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09-09-2011
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Tents, but no circus... Fashion is no fun anymore
nytimes.com
New York Fashion Week | Fashion Diary

Tents, but No Circus

by Guy Trebay


Thibault Camus/Associated Press
An Alexander McQueen ball gown from his collection shown in Paris in 2009, near a garbage heap of props.

ELEPHANTS used to walk through the streets every year when the circus came to New York City, trunks swinging, leg chains scraping, lumbering through Midtown as mist rose off their leathery flanks. Anachronistic and enchanting, the vision of these exotic beasts being herded through the concrete canyons never failed to produce a shiver of excitement in even the most jaded bystander. It made you feel part of the circus, the great urban one, even if you never made it to the Big Top.

Fashion Week was once like that, too, an annual influx of exotic creatures that descended on the city, come here to enact their strange rituals and perform crazy stunts for crowds of passionate devotees gathered under big tents. Shy, long-limbed young models, heads cocked tentatively like baby impala, could be spotted in clusters all over Manhattan, darting and leaping the curbs on their way to the shows.
The actual circus, as we all know — with its sword swallowers, high fliers and alcoholic clowns — was outflanked long ago by packaged corporate entertainments. The likelihood is dim that you’ll spot the salaried Cirque du Soleil types who have sold out the entire holiday season at Radio City Music Hall high-stepping through Midtown anytime soon.
And, like that other well-managed machine, the Fashion Week bulldozer now lumbers along. Yet it’s radically different from earlier and loopy incarnations, more efficient than ever, and big (though oddly not as big as it once was, even at 250 scheduled shows); media-noisy (blanket coverage on TV and in the dailies, including the one you are holding; reality-show gargoyles making 140 character pronouncements on “Insta chic”; tween bloggers who already seem so ubiquitous and familiar they’re like modern Erma Bombecks); and hectic enough (see above) to keep hardcore types entertained.
But what the increasingly industrialized Fashion Week now signally lacks is a certain giddy excitement, the fanfare and promise of genius that were common in the days when you could still get close enough to it all to see the greasepaint and smell the sweat.

“The food world is much more interesting now than fashion,” said Kim Hastreiter, an editor of Paper magazine, where she has spent more than two decades sniffing out what’s next.

Carine Roitfeld, the former editor of French Vogue, is another inveterate spotter of trends, and in an interview for a new photo-biography of her produced by Olivier Zahm, the editor and publisher of Purple, Ms. Roitfeld claimed flatly that fashion is not much fun anymore. “It’s less light-hearted, less spontaneous,” Ms. Roitfeld said. “Fashion has become an industry, one that increasingly stifles creation.”
Whether that last assertion is true, there is no arguing with Ms. Roitfeld’s observation that sometimes these days runway shows feel about as thrilling as corporate seminars. What’s missing from fashion, the influential French editor added, is “amazement” and the “madness you could experience even a few years back.”

Wasn’t inspired madness what drew 661,509 visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in recent months, and what made people line up for hours to see “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” turning it into the eighth-biggest attendance draw in that institution’s history?

You didn’t hear it said at the time, but when the epic McQueen show finally closed in August, a curtain quietly came down on contemporary fashion’s great decade of experiment and expansion.
The dramatic loss of Mr. McQueen to suicide, along with John Galliano’s disgraced exit from Dior last year, underscored a reality little noted in the industry. For 10 years — and as it happens largely financed by the same multinationals that ultimately robbed fashion of its endearing mom-and-pop elements — a great cultural theater was inaugurated, one that featured epic showmen like Mr. McQueen, Mr. Galliano and Tom Ford at Gucci, and that introduced large segments of the general public to the previously obscure customs of a small tribal world, thus transforming fashion from an insular business and pursuit of the cognoscenti into an irresistible and, some would argue, dominant cultural force.

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09-09-2011
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(Page 2 of 2)

No spectator lucky enough to have had a front-row seat on the transgressive theater of fashion over the last decade was left in any doubt that these were unusual and vivid times: smoke and fireworks in tented firetraps (Mr. Galliano); fur-lined catwalks (Gucci); caged wolves at the medieval Conciergerie in Paris (Mr. McQueen); elaborate Kabuki scenarios enacted in the Espace Éphémère set up twice yearly in the Jardins des Tuileries (Dior) near the Louvre; bondage and Jack the Ripper scenarios played out in warehouses skirting the gloomy canals in Milan (McQueen men’s wear.)


