Fight For The First Stage

There must be “something” in my brain that has been driving me so strong for fashion since I was a very child. Whenever my little self found fashion show coverage in a news program on television, I was very excited, very enjoyed it, and got very angry if my parents switched it to other channel. About two decades later, I attended my first runway event for real. It was part of Indonesia Fashion Week 2014 (the opportunity came even before I landed job as a journalist. Could that be a sign of my career ahead?). At that time, information technology had developed so much and you do not actually need to come to such occasion for seeing some collections. Just browse local news websites and you could look them, at least for collections of well-known brands. Nevertheless, the feeling is just different between reading or watching news about fashion show and directly witnessing the event, especially if it is a fashion week.

Well, I had some experiences of just ordinary and even disappointing shows. There are a lot of factors to account for; but when at the fashion week, you found the front row is starry, especially if you are in that same line, and other guests are fab, and you yourself in best dress, the venue set is awesome, models and famous models walk wearing sophisticated designs in artistic musical rhythm, or having special performing act to open/close the show, it is just magical (not to forget about fantastic quick bites which might be offered prior or after it, and also little gift on your seat). For now era, the after-show experience could keep you fly high; I mention about Instagram post and Instastory which is real only for those who are invited. These could be true for most involved individual, except one: designer.

Backstage is chaos and designer’s real satisfaction begins only when hearing the clapping sound at the end of the show. “Afterward people went crazy, clapping, cheering, even throwing things into the air. It felt like a football game,” Alexander Wang told The New York Times in 2016 about his first show for New York Fashion Week back in 2007. Behind this kind of reward in every show is effort. It demands mental strength and creativity to some new beginners to make it, especially if funding becomes an issue. The same article I have just referred cited the story of Joseph Altuzarra’s struggle in making his first New York Fashion Week show in 2009. He said the total cost for it was just $3,000. Tiny part of it was used to rent small art gallery in Chelsea. Catering for models was cookies made by his mom. He had only six pairs of shoes for fifteen models so that when a model comeback to backstage, the shoes would be worn again by next model. The music? Boombox!

Alexander Wang Fall/Winter 2007. (Image: Livingly)

But why did Altuzarra decide to make such effort? I am sure because it was a part of The Big 4 fashion week (New York, London, Milan, Paris); about its prestige and the dream of success. An Elle article in 2015 revealed that when Jeremy Scott making his first fashion show in 1997 in Paris Fashion Week, he was such broke that he sometimes slept in the Metro. Anyhow, a year after his runway debut which include gown made of hospital scrubs and Devon Aoki as one of models, he got order from Colette, a concept store in Paris which – as Vogue said – support career of many other young designers from Raf Simons to Mary Katrantzou for about two decades (unfortunately it will be closed in December this year). The Big 4 fashion week is very important instrument for designer’s career, or is it?

Fashion World War
In our time, The Big 4 fashion week marathon always start in New York and finish in Paris. Maybe it is not coincidence that the two have special role to open and close the carnival.

Historically, the relation between both of them marks a new chapter of fashion world in which the latter eventually established its foundation to end the reign of Paris as the sole fashion capital. For this, a war was somewhat a bless in disguise, and there is no age to catch about the transition process better than the 1930s. It was the beginning of the Great Depression in America, an economic downturn which affected other countries (on which three great economists debated about how far government should involve to manage troubles in capitalistic economy i.e J.M. Keynes, Milton Friedman, and F.A. Hayek). Most households suffered the impact of this massive recession. In a New York Times article in 2009, an old man named Peter G. Holden (92) told at that time his home in New York had no access to water, that he and his mother ate beans boiled in salt pork about four times a week. Paradoxically it was also the flourishing time of popular culture; and interestingly, many of the entertaining productions radiated more pleasing or even lavish depiction of life which is seen as a form of escapism by cultural scholars later.

Musically there was Bing Crosby sang Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (1931). In cinematography, Hollywood showed off luxury in its titles. Grand Hotel (1932) by Edmund Goulding and A Night at the Opera (1935) by Sam Wood are some to mention (these films was acclaimed as culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant by Library of Congress therefore selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry). While all the glam might serves a way to flee from miserable reality for most people, it was not that dreamy for the actresses and other A-listers. Paris’s established authority in fashion was their wardrobe identity. Referring to an article in Marie Claire, Vivien Leigh, famous for playing in Gone with the Wind (1939), was a fan of Lanvin. Other famous Parisian brands were surely not unknown to upper class society in America. American socialite Mona von Bismarck was not exception, who even was voted as The Best Dressed Woman in the World in the annual poll in 1933 held by French fashion houses including Chanel and Vionnet, according to Sotheby’s website.

