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Take a Seat, Li Edelkoort

By Jackie Mallon


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Fashion |OPINION

First, fashion was dead. Then fashion was free. All within the span of six months. I know fashion is fast-moving, but can it go from stone-cold deceased to––not only resuscitated––but making a soaring bid for liberty in the time it took for me to get my winter sweaters out of storage? Death is quite the bondage. What happened? Was it kissed by a fairy-tale prince?

In the spring, Li Edelkoort, the world-renowned trend forecaster and recent addition to Parsons’ fashion department faculty, proclaimed the death of fashion in what became known as her Anti_Fashion Manifesto and her doom-filled words rang throughout an industry already existing in an albeit blinkered state of panic. Fashion journalists analyzed her statements tirelessly. Weaker voices had been speaking of the fashion system’s self-destruction for many months but Edelkoort’s automatically carried more weight. And then, of course, the word “dead” does have that tendency to stop people in their tracks.

Return of the Dead

Yet the views expressed at her follow-up mid-September seminar, The Emancipation of Everything, with an entrance fee of 350 euro, demonstrated an about-face. It seems, instead of being dead, fashion is poised to embrace the color brown, promote granny-panties and demonstrate a return of the pussy-bow blouse. (The style’s been around all year but Edelkoort may have missed it while searching for her overarching decree that would validate that costly entrance fee.)

Edelkoort discussed other trends which appeared to contain a little more substance. She cited the “feminization of men” as something that will create much change. For me, though, teaching at various New York City fashion schools, this change will be barely felt as it’s a quotidian occurrence to see boys in dresses and makeup. “Hey, that’s New York,” one might counter. But recognition of this trend has spread beyond cosmopolitan fashion capitals. Former Central St Martins student Craig Green was recently awarded the Dress of the Year honor by the Fashion Museum of Bath, England, and this was notable because it was the first menswear design to win the title in fifty years. The museum’s website describes the winning entry as one that “encapsulates the prevailing mood of fashion, represents the past year and captures the zeitgeist or imagination.”

Green’s description of the appeal of his work is also telling of the attitude shift to gender-specific dressing that’s been growing apace for a while: "There has been a female customer for the collections since the very beginning. To see anybody wearing pieces from the collections is something exciting for me––male or female. I am not sure why some of the pieces seem to attract a womenswear customer. [It] feels like some of the garments’ shapes seem to have worked well on both male and female body shapes. It feels like a sign of the times, the direction that everything is moving towards. The rules and restrictions as to what is gender specific have become increasingly blurred. It feels like something that should be celebrated.”

Even London’s century-old department store Selfridges got on board back in March when it launched its Agender concept based on its conviction that customers no longer want to subscribe to a gender-specific method of shopping, redefining its store layout to remove separate men’s and women’s departments. And, interestingly, I purchased my first garment from a student’s graduate collection this year and it was a menswear dress. Designed by Lavan Chxeidze, here it is worn on the runway by Ritchie Fabian, although it looks a little different on me.

Derailment and Mutiny

Edelkoort also revealed her thoughts on an upcoming revolt that will put the brakes on the lamentably accelerated fashion calendar, and signal a return to artisanal craftsmanship, less consumption, likening what will happen to the slow-cooking trend in food. “Creative directors and designers are being squeezed out like lemons in the fashion system,” she says, citing the experiences of Raf Simons at Dior, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, and John Galliano at Dior, who, she reminds us, had assistants light his cigarettes for him because he was so busy. “Designers want another move in the fashion system, but marketing does not want that––they are stuck in the last century chasing the next ‘it’ item…The time for derailing in the industry is coming.”

As a guest reviewer of the Parsons thesis students’ collections, I unwittingly gained knowledge of this mutiny. It was already afoot back in June when I interviewed several of the graduating class for FashionUnited and asked their views on the future of fashion. Elizabeth Bastian revealed, “Over the past two years I have been bouncing the idea off my friends of starting a transdisciplinary design co-op. If you think about it, fashion is one of the few industries in the world that really has not advanced in the past 20 years or so. I think we need to stop being obsessed with the individual in design; we need to collaborate with other designers, not necessarily in fashion, to truly come up with unique ideas by addressing problems differently...and not follow the fashion system, but try and create more sustainable and innovative products.”

In a November post on the Central St Martins’ student blog 1 Granary entitled RUMOURED: CSM STUDENTS DON’T WANT TO WORK FOR BIG LUXURY HOUSES ANYMORE (caps their own), the writers attempted an on-the-ground investigation. Great idea. Why rely on a forecaster in an ivory tower to impart this knowledge for an elevated sum when we can just ask the new generation, the ones who will be most affected? Womenswear designer Andrew Totah said, “If you look at when I started school, you would never hear such talk between students. It is much more open. This seems to be a general sensation going through the industry; it is a ripple effect going directly to the students.” Print student Carmen Chan, fresh from her year out at one of the houses under the current spotlight, Lanvin, says it’s a bit of a “generalization” but recognizes, “why people do not want to go into high-fashion brands is because the pace is very fast. If you want a chill life, it’s not the place to be.”

Edelkoort tours the world––London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Zurich, Tokyo; in January she will deliver the same address to a select gathering at MOCA in Los Angeles. For her, fashion is decidedly undead; it’s just suffering from a touch of jet lag. It fills auditoriums and is translatable into multiple languages (the seminar’s stateside price is 350 dollars).

Maybe it was the calculated click-bait nature of the title of her previous pronouncement that stuck in my craw. She never gave me cause to question her before. Maybe in this disturbing Trump era, it’s the idea that someone positions themselves to proclaim anything to the seething masses that troubles me. Maybe it’s the use of the rather pretentious, somewhat archaic, word manifesto.

However, it’s not all bad. One prophesy in her The Emancipation of Everything did resonate with me: “It will be seen as very luxe to be able to function/live with so little.”

Talking About a Revolution

Lesson to live by indeed. So how about this for a trend? In fact, let me adopt a more authoritative stance and locate my bullhorn so that my words can be heard all across the industry, reaching both niche and mass, high and low.

Hear ye, oh hear ye! How about we stop waiting for pronouncements from professionals whose business interests might naturally conflict with the good of their message? How about we return to common sense and listen to our own inner voice? We are already armed with the knowledge. It’s been in the air for a considerable time. How about we determine if the role of Trend Forecaster is even relevant to an industry that desperately needs to return to individualism, in which brands need to examine their raison d’être, and designers need to lose the flock mentality?

To my highly pricked ear, Li Edelkoort even inadvertently suggests her own redundancy in these words: “Emancipation is thinking how we can reverse these fixed notions and roles in society––it is a moment to look at how society is functioning and changing in silent revolutions.”

But silent revolutions do not require a high priestess. Take a seat, Ms. Edelkoort, and behold. The revolution is upon us.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Lidewij Edelkoort