Fueled by booming Western economies and a hunger to tap the riches of emerging markets — particularly in the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) — big corporations were happy to underwrite the costly flights of imagination proposed by designers like Mr. McQueen, Mr. Ford and Mr. Galliano. It was clear to the men who ran companies like Pinault-Printemps-Redoute or Richemont or LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (among them controlling more than 500 of the most familiar luxury goods labels) that, more than designers, they needed great showmen to help forge brand identities as they recast old labels and took new ones out into the world.
Now that there is a Vuitton store in Ulan Bator, that task can be considered completed.
As one looks forward to a month of new fashions displayed on the catwalks of New York, London, Milan and Paris, perhaps only Marc Jacobs in New York, Karl Lagerfeld in Paris and Miuccia Prada in Milan offer much promise of fascinating spectacle or challenging aesthetics or even a little goofball fun. The trouble is that even Mr. Jacobs’s ability to generate buzz, Ms. Prada’s sly subversions, Mr. Lagerfeld’s well-financed (by the Wertheimer family that controls Chanel) coups de théâtre can do only so much to offset an overall drift toward aesthetic complacency and boredom.

True, Mr. Lagerfeld may thrill everybody for an hour with another stage set like the one in 2010 that featured small mountains of ice hacked off a glacier in Sweden and then trucked across the continent to the Grand Palais in Paris. Yet even a stunt like that can’t alter the fact that in a borderline bear market hardly any designer can justify a line item for live wolves.

So it should not surprise us, as another Fashion Week gets under way on the anniversary of 9/11, and also on the precipice of a recession, that we’ve entered a less colorful phase in the long fashion cycle, one in which competence supplants genius, sound business strategies take precedence over risk taking and the tasteful safety of collections pitched toward mass-market “Maxxinistas” are unlikely to lift fashion out of its commercial origins and into the realms of art. It says something about the season to come that among the most tantalizing and sprightly prospects are Missoni’s partnership with Target and Jil Sanders’ final collection for Uniqlo.
“I respect this business, and I understand the risks involved, but I also want to preserve a degree of spontaneity,” Ms. Roitfeld said in the interview, voicing a hankering many in the business share for the days when designers sent models out catwalks wearing kelp or dressed like Martian princesses, when the editor and muse Isabella Blow was still stalking the streets wearing wimples and armor and the other outrageous forms of raiment that Barneys New York hung in its windows after her death.

Fashion, as Ms. Roitfeld noted, “is nothing without its carefree side.”

McQueen is dead, in other words. Long live McQueen.

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Last edited by softgrey; 09-09-2011 at 06:42 PM.
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09-09-2011
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i kind of agree that fashion isn't as exciting as it used to be. in fact it hasn't been as exciting since the early noughties,at least for me. and i suppose that's due in part to the mainstreaming of fashion.....but i don't blame it on just that. personally,i don't believe there's much of a radical undercurrent of talent anymore. everybody coming up either does what others prior already established or they get snapped up by some big house so that of course leaves a void....a time when designers usually tend to experiment more than ever finding their identities as designers. and let's face it,the economy hasn't been particularly conducive to anything "carefree" in recent years. so there is that component as well.

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09-09-2011
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Well what is the percentage of the "brands" that are owned by the really big luxury conglomerates that give a damn about "fun" or individuality and only want to maximize the profit? This simply cuts off the extreme ideas that lie at the edges of the Gaussian distribution.

The cyberpunk horror scenario slowly takes place everywhere, soon every industry will be run by mega conglomerates.

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10-09-2011
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The crisis is not only financial.

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10-09-2011
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Are they basically saying fashion is no fun because the flamboyant characters are gone? Are they upset because the actual shows aren't flamboyant anymore? I don't get the point of the article. Most people do not get to attend these shows and mingle with these designers so these complaints seem like #richpeopleproblems. I don't think fashion is any less fun for people who aren't directly a part of fashion week.

