LONDON, United Kingdom — It’s a longstanding tradition at BoF to look back at the fashion season just gone by, from New York to London to Milan to Paris. What were the hot topics of conversation and the defining moments that will stick in our memories once all of the confetti has fallen, the party photos have been consigned to the archive and the street style mavens have moved on to the next big trend?
Without further ado, here’s our bi-annual post-“fashion month” reflection on Spring/Summer 2014, the season that was.
A Creative Crescendo in Paris
It started as a pretty subdued season. New York Fashion Week passed like a blip on my mobile phone. And all those shows, scheduled three or four at a time, spread all across the city over a stretch of eight long days, seemed even more pointless than ever before.
Indeed, this season, the perennial questions about the structure and organisation of New York Fashion Week persisted. “What’s the point of all this?” muttered buyers and editors to one another in endless taxi rides up and down the Westside Highway. “How much longer can this continue?”
On the runways, there were lots of collections that took literal inspiration from 1990s minimalism, but not a lot of effort to make them feel new. Collections by Joseph Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler, and a strong second outing by the Spanish brand Delpozo, were the main highlights. Tory Burch hit a strong note, true to her brand, with a delightful romp on the French Riviera. And Phillip Lim’s lesson in geology was also a lesson in how to balance creativity and commerciality.
By the time London Fashion Week rolled around, there were even more traffic jams to contend with. Even the British Fashion Council, which has done a great job at managing logistics in seasons past, couldn’t rein in the whims of designers who chose to show way off piste and start their shows late, while others, like Burberry, decided to start bang on time, even though scores of editors and buyers were still working their way through traffic from the previous show on the other side of town.
Oh well, people shrugged. Despite a very sweet collection of pretty lace in pastel colours, it was the same-old, same-old at Burberry: the same tent, in the same park, with the same brooding British music. While Burberry's highly controlled formula is no doubt an effort to protect the brand, which the company has taken pains to rebuild after years of over-licensing and dilution, and the show seems increasingly geared towards a global audience of digital consumers following the action online (I'm told even the 2pm GMT timeslot was selected to ensure greatest potential online viewership, across time zones in Asia, Europe and the Americas), it’s time for Britain’s luxury powerhouse to shake up their show format a little. They certainly have the talent, resources and tenacity to do so.
Indeed, Burberry as a brand is now strong enough to manage more experimentation and deliver the kind of anticipation and surprise one gets from some of the big shows in Paris and New York. Goodness knows, even the broader audience online might appreciate a little more frisson each season as opposed to what feels a little like Groundhog Day at this point.
Megabrands aside, Christopher Kane, worked his magic in another show absolutely brimming with creative ideas. There was also a lovely debut collection from the boys behind Palmer/Harding. But the highlight in London came from Jonathan Saunders, who had one of the most imaginative and coolest takes on the sports luxe trend that's sweeping through fashion at the moment. Bravo!
While more and more editors and buyers are "skipping Milan," the Italians seem well aware of the problem and are making a concerted effort to create more energy around Milan Fashion Week.
"The decline of Milan is due to everyone's selfishness. We are all guilty of not knowing how to catch the opportunities of the 1990s. The evolution of the market has made the position of Milan more critical. Today, we have recognised the situation and we have to start over by changing our vision," Patrizio Bertelli, chief executive of Prada and vicar vice president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda, said earlier this year.
Part of that vision is to showcase more young Italian designers and stage cultural events that coincide with fashion week. The blockbuster evening at the legendary opera house La Scala, hosted by Condé Nast and the mayor of Milan, was the first such example.
But glitz and glamour aside, a strong fashion week rests on strong collections. So thank goodness for Mrs Prada who always manages to jolt us to attention in Milan. She knocked everyone’s socks off — quite literally — with her collection (my favourite of the entire season, though I wasn’t in Milan to see it first hand) of tribal power girls in trompe l’oeil prints that made many hearts skip a beat. It will surely be a powerful creative source for beautiful ad campaigns, fashion films, visual merchandising and commercial collections come next Spring.
Then there was Paris, which confirmed itself as fashion’s true creative capital and where the season finally seemed to reach a crescendo. The energy was electric, supercharged by Phoebe Philo’s new graffiti-inspired direction at Céline, Sarah Burton’s awesome digital tribal robots at Alexander McQueen, and Karl Lagerfeld’s witty commentary on fashion and art, not to mention Marc Jacobs’ final show for Louis Vuitton, featuring towering feather headdresses by Stephen Jones.
A Flurry of Young Designer Investments
Sixteen years ago, when LVMH took a stake in Marc Jacobs’ business, then turning over around $20 million, neither he nor his business partner Robert Duffy could have imagined that their business would one day generate close to $1 billion in sales. Jacobs’ long-rumoured exit from Louis Vuitton was finally confirmed this season, but leave it to those savvy PR gurus at LVMH to put a positive spin on this by simultaneously announcing that Mr Jacobs and Mr Duffy would now focus themselves on taking the Marc Jacobs company public. It ensured the media focused on the future of Marc Jacobs’ own brand, not his exit from Louis Vuitton.
Perhaps this kind of impressive trajectory is what executives at Kering and LVMH had in mind when, in rapid succession, they each announced investments in early stage fashion businesses on both sides of the Atlantic, following the news, earlier this year, that Kering had taken a majority stake in Christopher Kane’s fledgling business, the first investment of its kind by a major luxury group in over a decade.
