Thursday, 18 February 2010

New York Fashion Week - Why Bother?

New York fashion week was clearly not a vintage one, with banality being the order of the day. No great surprise there, I must say. It has been a long time since we looked to New York designers for originality, wit or even very much involvement with the concepts of good design. Certainly not for at least five years. As the great names have changed or grown old, New York has stopped being a place where new ideas are generated. There is no current equivalent of Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein (the designer, not the label) or the young Donna Karan. There is Marc Jacobs, of course, but he is so volatile that we get no coherent statement, each season being a new and often desperate-seeming attempt to catch the mood for quick sales. He is a sort of paradigm for a nation with the shortest attention span in world fashion, coupled with an almost pathological longing for the look already known - and only (slightly) different. Current US fashion is as sterile as the fashion magazines that I saw on the news-stands in New York two weeks ago - not nearly as juicy with ads as they were, of course, and about as engaging of the imagination as a handout from a pizza parlour.

Why has this happened to a fashion country that was once so exciting?

In a word, greed. This is a vast and lucrative market - why do you think London fashion is destroying itself trying to break into it? - and it devours fashion in huge quantities. But, because of the sheer numbers involved in its retail structure, it can afford to take very few risks, so, more than any other market in the world, it must dumb down, just as all American mass culture must. And, as we all know, mass means crass. If you set out to be all things to all men (or women) you end up with a sort of porridge that appeals to no discerning palette.

That is why 7th Avenue is a sinful place. The home of the US rag trade is dominated by the dream of the quick buck at any cost and its aesthetic has insidiously permeated designer level clothing over the last ten years. The result is that designers there are hailed not for being good but for no other reason than being the new kids on the block, no matter how banal and boring they may be. Old designers plod on, weakening their message with each season in the race to keep up with the second rate. It is a corrosive situation which could well spread and I find it alarming that such infantile attitudes have such sway across the fashion world.

All of which makes me ask why, in these financially strapped days, journalists keep New York on the schedule of international venues. Frankly, on current performance it really doesn't deserve any attention at all.


  1. Two years ago, I thought Rodarte showed real promise- and they do make beautiful clothes- but it seems to have devolved into a rather samey round of looks from there (unless there is something that I really don't understand, which is likely since I am no professional)

  2. Dear Mr. McDowell:

    I winced when I read this post. Sadly, with few exceptions, I would have to agree. This said, I don't think your assessment can necessarily be limited to US fashion alone.

    I've seen some rather dodgy designer duds coming from London, Paris and Milan too. Badly constructed garments that flatter no one or decent enough garments with price tags that make your heart skip a beat. If you are indeed correct in your assessment and greed is in fact the culprit, surely you would concede that greed is a universal trait and is not limited to American designers. There is plenty of it to go around.

    As usual, I'm grateful for your honesty (as brutal as it may be). I do think however that what afflicts the fashion industry is not limited to the US.


    The Luxe Chronicles

  3. Wow! Truth in every single line.The first time I got to know you was through the wonderful book that you had written about my most favorite fashion designer, John Galliano.

    The reason why editors still flog there could again be the very machinery that is killing it namely commercialisation and maybe the huge market it affords for luxury goods!We live in an era where exibitionism is lauded, where people who display a dozen LV bags are stamped as fashion Gods with deep talent worthy enough to rule the pages of American Vogue whereas an unknown designer with ooddles of talent slogs into oblivion without much recognisation.Sad!

  4. After Day 1 @ LFW I have a horrible dread that some of last season's hot names have really lost their way. I have not seen all the collections up close yet, but so many collections on the runway just looked dirt cheap and badly constructed. Something London had really improved on the last few years. And do women really need more body-con/angry shoulder dresses? Lets hope over the weekend the New Gen big guns will hit us with wonderment. Guy - Editor

  5. Such a hard, wonderful business, some petty jealousies still after all these years (the early, early one of Giorgio Armani looking at the influence of Calvin Klein).

    The hand of the designer sending lovely (one hopes) models striding down a catwalk should be a little tremulous but the confluence of bloggers (and there are amazingly wondrous bloggerinas with fabulous reference points and an understanding of critique) jousting for attention, tweeting from the front row, judging and speaking as the the prominence of Carine Roitfeld or Anna Wintour .. are making this a mess.

    I am biased and wonder why the retailers, the veritable bloodstream of fashion, are ignored at this moment and consider that foolish and dangerous. There is change going on with many designers courting certain under-thirty quasi-celebrities (Julia Roberts buys her clothes, thank you) seeking not only the favor of borrowed frocks, but hotel suites, airfare and cash.

    Tawdry is too mild a word/image to convey the mood.

    And somehow, how can this be, Target is stepping up to showcase indie designers that the bloggerati has no understanding of.

    I think the expansive theater of fashion shows is a custom and a lovely one. But it was for fashion editors and fashion retailers. Frocks-a-plenty and competitive pricing, returns, advertising allowances, baseball tickets and mark-downs - there is a lot going on with luxury a code word for pricey and too often average. Curious that Hermes had growth and the rest struggled to make numbers, mostly missing.

    The attention to the front row is tired.

  6. Over the past few days while exhibiting at London Fashion Week I have heard several comments echoing Guy's, regarding poor garment quality and designers not living up to expectations. I think Sarah Mower touched on this subtely in her reviews of Holly Fulton and Michael Van Der Ham's collections.

    I really hope Guy, and other commentators on emerging talent, come to see designers like myself showing off-schedule; even if only to confirm that utter dedication to originality and exceptional quality definately exists.