Renowned fashion designer Tom Ford recently opted out of the New York fashion week, with the announcement that he was adopting the ‘see-now-buy-now’ model, keeping in mind that customers want access to new lines as soon as they see them. The way the traditional fashion calendar works, collections are available in stores four months after the first presentation on the catwalk.
In season 5 of Homeland, that terrific television series on terrorism, there were references to the Paris attacks barely three weeks after they’d happened. That’s how current a fictional TV drama — that requires a script, shooting and editing — has become. So in a world that’s becoming increasingly immediate, as Tom Ford observed in a statement, customers lose interest in the long gap from ramp to store. There’s also the social media impact: snapshots of collections are instantly on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. This gives high street brands like Zara and Topshop, which have a well-oiled supply chain, enough time to bridge the gap between expensive and high street fashion. It throws up the question if shows are required in the first place. Why not just upload the designs on an e-commerce platform and be done with it?
Like with so many other industries and careers, the digital age is slowly but surely pushing fashion shows towards irrelevance. For any designer, nothing can replace the glamourous live show to communicate a cool, new aesthetic. The lights, music, models and crowds create a high voltage vibe that no magazine shoot or online streaming can capture in quite the same way. Fashion thrives on drama and needs jazzy theatricals to really come alive. But considering the time, money and effort involved in creating a ramp construct and the fact that you’re reaching out to only the few hundred people who make it to the venue, it no longer makes any sense.
In India, when the first fashion week began in 2000, it was a big idea. Designers suddenly became sought after A-listers, interviewed by every magazine, newspaper and TV channel, endlessly. They became brands themselves overnight, their aura far greater than any real sales. The Wills India Fashion Week was the place to be seen at. There was a mad scramble for front row seats and all in all, it was one long party of designers, press, buyers, models, socialites and industrialists. However, every event has to eventually make money as the fluff will only take you so far. Just a decade and a half later, we barely know when fashion week is even on. In the last couple of years, designers send desperate texts to clients to show up; most shows run to less than half occupancy.
The sponsors of fashion week made the one crucial mistake of taking themselves too seriously and moving the venue from a five-star to Pragati Maidan (With the hope it would become a serious trade affair, not just a wild party). If they had let it grow organically, the transition to serious business would have happened anyway. Indian clothes design, though admired for it’s depth in weaves, embroideries and patterns, has a distinct costume-like feel. Besides a handful of designers who manage to create masterpieces with international appeal, the rest are floundering in the space between commercial viability and creativity. Indian fashion is truly in danger of being drowned by international labels. Finding the balance between the consumer, price, style and accessibility is the key, on that everyone agrees.