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slavish, sensible or sensational?
Seasonal change cues fashion media editors to
present the public with
must-have and no-no listings, which, no matter
how individualistic or judicious we might think
we are, subtly compel us to reconsider the stock
in our private wardrobes.
In these times of economic strain and budget
fitting in with rapidly changing fashion cycles
not pose challenges to designers and consumers
alike? Are we prisoners of fashion dictates,
or could we consider co-creating new looks with
minimal expense? How can local fashion designers
sustain themselves by working around and within
global and local market forces?
Through aggressive marketing, our individual
identity can become effaced by homogenized clothing,
a veneer that suggests we are part of a recognizable
whole. Trend forecasters, retailers and brand
conglomerates launching new styles, fabrics,
cuts and colors stoke the coals of peer pressure
that conditions us to be seen in the latest
ranges. As social beings, we are construed as
a collective commodity travelling in a continuum
of design renovation that is dictated by a few
but embraced by the masses, often with little
thought to suitability or personal imagination.
Being seen in the right brand wearing the "in"
label of a particular designer neutralizes our
individuality and leads to a contradiction of
the purpose of fashion: individual style portraying
human uniqueness; instead, we become fashion
By conforming to seasonal trends, are we not
impeding the innovation and growth of young
fashion designers emerging in the market?
There are a few designers who have created distinctive
aesthetics and have steadily built a brand following.
These looks are not confined to the examples
seen on catwalks at Fashion Weeks events; idiosyncratic,
semi-mass-produced, wearable garments are also
The old saying, "catch them when they are
young" can be applied to fashion education.
For example, when experts visit fashion colleges
and advise students on the latest European trends
- as if these are the unassailably essential
forms of good design and as such, critical to
design success - are we not diluting their imaginative
Both student and established designers are required
to be in touch with global fashion directions,
but is it a prerequisite to emulate these trends
without any re-interpretation? The colors for
2009 are, according to the style forecasters,
moving away from metallic finishes to a more
earthy, subdued color palette; ripped denim
might resurge, and for younger women, appropriation
of men's jeans (known as "The Boyfriend
Jeans") will be in vogue and Deep-v-t-shirts
and jerseys could be the 2009 new style for
We need to respect the genius of our learner
designers, and support them in steering away
from reliance on European trends. This information
is available for reference, so rather than delivering
lectures on trend templates, their curricula
should cover instruction in sourcing, assimilating,
and interpreting the data, with a view to redefining
trends in the local context and according to
their own design sensibilities.
Upcoming generations of South African designers
can consult a wealth of historical fashion approaches
to inspire new nuances for their ranges, not
only through their designs but by the way they
market and retail their creations. It is my
sense that the edicts filtering down to young
designers and into the consumer psyche of what
can or cannot be worn should be challenged.
It is time for fashion revolution and evolution.
The late 1950s and early 60s are a good example
of this: young, energetic, visionary designers
kicked against prevailing market prescriptions,
sweeping aside hidebound retailing and manufacturing
methods. Interestingly, even though the establishment
was outraged at the audacity of these young
artists, the two systems found equilibrium and
co-operated in the realization
that the market was big enough to accommodate
This period saw the rebirth of the boutique
as a way of retailing fast, limited-edition,
highly individualistic fashion. Led by Mary
Quant, this fashion revolution saw new designers
enter and disappear from the fashion scene as
rapidly as new styles appeared in the boutiques.
The survivors were those who developed solid
business strategies and used experts to market
their labels and outlets. Quant saw that the
only way to thrive and move up the fashion value-chain
was to develop a system of manufacturing that
could produce limited ranges of quality garments
in a timely and cost-efficient manner, and in
so doing, she established business partnerships
with CMTs and textile manufacturers who were
willing and able to meet her needs.
In 1971, it was estimated that in the United
Kingdom alone, there were 15 000 boutiques doing
an annual business remit of
300-million. There was fierce competition
between the boutiques, but this fostered an
ethos of mutual respect and operational etiquette
flourished in this sector. Each boutique
offered a retail outlet for designers, and these
outlets evolved into distinguished, quaint retail
oases, establishing a reputation for a particular
fashion flavor for a discerning market segment.
The boutiques offered an ideal opportunity for
the supplier designers to interact with customers,
get critical feedback and rapidly adapt, innovate
and supply updated designs. They did not
wait for received wisdom from textile manufacturers
or trend forecasters. Instead, they created
their own trends, and styles, allowing both
young and old the space to explore and mix a
variety of affordable, high-quality styled clothing
to create their own personal fashion statements.
The key to fashion revolution is the alignment
between CMTs, textile suppliers, independent
designers and the financial sector supporting
boutiques that present viable business plans.
South Africa's fashion sector should spearhead
this alignment process, by understanding global
trends - much as a musician masters fundamental
techniques and genres - and then improvising
on these to recalibrate the degree and trajectory
of fashion development along new lines of excellence.