There was a time when buying fashion was solely an investment in yourself. You bought fashion, at varying price points, thinking little or nothing of its intrinsic value after you’d finished using or wearing it. If it was lucky it would make a few pounds at a local charity shop after being donated. It was only very special showpieces or clothing worn by famous people that held any real value.
Left - Dolce & Gabbana sold its last Alta Moda Couture collection in NFT format
Today, designer fashion is being spun as ‘Contemporary Vintage’ or ‘Future Vintage’. It is being sold on the promise that it will retain some type of value or even increase. A generation of younger people are being asked to pay increasing prices for trainers and clothes on the pretence that they are an astute investment. Sounding like a giant Ponzi scheme, and adding in things like NFTs, are we seeing a new generation being hoodwinked into ‘investing’ into fashion?
“I think it's a complex landscape here, almost half of the UK Generation Z saw some negative alteration to their employment through the pandemic period, and for this generation, it's increasingly hard to get into meaningful work.” says Petah Marian, founder of Future Narrative, a retail, culture and consumer trends expert.
“This sense that the system is rigged against them is leading to all sorts of speculative behaviours, be it trying to get access to limited-edition trainers to flip, or in some cases crypto currencies. Some people do make considerable amounts of money out of selling items, but, unless you know what's going to hold value, it's a risky game, as a lot of the future value lies in how well it will resonate later on.” she says.
In November, London designer fashion retailer, Machine-A, with self-described 'contemporary vintage’ e-commerce site Byronesque, launched a vintage area selling archival and rare runway pieces from the like of Rick Owens and Raf Simons.
“As I understand it, contemporary vintage is just a new way of marketing vintage items. The way that Machine B is positioning itself is that the contemporary vintage selection will be key vintage items from a series of iconic designers that have a certain cult appeal.” says Marian.
Called Machine-B, it launched at the Machine-A store in Soho and online. What was interesting was how Machine-A was using these archival pieces to promote its other contemporary designer offering and labelling it as ‘future vintage’. This speculative retail approach included small and lesser known brands such as Stefan Cooke and Kiki Kostadinov.
Kerry Taylor, founder of Kerry Taylor Auctions, the world's leading auction house specialising in vintage fashion, fine antique costume and textiles, says, “I have concerns about people purchasing trainers for hundreds of thousands of dollars – when we know that items made from rubber or plastics in the 1960s have started to revert/disintegrate. High quality artisanal items such as Hermès handbags however are probably only going to increase.” she says. “I would trust vintage vintage as it has an established track record rather than ‘contemporary vintage’ which is a bit of a contradiction in terms. We have no idea of the marketing hype will come true.” says Taylor.
Taylor thinks brands and designers are marketing their clothes and product like this to make them seem more special in a world flooded with brands and garments. If you were to ‘invest’, what would you look for?
“They should buy what they like rather than just for an investment. Investments can go up or down – but if you love a piece – then it doesn’t matter so much. Always check condition – avoid anything altered or with damage.” says Taylor.
Marian thinks brands that have a strong and passionate fan base or items that either speak to a brand's codes or are exceptional examples of where it departs from it are more shrewd investments, as well as items that have a limited release.
“It's part of the broader narrative around circularity and retailers slowing consumption around new items, while also generating buzz around key designers by elevating second-hand items as "archive pieces" that are special and rare.” says Marian.
Right - Burberry's first NFT collection launched in August 2021
Fashion brands are offering other avenues to invest, and making their brands look more attractive in the process. NFTs or non-fungible tokens, offer a chance to buy digital versions of an item. Individuals need to establish a digital wallet to store your cryptocurrency in order to purchase an NFT.
In June, Gucci partnered with Christie’s selling an NFT video called ‘Aria’, the title of its AW21 collection, for $25,000, while in September, Dolce & Gabbana sold an NFT couture Alta Moda suit for £740,000 at auction. The new owner also got a physical suit for that price. Dolce & Gabbana grossed $5.7 million from its first auction of NFT collectibles.
Tying fashion items and collections to NFTs raises the investment levels, but are NFTs likely to be a good long-term investment?
