Subject; The Fashion Victims

Why? Because we need to understand boths sides of the story.

Everyone in fashion is ultimately dispensable.

That golden rule was made even more abundantly clear this past fashion month. The shows came and went but not without their share of drama and controversy. None more controversial than the news that Raf Simons will no longer be at Jil Sander after this round of Autumn/Winter shows.

Fashion is a cruel game which leaves in its wake, its fair share of victims.

Fashion week for the designer is like the SATs or A-Levels; the ultimate judgement test to determine whether they make the grade which will certify their position on the fashion food chain with the judges being the editors, the bloggers and ultimately the consumer. It is more than just looking fabulous on the front row, frolicking at the parties, rubbing shoulders with the elite and the endless shots of street style madness. And much like the ultimate tests, if you don’t make the grade you’ll know soon enough.

Chances in the Fashion Industry are skinnier than the runway model, it used to be who you know that got you through the velvet ropes and what you know that kept you in the party but there is a third part to that equation; the money men have the final say, talent or not, theirs is the bottom line and if its not robust enough, the designer gets the chop. Unlike the consumer, the designer cannot automatically switch off their allegiance to a brand because they are the brand, if consumers are not feeling a brand for one season they simply look to another brand to fulfil their expectation. Designers don’t have the luxury of doing that and there are only so many houses a designer can work in before he becomes redundant or some sort of cliché, good or bad. Cut throat.

This round of fashion week was filled with highs, lows and audible gasps, especially when the news about Raf Simons’departure from Jil Sander was confirmed and the namesake of the brand, Jil Sander, will be returning to the brand after a seven year hiatus. Surprise. Astonishment. Disbelief. Soon enough to rumour mill was on fire; did he jump or was he pushed? And more importantly; why? It finally emerged that he was indeed pushed. A “strategic return to the culture of the brand” was how it was worded. Designers get fired all the time, its par for the course, for one reason or other, things change as they should, they shouldn’t stay the same however, when the going is good its hard to want the tide to change, except of course for the better. For the house of Jil Sander, change wasn’t warranted creatively, but if the stories are to be believed, a better structural configuration was needed. The house wasn’t making the numbers because it lacked infrastructural growth and it failed to cash in on the accessories market which is the life and soul of any fashion brand. You cannot stifle the capability of a designer, as creatives, they have curious minds that wander and they want to paint a complete picture with all the colour options available to them. In the same way you cannot call a woman dressed up if she doesn’t have her necessary accessories; handbags and shoes, whatever her style. That notwithstanding Jil Sander has been hailed as one of the brands that has presented noteworthy collection in recent seasons and that is because Raf Simons is one of the most talented and exciting designers around.

Still, the question remains; if a designer as talented as Raf Simons can suffer such fate, what hope is there for fashion at large; old, new and emerging brands?

The pressure on a designer is ever so obvious in this atmosphere of chopping and changing, firing and hiring, they have to keep too many people sweet, the consumer, the brand heritage, the buyers, the editors, and most especially the money men… no one is in business to make nice, they are there to turn a profit, at the end of the day its about the bottom line. But finding the balance between profit and passion is one line that is often blurred and one akin to a pressure cooker about to blow its whistle.

When that infamous video of John Galliano at the pivotal moment of his fall from grace found its way to the web, aside from the illusions of grandeur the designer harboured about himself, even in such a state, there was something even more melancholic about him; drunk, slurring words, all discombobulated and what not. It was a pitiful sight for this was not the Galliano we’d seen on the catwalk, so full of life, robust personality…

In his final show for Balmain, Christophe Decarnin did not even take the bow, (this was a particularly maddening season for the French one could say, because it was the same season of Galliano’s debacle.) Soon after it was confirmed that Decarnin parted ways with the brand. Again the rumour mill was set alight; some reported that he suffered from depression, others say he was sleep deprived and too tired to even attend his show, and whilst some others point to the tensions with Alain Hivelin, owner of the brand, with whom Decarnin had conflicting visions of the Brand as a whole.