Chanel No.5 Ad Campaign 1937. (Image: Chanel Website)

Paris’s fashion domination at that time was still unrivaled, yet its position as the only fashion epicenter of the world was getting near to an end. World War II gave serious effect for many countries, including France that was invaded by Hitler’s NAZI in 1940. During the occupation, life in Paris was so horrible (In 2008, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë expressed his regret on “Parisians under the Occupation” photo exhibition. In his opinion, as stated in a Time article, that exhibition of NAZI propaganda which show happy images of Parisians during the invasion did not make more explicit context about how people’s days was indeed in great suffering by privation and death). Along with other common utilities, clothing became difficulty. “You couldn’t have leather. To find a pair of shoes, you had to bicycle the whole day,” told Katell le Bourhis in a New York Times article in 1991 when she, as an associate curator of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was helping the resurrection of Theatre de la Mode exhibition.

Big fashion names in Paris around that period had no immunity against the situation. Amy Fine Collins, an art historian at Columbia University, mentioned in a Vanity Fair article in 2009 about the closing of Chanel and Vionnet in 1939 or the beginning year of World war II, when NAZI attacked Poland prior to France (It is very intriguing that according to book Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War (2011), as reported by The Telegraph, Gabrielle Chanel was NAZI agent. A book entitled Louis Vuitton, A French Saga (2004) also gave alike story about Vuitton family supporting Germany’s puppet government in France led by Marshal Philippe Pétain, as written by The Guardian).

Author Gioia Diloberto in her writing for Huffington Post in 2009 stated that the moment when America totally cut off from France because of the war was seen as good opportunity by New York’s garment unions, clothing manufacturers, and department store executives to raise people’s attention to American designers. New York Dress Institute was then formed and it promoted American clothes through billboards and magazines advertising produced by J. Walter Thompson Agency. Unfortunately the ads were bad and to have new image they came to Eleanor Lambert who was a top level publicist for artists and later designers. She had represented high level American designers such as Bonnie Cashin, Claire McCardell, and Norman Norell. Started to work for Dress Institute since 1940, Lambert came up with three ideas which were International Best Dressed List (administered by Vanity Fair since 2002, a year before Lambert died at 100 years old), Coty Award, and the Fashion Press Week.

Fashion Press Week, New York, 1943.

For the first Fashion Press Week, which was held in 1943 at The Plaza hotel, Lambert invited 150 journalists to see collections of American designers. Only 53 came even after she offered to pay their expenses. Nevertheless all what Lambert did was able to achieved the aim. American news media were filled with stories about collections of American designers; something that had been peculiar in the country before the World War II began because of Paris domination on fashion. Fashion Press Week, which later changed name become New York Fashion Week as we know now, continued to be held twice a year since then. However no matter how successful New York with the Fashion Press Week, Paris was not that easy to be overshadowed. Evidently the negative effect of six years of World War II for fashion in Paris was not on par with what France had build through its fashion history dated back to the regnant era of King Louis XIV in 17th century; when the seasonal fashion change were formalized and sartorial aesthetics was deliberately turned into nation’s economic key element and identity, as written by an article in The Atlantic in 2015 (I would like to also mention Queen Marie Antoinette era in 18th century for this matter).

Fashion had been embedded in the nation’s DNA. Even during the terrible NAZI occupation in World War II, its people always try their best to adorn their look. A reportage on exhibition Accessoires et objets, témoignages de vies de femmes à Paris, 1940–1944 by The Guardian in 2009 revealed how during that horrifying years, jewelry makers assembled sequins to make expensive-looking statement pieces. House of Lanvin utilized man’s leather braces as strap for its shoulder bag. Bigger than aesthetic matter per se, being stylish for Parisian women even means resisting towards NAZI; that their style spoke of what invaders cannot take away from them. It is unsurprising that France immediately began to revive its fashion sector after the liberation of France in 1944. According to a writing by author Anne Sebba for The Telegraph in 2016, president of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture at that time (founded in 1868 as official authority of France’s fashion industry), Lucien Lelong – who went to Berlin in 1940 for fighting Hitler’s plan to move fashion houses to Berlin so that Paris no longer became world’s fashion center – had an idea to present collections to the world by dressing dolls, referring to common practice in 18th century.