“It's very early to say what the mass uptake will look like.” says Marian. “There's a passionate community of collectors that are driving up the value of NFTs at the moment, but I can't say what the long term value of the current releases of NFTs. I think NFTs are here for the longer term, but it's very early to say what the value or the market will look like for individual assets in a year or two years from now yet.” she says.
Add the growing noise around the Metaverse - the British Fashion Council (BFC) recently announced a brand new category as part of The Fashion Awards 2021—the first ever Fashion Award for Metaverse Design exclusively with Roblox - and the way digital and physical items are blurring, these new ways of owning or consuming as item are selling themselves as investment opportunities to a younger and more engaged consumer.
All investments are speculative. By linking and promoting positive examples of fashion items increasing in or holding their value, brands are cleverly giving the illusion that it is a certain. This is targeted at the younger consumer queuing at stores in Soho or entering ballots for items happy to pay significant sums of money with the idea lurking in the background that they will be able to resell it at some point or even flip at a profit. Websites like Stock X continue to propel the hyped hysteria.
Left - Hyped kids? Luxury brands are invested in giving the perception their goods will retain or even increase their value to younger, Gen Z consumers
Fashion has never really been a serious investment before. Fashion, in its nature, is fickle and unpredictable. Implying that something is resellable at a price close to what you paid for it and/or a solid investment is another pull brands are using to activate the purchasing power of their expensive products. It doesn’t feel like you’re chucking your money away like it did in the past to a generation more careful with money. This bubble is getting bigger and we all know what happens to bubbles when they get too big.
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September is fashion’s month. Once bulging fashion magazine issues - remember those?! - the start of fashion’s most important selling season, and, of course, fashion weeks makes September the most important month of the year for the, estimated, global $1.5 trillion fashion industry.
Above - Louis Vuitton's COVID LV Shield hitting stores in October
Fashion week is the canary in the mine and the biggest to suffer from the pandemic. Events which combine travel and vast numbers of people aren’t going to work right now, and, therefore, puts the traditional idea of fashion weeks into a strange predicament. While many fashion councils are trying to push ‘business as usual’, it is far from it.
New York has started, but few would have realised. Designers sitting out New York Fashion Week, this season, include Marc Jacobs - its biggest draw - plus Ralph Lauren, The Row, Pyer Moss, Michael Kors, Telfar, Oscar de la Renta and Brandon Maxwell. Those still taking part can have a socially distanced crowd of just 30 people, while, before, traditional shows ranged into the multiple of 100s. London's fashion week runs from 17th September - Tuesday 22nd September 2020 with the same strict controls.
Fashion weeks is the fashion business in an event and drives focus and attention from outside its bubble to retail and the idea of purchasing something ‘new’ to consumers. They are also extremely old fashioned and had less and less relevance way before COVID 19.
While the majority of fashion shows are pointless, a few images, brands, designers will emerge that stick and steer the fashion industry into that direction for the next six months. It’s also a coming together of people and a temperature test of the industry. But, they have become bloated and drawn out exercises in wasting time and money when fashion can no longer afford either. Limos driving groups of pampered people all over town for 10 mins feels dated and indulgent.
The major of women’s fashion weeks - New York, London, Milan & Paris - managed to scrape through COVID in February and March at the beginning of the year. This will be the first test of how major fashion weeks will run with a global pandemic hanging over it. Some brands, like Louis Vuitton and YSL, have done separate shows over the past few months, but nothing like previous years.
Left - LFW's Digital Schedule home page
This season, the London Fashion Week the schedule has been split into three sections and includes brands showing digitally, physically or both - ‘phygital’. The gender neutral showcase will run from Thursday 17th to Tuesday 22nd September 2020 and include both digital activations on www.londonfashionweek.co.uk and physical events, adhering to government guidelines on social distancing. The schedule will host over 80 designers including 40 womenswear, 15 menswear, 20 menswear & womenswear and 5 accessories brands. There will be a total of 50 digital only activations, 21 physical and digital, 7 physical only and 3 designers who will activate through a physical evening event only.
