The Spanish film director Luis Buñuel once said that "The opinion of the audience is conformity", by which I suspect he meant that we all like what we know. That's why virtually every TV drama has the same plot with only the regional setting and accents showing any variety. It's also why Oxford Street and every high street in the land are full of clothes which, if not actually identical, are all the same in thought. Of course, this is built into the fashion system. There has always been THE fashion of any one time since Marie Antoinette at Versailles, where the morning's look was totally passé by the afternoon as the quixotic queen changed her mind and her clothes and everyone was forced to follow.
But originality comes from queens no longer. Instead, it stems from two sources: the young and bold with nothing to lose; and the successful and powerful with all the money behind them to enable risks to be taken. On the one hand, students and young designers; on the other, the likes of Miuccia Prada, John Galliano and Marc Jacobs.
The big names can look after themselves. The people I am thinking about here are the graduates leaving college this summer. They are just finalising their collections and the invitations to attend the college shows are arriving on the desks of fashion journalists and buyers about now.
How many will attend? Very few.
Why is that, in people who should be eager to seek out new talent at every opportunity?
Once bitten, twice shy, I'm afraid. Most of us working in the business know that most of what comes down the runways at Graduate Fashion Week or in independent college shows will have a deadly conformity and be little more than warmed-over versions of the big idea of the fashion darling(s) of last season – which has probably already been fully exploited by mass manufacturers.
How does this happen? Mainly because so many – but by no means all – fashion departments in art colleges are staffed by second-hand roses: ex-designers, failed PR people and journalists who rarely go to the top fashion shows or have any conversation with the major designers. So, their sources of information are the same as those available to their students: magazines, dvds and gossip. They are not insiders. If they work north of Watford or south of Guildford, they probably don't get invited to press days or presentations – and almost certainly couldn't afford the time to attend if they were (academics are worked like dogs these days). No wonder they so often fail to stimulate boldness in their students and accept the conformity that Buñuel so disliked; the conformity that, sadly, gets their graduates the job in the current conformist fashion world.
It is time for a long overdue root-and-branch rethink, it seems to me.