There are many aspects that I personally abhor about today's fashion industry, but the main one is definitely its fast and faster rhythms that are constantly putting too much pressure on designers, consumers and, above all, on our planet.
We do have occasional “slow pockets” that include fashion designers and houses that have dropped out of the official fashion weeks, independent designers making made-to-measure garments and, obviously, haute couture.
The few designers still producing Haute Couture can give free reign to their imagination in their high fashion creations traditionally made by very skilled craftspeople.Yet, I wonder, is couture destined to change now that Swedish retailer Hennes and Mauritz unveiled plans to release a luxury line in 2013? (H&M registered last year the trademarks and logos for "& Other Stories", as reported a couple of days ago by Swedish news service Dagens Nyheter, so that should be the name of the new luxury line chain).
You can like or dislike such megabrands, but one thing is for sure - H&M is definitely not linked to the adjective “slow”. Indeed, if luxury means craft, and therefore “slowness”, it is actually very difficult to imagine proper and knowledgeable artisans based all over the world producing at human rhythms for Hennes and Mauritz a line of products that can compete with proper luxury brands and with couture as well.
I’m keen to discover more about the recently unveiled plans because there are different points that interest me, among the others where will they source labour and who will guarantee us the originality of their designs.
I do wonder in which country they will have their production based and if they will turn to proper artisans or if they will opt for easy ways out, exploiting the workforce in the style of certain Italian brands (as anti-camorra writer Roberto Saviano recounts in the fashion-related chapter of his book Gomorrah).
For what regards the second point, we have often seen high street retailers literally regurgitating clothes and accessories by famous designers, but also by fashion graduates and up-and-coming designers two or three weeks after seeing images of these collections appearing on the Internet, so it’s perfectly logic to think that, in the case of a luxury line, we will see more copies directly taken from specific haute couture collections arriving on the market.
In a way this has already happened: a few days ago H&M released the first images of their Exclusive Glamour Collection, part of H&M Conscious Initiative, that will be released right after Easter. The main idea behind this collection is to get the inspiration from dresses donned by celebrities on the red carpet and making them using sustainable materials such as organic cotton/hemp and recycled polyester.
While many consumers have started waking up about the lures of sustainable fashion (the most “sustainable” thing to do would be to stop producing clothes in excess…), the main problem with this collection isn’t the sustainability aspect, but the fact that it will also feature designs that have a déjà vu quality about them, such as a cotton/silk gown with a ruffled organza skirt allegedly inspired by Alexander McQueen, but actually looking like a crossover between some of the designs from McQueen’s A/W 2011-12 and S/S 2012 collections, with their magic cascades of ruffles.
Yes, you’re right and spot on, this dress will be more affordable (£249.99) than the original one, but where does “inspiration” start, where does “tribute" end and where does “copy” begin? Aren’t we giving the wrong perception of what fashion is and should be to young fashion design students who may end up thinking you don’t have to actually work hard to create new things, but you can just change a garment seen two seasons ago and adapt it for your own brand?
Decades ago it was easy to find on Italian magazines suggestions (and even patterns) to recreate specific designer dresses, or you could visit a specialised shop and buy fabric designed by famous fashion houses and make your own dress. Now, while these practices should be encouraged because they teach you how to alter, readapt, reinvent or design things by yourself and for yourself, it is somehow more difficult to justify a megabrand "adapting" a dress from another brand/fashion house and reproducing it in thousands of copies.
Many young people have the false perception that fashion has been democratised by collaborations between high street retailers and famous fashion houses. If handmade and couture “speed up”, there will be various consequences: first, there is the ethical problem, with artisans in some parts of the world working hard for very little; second, people will start thinking that fashion at couture level can be easily reproduced; third, if haute couture will "inspire" cheaper copies, there will be more legal battles about copyrights (by the way, the latest copyright dispute involves Gucci accusing Guess of copying its tradermak diamond and G's pattern, name font and striped design); fourth (but the list could go on and on...), couture is timeless, but "fast" couture may suffer from the Warhol syndrome, that is it won't be fashionable for more than 15 minutes, being based/copied/deriving from trendy garments selected from other contemporary fashion collections.
In an industry in which most young fashion designers live a roller coaster life trapped in bizarre routines that force them to think two years in advance when they are not even sure they will manage to find the money to eat and pay the bills today (OK, that doesn't probably refer to the "lucky" ones pumped up by the fashion media...), we must start considering not only the damages that fast fashion has already done to our wardrobes, but also the damages it will do to our perceptions of higher forms of fashion, such as couture, in the long run.
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