The LFW digital platform, launched in June for the men’s calendar, will continue to serve as the Official Digital Hub and will be freely accessible to everyone, industry professionals and global fashion consumers alike. The British Fashion Council says. “LFW is one of the few international events to still be going ahead in London, proving the industry’s resilience, creativity, and innovation in difficult times. Now more than ever, the BFC acknowledges the necessity to look at the future of LFW and the opportunity to drive change, collaborate and innovate in ways that will establish long-term benefits, develop new sustainable business models and boost the industry’s economic and social power. The British Fashion Industry faces enormous challenges due to the impact of COVID-19 and the BFC keeps on calling on Government to support a sector which in 2019 contributed £35 billion to the UK economy and employs over 890,000 people (Oxford Economics, 2020).”
Having a traditional ‘schedule’ for barely 28 shows seems old fashioned. As fashion blogger @bryanboy tweeted to his 502.4K Twitter followers regarding NYFW, this week, “It’s really annoying how designers still get an individual time slot for what essentially is a release for a pre-taped short film. No one cares!! Just do a date and release it on the morning or afternoon of that day and it doesn’t matter if it overlaps with other designers”.
Right - Burberry Horseferry check face mask coming soon
It’s the equivalent of waiting in all day for an e-mail. Nobody has time for this, especially when it feels like most of this stuff won’t be ordered or bought anyway. Maybe just have a single release date, hub for content and publicise that?
The most anticipated London show is Burberry’s. Rumoured to be Riccardo Tisci’s last, it will be held outdoors. Burberry will use Twitch’s ‘Squad Stream' function, which allows users to view multiple perspectives of the show at a time and chat with fellow viewers using the service’s chat window. It will be live-streamed without an audience.
LFW designer Emilio De La Morena is presenting an exhibition rather than a traditional catwalk show. Called ‘Troubles SS’21’, it is an assimilation of fashion, film, and sculpture into a “consolidation of the designers professional and personal journey in conjunction to the global pandemic”.
Fashion’s optimistic hope has been that this pandemic will blow over and we’ll get back to the normal fashion week circus asap. Fashion weeks work in the future and were hoping that by the time the 2021 collections come out this will all feel like a bad dream, but, it’s also realistic to think otherwise. Fashion is fickle, when the pandemic is over any product will instantly feel dated and obsolete. It is difficult to know how much time and money to invest in it.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, saying that not enough COVID-19 vaccines will be available to inoculate the global population until at least the end of 2024. According to Poonawalla, pharmaceutical companies are not increasing production capacity quickly enough to vaccinate everyone faster. “It’s going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet,” Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, said.
Some brands are incorporating PPE protection into their collections. Louis Vuitton has designed a coronavirus face shield which can also be flipped up and used as a sun visor. The LV Shield will be available to purchase from 30th October 2020 in selected Louis Vuitton stores worldwide for around £700. Burberry face masks are coming soon on the brand’s website, strange they haven't released these faster, and are donating 20% from the selling price of each face mask to the Burberry Foundation COVID-19 Community Fund operated by The Burberry Foundation to support communities impacted by the pandemic globally.
Fashion weeks as an idea is still important, it just needs to reinvent itself for life post-pandemic. Mega brands can still blow millions on a pointless extravaganza, but for smaller designers and brands it can be their slim opportunity to be scouted and brought to attention. It also reaffirms the importance of seeing, feeling and experiencing fashion, but with many influencers shunning fashion week and with the amount of traditional magazine press dwindling, who is it for exactly?
We do need to see. Digital is all a bit unreal. We may as well be dressing avatars. You also have a better memory of items in real, it’s the equivalent of a school trip, they’re fully rounded and you can picture yourself wearing it. But, is it that worth £100,000s to brands? Fashion week is a preview and is also important for brands to know what to make and order. We’ve tried ‘See now, buy now’ and now’s the time for digital presentations. Is the future for fashion weeks somewhere in-between? Or does that just take us back to square one?!
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Fashion weeks’ viability are continually being questioned. It’s the same conversation every time on the front row - the fashion industry’s twice yearly deja vecu - What is the point? And, how do fashion brands and designers justify the expense and time?
There’s no doubt the major fashion weeks - New York, London, Milan & Paris - have suffered recently as the industry has contracted, brands have merged men’s and women’s shows together and others have opted out entirely, reducing both the quality and quantity of many fashion weeks. Yet, many brands are still willing to spend millions on a few short minutes of exposure.