As much as 170 one-third human sized dolls were opulently dressed by top designers such as Jean Patou and Jacques Fath, worn jewelry by Boucheron to Cartier, and placed in set designed by Jean Cocteau to Christian Bérard. Exhibition Le Théâtre de la Mode opened at the Louvre in 1945 and attracted 100,000 visitors. It then traveled to several cities abroad including London and New York and generated millions. Year 1945, as mention within an article in Harper’s Bazaar in 2017, was also the time when Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture required couture houses to show a collection which consists of day and evening wear to the Paris press in every season.

Two years after, the post-war world was surprised, both in celebration and criticism, by haute couture collection of Parisian designer Christian Dior. When I got a chance to visit Dior Esprit exhibition in Seoul, South Korea, in 2015, the first Dior creation I encountered there was the iconic Bar jacket paired with pleated below-the-knee A-line skirt. Surely the silhouette is so beautiful yet at the time it was created, it was more than just a beauty.

During the World War II, life was full of scarcity and everything was rationed, including clothing. Midi skirts with straight silhouette worn by women across nations reflected the efficiency-policy related with war. The general style was more mannish, such as sharp padded-shoulder and uniform-like jacket, as if it was made to match the masculine atmosphere of war and its soldiers (Parisian women try to elaborate this kind of look by wearing home-made hat or turban using any materials in their house hold as a way to keep chic and – as have been mention in previous paragraph – utilizing the chicness as resistant expression).

Left: Parisian women in 1940s. (Image: Marie Claire website); Right: Odette Fabius, a French-Jewish who involved in Resistance movement against NAZI. She was known for her elegance and immaculate appearance in Lanvin suits. (Image: Picture Wonders and Marvels website)

Dior’s first collection was anti-thesis of it. It served the feminine fantasy that had been gone because of war through its accentuated waist, hips volume, and emphasized bust, as well as a statement of liberation from restrictions and rationing. More importantly, through its designs, the collection radiated what French people said as joie de vire or joy of living, just like a blooming flower after the winter. In Christian Dior’s words himself, as cited from Dior website, those pieces were later described as “the return to an ideal of civilized happiness”.

“It’s quite revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!” This utterance by Carmel Snow, the Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar at that time, unfortunately did not rhyme with major perceptions. If exhibition of lavish Le Théâtre de la Mode was hardly understood by foreign viewers who live for so long in clothing restrictions for economic efficiency, Dior’s New Look even got rejected by foreign governments for a similar reason. For an article in The Guardian in 2007, Linda Grant wrote that American women greeted Christian Dior with protest when he came for promoting the collection. There was anti-import sentiment in the public. Board of Trade in UK restrained Vogue to feature Dior in its pages. They were worry that New Look would stimulate high demands for fabric in time when garments were restricted for home consumption in order to raise income from export. In US, UK, or even France itself, attacked happened to women who wore New Look on the street since it was seen as wasting materials. Yet time proved that fashion went with Dior’s direction.

From Princess Margaret of United Kingdom, Eva Peron of Argentina, to Hollywood glam darlings such as Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Loren, all emanated the New Look (Lourdes M. Font Ph.D. of New York University in an article for CNN wrote that the New Look is just actually an old look which recalled Victorian style that denies women comfort). In 1954, Coco Chanel made a come back at the age 71 and she invented the iconic Chanel jacket inspired by Austrian Jacket for men, as stated in Chanel website. Still true to her view in 1920s about how free and comfort a woman’s body should be in clothes which resulted in the form of trousers among others (referring to a writing in The Independent, Chanel once said, “The greatest beauty is the freedom of the body”), the tweed jacket creation was her respond to challenge the New Look. From the post war to 1950s to next decade, Paris reasserted its position as world’s fashion capital with names of Pierre Balmain, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and so on. No wonder at that time, many Parisians look down upon American fashion.

Christian Dior New Look 1947 – Photo by Willy Maywald. (Image: Dior website)

The tension was real for a sacred show took place in Versailles palace in 1973 where five French fashion entities and American fashion designers showed their creations in a stage. It was dubbed as The Battle of Versailles. “The French had started to snub us before even we got there. They laughed and said, ‘These are not designers, these are sportswear people’,” recalled Bethann Hardison who was a model walking for the battle, as The New York Times wrote in an article in 2011. Attended by hundreds caliber guests like Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco and Andy Warhol, it was actually a fund raising event, set up by Eleanor Lambert (who founded Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1962) and French curator Gérald Van der Kemp, to restore Versailles. However its significance was so far reaching on the credibility of American designers as bona fide fashion players.

