Whether it’s the drop-waist silhouette of the 1920s, the full-bodied circle skirt of the ‘50s, the bombastic mini skirt’s 1960s debut, or the bold primary colors and shoulder pads of the ‘80s power suit, every decade possesses their own selection of clichéd trends. Fashion is, after all, living art reflective of a culture’s social values at any given time. Fashion is an anthropological signifier. Looking at the clothes a culture wears tells just as much about their lifestyle as the everyday tools they use or the literature they read.
As trite as equating cargo pants and tube tops to the ‘90s may be, there’s a reason these associations exist: they mark a period in time. However, thirty years from now, when our children look at the 2010’s with the same disdain we possessed towards polyester bell bottoms, what will they see?
Most importantly: who are we and what does our fashion footprint look like?
It used to be rare that the designs of past periods would define an entire generation of fashion. Now we have the blessing (or curse) of picking and choosing items that appeal to our tastes: we can don a ‘50s influenced skirt paired with a ‘90s cropped top with chunky ‘70s style platforms (a look that even ten years ago would have appeared outlandish within a sea of polo shirts and low-rise flared denim).
Our sartorial identity is an amalgamation of recycled ideas manifested in limitless options. Major retailers have mini, knee length, midi and maxi skirts all appearing at any given time in an abundance of pleated, circle, pencil, and a-line cuts. Not even the hemline-a notoriously stark indicator of period style-holds jurisdiction in defining what is in and out of vogue.
We “try on” trends with the sophistication of a child playing dress up in their mother’s closet. We “discover” trends in rapid time and ambivalently discard them for something else that better suits our personal style.
Some may chalk this up to savvy discernment-customers are smarter now and have developed their own tastes that deviate from the divine regulation imposed by magazines and fashion’s elite. For the first time ever, due to accessibility from the internet, fashion has truly become democratized. Customers are able to merely log on to their computers and buy whatever they want whenever they want from wherever they want. However, this formula has left many retailers scratching their heads.
Since what seems like the beginning of time, the process from designer to consumer was linear and finite. Designers from the four main cities would show collections, buyers and editors would voice their opinions on the collections, and the factories on 7th avenue would recreate looks from the shows which would then be distributed for less to the masses.
However, now with the rise of “fast fashion,” retailers such as Zara, H&M and Forever 21, the process has been revolutionized. Now the role of tastemaker is placed into the hands of the customer’s purchasing power and, for the first time ever, designers are creating specifically for the consumer.
This influence can best be seen with the rejuvenation of the Yves Saint Laurent brand under the helm of Hedi Slimane. Although Slimane’s designs received apt criticism from the fashion circuit for taking high street demands and making them luxe (rather than the other way around of taking designer pieces and making them high street), his formula proved to be a winning one. Slimane stuck with an aesthetic that worked, re-marketing it every season rather than creating something new. Now many other fashion houses are looking to recreate the same magic Slimane produced with his branding revival and are producing similar looking collections season after season that cater to consumer tastes.
However, it’s undeniable that in our efforts to appeal to the masses and increase profitability we are limiting our creative possibilities. Fashion houses will simply not take a risk on investing in a creative visionary. Instead, they opt for a safe bet that will sell in an economic depression.
Where does this leave the 2010’s within fashion’s visual landscape? Rather than innovative design, we have constructed innovative placement—the ability to be everywhere at once— through conceptual fashion shows, immersive campaign experiences, celebrity endorsements, and paid blogger placements.
Instead of expanding our sartorial boundaries, a creative director’s primary role has been to create clothing that is “top of mind” rather than top of the line. Does this leave any room for actual fashion within the future of fashion?
As fashion great Diana Vreeland once said: “you’re not supposed to give people what they want, you’re supposed to give them what they don’t know that they want yet.” Who will be the designer brave enough to lead our generation into the next era of style.
By Christine Buzan