Could seasonless fashion and "doomsday core" be where the fashion industry is headed to next?
I don't do great with uncertainty. In the context of the fashion industry, there's the looming notion that we're about to enter unchartered territory. Which brings me here, mulling over a number of questions while concurrently granting you, dear reader, an opening to bear witness to my overwrought spiralling: Will fashion trends still resonate among consumers in a post-COVID world? What will we, as consumers, want from designers? Are we on the verge of entry into a more uplifting, empowering sartorial landscape, or will the catastrophic path left behind in the wake of a pandemic influence a cynical outlook?
Cutting back on the excess
Quarantine has given those of us privileged enough to use the time for introspection an opportunity to hunker down and consider the issues that feel larger than ourselves. For me, climate change and overconsumption comes up. There's a buzzword in the industry I've been hearing a lot of recently, alongside the idea of fashion becoming more "seasonless". What it entails is that instead of following the fashion calendar in the traditional sense, circumscribed by the spring and fall seasons, designers and labels will present collections any time they want. It's a deliberate approach to fashion, which allows designers to in turn slow down and put forward thoughtful pieces with longevity and purpose, as opposed to being governed by fleeting trends.
Just recently, a group of designers and other key players in the industry led by Dries Van Noten posted an open letter fomenting a reset to the fashion industry's current practices. The letter, which was signed by the likes of Joseph Altuzarra, Thom Browne, Gabriela Hearst, Burberry's Jenny Tang and Jil Sander's Axel Keller, included major e-tailers and retailers such as Mytheresa, Selfridges and Nordstrom. In it, the group proposes to realign the sale of collections with the actual seasons they correspond to - with fall collections being moved to deliver from August to January and spring collections from February to July (fall collections typically begin delivering in July while spring collections start in January). Discounting would be delayed to the end of the periods, extending full-price selling intervals for labels and retailers.
The group cites the challenging circumstances brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic as the impetus to spark a "fundamental and welcome change that will simplify businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers' needs." The group also highlighted their objective in increasing sustainability by promising "less waste in fabrics and inventory", "adapt(ing) fashion shows" and increasing digital showrooms to reduce excessive travelling.
The proposal may stand to be a vital touchstone of the fashion industry, setting the precedent for other brands to depart even further from (or even abolish, à la Saint Laurent) the traditional fashion cycle. Perhaps the shift towards seasonless fashion may not be far off.
Prada's spring/summer 2020 presentation showcased sensible designs that were purposefully streamlined.
Doing away with the fashion calendar could spell the end of seasonal trends, as brands begin boiling down their inspirations behind collections so that clothing can serve a more enduring purpose: to make the wearer feel good, for a really long time. Streamlined fashion, which I guess can ironically be a trend in itself, has already reared its head recently in past seasons. Prada and Bottega Veneta's spring/summer 2020 shows marked the designers' intentions to cultivate essentialism, delivering clothing that feel pared back enough to remain relevant for decades. "Reduction to an essence", as Miuccia Prada described in relation to Prada's spring/summer 2020 show. "There's too much fashion, too much clothes — I tried to work so that the person is most important." Valentino did away with its usual irrepressible palette of colours for fall/winter 2020 in favour of more uniform looks in classic silhouettes so that the wearer's personality takes precedence over the garment itself.
Gucci, under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele, is one of the brands at the forefront of trendless fashion.
As for brands like Burberry, Gucci and Balenciaga, the move towards trendless fashion wouldn't be a new endeavor. These brands have been focused on evolving and refining their brand identities with every passing collection, coming up with unexpected designs without any particular identifiable trend I can put my finger on. Alessandro Michele's Gucci, for example, embodies authentic individualism. Every collection provides an organic continuism of the story the brands wants to tell and strings together a larger narrative of the label's heritage.
If the seasonless movement really does crystallize, we would probably be looking at a reduction in the amount of waste generated and a more conscious process of shopping on our part as consumers. I'm sure that many of us are currently deep in the trenches of reflecting on the things that really matter to us; stripping back all the excessive consumption and the superfluous flexing on social media to prioritise what's necessary for survival. In other words, we're all a little more vulnerable. So the inch towards seasonless fashion feels like a pertinent movement to get on board with.
The actualization of post-apocalyptic fashion
Survivalist fashion at Calvin Klein fall/winter 2018.
Revisiting designer collections from past seasons made me realize that the industry has also spent many of the past seasons exploring pessimistic themes that portray a rather grim and bleak reality. Pretty ominous, but at the same time, understandable given the turbulent state of political and environmental affairs of late. Termed "survivalist fashion", doomsday core features elements of protection, practicality and utilitarianism. Calvin Klein's fall/winter 2018 collection hinted at a post-apocalyptic world through the use of hi-vis protective nylon jackets, balaclavas and reflective aluminium-esque hoods.
Protection and utility were the key themes encompassing Kenzo's fall/winter 2020 collection.
Kenzo's fall/winter 2020 collection showcased down jackets that turned into sleeping bags, utilitarian coats bristled with cargo pockets, and oversized silhouettes that enshrouded the wearer like armour. Marine Serre, whose modus operandi has always been traversing around soulful and politically charged designs as a response to world-is-burning sentiments, sent face-obscuring masks and insulating quilts down the runway in the same season as Kenzo.
Holding out for change
The proclivity for such somber storytelling from luxury brands had been incessant and relentless over the years, most likely coming from a place of urgency: "Change now or dystopia will come!", they seemed to scream at us. Flashforward to today, and dystopia has come. But I have an inkling that we're bound for a more optimistic future in fashion — that the despondent messages have somehow culminated in the peak climatic moment that is COVID-19 and there is nowhere else to go but in an uplifting direction from here.
I'm not the only one who appears to think that. On Instagram, I've noticed that people are increasingly drawn to pieces that are fun and cheerful — even though they wouldn't have anywhere to wear them to right now. A pastel blue checkered suit with a matching face mask from LA-based label Vivian Chan, Lirika Matoshi's daisy embroidered tulle socks that look straight out of a dream, sustainable cow printed denim pants from House of Sunny... pieces that inspire a smile, and the allure of forgetting for just one second, what is unfolding around us.
Marc Jacobs' fall/winter 2020 collection offered a hopeful glimpse into what the future can look like.
Parsing through the idea of "optimistic" fashion and what that could really mean leads me to recall Marc Jacobs' fall/winter 2020 collection, a sparkling evidence of upbeat energy and unconstrained celebration. The designer referenced various eras from the '60s to '90s, as well as starkly contrasting tastes and sensibilities that different women can imprint themselves onto. It was almost a celebration of all walks of lives, a token of empowerment Jacobs wanted to gift to every consumer.
I don't think it's farfetched to envision fashion adopting a more positive outlook post-COVID-19. After the war in 1945, women's clothing in America became more lavish, boasting of bright colours, feminine long flared skirts and the 'New Look' — a silhouette famously attributed to Dior. It was a time of celebration, and the garments mirrored the refreshing beginning of a new decade. Which is exactly what consumers would seek once the storm clears: the trumpet call of a new beginning, an onset of optimism to offset the despondency.
The state of the fashion industry after the pandemic blows over remains to be seen. I can't really know for sure — which feels sort of anticlimactic to admit after everything that's been said. All I have to offer are at the very best, are guesses and sporadic prompts of hope. After all, isn't that already the best we can do right now?