On the France side, as written by The Wall Street Journal in 2013, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro and Marc Bohan of Dior showcased their pieces with fantastic decor. Bugatti in YSL, Cinderella pumpkin coach in Dior, rocket ship in Pierre Cardin, and flower set in Ungaro. The two hours presentation included performance by Josephine Baker, American-born entertainer who build her career in France. For the American part, Liza Minnelli who was just received Best Actress Oscar trophy for film Cabaret sang Bonjour, Paris. Contrary to the extra posh ambiance of its counter part, American show run only with Eiffel Tower sketch in backdrop made by fashion illustrator Joe Eula using a broom handle and black stove polish on the rehearsal day because the prior one had to be removed for there was misunderstanding between feet vs meters measurement. Nevertheless, the American bash which lasted about just thirty minutes was filled with huge energy. The modern simplicity of the background counted (fortunately), so did the fresh modern creations by Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, Halston, Stephen Burrow, and Bill Blass who participated for they were chosen by French participants (they were also Lambert’s clients). But the mind blowing factor for the whole new kind of fashion show was black models.

America in the early 1970’s had gone through long history of black right movement. The intensity of such movement was culminated during the mid 1950s until the end of 1960s, after about two centuries of continuous fight since slavery was abolished in 1865. That was the time when scattered local actions transformed into unified nation-scale consciousness through the spotlight of exposed cases. It includes Afro-American Oliver Brown winning the court of enrolling his daughter to a white-student school Sumner Elementary School in 1954 (along with same actions, the suit named as Brown v. Board of Education), Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955 in Alabama after not giving up her seat in ‘colored’ section of a bus to a white person as the ‘white-only’ section had been fully filled, many sit-in protests by which Afro-Americans sat in ‘white-only’ section of restaurants or stores to be served, and the very big Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech happened during massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The result was The Civil Right Act (1964) which banned segregation in schools, jobs, and public places, The Voting Right Act (1965) that ended discrimination for black to vote, and The Fair Housing Act (1968) related with selling, buying, renting, and dwelling house.

Surely among huge support for black right movement, there were also resistances. This even sharpened in the raise of Malcolm X figure and Black Panther Party which advocated violence in expressing their aspirations. Against all of this background, American fashion as represented by those who joined in the Battle of Versailles had stood firmly on what American modern spirit need to be showed through ten-or-more black models in the show which was striking back then (in total there were 36 models including Broadway dancers).

About the American fashion itself portrayed in the battle, Pulitzer winner Robin Givhan in an interview with The Cut, said “I think that it also underscored this idea that couture is one thing – the whole sort of Paris fashion tradition is one thing – America is doing something different, but not something that’s less than. It’s equally viable.” Then American fashion stood out in real acclamation. It was about winning at the right time. Black right matter was one certain cause but as Givhan put in the interview, it was also related with range of cultural phenomenon at that periods. The background music for American show there was good representation. The tape of Al Green to Barry White accompanying dynamic steps of American model captured the hype of young spirited era rather than live classic orchestra for too polite models’ walk that France side presented.

Stephen Burrows and model for The Battle of Versailles 1973. (Image: Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post)

The grandeur French-style stage and collection were very great but fashion had always been about newness, difference, rebellion, and I believe American fashion had already related to it, in tune (in its own way) with anything youthful directly on indirectly, including youth culture of the 1950s in which James Dean wearing Levis’s 501 jeans was so Rebel Without a Cause (1955), sexual pleasure was problematically embrace (or exploited) in figure such Marilyn Monroe, and all stimulating against-the-norm norm precondition for the emergence of 1960s generation which manifests into various counter culture genres from psychedelic hippies to blues rock to pop art. That was the time of The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Aretha Franklin. Ever since the 1973’s Battle of Versailles, and the American fashion solidified its cultural character of freedom, deviance, celebrity’s sparks, and ready-to-day modernity, representing the current changing sociography, the world of fashion was no longer all about flamboyant Paris.