Famed for its ambitious price points, Balmain enjoyed a string of successes with celebrities, the only ones who could afford to wear the clothes; but the price point soon became an Achilles heel for the brand, round about £300 for a t-shirt with safety pins? Cotton and pins? Yes that might have been seen as an issue. All or most designers are guilty of it; expecting the consumer to pay astronomical prices for a piece of cloth or accessory, simply because it bears a brand name, even if it is a pair of Tom Ford sunglasses, luxury or not. Ahem. Even the most gullible of us have our limits.

Then there is the case of designers who don’t even own the rights to their names or those who leave brands which bare their names because things have come to a head with those who pull the purse strings; I couldn’t imagine wearing Marc Jacobs if Marc Jacobs himself did not design it, unless of course its post mortem as is the case with some high fashion houses; Chanel, YSL, Dior…etc. Kenneth Cole is trying to buy back Kenneth Cole. In 2008, a hostile corporate takeover and divorce battle with her ex-husband and business partner, saw the Amanda Wakeley lose her brand to debt restructurer Jason Granite, one time of Deutsche Bank. But she was eventually able to buy it back and now owns 100% of the Amanda Wakeley brand. Her name inclusive.

Judged and labelled solely on looks alone, models too suffer a cruel fate for the sake of fashion; in 2006 Ana Carolina Reston, Mairara Galvao Viera, Eliana Ramos, Luisel Ramos, (sisters) were among young aspiring models who died after suffering complications of anorexia, we have heard horror stories of agents telling aspiring models to lose weight in the hopes of making it in the industry. Narrowing definitions of what is and isn’t acceptable; looks, height, weight, the plus size model (what exactly is plus size?) who’s in and who’s out from season to season, the working hours, the pay, the endless comparisons; “next Naomi,” “the New Kate Moss”, one season your “it” the next season you’re “out”, the furore that surrounds the ethnic and minority models and their underrepresentation in the industry…oh the horror of it all.

The magazines too have been made victims of the industry they founded, sometimes by their own doing; the age old, editorial/advertorial campaigns, air brushing, photo-shopping, GWP practise because that could be the only way to pump up sales in slower months, every other issue on the stand is about weight, the perfect this, the appropriate that, plastic surgery, orgasms…then you have the tabloids with their Pepto-Bismol coloured headlines of salacious stories about people’s lives, (because actresses, models etc are people too you know and sometimes we seem to lose sight of that) using them as pawns all in this game of numbers. There once was a time when the content of a magazine determined its success and not because it had a famous actress or singer on the cover and certainly not because a lipstick was thrown in with the issue. But popularity outweighs the substance of a good content these days.

New designers possibly suffer the worst fate with the likes of Kanye West knocking together a barely basic collection simply because he can, and oh, he would like us to pay near enough $5000 for a pair of shoes. Somebody please stop him.

In a creative industry like fashion; creativity should prevail, passion. Fashion victims are aplenty, and more often than not it is the unusual suspects that become the victims sometimes of their own making, but victims no less; magazines need the ad pages to make money, hence some issues read like the yellow pages for high fashion brands, the model who cannot escape the magnifying glass of the world looking in, the editor who has to answer to the advertisers and last but not least the designers who are just as dispensable as last season’s accessory, not even a name is sacred anymore. Yet, we are safe for now, in the knowledge that Raf Simons will be handling Dior as early as the Couture season round the corner in July, we’re curious and excited to see, but I was also a fan of Gaytten stepping into Galliano’s shoes because he made clothes every woman wanted to wear, his skills are to be applauded greatly. Still we are excited for Simons, and are rooting for him, it is very well deserved and who knows, the infrastructure is more robust at Dior, so he will have room to spread his wings and conquer. So here’s to the man having his well deserved fashion moment

As we approach the next onslaught of fashion weeks, here’s hoping there are far less antics and more of the creative.