy Chair of iD Dunedin Fashion Week at the City Gallery to discuss changes within the fashion industry, and possible futures.
Museum Quality: the rise of the fashion exhibition
Valerie will make another public appearance on Sat 10 Dec at Te Papa. She will discus the history of collecting and exhibiting fashion, from the first (imaginary) fashion museum in the 18th century, through to the first great temporary ‘museums’ like the one at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, a world’s fair held in Paris, and the present, where the museum fashion blockbuster has become a firm favourite with the crowds.
Fittingly, fashion will be taking pride of place in two of the region’s galleries during The End of Fashion.
From Catwalk to Cover: A Front Row Seat, an exhibition developed by the Fashion & Textile Museum in London, is on show at Expressions in Upper Hutt from 26 November to 12 February 2017.
Curated by fashion photographer Kirsten Sinclair, the exhibition provides a behind the scenes insight into the creative world of the fashion show, and features a series of candid photographs from top catwalk photographers, including Chris Moore, Matt Lever, Philip Meech and Sinclair herself.
The exhibition is augmented by garments from Te Papa’s collections that have been shown on the catwalk at London and New Zealand fashion weeks, and gowns gifted to Te Papa by Versace following the success of the exhibition Gianni Versace: The Reinvention of Material in 2001.
I will be discussing ‘The London Four’ and the impact of New Zealand Fashion Week at a free floor talk at Expressions on Sunday 27 November at 1pm.
In the context of the conference’s theme, the exhibition offers a timely exploration of the catwalk phenomena as fashion shows are increasingly being viewed as a form of promotion that belongs to the past.
Edelkoort comments ‘Fashion shows are becoming ridiculous.12 minutes long. 45 minutes driving. 25 minutes waiting. Nobody watches them anymore. The editors are just on their phones; nobody gets carried away by it.’
Karen Walker, who has recently announced that she will no longer be showing at New York fashion Week, gives a designer’s perspective:
‘As a marketing spend, it just doesn’t add up. The industry is very different to how it was 20 seasons ago. It’s very different to how it was 30 seconds ago. There is so much available in the marketing toolkit now… Our focus now is on lots of different content and presenting ideas in lots of different ways, not just 33 girls walking down a runway and then telling our customers to not think about it for six months.’
While contemporary in theme, is From Catwalk to Cover actually snap shot of a soon to be bygone era?
Fashion and celebrity culture
Advertising and marketing also come under Edelkoort’s attack. She is particularly critical of the collusion between advertisers, fashion houses, magazines, and bloggers.
This subject will be tackled by Pamela Church-Gibson from London College of Fashion at the City Gallery on Friday 9 December at 6pm in a lecture on fashion and celebrity culture, a relationship that has its apotheosis in the annual Met Ball in New York.
This relationship can also be found in the work of renowned American artist Cindy Sherman, who is taking over the entire City Gallery, Wellington this summer. For over forty years Sherman has used herself as her own model in staged photographs.
As the gallery states ‘Her chameleon-like transformations offer a sustained, cutting and at times disturbing investigation of gender, social conditioning, narcissism and celebrity culture’.
The exhibition features seven bodies of work developed by Sherman since 2000, including her troubling collaborations with Balenciaga (2007-08) and Chanel (2010-12). As Miranda Wallace has written, ‘Sherman’s collaborations with the fashion world sit on a knife’s edge between admiration and parody, complicity and derision’.
Pamela Church-Gibson will explore Cindy Sherman as ‘artist-as-fashion-celebrity’ and how this might be problematic for an artist whose work is based upon critique of stereotypes. Pamela Church-Gibson is also a keynote speaker for The End of Fashion.
Although it might be the end of fashion as we know it, there is alot to see, hear and discuss over the next couple of months.