The fashion ouroboros: is fashion all out of ideas?
No creative worth their salt will ever admit to being out of ideas. Even no idea is an idea these days. Collabs have become the go-to to fill the gaps in fashion’s creativity and its continual appetite for product over the past decade. Are two empty heads always better than one?
Fashion is a cycle and like the Ouroboros, the ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail, it goes around and around. But, today, that coil has become so tight it has almost devoured itself. In a “pop will eat itself” moment, former rivals are now collaborating and even swapping creative roles, while retailers, desperate for new ideas are trying to incubate new designers, labels and ideas to fill the ideas vacuum.
Is fashion officially out of ideas?
The biggest “hacking” of the season, (not a collab. anymore – FYI), was the tie up between Balenciaga and Gucci, both Kering brands. In Gucci’s centenary year, Gucci’s “Aria” collection, meaning air in Italian, featured no-doubt sell out product the resellers will only dream about.
Tagged as Balenciagucci or (Gucciaga), the internet blew up in April when Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele added Balenciaga’s silhouettes and branding across Gucci product.
Two of the biggest and most desirable names in luxury fashion merging like this is unprecedented. A classic Jackie bag was emblazoned with the diagonal Balenciaga font, while Balenciaga’s Triple S sneaker was reimagined with the recognisable Gucci Flora print.
If this wasn’t enough rehashing of ideas, the collection also mined the famous Tom Ford era of the mid to late 90’s, reproducing some of his vintage looks from the Gucci archive.
Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia said on Instagram Stories after the Gucci show with regards to the homage to Tom Ford’s Gucci. “It really defined the decade in fashion, I think. But I love how today everything mixes in together — ’70s, ’90s, ’00s, etc. Anything is really possible and fashion is such a melting pot of the past, present, and future. That’s what makes it so special and intriguing I guess.”
This product will be in great demand – it isn’t currently available on the main Gucci website – and is therefore guaranteed that it will be swapping hands for a premium when it enters the market (it has just launched in three locations in London this week).
While fun, it does a reek of an ideas cul-de-sac. Mario Abad, Fashion Editor at Paper Magazine wrote on Twitter (8 November): “Something about Balenciaga tagging their stores with ‘Gucci’ to mark the collab’s launch is making me lose it.”
The biggest “swap” of the SS22 season, (not a collab. anymore – FYI), was Fendi by Versace, Versace by Fendi. Donatella Versace and Fendi’s Kim Jones swapped roles and designed collections for each other’s brands. Versace and Fendi, Capri Holdings and LVMH brands, respectively, unveiled “two iconic collections that celebrate their friendship and the cultural impact of Versace and Fendi.”
Labelled “Fendace”, the collection saw Fendi directors Kim Jones and Silvia Venturini Fendi create 25 Versace looks while Donatella Versace reciprocated with 25 Fendi ensembles. Items included Fendi Baguette bags with Medusa heads and Versace’s signature safety pins scattered across Fendi looks all set to hit stores next spring.
Considering Kim Jones only joined Fendi as artistic director of women's collections in September 2020, we’ve yet to clearly see what he can do with the brand. He is also men’s creative director at the giant, LVMH owned, Dior. Fashion conglomerates are finding it increasingly hard to attract big names designers to their houses. Note Daniel Lee just exciting Bottega Veneta.
Another brand desperate for cool is Tiffany & Co. A much-rumoured high-profile collaboration between Supreme and Tiffany & Co. is set to drop this week.
The VF Corp and LVMH owned businesses’ collection called “Return To Tiffany” is inspired by pieces originally launched in the 1960s and comprised of pendants, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, and keyrings. Tiffany’s new CEO, Alexandre Arnault, was also the head of Rimowa when the luxury luggage brand did a collaboration with Supreme.
Fashion consumers have reached collaboration fatigue and this is why the big brands are spinning these as “hacks” or “swaps”. It is also why they are upping the ante by partnering with brands of equal stature. Collaborations needed to get bigger to have any impact. Collaborations before were always a David and Goliath type relationship of big brand supporting little brand. There was no threat there and everybody knew who was the bigger and more important of the two. Where will the brands go from here?
These do look like a desperate grappling for new ideas and attention. Brands not coming up with fresh ideas and therefore not impressing the retailers is making them look elsewhere to nurture a new crop of ideas and designers. Especially outside of the main fashion capitals. Considering fashion had something of a pandemic break, for the last 18 months, the latest round of shows in September didn’t feel like a group of creatives burgeoning with fresh ideas. It felt like an industry fully burnt out and these partnerships do nothing to argue against that.
MR PORTER shows the way on nurturing fresh thinking
Luxury men’s etailer, MRPORTER.COM is looking beyond the superbrands to find fresh ideas to inspire its customers. The YNAP-owned platform announced a competition to find the next menswear design stars to celebrate its 10th anniversary in April 2021. Called MR PORTER FUTURES, the competition was open to brands who did not already own a registered or trademarked business with an annual turnover of over €10,000 and was open to anybody regardless of experience of background.
Sam Kershaw, MR PORTER buying director explained: “We have always been committed to championing a diverse mix of new and emerging designers throughout MR PORTER’s decade in business, but if this year has taught us anything, it is that we have the responsibility to use our global platform to give equal opportunities to all new aspiring menswear voices, no matter their experience or background”
Announcing the winners (Kat Tua, Saif Ud Deen and double act Ryan Edmonds and Julian Canda) in September 2021, MR PORTER said: “Fashion, after all, can be a tough place to succeed, and, if we’re being honest, isn’t quite as diverse as it could be. For all that it speaks to a global audience, the industry that drives it is largely centralised in just a handful of cities – historically New York, London, Milan and Paris – while talent is disproportionately drawn from a small number of high-profile schools.”
The winners began a year-long design programme to turn their ideas into reality. At the end of the year, they will debut their very own menswear collections exclusively on MR PORTER.
Exclusivity is the way forward for multi-brand luxury sites all battling for the same customers. This programme also offers MR PORTER the potential of a fresh wave of ideas and a newness that isn’t just another collaboration (or hack or swap!). It also supports future talent and promotes diversity.