First, there was Joseph Altuzarra, who, the day before his show, announced that Kering had taken a minority stake in his business. “This partnership will allow us to take the Altuzarra brand to the next stage of its development in accordance with my creative vision,” said Mr Altuzarra in a statement. “I could not be happier or more proud.”
Not to be outdone, LVMH jumped into the ring with two announcements of its own. First, came the news that the world’s largest luxury group had taken a majority stake in Nicholas Kirkwood’s business, leading Mr Kirkwood to comment: “LVMH is home to the most celebrated and revered brands and talents in our industry, and has an implicit understanding of luxury. It was clear that LVMH would be the best partner for our brand as we have the same values of design, creativity, and craftsmanship.”
Then, only a few days later, following swirling industry speculation, LVMH announced a new partnership with designer Jonathan Anderson, the founder of emerging brand JW Anderson. The group not only took a stake in his business, but also appointed the designer as creative director of Loewe, an LVMH-owned brand based in Madrid and best known for its leather goods. The creative helm at Loewe was left vacant following the sudden departure, earlier this year, of Stuart Vevers, who took on a bigger position at Coach.
Which all begs the question: why the sudden interest in young designer investments?
It's not 100 percent clear from the various press releases and announcements, but reading between the lines, one might conclude that the Kering and LVMH investments in Altuzarra and JW Anderson, respectively, were more about building relationships with the designers over the long-term rather than any reflection of a desire to radically scale their businesses in the short-term. Significantly, the minority investment in JW Anderson, in particular, comes with a prominent appointment at a major brand. However, by contrast, the majority stakes in Christopher Kane and Nicholas Kirkwood could indicate that the world's top luxury groups believe these businesses are ready to scale.
How will these investments fare? That remains to be seen. But there is at least one man with a little bit of experience who thinks selling a majority stake in a young fashion company to one of the big luxury groups is a big mistake.
During my recent interview with Tom Ford, which first appeared in our special print issue, the legendary designer said, without referring to any designer in particular: “It makes me sad that they all come out and sell their own businesses. A young talented designer sells 51 percent of their company for an amount they might think is a lot now, [but] it’s going to be a drop in the bucket now and they are going to regret it.”
“History proves [it],” he added. “John Galliano, Roland Mouret… you get kicked out of your company and you lose your name. It doesn’t really matter; it’s better to not build a company than build a company that works off your name you get kicked out of. I wish they’d call me first, I’d be happy to advise.”
But, for now, the designers themselves are not complaining. I believe that this kind of endorsement and support from the major luxury groups is a welcome development and an investment in the future of fashion.
Diversity That's Not Tokenistic
It was refreshing (and long-overdue) to see real diversity of women on some of the most important runways this season. For once, these were not tokenistic or attention-grabbing moves, nor were they add-ons or afterthoughts. Rather, diversity was actually an integral part of the creative vision of several leading designers.
First up, Rick Owens surprised guests with a simple, but highly impactful performance delivered by four-step teams from the heart of urban America. This included full-bodied women pounding their chests, snarling their faces and grunting for effect. It couldn’t have been a more different — and powerful — idea of beauty to what one normally sees at fashion week.
The same was true on several other runways, notably those of Riccardo Tisci and especially Phoebe Philo, who for the first time strayed away from casting mostly white models and, instead, included women of colour from all over the world. That her collection reflected tribalism and a beautiful kind of strength only served to enhance the impact of the new, colourful direction in which she took Céline this season.
The surge of diversity on the catwalks this season must have been particularly satisfying for Naomi Campbell and Iman, who have both called for change through their Balance Diversity initiative, launched in September and designed to draw attention to the issue and motivate designers to change their ways.
“Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use ... one or no models of colour,” they wrote on the Balance Diversity website and in open letters addressed to the heads of fashion councils in the world’s four major fashion capitals.
“No matter the intention, the result is racism. Not accepting another based on the colour of their skin is clearly beyond ‘aesthetic’ when it is consistent with the designer’s brand,” they added. “Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society. It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model,” they continued.
Whatever the reasons underpinning the progress on this issue this season, let’s hope that it’s not a temporary change and that the beauty and diversity we see on the streets of the world’s cities will continue to appear on our runways as well. For if fashion doesn’t reflect the diversity of the world as it really is, can it really resonate with a global consumer?
The BoF 500
And last, but not least, for us here at BoF, a look back at the season that was would not be complete without mentioning the BoF 500, a multi-channel initiative we launched during Paris Fashion Week, which includes new digital assets and a very special print issue, collecting together and exploring the people shaping the global fashion industry.
Our hope was that this new resource would spark a conversation and prompt the realisation, both inside and outside the industry, that the fashion community is made up of a fascinating, vast and truly global cast of characters with a wide array of talents.
We were hoping for a great reaction, but never expected the outpouring of appreciation we received. Indeed, we were delighted to see people carrying our special print edition at the shows and buzzing about the online platform.
I love the digital profiles of the members of the BoF 500, individually created and curated by the BoF team, and the way the tool lets you slice and dice the people shaping fashion by country and role. But by far, my favourite feature is the live mosaic of imagery, powered by the social media feeds of the BoF 500 themselves.
Walking out of the Alexander McQueen show last Tuesday evening and heading back to the hotel after a long day of work, I loaded up the BoF 500 and saw the show come to life in a mosaic of images and videos created by the very people who drive the industry, giving me a real-time glimpse into fashion’s collective consciousness.
Thanks to all of you who supported us by purchasing our special print edition and who shared your feedback with me and the BoF team in a constant stream of messages of encouragement and advice on how we can evolve this exciting project in the months and years to come.
Stay tuned for new developments. This is only the beginning!