To be sure, this does not mean that Paris did not react to the new level of ready-to-wear demand. For example, Yves Saint Laurent already established his prê-à-porter line Rive Gauche in 1966. The time when The Battle of Versailles happened was indeed a significant turning point for the future face of France fashion. It was also the year of the establishment of Chambre Syndicale du Prê-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode; the body which administers Paris Fashion Week (ready-to-wear collection) until now. As history become crystallized, while further growth of fashion industry in France and America keep getting stronger internationally, New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week with its network of influential figures and bodies within gigantic industrial relation was certainly baptized as the scared rites of fashion. The same thing could be assigned to two other major fashion weeks, London and Milan, which deserves separated story-telling session on both cities’ long history of fashion until becoming fashion capital.

It must not be forgotten how English designer Charles Frederick Worth contributed to France’s world of haute couture. He was an English figure who became prominent haute couture designer in Paris, popular for his progressive marketing method by which he presented collection using living models (without which iconic model’s walks in modern runway would not exist). As Women’s Wear Daily pointed out in a recent article about the new name of France fashion body (which today become La Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode), it was Worth who initiated Chambre Syndicale de la Confection et de la Couture Pour Dames et Fillettes in 1868, later known as Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (name changed for several times). Another notable British designer was Charles James who maybe lesser recognized in his home country yet praised by Americans as America’s First Couturier, just like written by The Telegraph in an article in 2014. The Metropolitan Museum of Art even mentions that Christian Dior’s New Look was inspired by his creations.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria wearing Charles Frederick Worth – Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1865)

Not only having designers that greatly influence other nations’ fashion history. British fashion journey was also about its own national fashion revolution, spread throughout the world. Mary Quant’s mini skirt might be not a whole new thing in civilization, yet the 1960s context of her legendary creation emphasized the relation between fashion and street culture in profound way; when The Beatles, and Rolling Stones, Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy ruled. “It was very much an expression of that youth culture and also the beginnings of the sexual liberation movement due to the invention of the birth control pill,” said Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology, to BBC in 2014 about the mini skirt. The same went with Vivienne Westwood for the 1970s punk. British Fashion Council was then created in 1983 and first London Fasion Week born on 1984. In the following years, UK was the birth place of many big names such as Antonio Berardi, Alexander McQueen, Giles Deacon, Christopher Bailey, Matthew Williamson, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Stuart Vevers, etc.

Meanwhile Italy has always been with its distinction on stamp of quality. A page of Business of Fashion in 2015 disclosed the study about fashion brands disclosure on where they produce their products. It revealed that many Italian brands belong to the first category which provide full transparency about that matter. Around 75% brand in the fist category are Italian and 50% of it are luxury brands. I am sure this high level of confidence of proclaiming `Made in Italy` by Italian labels got real thing to do with high quality materials as well as high quality craftsmanship. It is even common for haute houses outside Italy to make products there; it is just a matter whether they share it to or keep it from their customers. This story of Italian quality in modern age could be traced back to the early 20th century. Then there were Prada, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, Trussardi, Tod’s and Furla among others.

I suggest to not exclude Elsa Schiaparelli in this conversation. She was a real example of how Italian creativity could be as legendary as France’s Coco Chanel; and she collaborated artistically with great surrealist Salvador Dali in making Lobster Dress in 1937. Yet the very rising moment of Italian fashion began in 1950s when Hollywood stars such as Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and Greta Garbo were charmed by Italian luxury products which perfectly suited their aspiration of practical glam. Emilio Pucci, Missoni and Max Mara were among them. In 1958, Camera Sindacale della Moda Italiana was founded and later became Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. This is the body that administers Milan Fashion Week. Italian fashion developed successfully in later decades and filled its field with caliber brands in international stage such as Valentino, Bottega Veneta, Etro, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Moschino, Dolce & Gabbana, and more.

The Big 4 fashion capitals has been about international influencing since the beginning. Their Big 4 fashion weeks, designated by the Big 4 fashion organizations, reflect history and embody vision to sustain the legacy.

Duchess of Windsor. Wallis Simpson, wearing Lobster Dress of Elsa Schiaparelli x Salvador Dali – Photo by Cecil Beaton (1937)

Part, Party, Participants
Through its story of world stage “competition”, and how it becomes significant part of fashion realm, the Big 4 fashion weeks earn its historical-cultural value. This is what every fashion week participants could secure in warranty when they join the Big 4, either as guest or as designer. Taking part in NYFW, LFW, MFW, or PFW, means first and foremost an honor to have opportunity in celebrating (directly) the precious historical-cultural heritage of fashion realm. Besides that, depending on what era you involve in the Big 4, you could witness how fashion world culturally is like, right from its center of gravity. Some ages ago there was no fashion blogger in front row, then now come fashion editors of magazine broadcasting the show live in Instagram.

