Demonstrations of competitive altruism occurred during Paris Fashion Week, partially overshadowing the design aspect, if not for few remnants of artistry that fortunately persist in the industry. It didn’t help that ‘sustainability’ and ‘inclusivity’ became marketing-speak fodder, pandering to the stereotype that popularity begets power.
Fashion can serve as an entry point for understanding how members of relegated communities view their place in the world. Rick Owens referred to his Mexican heritage for his Spring 2020 collection. Backstage, the designer mentioned that it was President Trump’s border wall and the potential of being cut off from family still living in Mexico that got him into thinking about how his cultural upbringing had shaped his artistic vision.
Titled ‘Tecuatl’ after his grandmother's Mixtec maiden name, Owens reinforced his bond with culture by creating a collection based on his upbringing in Southern California. The designer recalled befriending stylish East L.A. Lowriders, his fascination for actress María Félix, Mexican modern architecture, and most importantly, his Mixtec heritage as sources of inspiration. Through this collection Owens demonstrated fashion’s role in the development of man’s cultural existence.
Models personified ‘Bauhaus Aztec’ priestesses soaring through the bubbled-up atmosphere at the Palais de Tokyo fountain. The priestesses donned glossy architectural headgear but kept certain mystique concealed behind angular dark shades. Tall platform shoes balanced out the silhouette that exaggerated shoulders and accessories shaped.
While novelty pieces assure us of their potential to heighten our social status, wearing traditional clothing can provide us with comfort and widen our point of view because of its ability to foster empathy towards others. Owens’ sequined peplum jackets, graphic patterned rebozos, and peplums seemed to have that effect.
Despite being a strikingly beautiful collection, Sarah Burton’s take on sustainability drew attention to the people behind the development of Alexander McQueen: “I wanted it to be about stripping back the immediacy of the clothes and the time it takes to make them.” Cultural preservation and human touch were conductive narratives. The designer brought attention to the lasting qualities of traditional, man-made fashion, such as the meticulous production and detailing of Irish damask linen, a practice only few local craftsmen keep alive.
In an effort to maximize raw material lifecycle, remnants of fabrics and designs were upcycled from previous collections. Cocooned outerwear, puffed up gowns, gold eyelets, waist cutouts and other body enhancing minutiae further elevated the protective mood of the collection.
At Valentino’s SS20 collection, Pierpaolo Piccioli created a widespread platform for the “culture of couture” through the universal, blank canvas of the white shirt. Classic and essentially unisex, the shirt crosses cultures, classes, and styles. The designer experimented with textures, embroidery, transparencies, and ruffles on taffeta and georgette garments. Slightly different to Burton’s approach, Piccioli focused on the wearer rather than the object, and created a collection based on the idea that personal style should be more important than fashion.
Back to the white shirt. While a rise of mass proliferation has crystalized the crisp garment into a cheap and disposable category, Piccioli’s haute couture handprint elevates its longevity and subjective value. The focus on craftsmanship will align the brand to its conscious customer’s moral identity.
Due to easy access for information on fashion’s footprint on climate change and society’s wellbeing, it comes as no surprise that ethical practices have become a recurring theme in experiential marketing. And what firms have come to learn from retail unicorns is how successful immersive experiences can emotionally connect the audience to a story, a brand, or an ethical message.
“I have always perceived a fashion show as a way to spread a message, a platform to share my convictions,” Maria Grazia Chiuri said backstage minutes before the Dior show started. However, despite the lush foliage on set, the message failed to authentically transmit the house’s sustainable efforts to its audience.
Dior staged an “inclusive garden” (hitting two birds with one stone?) populated by 160 plus trees sourced from nurseries in France, Italy, and Germany. Floral prints, embellishments, appliqués, and crystals garnished jacquard, denim, raffia, silk, and tulle garments.
Despite Chiuri’s good-hearted efforts to leave a global, positive legacy through fashion, dubious nuances of sustainability and inclusion eclipsed her creative vision on stage. Thankfully for Dior, financial projections and the house’s symbolic value, guarantees commercial success for the future.
Chiuri also mentioned feeling conflicted about her role in fashion while thinking of the correlation between the “desire to renovate and creation of desire” in the industry, and she’s right. Traditionally, fashion thrives on trend-led consumption, fast production cycles, desire for novelty. People’s undying fascination towards distinctive dress has made fashion a catalyst of social stratification, resulting in conspicuous consumption, overconsumption, and a philosophy of futility.
Sartorial readjustments and creation of new habits is critical. But it’s difficult to accurately anticipate the effect that a given reinvention will have on the planet. This is in part because generally, we’re poor at affective forecasting, how we will feel in the future as we misjudge what will make us happy.
Paris Fashion Week’s designers also bowed to various forms human power. Stella McCartney’s collection conveyed the complexities of her idea of modern “fierce women.” Striped patterns, protruding scalloped hemlines, and geometric silhouettes projected clear aesthetic dualities aligned with nodes of expansion and growth.
McCartney, a designer with a strong sustainable ethos, aims for women to build a lasting relationship with their wardrobe. The Spring 2020 collection steers away from trends and fashion flux. She’s giving power to her clients based on the idea that greater self-awareness leads to mindful consumption.
A sustainable wardrobe thrives on the perennial qualities of its garments. Our human desire to achieve distinction can be satisfied by buying into small bits of fun that can help us embody what we aspire into. Perhaps this explains why lately more experienced fashion consumers prefer the concept of ageless dressing by way of lasting investments with high returns.
Multi-layered collections like Dries Van Noten x Christian Lacroix prove that subtle differences in dressing can affect our well-being, echoing the theories behind enclothed cognition. Referring “to a love of dressing up, to couture, to beauty, to audacity — to joy… to the work and world of Mr. Christian Lacroix.” the Belgian designer called the French artist over the phone and successfully sold his vision for the collaborative effort. This was no simple happenstance.
The collection did not look forced, nor showed any trace of conflicting dissonance; rather, both designers complemented each other. There were bubble sleeves, ruffles, polka dots, zebra prints, and feathers for fantastic effects, and white tops and bottoms, sheer overskirts, and smart tailoring for an urbane flair. Unexpected visual stimuli can be interpreted as risk taking, and may be perceived as exciting, adventurous, and fun; the formula to break social barriers in the wearer.
From full get up to subtle signifiers, fashion provides infinite possibilities for expression, sartorial comfort and confidence to work against the monotony of a regular day. But it’s through self-knowledge and an ongoing vigilance over consumption motivations that will lead to a more fulfilling personal style and realistic sustainable practices in fashion.