LONDON, United Kingdom — Fashion is rapidly becoming the game the whole world wants to play. The problem is, it is being played on an ever more overcrowded pitch without a single body to set global rules.
Witness the state of the increasingly unruly fashion calendar. In the last month alone, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Chanel all held major off-piste fashion shows, from Palm Springs to South Korea, jostling for a free slot in the schedules of celebrities, editors and other industry insiders in the absence of any neutral party to play global coordinator. Chanel’s recent cruise show even clashed with the Met Gala, hosted by Anna Wintour on the very same night on the other side of the world in New York.
But it doesn’t stop with the show schedule. The industry’s lack of international coordination is just as troubling on other issues. France, Spain, Italy, Israel and Denmark have all set up their own regulations trying to check the use of excessively thin runway models. The result is an uneven mix of legal and non-legal guidelines, overseen by a menagerie of organisations, from governments to local fashion industry bodies, such as the Danish Fashion Institute. What’s more, such well-intentioned but uncoordinated efforts are often thwarted by the fact that designers — not to mention art directors and photographers — continue to use very thin girls in campaigns and editorials, despite the fact that they may be seen by consumers worldwide, even in those countries with strict laws on the kinds of models used in local shows.
The fashion industry urgently needs an international body to help regulate key aspects of the business at a global level. Football has FIFA; the energy sector has the International Energy Agency; finance has the International Monetary Fund. Of course, these organisations’ power varies greatly industry to industry, as does each body’s ability to set and impose standards across its sector. But I believe that the concept of a single international organisation that moderates and coordinates an industry provides a useful metaphor for the international fashion industry.
What would a global fashion council do? I would see its purpose as being largely regulatory and advisory, a global body with the authority to impose order on an increasingly confused calendar of runway shows, openings, award shows and other events. Five years ago, a schedule as packed as today’s was unthinkable, but it will only become more crowded and calamitous, as more and more emerging markets enter the fray.
How would an international fashion council work? As a body of representatives elected from across the industry, companies and individuals operating in fashion must accept that its decisions are final. On an issue like the show schedule, an international fashion council would hold the keys to the calendar, with brands applying to show on a particular date. On the problem of health and age in modelling, the council could set a global standard and then enforce it by dishing out fines or temporary fashion week suspensions where necessary.
Who will actually pay for a global fashion body? The very industry that will benefit from it. The huge designer businesses (from Ralph Lauren to Louis Vuitton); the high street giants (from Primark to Zara); sports and leisure labels; publishing giants like Condé Nast; prestige stores like Harrods and Barneys; boutiques; event organisers; PR firms — any key organisation operating within the industry. All are more than able to pay a pro rata levy.
Looking ahead, could such an organisation, once up and running, start to tackle bigger issues? Wouldn't it be marvellous if the industry developed a global body authoritative enough to negotiate with governments, manufacturers and the c-suites of the most influential brands in fashion to help solve problems like the human cost of our supply chains? A body that had to be obeyed because it had the financial and moral backing of the behemoths of the fashion world.
Such ideas are ambitious and would take time to implement. But as fashion’s megabrands stage another round of increasingly elaborate cruise shows, with the cacophony of the menswear and couture weeks soon to follow, the fashion calendar seems like a good place to start.