With Sustainability at the top of the fashion agenda in an increasingly discerning and judgemental public domain, the news that Hermes and Burberry are burning their bags (and all manner of other products) to protect brand image and keep their products out of the hands of ‘undesirables’, smacks of luxury fashion trying desperately to maintain a veneer of exclusivity and aspiration in a resolutely democratic and accessible digital age. Brands such as Burberry and Hermes have luxury at their core, but what does luxury mean? What has it meant historically? The average consumer is now familiar with the environmental issues caused by clothing production and our over use of plastic (recently highlighted during World Oceans Day, which gained vast media coverage) and the strain such production puts on our planet’s resources. Therefore, burning in excess of 30 million US dollars worth of product due to brand image vanity appears incredibly ugly, conjuring up images of anything but luxury. If luxury used to mean a product so painstakingly crafted from rare and expensive materials it was prohibitively expensive and the domain of the highest brands only, the explosion of new technologies for producing materials and products more quickly and cheaply along with the surge in numbers of the middle class in China, a majority consumer of Burberry goods globally, notions of luxury are changing. Artisan embroidery at Burberry Makers House exhibition – Image: Techstyler Millennial and Generation Z consumption patterns demonstrate that the next generations of customers overwhelmingly define luxury as linked to life experiences – events and opportunities that they can share on social media and that contribute to and celebrate their lifestyle choices. Witness the rise of sportswear brands – especially those nailing the ‘athleisure’ category – and fashion brands borrowing from streetwear. Business Insider’s recent survey of the favourite brands of 15,000 millenials revealed no luxury goods brands in the top twenty. At position one was Apple, with Nike at 2 and Amazon at 5. Samsung, Sony, Microsoft and Google were all in the top 10. Millenials and Generation Z’ers consume digitally and live online. All the more confusing that luxury brands including Chanel and Celine refused to sell some or all of their products online until last year. Chanel maintains it will not sell their ready-to-wear collections online ‘any time soon’. So whilst this news of Burberry and, back in 2012, Hermes destroying resource-devouring products to the further detriment of the planet is a sustainability issue, the notion of brand image and exclusivity are at the heart of this wasteful practice. If or when ‘luxury’ brands shift their notion of luxury to focus on the next generation of consumers’ definition and desires in terms of what they deem to be luxurious, this practice of destruction will be less-linked to perceived brand value, at least. Burberry samples presented at their Makers House exhibition – Image: TechstylerFast fashion usually bears the brunt of this scrutiny and ‘luxury’ brands have historically hidden such practices well, until such destruction of valuable goods in increasingly challenging economic times surfaced, following a severe downturn in Burberry profits. The practice of burning product or tossing tonnes of samples into landfill is rife in fast fashion, it’s just less offensive when the product is not valued nearly as highly. What’s just as offensive and ugly is the volume. New technologies like 3D apparel design software CLO3D allow the realistic rendering of clothing without the need to manufacture a physical sample. If brands want to find their next generation of consumer they need to modernise their point of view on design and luxury and make drastic changes to their practices to measure up.
Interestingly, up until around six years ago, Burberry used to sell such products at staff, family and friends sample sales. They stopped this practice when they found their samples for sale on eBay, which raised concerns over IP and brand value. There was talk that product samples that didn’t ‘make the cut’ should not represent the brand in the public domain. Maybe it makes more sense to remove the labels and allow people to use products that have cost us and our planet so dearly?
Header Image: Burberry Makers House – Image: Techstyler
It’s all Greek to me as I enter the Burberry Makers House venue via a heavily scented and clay sculpture-adorned corridor (reminiscent of Aesop – the fragrances, and the Greek story teller) by Thomas Merrett, scholar of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. Thomas is one of a number of craftspeople and artists under The New Craftsmen collective, lending their talent and artistic practice in the form of live installations – they work in Makers House as members of the public look on and learn about the art of craft.
Thomas Merrett’s sculptures at Makers House
I spoke with Rose de Borman about her hand-painted silk screen prints as she worked away, blending paints inspired by a nearby pots of flowers she had collected from her garden and brought in as colour inspiration for her prints. When I asked her about the designs she said she freestyles them, and hanging behind her are examples of pieces drying before being sold in the Makers House shop. I thought perhaps Rose designed prints for Burberry, but she explains to me that she has not and that much of her work is for interiors.
Rose de Borman at work
I also met a trio of students from the Royal School of Needlework who were spending the weekend cross-stitching designs provided to them by Burberry. Items from the RSN Handling Collection were displayed and available to touch via gloved hands, which was an interesting addition to the passive nature of the other displays. I chatted to one of the students about her craft and asked whether fashion tech or conductive yarns, for example, are on her radar. They aren’t, as the course at RSN focusses solely on traditional craft – there are no machines, all work is done by hand – and the threads and yarns are all traditional natural materials.
