Whether in Toronto, New York or across the pond, fashion week used to be a hot ticket that editors, influencers and fashion fans alike looked forward to every season. But lately it feels like everyone has simply…lost interest. As the final shows for the fall 2019 season wrapped up in Paris, we put together a panel of stylists, designers, publicists and models to find out what’s changed—and talk about whether fashion week can make a rebound
When the news broke of Karl Lagerfeld’s passing on February 19 at age 85, the widespread response was shock and dismay, with many people, from fashion enthusiasts to editors, decrying the end of an era. Indeed, Lagerfeld, who was the creative director at Fendi and Chanel—and is credited for reviving the latter house from near bankruptcy, turning it into one of the most successful fashion brands of the 21st century—defined and popularized luxury fashion for most of the last half-century. His over-the-top Chanel runway shows were considered the most sought-after invitation at Paris Fashion Week, and his influence quickly and pervasively trickled down to mass retailers to the extent that, whether we knew it or not, we were all wearing a version of Karl’s vision.
But his legacy also represents many facets of the fashion industry that are becoming increasingly irrelevant to a modern audience of (primarily) young women who are demanding more from the brands they support and admire. For one, the excessive runway shows with elaborate sets and props (like fall 2014’s faux supermarket complete with double-C branded non-perishables) seem egregiously wasteful in 2019, when consumers are going so far as to give up plastic straws and glitter makeup in a last-ditch effort to reverse the harrowing trend of climate change. There’s also the fact that Lagerfeld, known for his glib and controversial one-liners, frequently made fat-phobic comments and failed to cast his runway with diverse models that reflect the women his brands were ostensibly trying to reach through such marketing.
The public’s mounting displeasure with the fashion industry, and fashion week specifically, has been a topic of conversation for years now and it’s bigger than just Chanel. Lagerfeld was certainly not the only designer to alienate his audience with offensive comments and design missteps. Millennial-beloved Gucci faced scrutiny this past season for selling a high-fashion balaclava that resembled blackface, and here in Canada, local designer Mikhael Kale was called out for using cornrow hairstyles on white models at his Toronto Fashion Week show in February. This kind of thing happens all the time and consumers seem to be, frankly, over it.
There are other reasons, aside from a few out-of-touch designers, that fashion week draws less attention than it used to. Social media, like Instagram and YouTube, has democratized fashion week in a way that has drastically diminished its cache of exclusivity. At FLARE, we stopped publishing show reviews years ago, finding that our audience simply wasn’t interested. Lately, even street-style photography, that voyeuristic eye candy, is no longer a draw—people are able to see everything on Instagram, in real time, right at their fingertips. And this is the pattern across the board, with many other fashion editors reporting a similar trend. Designers seem fed up, too, with many big-name brands pulling out of the organized fashion weeks over the past several seasons, creating their own off-calendar presentations or foregoing traditional runway shows altogether.
At the same time, new players like Savage x Fenty and Chromat are finding ways to breathe fresh life into the old format, tapping into the zeitgeist by featuring diverse casts of models and body-positive designs, and even making political and ideological statements in their presentations that viewers can’t seem to get enough of. So, perhaps fashion week isn’t irrelevant after all, it just needs to change to meet the demands of consumers in 2019.
As the international shows for the fall season were winding down, with the final presentations in Paris culminating this week, we spoke to a group of Canadian fashion insiders to find out if they think fashion week still has a functional purpose in the industry, and what it will take to make it relevant again. Here, our no-holds round-table conversation about the state of fashion week.