LONDON, United Kingdom — The passing of Alexander McQueen and the future of his namesake brand provided the defining background narrative of the Autumn/Winter 2010 collections. Everywhere a fashionista went, in every conversation, at every show, party and presentation, the ghost of Alexander McQueen seemed to linger as the industry struggled to come to terms with its most sudden loss of creative genius since Gianni Versace was gunned down in Miami in 1997.
But the shows had to go on. And, in a fitting tribute to Mr. McQueen’s futuristic fashion vision from last September, more brands than ever before experimented with live-streaming, digital innovations and new e-commerce models. And, while not all of the experiments were entirely successful, it was a great step forward nonetheless.
In our seasonal tradition, we give you a guide to the ins and outs, ups and downs, and random curveballs that kept fashion’s movers and shakers talking during Autumn/Winter 2010, the season that was.
1. THE MASTERY OF McQUEEN
Right at the beginning of New York Fashion Week, as news of Alexander McQueen's death spread on Twitter and Facebook, spontaneous memorials sprouted up in front of his stores on the fashionable boulevards of New York and London and industry observers speculated openly whether the McQueen business could survive without him. Then, catching everyone by surprise, Gucci Group announced in Paris that the McQueen brand would indeed live on.
Alexander McQueen CEO Jonathan Akeroyd told The Business of Fashion "There is a lot of emotion here and also we are all trying hard to push on and keep things going as usual. I am sure that the next year or so we will have a lot of challenges but at the same time I am convinced Lee left so much for us to build on, which means we can keep growing as a brand."
"But who could possibly take over?" asked many a fashion insider. Some gossiped that Sarah Burton, Mr McQueen’s long-time assistant, was out of the running as she had already tendered her resignation. Others speculatively bandied about the names of Gareth Pugh and Olivier Theyskens while Gucci Group remained respectfully silent on the issue of succession.
As the Paris shows came to a close however, the focus appropriately shifted back to Mr. McQueen’s work. His final oeuvre, Angels and Demons, was shown to small groups of 15-20 people at a time in the gilded offices of PPR. So moving were the intimate and dignified presentations, that viewers left the room silently, respectfully, and sometimes in tears. It was a great honour to have seen the eerily-beautiful, final McQueen collection first-hand, reminding me once again of the depth of McQueen’s talent and his ability to move us. He will be sorely missed. He already is.
2. MARKETWATCH: BRAZIL AND KOREA
Forget about China and India. Two other foreign markets dominated the fashion conversation this season.
In New York, a series of events were held under the banner Concept Korea, conceived by the powerful Samsung Fashion Division, Korean partner to scores of international fashion brands. From an event celebrating a fashion film by Nick Knight for Korean designer Kuho to an exhibition of designs from seven leading Korean fashion designers and a performance by Korean pop star RAIN, the Korean fashion industry did its utmost to demonstrate its growing influence.
Brazil, on the other hand, had a more stealthy — and thus, more powerful — presence during this fashion week season. The growth opportunities for fashion brands offered by Brazil, which had previously been in the shadow of its BRIC counterparts Russia, India and China, are in the laser focus of many a luxury goods executive. The topic of Brazil came up in conversation after conversation, over and over again.
We’re keeping our BoF eyes firmly fixated on Sao Paulo Fashion Week, Fashion Rio and Brazilian designers like Alexandre Herchcovich, Osklen, and Carlos Miele.
3. NEW YORK’S LOCATIONAL DIVIDE
As fashionistas bade farewell to the Bryant Park Tents that have dominated the New York fashion scene for over ten years by doing what they do best — throwing a big party — Milk Studios solidified its status as the city’s unofficial new fashion week hub, with more than twenty shows and presentations, including Patrik Ervell, Band of Outsiders, and Joseph Altuzarra, some of the city’s hottest designers. One little hitch to report on, however: we agree with Style.com’s prolific blogger and tweeter, Derek Blasberg who tweeted in frustration that Milk Studios needs to “organize some cell reception.” Once that issue is resolved, it could be the perfect fashion show venue, hands down.
As for the official fashion week site, the shows will move from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center at Columbus Circle next season, offering the IMG-sponsored event an opportunity to refresh its format and approach. No doubt, the biggest challenge will be attracting all those downtown-loving fashionistas all the way to the new far-flung uptown location.
