Does the Pace of Fashion Leave Room for the Creative Process?
Raf Simons, previous Creative Director of Christian Dior has been outspoken about the lack of enough incubation time to allow for creative juices to flow when designing; “When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process,” Simons tells Business of Fashion’s Cathy Horyn. “Incubation time is very important. But that’s never possible when you have only one team working on all the collections.“ Simons created his first ever haute couture collection for Dior back in 2012, and maintained the position until his departure in October of 2015.
His reason for a change of role reportedly was caused by too much demand in the responsibilities of the role; he oversaw six ready-to-wear and haute couture fashion collections per year, whilst continually aspiring to conserve his eponymous, minimalistic menswear line.
Simons unfortunately wasn’t the only one to feel the pressure; Alber Elbaz resigned from Lanvin after 14 years as Creative Director just one month after Simons, and Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane parted ways with the fashion house more recently, in April of 2016.
With the creation of fashion collections going well beyond the two seasons that used to make up fashion week, can the pace of fashion be to blame for designer burnout?
Fast-fashion powerhouses such as Inditex’s retailer Zara, are able to work with huge teams that can create a turnaround for a design from the runway or concept to manufacture and distribution within just 14 days. These retailers with their rapidly paced models are challenging traditional fashion houses. An analyst of the New York Times, tells Suzy Hansen, “Zara has broken up a century-old biannual cycle of fashion - Now, pretty much half of the high-end fashion companies make four to six collections instead of two each year. That’s absolutely because of Zara.”
High fashion designers of specialty retailers “will need to follow suit in order to succeed” according to a report by Goldman Sachs, but with just one person contributing to the idea pot and mapping out their visualisation process for six collections per year, each likely consisting of up to 70 looks per runway show, it seems not impossible, but exhausting without a doubt.
Haute couture especially requires an extreme amount of time and effort that goes into creating the elaborate garments by hand. High street retailers are able to use a mixture of copycat runway designs, along with trend forecasting designs, prints, and fabrics, up to a year out to create their garments from factory manufacturing processes that look like ready-to-wear or sometimes haute couture, but without the quality of the fabric and the intricate design elements.
Another issue that falls on the shoulder of the high fashion designer or creative director is that they are the ones that create the original content previewed on the runway, essentially having it ready for the copycat retailers to imitate their designs as soon as they’re shown, as well the issue that those fast-fashion retailers now have the ability to take the designs to manufacture at a much faster pace than the luxury or high fashion brand.
One could argue that each type of retailer caters to a different demographic, but that doesn’t take away from the creative effort that goes into the execution of original design, as well as the scrutiny that those designers face with each and every collection at the reviewing stage.
Many designers are now offering an option to purchase at least the ready-to-wear collection direct from the runway in order to catch up with the demand for new designs to be fulfilled almost immediately, instead of waiting for three months for the collection to hit the stores. Moda Operandi, which launched in 2009, allowed for runway content to be instantly viewable, but not shoppable, which meant it was easier for designs to be imitated, but the high fashion brands were the ones losing out on sales revenue, while the fast-fashion houses were at an advantage.
Now, the industry is moving towards aligning their runway and retail calendars to deliver instant gratification to consumers. This doesn’t take any creative pressure away from the high fashion designer, however it does allow for the luxury brands to convert the collection into immediate sales as well as capture excitement produced by the presentation. Brands such as Burberry, Tom Ford, and Tommy Hilfiger all announced advance purchase options at their recent Fall 2016 fashion week shows.
It seems that haute couture and luxury fashion is having to move in the direction of instant gratification, creating multiple collections and an abundance of designs and consumer desires in order to keep up with the pace of fast fashion, which according to the designers that have departed under grounds of exhaustion and an impossible amount of time for an incubation process, that it does inhibit the creative process; so what will the future of high fashion look like? Possibly luxury labels that house more than one creative brain in order to take on the stress that comes with the territory.