Another thing for real, The Big 4 is also about utilizing it as a tool, especially for designers and brands. Here begin the more problematic approach toward them. I ask about whether designers and brands would like to take them as direct or indirect sales and marketing machine. This topic has been enabled to be discussed by the advancement of communication technology.

For so long, fashion magazines and fashion stores walk side by side harmoniously. If you read September 2017 edition, you would find report of Fall/Winter 2017 collections, not the Spring/Summer 2018 ones as currently being showed. The same principle applied at stores. When you got there, the selections are from Fall/Winter 2017 collections that had been presented in Fashion Week in February 2017. Meanwhile you could read coverage and buy pieces of Spring/Summer 2018, which is being showed in September 2017, in February 2018. The six months gap is used for production after buyers make their choices soon from the runway time.

When wide numbers of consumer has no other fashion information access other than printed magazine, this system works very well. They proudly carry a fashion magazine, feel as the most well-informed fashion enthusiast, and visit prominent flagship store to exit with paper bag and pride containing the it-item. Whereas fashion editors of magazine will put their ego in the sky realizing that they always know everything first. As soon as the digital culture take over most aspects of life, fashion status-quo is challenged. Information wise, there is no more need to get invitation to know range of creations designed by brands and designers at first place. In other words, you do not have to be a VIP customer or a fashion journalist or depend on any kind of them to look brands’ or designers’ collections in the Big 4.

Of course attending fashion shows as guest is so much more than just looking at latest collection, and the fact that someone is invited imply how significant his/her position in the fashion map is. When anyone come to the show, they will be fed by rich multi-sensory experience, simply called the atmosphere; and if she/he is a journalist, the intellectual element is added through press release and press conference for example. The review written by fashion journalists must be wealthier than just a collection description. However for the part of spreading information, digital platforms such as website and social media apps function adequately and immediately; help for multiplication of the event-hype, including the show concept and products in it. The consequence is that customers could find real options in fashion stores as old-fashion, which its hype had been exploited six month earlier.

Digital platform development, which goes at faster speed than fashion society awareness about its effect (if they were much aware of its consequence in advance maybe official list of rules about the use of digital platform in fashion week would be enacted), has drastically add up a new layer in the nature of fashion week by which people are altogether brought to the front row virtually. Direct-to-customer sales and marketing mechanism which has not been part of ready-to-wear fashion week for song long (for most brands or designers if not all) could work within it now via digital platform usage. Designers and brands has been forced to think about it, and fashion world has become divided. Some number of them adopt what so called See Now Buy Now mechanism. Simply the new system means that immediately after people see the collection in runway, they could buy it in the store. For this, adjusting brand’s schedule of production to show time in order to fit into the new mechanism against the already established system in fashion industry is real challenge.

Since the idea of See Now Buy Now idea circulated in fashion world, Karl Lagerfeld has been a firm opponent. “It’s a mess,” said Lagerfeld who emphasized more on the harmony of old system, as reported by The Financial Time last year. Meanwhile Tom Ford who had opted for new system eventually got rid of it and came back to the classic this year. As he explained to the Womens Wear Daily, the Fall products have been arrived in stores in August and the starting time to sell it is September (the beginning of Fall season), so in his words “We lost a month of selling”. At another pole is Rebecca Minkoff who is very satisfied to execute the See Now Buy Now. Uri Minkoff, the CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, told The Cut in an article in March 2017 that the label’s sales increased about 64% after shifting to the new system.

Rebecca Minkoff Fall/Winter 2017 in September 2017. (Image: The Cut website)

 

Burberry September 2017 collection. (Image: The Cut website)

It is not only the younger generation which is keen on the young method. Ralph Lauren decided to use it since his Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Tommy Hilfiger did it too at that time and continue to experience positive business growth by applying it. Avery Baker, Chief Brand Officer of Tommy Hilfiger, told The New York Times in an article in February 2017 that they had some items sold out in 24 hours after the Spring/Summer 2017 show (its second See Now Buy Now Collection) and sales of woman’s category grew by double digits. Other brands such as Moschino and Alberta Ferretti chose to take part partially by serving some See Now Buy Now products in their “normal” six-months-in-waiting collection. So did Prada, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, and Monique Lhuillier. There are many aspects to be considered to turn direction to the See Now Buy Now scheme. For example CEO Kering François-Henri Pinault, as reported by Business of Fashion in late 2016, beliefs that the waiting period in old system creates desire and eradicating it means negating the dream of luxury. Président de la Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode Ralph Toledano and CEO Dior Sidney Toledano reside in the same corner. Supporting the rejection, Ermanno Scervino said the new system is not for excellence.