Ready-to-wear fashion weeks’ last hoped for raison d’être trend was ‘See Now, Buy Now’, which didn’t really work. It was too restrictive in a creative capacity for brands whose collections are often pulled together and styled a few weeks before each show.
It’s time to try something else, so could ‘public-facing shows’ be the solution and create a much needed source of income for these trade organisations?
Left - Will the BFC's idea for 'Public Facing' Shows' revive fashion weeks raison d'être?
The British Fashion Council has announced public-facing shows at the forthcoming London Fashion Week in September. Designers ‘House Of Holland’ and ‘self-portrait’, the first to be announced, will be taking part in the new London Fashion Week format which sees the internationally recognised event open its doors to the public.
Unlike the ‘London Fashion Weekend’ which is tagged onto the end of fashion week, and is more a exhibition-type event, this will take place during the main fashion week. There are public shows on the Saturday and Sunday with ticket holders choosing from three different time slots; 10am, 1pm and 4pm. The public audience is able to purchase tickets to “an immersive London Fashion Week experience” taking place at the official London Fashion Week Hub where Standard tickets are priced at £135 and Front Row tickets at £245.
The British Fashion Council says, “The experience includes catwalk shows, on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th September 2019; creative installations, industry-led talk panels from experts offering unparalleled insights to the fashion industry, the DiscoveryLAB, an experiential space where fashion meets art, technology and music and a newly relaunched Designer Exhibition, which will fully embrace #PositiveFashion, the BFC’s initiative designed to celebrate industry best practice and encourage future business decisions to create positive change.”
Fashion Writer, Dal Chodha, @dalchodha says, “Fashion shows are already ‘public facing’ so I don’t think this initiative is necessarily a bad thing. “What is increasingly obvious is that the industry has tried to maintain its aloofness whilst still courting attention from anyone and everyone for too long. There has been no clear welcome of the general public into the fashion conversation, despite all of the hot air about the ‘democratisation’ of fashion. I haven’t seen it.” he says. “There is nothing democratic about showing people clothes they cannot get, or streaming experiences they cannot feel.”
Dan Hasby-Oliver, Blogger, Last Style of Defense, says, “I do think this opens up crucial funding for both designers and the BFC, as well as making an industry more transparent, given the convo. around sustainability - it all goes hand-in-hand. However, I do fear it could become a circus of phone toting teens…”
“I think it’s a great idea. The designers need customers. If we can get #shoptherunway technology and eventually solve the fit issue using technology, we’ll have a seemless way for designers to make money from a runway show. The old model is dead. Off with its head!” says Melissa Shea, Cofounder of Fashion Mingle, the first nationwide platform designed exclusively for fashion professionals.
The full line-up of catwalk shows, talks and designers taking part in the London Fashion Week “Designer Exhibition” will be announced in the next few weeks. London isn’t the first fashion week to try to tap into this enthusiasm from the public.
"I have visited Seoul Fashion Week four times to report on it for Wallpaper and I was most struck by the energy, the excitement in the room!” says Chodha. “I believe they operate on a lottery system, but I don’t think people pay money for tickets. The first show I went to was bizarre because people were screaming and smiling and laughing each time they saw a celebrity or a look they liked. It felt like the photographs of 1980s shows coming to life. People were ENJOYING them – in contrast to the glum faces you see in Paris, Milan and London. Most of us are too busy trying to process what we are seeing to really enjoy it. No one applauds at shows anymore because each of us is wielding a phone, ‘gramming the moment. So if people are avidly watching and enjoying the stories, why not free up a few seats and invite them to the show? I don’t see the harm in it, as long as we are still allowed to do our job. Fashion is a tricky industry because it is so seductive. I just wish that more young people were encouraged to go and see scientists or surgeons at work too, rather than just designers!” he says.
With ticket prices to rival a rock concert, the BFC is clearly hoping to make serious revenue from this. They’ve previously sold tickets to the British Fashion Awards, and sponsors have always been given tickets to London Fashion Week in exchange for money.