Royal School of Needlework students and Handling collection samples
When I first entered Makers House, I assumed there was a connection between the work of The New Craftsmen and the creation of the Burberry September collection. The collection, shown at London Fashion Week on Monday 19th September, is on display at Maker’s House alongside the craftspeople, but it transpires that these makers are unrelated to the making of the Burberry collection.
Burberry September Collection
This is where Makers House feels more like an exercise in creating an experience by association rather than telling the story of the Burberry September collection and its relationship with craft. That’s not to say there isn’t the inclusion of craft in the collection – there is – but the beading, to my eye, could very easily be the work of Indian embroiderers. Burberry’s printed fabrics have historically been made in Italy, so unless there has been a sudden change, this collection is likely to have been printed there too. This is no bad thing, it just jars with the romanticised and earnest display of English craftsmanship accompanying the collection at Makers House.
This is also against the backdrop of Burberry recently halting plans to open a factory under the title ‘Project Artisan’ in Leeds to make their iconic trench coats. Sadly, an aura of faking rather than making is cast over this experience. Contrived mood boards of highly symbolic and literal inspiration for the collection sit alongside the makers, which adds to the feeling I can’t shake that this is all a bit forced.
I found the opportunity to get up close, walk around the clothes, feel the fabrics and see the silhouettes and layering in detail far more interesting and engaging. It is another example of a strong argument for presentation formats that allow buyers/the public to inspect and absorb the details and beauty of the clothes at their own pace, in contrast to a blistering dash on the runway. This space had a showroom feeling, with buyers replaced by members of the public. With the “see now, buy now” launch (the collection is already for sale to the public) this makes perfect sense.
Burberry September Collection and Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer, Burberry
Burberry has been a digital pioneer, incorporating technology into every facet of the presentation and sale of its collections for years and always leading the fashion pack – that’s why this feels somewhat like reverting to analog. Put this in the context of a London fashion week that saw the first holographic fashion presentation by Martine Jarlgaard London and Fyodor Golan’s CGI avatar model fashion presentation and it is suddenly feeling like retreat rather than innovation; not withstanding the live streaming on Facebook with chatbots on Facebook messenger to answer questions during the show itself and support online sales.
Pondering the absence of tech, I notice the longest queue in the building leading to The Studio space and after enquiring what the fuss was all about, I learn it’s the queue for the Instagram booth made famous by a number of celebrities in videos messing around amongst the aforementioned clay sculptures. The urge for social media and sharing the Makers House experience is strong, and Instagram is an extremely powerful marketing tool for Burberry. The current count of followers is 7.6 million.
Attendees of Makers House queued for Instagram photos in the same studio as the celebrities above
The current Burberry campaign featuring Burberry Artisans alongside the September collection
Whilst compiling this article I discovered via the Burberry online store that the collection is made in Italy. The mens beaded waistcoat is not for sale, so appears to be a one-off show piece. This leads me to wonder what the purpose of placing English craft next to Italian manufacturing was, if not to dupe the Makers House audience into thinking English craftsmanship and Burberry go hand in hand.
Fyodor Golan are somewhat of a paradox – at once intellectual and playful, they traverse the fringe of a fashion industry in a state of flux. Whilst contemplating the structure and aim of their fashion business, they are questioning the importance of individualism in a sea of rampantly ‘cohesive’ and highly refined fashion. The designers open the interview with the revelation that they delayed their seasonal trip to their Paris showroom in order to vote in the referendum. The fallout from the vote in favour of ‘Brexit’ has left them with a sense of resilience in the face of potential EU funding losses. Many of the projects and initiatives they have undertaken whilst establishing and growing their business have been supported by EU funding and they predict a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ situation will ensue amongst young independent fashion designers in London who are struggling to create seasonal collections and remain solvent.
Where this dramatic and uncertain political climate could potentially trigger cautious conservatism, Fyodor and Golan are intellectually and pragmatically assessing all areas of their business and considering the needs of their customers and the best platforms with which to engage them. They resolve to stay ‘individual’ and adopt an ever more digital and tech-driven approach to their seasonal collections. Why do a show at London Fashion Week that draws vast energy and finance away from the business and requires the creation of some garments that they know will not be good sellers, but that are necessary in order to create requisite looks simply for the purposes of the show? If the show is to the clear detriment of their product offering and bottom line, what is the point? The vast press generated by a fashion show is well documented and, as any fashion designer involved in London, New York, Paris and Milan fashion weeks will tell you, the credibility gained from showing on-schedule during fashion week is immense and affirming – at least ostensibly. But the rise of social media has taken fashion out of the hands of the few and placed it in the hands of the many global consumers. Digital platforms have a life beyond a seven-odd minute fashion show during which time it is ‘impossible to see the clothes properly’ as noted by Fyodor. In summary, fashion shows aren’t fit for purpose and the stigma attached to designers who decide to no longer ‘show’ is waning.
