Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Graduate Fashion Shows: What's Gone Wrong?:

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.


  1. Are even the biggies whom you have mentioned really innovating anything these days or are they just trying to live in their past glory? I would concur with the latter! The old cannot innovate because their wells of creativity have long dried up, the new cannot tread on unknow paths for fear of rejection, no wonder it explains the lack of chutpaz in fashion these days!! Its about the old making way for the new, grooming them etc thats going to make the industry prosper not a bunch of 50 to 70 somethings holding on and refusing to let go! Sad but true!

  2. Dear Colin

    I just have to say thank you for your posts...which always result in great debates on my facebook page...

    And I don't agree with Anonymous, my best lecturers were all in their 70's. It's about their ability to cultivate thirst for learning, self development and commitment. And that has nothing to do with age but more with a frame of mind.



  3. Creativity doesn't flow like an endless stream.Fashion is limited in its medium of expression.End of the day there is only that much that one can be done with fabrics.So when a designer's career spans for 50 years, however talented the designer might be it is extremely difficult to sustain the same momentum.Case in point is the great designer John Galliano himself.Does he evoke the same reaction he did back in the 80's.His show is still beautiful but doesn't hold any surprises any more.Please don't confuse teaching with designing!

  4. Hello, Colin. I'm not sure that we've properly met, although I would imagine we may have at Laura Biagiotti (just thinking of Adriano Gianelli who'd come from Armani and was part of that first sad round of fashion men struck down with AIDS). Charles Gallay did bring a Pino Lancetti skirt back for me, along with a suitcase full of other pieces he promised were from Pino Lancetti's haute couture collection. A chiffon print skirt with a black lace underskirt, incredible fine and beautiful. The ready to wear were the most extraordinary white blouses shown with long black evening skirts. Gini Alhadeff (sic??) had also just left Armani for Biagiotti, a lighter world.

    I was surprised and saddened by this post. Certainly there are some students that lack creativity and maybe then are not suited for what is a beautiful yet stark business; it has its requirements and cannot slow down, even as every new buyer thinks that it has not occurred previously to the design houses to modify the schedule to avoid the cliche of heavy coats and sweaters in shop by end of August or even July.

    The teaching staff may or may not impact each student bi syllabus, technique, excellence, style but I would think that the banal and mediocre would be outed and dashed out the back door or stuck in pins and needles perhaps. One comes to this business only because one must: it cannot be for the money or lifestyle because most cannot pay all their bills on time and it is so frustrating to have buyers avoid someone new and then watch as the semi-annual stampede to a better known designer.

    I blogged about this because it aroused passion and I think civil conversation and debates are good things. Certainly Galliano (especially the early years), Prada (well, the early years again - she took the conservative family business into fashion, back in the Hotel Diana days) and Marc (he has remained fresh always; the grunge collection was beyond amazing) are iconoclastic and special but so are many designers that have not achieved what they have.

    It's an old thing isn't it - that there will always be "the street" - it certainly impacted a very young fey YSL, standing in doorways sketching what he saw during the student protests. That and what is now "heritage" aka very, very spendy.

    Madeleine Gallay