“I agree that the pricing is an issue as it pits itself as a ‘luxury’ experience - also in terms of broadening out the kinds of people who have access to fashion, the price of the tickets will foster no new ways of thinking.” says Chodha. “The move from the BFC just confirms fashion’s new role as a type of theatre. It is a spectacle (even when it is bad). Just like traipsing around an art gallery or squeezing yourself into a concert, fashion is entertainment.
“‘Outsiders’ have been going to fashion shows for a long time under the guise of ‘sponsors friends’. Is this the future? It is the here and now. To be snobbish about it is to refuse evolution. Something has to change, that’s for sure.” he says.
“Fashion week is a working environment, and to perhaps make it a free for all could make professionals reconsider their place during the week, thus transitioning the event to a redundant, consumer facing replacement for See Now, Buy Now.” says Hasby-Oliver. “Perhaps more work-place/open days/industry support would benefit keen outsiders looking to the industry instead. I do think, the current price package is prohibitive to the less privileged. Concl: Yes for transparency and education for the few, No to making it a frenzied free for all.” he says.
Traditionally, Haute Couture fashion shows have always been about the consumer with the hope these ridiculously expensive clothes are ordered off the back of the show. But, it was a model only for the mega-monied who could buy entry by becoming a customer. These shows will be separate from the press/buyer shows, but should give attendees a feel of going to a full fledged fashion show. Many people want to attend a fashion show once in their lifetime and if the BFC get the designers, music and models right they should satisfy those with the desire to stump up this sort of cash to go. Unfortunately, the best designers will probably decline to take part.
Fashion and fashion weeks’ exclusivity is one of the attractions of the industry. The desire for tickets, the scrum at the door and the hysteria are all part of the fun. To sell out 6 catwalk shows for these prices will be a challenge, but will certainly generate some income. These shows need to be buzzy and full to give the full LFW experience. If successful, other brands could look at offering another public show after their main one and possibly give the tickets away in a ballot or to VIP customers. The industry will be watching.
We’re on the eve of London Fashion Week Men’s and, while celebrating its 5th year, the biannual event is having to deal with the changing menswear landscape. Brands are cutting expenditure, many are merging men’s with women’s, budgets are under pressure and London Fashion Week needs to be justified more than ever.
Left - The new face of Topman AW17, Lennon Gallagher giving good brows
The closed, industry facing idea of fashion weeks is over and it’s all about photo opportunities and customer facing events. It’s about promotion, harnessing the buzz and trying to get some direct return on the costly investment.
Perfectly illustrating this is Topman Design. One of the originals on the London men’s schedule and the first to really elevate high-street to a catwalk proposition, Topman Design has decided to shelve the show and instead have a presentation for its new SS18 collection that will be thrown open to the general public over the weekend. Arcadia, the parent of Topman, has seen sales falling and this puts pressure on making these type of events perform.
A ‘multi-media event’ called ‘Transition’, the Topman Design installation is curated by a series of collaborators.. Each collaborator will ‘own’ a space and create an installation showcasing their interpretation of this attitude with each room having a completely different and fresh perspective to create a unique journey through the space.
The event takes place at the Old Truman Brewery and open to the public on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th June between 10am and 6pm. To gain access to the event simply download the DICE app on the App Store and Google Play or at DICE.fm.
Collaborators featured include photographer and filmmaker Nick Offord, musicians ‘The Rhythm Method’, poet and writer Max Wallis, architect and filmmaker Ben Cullen Williams and photographer and creative director Campbell Addy who will be working alongside illustrator King Owusu. In addition the space housing the installation will be designed by young British architect Benni Allan of estudio b.
The space will also feature a pop-up shop selling exclusive apparel featuring prints and graphics taken from and inspired by the Topman Design archive as well as exclusive pieces from the collaborators exhibiting.
Opening the fashion week up to the city makes it an event and creates the momentum that continues to keep these things going. We need to see more of this and not simply 'See Now, Buy Now'. I was thinking when they pedestrianise Oxford Street, it could become the location for fashion week. Clear marquees could hold shows and outside screens could showcase collections to the general public increasing interest and firmly keeping British fashion as the centre of creativity and the city.
Increasing the public's interest in fashion and fashion week and taking it out of its bubble should be the main objective this LFWM.