4. BLOGGERS ENTER THE FASHION MAINSTREAM
Jennine Tamm's second Independent Fashion Bloggers conference in New York was a huge success. Not only was it oversubscribed two times over, the conference received prominent coverage from the mainstream media, including Women's Wear Daily and New York Magazine. Most importantly, the IFB conference cemented the notion of a blogging fraternity, attracting participants from all over the world to participate in a discussion about the state of fashion blogging.
BoF was graciously invited to participate in a vibrant and interesting debate on the ethics of fashion blogging, but the final panel — featuring Bryanboy, Fashionista, Susie Bubble, Streetpeeper and of course, Tavi Gevinson, whose erudite commentary, peppered with genuine fashion geekiness, charmed everyone in the room — was undoubtedly the highlight of the day.
So now that bloggers have entered the mainstream, where do things go from here? We predict that those who are seduced by their newfound fame or use it simply as a way of getting free products and attending fashion events, will flounder and disappear. On the other hand, those who stay true to themselves, develop truly original content and take the opportunity to prove what they can do, will thrive over the longer-term.
As Tavi herself said recently on StyleRookie, "The same way teenagers can start a Flickr account and be noticed by a magazine, or a band can start a MySpace and be picked up by a label, blogs will act as jumping-off platforms for people that want to work in the industry."
5. LIVE-STREAMING IS NOT AS GOOD AS THE REAL THING
This was the season that live-streaming gained critical mass in the fashion business.
We agree with friend-of-BoF Thakoon Panichgul who told WWD "From seeing McQueen live stream last season, and then all of a sudden this season, 20 designers did it. It's almost like everyone is already doing it and it feels kind of old already. It might become one of those things, like you need to do a look book, you need to live stream." Such a smart boy, that Thakoon.
That being said, just as watching a basketball game or live concert on television doesn't replicate the real thing, watching a livestream show, no matter how good it is, doesn't replace the actual experience of attending a fashion show. So, while streaming fashion shows may be a great way to let consumers into the fashion show experience and a good back-up plan for buyers and editors who are otherwise occupied, methinks industry folk would still prefer to attend shows in person.
6. SALES DIRECT FROM THE RUNWAY
The smartest brands didn't stop at live-streaming alone. Proenza Schouler and Burberry gave real commercial meaning to the live, consumer-friendly shows, enabling fans to buy key runway items immediately after the show for a limited period of time, taking advantage of the post-show consumer frenzy of desire. The runway orders also offer a veritable crystal ball into future demand for the same products in-season.
In the case of Proenza Schouler, the key item in question was the PS11 bag, runway cousin to the classic PS1 bag, which has quickly become a modern American classic. Indeed, much to the jealous squeals of some fashionista bloggers we know, Lauren Santo-Domingo carried a different coloured Ps1 ever single day of New York Fashion Week. Yet another proof of the surge in Proenza Schouler's reputation as a breakout fashion accessories business.
7. PHOEBE'S PHENOMENON AND RICK'S RULES
While many runways were replete with a dark palette of folded leather and draped jersey, an aesthetic movement pioneered by Rick Owens, an undeniable wave of minimalism crept onto the catwalks this season, following in the footsteps of the first highly-influential runway collection by Phoebe Philo for Céline, shown in Paris last October.
Judging by reviews from Suzy Menkes, Sarah Mower, and countless other critics who fell under Phoebe’s spell again this time around, Ms. Philo's latest show was a raging success. And, while Cathy Horyn raised the spectre of the Martin Margiela's influence on the new Céline, this didn’t seem to matter to the countless influential editors and buyers who were proudly wearing their Céline camel jackets and blazers around fashion week like the unofficial uniform of the cool fashion crowd.
The real sign of Philo’s influence, however, was on the runways of countless other designers who seemed to fall into line, wholeheartedly endorsing the new minimalism. From Reed Krakoff’s debut collection in New York to former design partner Stella McCartney’s collection at the Palais Garnier in Paris, unembellished clothes in modern, minimalist cuts flooded the catwalks.
But demonstrating yet again that he creates his own rules, one notable exception to the wholesale removal of embellishment was Mr. Rick Owens, whose signature silhouettes came down the runway in all sorts of new colours, baubles, fur and horn-appliqués, adding a fresh new energy to his now widely-copied aesthetic.
Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion