OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Li Edelkoort, one of the world’s most respected trend forecasters, gave a provocative talk on the VOICES stage, presenting key excerpts from her ‘Anti-Fashion’ manifesto, a critical examination of today’s fashion industry. Edelkoort, who has advised brands like Armani and won the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture, said that, as the wider world has evolved, fashion has lagged behind. “Fashion is old-fashioned,” she said. Yet Edelkoort believes “it’s a truth that can be changed.” Here are some of her thoughts on why the fashion system is broken, and how the industry can catch up with today’s reality and regain its cultural value as a change agent that pushes society forward.
Designers are recycling old ideas. The great designers of the past — like Cristobal Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent — all made revolutionary clothes that “changed the way we walk, the way we stand, the way we flirt.” However, many of today’s designers are simply making more and more “garments” — recycling old ideas based on vintage clothes, which continue to “haunt the catwalks.” “These categories of designers are working on clothes and are no longer concerned or interested in change for change’s sake – unanimously declaring newness a thing of the past," Edelkoort explains. “With this lack of conceptual innovation, the world is losing the idea of fashion.”
Fashion’s individualism is outdated. We live in “a society hungry for consensus and altruism — a world where individualism is long over,” said Edelkoort. Yet fashion, with its cult of the creator, still emphasises the individual designer. “Not everyone is going be a star,” said Edelkoort, reading from her manifesto. “[Fashion schools] seem to be oblivious to the new world we live in: a world created for and from interaction, dealing with an economy of exchange and a strong sense of extended family, where working and playing together has become more important than individual gain.”
Marketing has taken over, but fashion advertising is obsolete. Edelkoort blames the evolution of marketing for many of fashion’s current woes. “It is, without doubt, the perversion of marketing that ultimately has helped kill the fashion industries. Initially invented to be a science, blending forecasting talent with market results to anchor strategies for the future, it has gradually become a network of fearful guardians of brands, slaves to financial institutions and hostages of shareholder interests, a group that long ago lost the autonomy to direct change,” she said. “Marketing has taken over power within the major companies and is manipulating creation, production, presentation and sales.” And yet fashion’s approach to advertising is obsolete. “The ad agencies still think we can do with one image, one campaign, for one season. But we see everyone else reading, texting, watching... we are consuming five to six pictures at the same time. The current advertising method doesn’t belong in our time,” said Edelkoort.
Low prices are enslaving workers and destroying cultural value. “The manufacturing of clothes has gone through a rapid and sordid restructuring process, which has seen production leave the western world to profit from and exploit low-income countries,” said Edelkoort. “How can a product that needs to be sown, grown, harvested, combed, spun, knitted, cut and stitched, finished, printed, labelled, packaged and transported cost a couple of Euros?” she asked, comparing fashion’s supply chain to slavery. “On the hunt for cheaper deals, volume companies, but also some luxury brands, have trusted the making of their wages to underpaid workers living in dire conditions,” she continued. “What’s more, these prices imply the clothes are to be thrown away, discarded like a condom before being loved and savoured, teaching young consumers that fashion has no value. We should make legislation to have minimum prices.”
The retail model needs reinventing. “Everything needs to be reinvented in retail. Everything we do is from the 20th century. Even concept stores and online commerce were from the last moments of the 20th century,” said Edelkoort. “More than often one can overhear visitors of select department stores sigh that there is nothing to be found... the few thousand references patiently waiting on hangers apparently did not register anymore, just like the multitude of yoghurts in our supermarkets fail to attract.” Yet she credited Dover Street Market’s approach with “very well edited, very well presented, very focused offerings,” as a retail model appropriate for our time.
For today’s consumers, fashion is secondary. “Today, people are expressing themselves in a number of ways (hair colour, tattoos, jewellery) that are not traditionally thought of as fashion. There are also growing tribes of people who don’t care about fashion. For example, the tech crowd in Silicon Valley," said Edelkoort. “Fashion is not a mission amongst these nerds and their degree of coolness is obtained by loose slogan T-shirts, smart objects, paleo foods and indie music. Fashion has lost these consumers over the last twenty years and will not be able to get them back.”
VOICES is BoF's new annual gathering for big thinkers, which took place from 1-3 December, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate. To catch up on all of the discussions, interviews and stories from the VOICES stage, as well as ongoing coverage and analysis from the event, click here.