At the end of the day these designers do need to make money to survive. If they want to put forth designs that only .0009% of the population could afford or want to wear then they're free to do that. The trade off is they'll be unemployed. There are plenty of beautiful collections coming out every season. If the critics choose to overlook lesser known designers because they aren't McQueen or one of the critic's darlings then that is not the fault of the designers. I don't think designers need to concern themselves with appeasing fashion journalists who want a spectacle when at the end of the day the journalists aren't the ones buying their clothes.


The excitement of fashion is still there but it is diluted. I think the internet and blogging has changed the game. There are now hundreds of fashion characters with their own audience where there were once only few. People now have a choice between the accessibility of random bloggers and the aloof snobbery of the fashion elite and more and more seem to be choosing the former.


Last edited by loladonna; 10-09-2011 at 08:00 AM.
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10-09-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thesweetglory View Post
The crisis is not only financial.
I think you're right but I wonder if we're on the same page. What do you think is having a crisis as well?

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10-09-2011
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I think part of the problem is really, actually, an over-saturation of fashion shows that are dull and unimaginative, not a lack of talent.

New York being a prime example of this epidemic. Think about it...New York fashion week would probably still feel exciting if it consisted only of Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Rodarte, Ralph Lauren, Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, Michael Kors, etc.

However, when it is only day two of fashion week and we already have close to 50 shows alone on style.com...it's overwhelming and numbing, considering most that are showing have no real business putting on a show or presentation anyway.

Of course there has to be a platform for new designers to expose themselves, but all these little, anonymous, forgettable NY do nothing but cloud the vision of and exasperate the attendees and the viewer. Billy Reid, for example? Does he need a show? No. He needs to design his collections, a lookbook if he must, but his clothes should just end up in the stores. Period.

I'm not sure how a system to judge and evaluate who and who can't show would operate, and on what guidelines, but I feel like we're at a breaking point, and something needs to be done to make fashion week a little more exclusive again. Maybe the CFDA could spend less time ID'ing models, and take more time to be selective about who can show/get coverage.

There's a reason why Paris is always an exciting week...it's Balenciaga, it's Chanel, it's Ann, it's Lanvin, it's Dries, it's Givenchy, it's Comme, it's YSL...all the heavy-hitters. No fluff to distract from those with real points of view and vision.

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Last edited by dior_couture1245; 10-09-2011 at 05:15 PM.
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10-09-2011
  9
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Quote:
No fluff to distract from those with real points of view and vision.
you really think that we have so many designers in ny with vision...?
points of view, maybe...but i wouldn't call anyone you mentioned visionary...

i think that is and always has been the main story with ny shows...
but new york is not the problem...
it's that even in paris we aren't going to get the big spectacular shows anymore...
who is going to do one?!?...
who?

even balenciaga just has little presentations in their showroom...
and tom ford- the fame whore himself - now has secret shows...!!!...
...

we may get interesting hair and make up from the japanese gang...
but we aren't going to get a circus anymore!...
not with all the bells and whistles...
not like mcqueen and galliano...

there were never that many who did it in the first place...
(it's hard work and crazy expensive to do it right on that big a scale...)
but now, even they are gone...!

i don't know...
it doesn't seem like money should really be the issue...
all reports say that the luxury market is quite strong despite the global economic situation...

it's like the article says...
it's just not necessary...
so unless we have someone who is really going to push to make it happen because they are so passionate about it, it's just not going to happen...

who knows...
maybe they'll start spending some of that money on their websites and making videos, etc...

things are just different now, is all...


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10-09-2011
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the article has some good points though it fails to take into account some of the positive changes that fashion has undergone as of late thus making it sound a little elitist.. however there's no denying that much of the changes has watered down fashion's effect in general, particularly to some of those who avidly follow it, online or not; that is what the writer particularly seems to be lamenting about.

fashion these days do lack performers, and the dwindling visionaries who continue to produce amazing creations sadly aren't so keen anymore on astounding their audience with their presentations. their products may be more accessible than ever, but the accessibility seems to be a double-edged sword since it stifles the impact of the clothes and further dampens creativity. duplicity seems to be a big factor in this dismal circus since we see too many of the same thing with little innovation whatsoever (NYFW i'm looking at you). the remaining few brands who continue to be original have either very little backing (slash very little hype) to produce a good, quality show, or are just too stressed and pressured to even bother with their presentations, thus sticking to the same boring formula each season. and we've been inundated far too long with the same thing over and over, hence the weary factor overall.

