At Fashion Week, Do Clothes Even Matter Anymore?

At Fashion Week, Do Clothes Even Matter Anymore?

This past round of Fashion Weeks — which began way back on January 13, mind you — has been demarcated by one consistent throughline: constant attempts to go viral. From Heliot Emil’s flame-engulfed model to Collina Strada’s creepy chimeras, the stream of headline-worthy moments is so innumerous that it berefts multiple roundups.

It all makes you wonder: do the clothes really matter at Fashion Week anymore?

I mean, these brands are still designing complete collections, it’s just that we’re not talking about the garments. But, at the same time, clothes don’t generate much buzz these days unless they’re literally sprayed onto someone’s body.

It’s an interesting conundrum.

To be clear, I sympathize with all the smaller designers and indie labels who’re reaching for outsized influence with big grabs at attention.

Brands like Heliot Emil and Sunnei, which sent its models crowdsurfing at the end of the catwalk, don’t get as many bites at the apple as household names like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, so they’ve gotta reach for eyeballs in a more creative manner.

It ain’t the brands’ faults that sizzle sells. You can make all the nice clothes you want but, if people aren’t paying attention, they ain’t paying up.

The strategy, presumably, is to create hype around oneself with an outrageous antic that goes viral and then, hopefully, lends your actual work an aura of awareness.

I get it. And, honestly, I’m not mad at all the stabs toward virality.

They adds some spice to what could otherwise be a very dry affair, where the only Fashion Week-related thing to discuss is a celebrity sitting front row or a protestor storming the stage.

Plus, lots of brands receive deserved attention for their inventiveness: just because something is done to get attention doesn’t mean that it isn’t also worthy of appreciation.

Japanese brand ANREALAGE, for instance, recently turned some heads with its nifty UV light-sensitive garments.

What’s funny is that ANREALAGE has been brilliantly experimenting with garments for over a decade now — it even collaborated with Fendi on photochromatic prints. Designer Kunihiko Morinaga was even shortlisted as an 2019 LVMH finalist.

But it took a clever presentation and some TikTok buzz to get people to notice.

Beate Karlsson’s AVAVAV, meanwhile, has stolen Vetements’ crown as Fashion Week’s resident enfant terribles.

Each season, AVAVAV presents a collection equally insane and ingenious.

You can always expect enormous sweats, Duchamp-ian accessories, and barely-wearable shoes, all guided by an overarching concept.

AVAVAV’s Fall/Winter 2023 collection, for instance, fell apart in real time: shirts ripped, heels snapped, and earrings tumbled to the ground. As a finale, the set collapsed.

“I’ve been asking myself; why is luxury so serious?” Karlsson said in a statement.

“What is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a fashion house? I figured garments breaking might be it. Right now, I feel the coolest attitude is exposing your vulnerability, carrying it as an accessory.”

This is fashion as spectacle, something that designers like Kidsuper and Coperni epitomize.

If you want people to give you the time of day, you have to do something crazy. And, as an independent designer, what better venue than Fashion Week?

Ironically, more established fashion brands are doing taking the opposite tact.

Recent show notes provided by the likes of Gucci, Balmain, Maison Margiela, Bally, Prada, Balenciaga, and Dries Van Noten emphasized classic form and craft, for example. There was a distinct whiff of indifference to flashy, viral stunts.

These brands, though, have the luxury (no pun intended) of being able to sidestep high-effort presentations for the sake of public awareness.

They have brand ambassadors for that sort of thing. Plus, it’s not labels like Gucci or Prada will ever not be relevant.

I don’t think it’s entirely a bad thing that Fashion Week has shifted to a viral-first approach.

Indie designers can get a well-earned boost when they hit on something clicky and, even if not, it’s more entertaining than taking in a typical catwalk.

Plus, what’s the point of paying the big bucks to host a Fashion Week show where you just show clothes? That’s what lookbooks are for nowadays (I’m only being slightly ironic, sadly).

I’ll take style over fashion any day but that’s just not the point of Fashion Week right now.

Otherwise, you wouldn’t get makeup that’s otherwise impossible to wear and outfits that no one would wear on a daily basis.

Sometimes it gets a little gimmicky, sure — did Heliot Emil really need to have an enflamed man walk within a few feet of the audience?

But these days, for better or worse, fashion is entertainment.

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