Li Edelkoort: 'Fashion is dead. Long live clothing'

Famous Dutch trend ‘forecaster’ Lidewij Edelkoort has clearly dealt with the matter that had been gnawing away at her for some time, resulting in a good dressing down for everyone – schools, the press, the catwalks, in short the whole fashion system. This has led to the creation of the manifesto, baptised ‘Anti-fashion,' a pithy text that she insisted on reading herself to a packed (and full) room when she passed through Paris last Tuesday and Wednesday as a prelude to her design house Trend Union presenting its new predictions for the 2016/17 autumn and winter season.

As a trend consultant she insists from the outset, as if to apologise: “I love fashion. Passionately”. She did not really need to remind us of that: Time Magazine did not name her as one of the 25 most influential people in fashion for nothing in 2008. Today it is universally agreed that everyone takes note of what Lidewij Edelkoort has to say: the success, never disputed, of her reviews View on Colour and Bloom bears witness to the richness of her creative suggestions. Her trend brochures aimed at the fashion and textile, design, interior design, and beauty and well-being industries are distributed around the world.

“Our ‘fashion system’ is completely obsolete”

She goes on to say “I love fashion, yet I could not have not written this text entitled ‘Anti-fashion.’ This professional manifesto finds that fashion has undergone a radical change rendering the current ‘fashion system’ completely obsolete.” This starts with education. “Fashion schools and colleges continue to teach young students to become catwalk designers, divas. They keep on being led to believe that what awaits them is a life of fame outside of the rules. In other words schools are continuing to teach the principle of unsociable individuality to young people whose environment, in these days of social networks, is based on sharing and creating together. In reality, training in fashion has gone out of fashion."

“A world with no interest in textiles”

The forecaster emphasises that “for the first time in its history fashion, supposedly ahead of the times, it is unable to react to the period.” Students are being taught to become little Karls, to create clothes, bags, all sorts of accessories for others, to arrange the show, brochures, communications and photography – all in three years. And during these three years, little time ends up being dedicated to clothes, which are just one element among many.”

The situation of the studios, sacrificed on the altar of globalisation, makes it even more difficult to teach techniques: “this now leads to fashion designers being trained who are not familiar with fabric, who do not know how textiles work or how fibres react. Soon we will only know poplin and the jersey for the rest of our lives. It’s terrifying.” Hence the interest, in passing, in offering her clients a new course of studies allowing a better understanding of the mechanisms inherent to the season’s fabrics.

The press also receives a dressing down with scathing remarks about the lack of general education of fashion editors: “We have seen, for example, in major magazines such as Vogue or Marie-Claire triumphant announcements rejoicing in the return of prints. Do your homework madam editors and stop talking about prints when what is meant is actually jacquard.”

The rest of the manifesto is in the same vein: public opinion needs to be made aware of the fact that cheaper clothes (ludicrously, now copying the luxury brands) manufactured in countries where the workforce is exploited have blood on their hands; the resulting loss of interest in local know-how, the irresponsible attitude of the media in advocating never wearing the same outfit twice as a panacea; the fact that designers are pushed by marketing to henceforth regard clothing as just an accessory to other accessories such as bags and shoes.

“When you add them up there are no longer any creators really creating fashion. To put it simply, this is because marketing has killed the fashion industry by over-exploiting it, by subjecting designers to unbelievable stress (they have to do everything) and where their originality is sacrificed in the constant quest for the slogan, by saturating the market with products made to create nice images designed to be ‘liked’ (in order to sell perfume) to the detriment of clothes made to be worn."

And where are the consumers in all this? Lidewij Edelkoort has the feeling that the younger generations will no longer feel the need to own a whole expanding wardrobe of their own. She gives the example of young Chinese clients who cannot afford to buy the dream item such as the Little Black Dress and opt without hesitation to buy one between them. And extolling the virtues of projects that in themselves are slightly insane, such as the ‘habibliothèque’ in Paris that offers the possibility (while at the same time fighting against fast fashion) of hiring designer labels at an affordable price.

Conclusion: “Clothes will be the answer to the unsettling of the fashion system. Analysing and conceptualising a trend will only be of interest if undertaken from an anthropological and humanist point of view, and if we go back to the basics of ‘couture’ with its genuine interest in the fabric and the ‘way’ that we examined them before the invention of prêt-à-porter clothing. This is why my presentation this evening, and those to come, will no longer talk about fashion – a concept that no longer has a raison d’être in this day and age.

Original by Hervé Dewintre, FashionUnited's correspondent in Paris.