Quote:
you really think that we have so many designers in ny with vision...?
points of view, maybe...but i wouldn't call anyone you mentioned visionary...

i think that is and always has been the main story with ny shows...
but new york is not the problem...
it's that even in paris we aren't going to get the big spectacular shows anymore...
who is going to do one?!?...
who?
very much agree with this. designers in NYFW are just lumped into showcasing the same tired schlock (and seriously, way too many shows), and the ones in London, Milan and Paris just do not have the gall to rise above their contemporaries when it comes to showmanship

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10-09-2011
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Im GLAD!

Does anyone consider the implications of these 'shows' on environment?

The fashion world does not need showmen to excite the customers, thats where things went wrong. Its the dresses, innovation and new ideas that should be exciting us in the first place.

Mr. Lagerfeld is completely deranged and the more I read about his antics, the more love I lose for Chanel, my favourite label of all.

Finally, we can all go back to what we all love and surprisingly its the senior management we should be thankful to, rather than the crazy designers amongst us.

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15-09-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey View Post
you really think that we have so many designers in ny with vision...?
points of view, maybe...but i wouldn't call anyone you mentioned visionary...

i think that is and always has been the main story with ny shows...
but new york is not the problem...
it's that even in paris we aren't going to get the big spectacular shows anymore...
who is going to do one?!?...
who?




I don't think many designers even want to do those big spectacular shows. It's not just that there are no visionaries.

I get the feeling that many of them feel the runway itself is an outdated concept. So in a way, these stripped down shows (if they don't even avoid shows altogether), are planned, a reaction against the pomp and circumstance. It's more like "You know what? This is not broadway. Just look at the clothes." It's maybe that in some way, they don't want people to come just for "fun."

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18-09-2011
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Showmanship and producing a "circus" isn't a requirement for becoming a designer. Ghesquire has never done a circus, and his collections are still full of ideas, innovation and superb craftsmanship. Same with Tisci, Elbaz and Gaultier. These guys let their clothes do the talking. But look at Lagerfeld. His work is so artificial now. His collections are practically always the same, but the room is different.
Sorry but I'd rather have a terrific and groundbreaking collection on a boring stage, than some empty and shallow collection overglazed with shiny props. And if that means getting rid of the "circus" then so be it.

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18-09-2011
  14
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that is interesting that the writer brings Tom Ford in the game, since to me he is one of the responsible of this "non-circus" situation. he was someone who was control-freak, very minimalist. his catwalks were in black box with circle lights focusing on the clothes (and models) mainly. there was absolutely no circus.
about john. well, there are not so many articles (in mainstream fashion magazines) that really underlines the role played by steven robinson, and the change Dior (and John Galliano) has known after his death. From Circus we went back to Dior Heritage - even the stage were very bourgeoise and everything sweats the Dior DNA (as they say now).

NYC is no fun for a lot of years, now, non ?
Anna Wintour is responsible for that. She wanted to steal Fashion from Paris to go to NYC, and has done it by turning the funny side of fashion into only business. New designers keyword is Sell Sell Sell! I mean it's all this is about in what she says in her itws. "Being a designer is nice, but what is it about when you dont sell?" Vogue Fashion Night Out is business under the mask of a party, for instance.
And I remember last year (not so long ago before Roitfeld left VP) a meeting btw our business ministre, elisabeth quin, wintour and roitfeld to push the fashion business. that's probably why Roitfeld left VP. She didn't want to get involved into that business "circus".


as softgrey said Fashion System has changed (and it's not something new). (False) Democratization has sometimes its bad-sides.
Fashion used to be screams, photogs around the catwalk screaming names, people REALLY applauding the clothes, the models, the designers, the energy. It was a FAMILY. Now, it is a corporate business.

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24-09-2011
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i think that the gucci shows were a 'circus' off the runway though...
lots of champagne and the whole thing felt like a party for the attendees...
plus then i think they also really did have a big fabulous party usually as well...

so- yeah, it felt more like fun than like work...

i think that's part of the point...
it's exhausting for everyone who has to go to so many shows for so many weeks in a row...
by the time they get to the end...
it's really hard to get excited by anything anymore...

the big fantasy shows at least would give you something to look forward to!

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Last edited by softgrey; 24-09-2011 at 04:19 PM.
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