Question on luxury image, creative design, and product quality are surely challenges to be answered impeccably by big luxury house such as Burberry which run See Now By Now. The Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey seems giving his all to prove his faith in it. Just like two previous See Now Buy Now collections, Burberry’s September 2017 collection looks great, but the question about how great the performance of See Now Buy Now itself for Burberry remains unanswered in detail. Personally I am very certain that through the development of manufacturing technology, fashion production could serve immediacy of delivery for consumers and thus the adjustment of whole fashion calendar would follow. By the time it changed entirely, fashion week would have totally different purpose or even lack any practical objective at all. When See Now Buy Now become the normal norm (so that buyers and editors got prior preview session and all business/editorial deals had been completed before the show), the very last practical role of fashion week is advertisement through its photos, videos, live streaming, etc.

Ultimately the show (might consist of magical decor, hype stage performance, starry frows which all maintain or build brand image) is meant for stimulating consumers’ purchasing desire. Furthermore if the only point realized about fashion week is the act of advertising, then it could be left out once for all since the show can be held anywhere. Some brands already did it. In last February, Tommy Hilfiger and Rebecca Minkoff run their Spring/Summer 2017 parade in Los Angeles. Is it risky in terms of press coverage? Absolutely not. Presenting collection outside the Big 4 fashion capitals is not something new for grand labels indeed. For so long houses such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Christian Dior brought their Resort/Cruise collections around the world and editors always have many stories to tell and usually the content is rich of cultural context in relation to brands’ pieces.

Tommy Hilfiger Spring/Summer 2017 in February 2017, Los Angeles. (Image: WWD/REX/Shutterstock (8325776am))

Misha Nonoo, a finalist of CFDA-Vogue Fashion Fund 2013 and one of Forbes’ 30 under 30, step to the next level by introducing her Fall/Winter 2016 See Now Buy Now collection via Snapchat postings (she have experimented this digital approach for Spring/Summer 2016 collection using Instagram before applying See Now Buy Now). Technology surely does broaden options for labels and designers to showcase their product. A catwalk show is not the only way and fashion week is an alternative among others. Any label or designer could even create any kind of production launching at any time (especially if you were very certain that your collection do not depend on the hype of fashion week period to be widely noticed).

Will these new techniques increase sales performance? Of course we need not to assume there is only single business model to perform profit. Many variables determine and it depends on how designers or brands see themselves too, which then manifest into their ideal cost structuring and marketing/sales strategies. This case is more about what system suits your self the most; the latest scheme does not necessarily invalidate the former one (and let not be so naive about the “magic” of digital platform. Reaching wide audience does not equate simultaneously with generating high sales. And how could a new brand or designer attract viewers in competition with more famous labels is also a real problem. Cost saving might lessen the burden but does not cease the battle). Some brands are doing more than just fine with runway show, while several others experience the no-show strategy working well.

Some designers, like Misha Nonoo, then address a thesis on how the enormous budget for doing a show could be better allocated to something more benefiting socially. To Forbes recently she said, “If people thought about spending their annual fashion show budget differently or how they produce their collection, they could look into artisanal craftsmanship and investing in women’s labor skills in a country somewhere where you can really help the economy.” I totally agree with the point about fashion contribution for humanity, but that does not mean fashion must forgo its function to tailor dream through its elements, including catwalk show.

Misha Nonoo Fall/Winter 2016 in September 2016 via Snapchat.

LVMH has corporate philanthropy policy which is translated into numerous social and environmental programs, while keep guarding fashion dreams through a carousel-theme catwalk for Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2012 collection or Fendi Couture Fall/Winter 2016 show in front of the Trevi Fountain or any others. Aesthetic creativity is the soul of fashion and it is not only about the product design but all of its constructing elements, the campaign, the editorial, the show, and so on. It is one field among others which reflect human capacity to aspire fantasy in various formats. We all could dispose any “less-practical” aesthetic production and transform the sources into more “functional tools” for the good of society, but we don’t and we mustn’t. Appreciation of imagination might not contribute directly to solve human problems, yet it is what keep the spirit of our beautiful dream on humanity alive. It is one fuel of our hope. It would be so poor if fashion is reduced to designing and selling. Fashion is about dreaming an experience as well as experiencing a dream.

Digital platform is a bless for it enrich humanity’s way of fantasizing (and certainly solving many practical difficulties too and offering another level of living), yet should not be treated as substitute of other kind of dreaming platforms. Fashion show, its decor, its models, its performance, its clothes, its music, its guests, its after party, its overall ambiance is an ethereal narration. To enjoy fashion as fashion and beyond fashion. Could it be costly? Yes. Is worth the revenue? Depends on many factors. What’s the certain function of it? Stimulate people’s brain to aspire and reflect through holistic engagement. The lively experience of a runway show cannot be replaced by smartphone screen alone. Well a catwalk through Virtual Reality is in the very near future, but I guess it will not work unless it is executed so creatively in an event where rule See and Be Seen still apply. A runway in The Matrix reality will fit the best.

The same thing (in greater level) can be said about fashion week, especially the Big 4. Moreover, as I said earlier, joining the official Big 4 is preciously about celebrating its historical-cultural value in fashion realm, rather than merely about business. We realize that its “centralized” business benefit (through which brands and designers could optimize the opportunity for broadening networks with buyers, editors, etc) which for now still allure emerging brands and designers might getting looser or at least being “haunted” by the way high technology offer new way to connect. Also if what emerging designers and brands needed are to network to some degree of business or editorial people and utilizing the hype of the period for publication, then there has been several independent stages during the week to cater it. In New York, one notable example is Nolcha. At the end of the business consideration, joining or not joining the official Big 4 is an option.

For today, the opportunity for growing business through taking part in the official Big 4 is still promising, yet no one could guarantee a success just by being there (further anyone must not derive conclusion about designers or brands quality by checking whether they have participated there.). Story of Joseph Altuzarra and Jeremy Scott as I mention in the beginning of this writing is not a fiction. I am sure there are many other success stories but so are the unheard names of designers and brands which had ever participated in the event.

Nevertheless the shows must go on as a tribute to the historical-cultural value of fashion (but surely it is great if the organizer could maintain its significant business function). Regardless of the success level of designers or brands in the market of Big 4 fashion capital, they are worth to embrace the city’s historical-cultural value of fashion through participation in the official Big 4 fashion week, no matter how functional or dysfunctional the event for designers’ career or brands’ business growth is. These are big festival in which ideas are translated into aesthetic fashion designs or vice versa. Should we stop all of them or other similar festivity across various aesthetic fields?

Those who believe that symbol has significant meaning to humanity know what to answer. And I do.

Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2012.

A Good News
New York, London, Milan, and Paris are dream capitals for everybody who live in the state of sartorialism. Who does not want to build name in a city where big buyers, major press, famous influencers, skillful photographers, professional PR agencies, international events, and more supporting infrastructures and facilities are interconnected? Hitting the market of Big 4 cities seems promising a worldwide recognition which in turn open access to have global presence. The bitter-sweet fact is that countless of designers and brands dream the same. So once again, it has to be realized that extra dedication is required there or to get there. For designers and brands outside the Big 4 cities, its official fashion week even looks too far.

To be able to participate, definitely they either need to build strong presence in their home country first in order to have sufficient resources to enter the Big 4 market and fight there, or move to the Big 4 capitals since the beginning of their fashion journey to catch the market (which for many of them is felt more difficult to do, especially when funding is the main problem). A single news from America released in this season brought foreign designers’ and brands’ hope of joining New York Fashion Week a bit closer. IMG, one of producers in New York Fashion Week, launched the First Stage. According the event’s official website, the First Stage is a new platform that gives opportunity for designers and brands outside America, which want to enter American market or strengthen their market network there, to show at New York Fashion Week. There were 13 shows run from 7-10 September 2017 in the First Stage (Some of them are from my country, Indonesia).

Now, will the other three capitals follow?

Just in Case Spring/Summer 2018 at New York Fashion Week, First Stage. This brand was founded by Taiwanese designer, Justin Chou. (Image: Zimbio)

 

*) In the first picture of this article is Chanel Fall/Winter 2013 fashion show.

 

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