With new presentation platforms comes new opportunities for self-expression and consumer interaction. Golan explains how insightful and inspiring the dialogue from client to designer is on Instagram. Their clients post images of their self-styled ‘FG’ looks, thereby contextualising Fyodor and Golan’s seasonal work – a dialogue that never occurred pre-social media when the only route to market was through wholesale accounts – meaning no direct contact between the designer and the consumer. That’s all different now and brings me back to questioning the point of ‘cohesiveness’ of a fashion collection.
The generally accepted framework for the study and application of fashion design that I, and many other designers have experienced at London/UK-based fashion design institutions, hinges on a refined, highly focused – ‘cohesive’ – presentation of a design concept/concepts in order to ensure that a specifiable ‘aesthetic’ is presented. This occurs to me to be a useful tool for categorisation and identification of a designer or brand for the purposes of critique, but may be at odds with the way fashion is best presented, experienced and consumed in a digital age.
Cohesive uniformity – Burberry Prorsum SS13
Sure, brands like Burberry are built on a largely singular aesthetic/design language and their merchandising depends on a sort of ‘cohesion’, but what of the explosion of Vetements against the backdrop of such ‘cohesiveness’ and singularly focused vision – and what of the conversation about this collaborative, multi-faceted and un-cohesive aesthetic that is starting on social media (of course)? Will cohesiveness and a singular aesthetic vision be relevant to millennials and Generation Z’ers? If they’re shopping online and creating individual looks according to their own vision, and Instagram and Snapchat are ultimately more influential and engaging and more readily consumed than fashion shows, what is the point of cohesiveness at the expense of alienating consumers? And again, if fashion shows continue to lose favour as the predominant presentation format, individuality becomes an even more powerful element of fashion’s presentation. Fyodor Golan question this uniformity and go on to state that they have never sought ‘cohesiveness’ in their collections, but rather the creation of clothing as a vehicle for self expression and fun for their broad customer base, whose age group spans four decades and is global. It could be argued that cohesiveness can kill creativity by stamping out individual expression, spontaneity and the charm of the unexpected – a fate unlikely to befall Fyodor Golan.
Vetements P/E 16
On the subject of individualism in an increasingly ‘global’ market the duo explain, ‘Our clients come to us to express a different side of themselves… they have serious, professional jobs and wear Fyodor Golan as a way of tapping into their personality and as a visual representation of that (fun) side of themselves’.
Fyodor Golan’s creations are seriously fun. Frothy? Yes. Flimsy? Definitely not. The products are underpinned by solid, quality-driven construction techniques employed since the launch of their label (which drew heavily on couture techniques initially) in 2011, and have evolved to express a sense of confidence through playfulness.
Fyodor Golan SS2012
A further discussion that touches on current challenges in the area of fashion tech centres on product design versus fashion design. Golan expresses the frustration at being restricted to short development times due to the seasonal nature of the fashion industry and longs to be able to explore design concepts in greater depth – as a product designer would, for example. The approach through product design of creating a perfectly formed, functional and beautiful object is a luxury that just may be possible once Fyodor Golan have broken free of the restrictive cycle and demands that come with staging a fashion show each season. Fyodor and Golan lament the unresolved design ideas that ping into their minds at that last evolutionary design stage – often the week before their London fashion week show – leaving them no time to see these ideas through to fruition because of limitations caused by show preparation and the restrictive need to create ‘looks’ for the show, rather than individually strong and exciting garments. Due to the seasonal nature of fashion, the scope to pick up and continue such ideas in following seasons does not always present itself. There is a serendipitous aspect to such ideas and sometimes, when the moment has passed, the opportunity and magic passes too. Essentially, dropping the traditional fashion show format allows the freedom and time to be more innovative. It’s during this stage of the interview that Golan mentions the Makerversity, which is situated near their studio in Somerset House, which has clearly provided a point of reflection for the designers where the process of product design and development is concerned, versus that of fashion.
Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17
In their Pre-SS17 collection, Fyodor Golan have furthered explored a number of concepts initiated in their AW16 collection, including hybrid sportswear with strapping and bows that are silhouette-changing, rather than simply surface details. This plays into their desire for individuality within the collection – so one garment has many guises depending on the wearer’s styling preferences. The collection, entitled “Sakura Kawaii’ was inspired by Hatsune Miku – a hologram-generated pop star – resulting in a collection that expresses “romance through plastification”. It’s surreal to see real live fans at the concert of a holographic pop star screaming and waving glow sticks, but it perfectly illustrates the blurring of lines between reality and artificiality that Fyodor Golan have distilled into this collection.
The animated look book is the perfect expression of this darkly psychedelic-samurai mood, in collaboration with digital artist and animator, Ignasi Monreal. Part of the joy of Fyodor Golan’s look books is that they seek to excite the imagination, rather than simply sell, and it expresses an aesthetic that the designers describe as resolutely ‘digital’.
Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17
The digitally driven playfulness in the presentation of their Pre-SS17 collection causes me to speculate as to the format of their next fashion presentation for London Fashion Week in September. ‘We’re still exploring options’ and ‘we’re looking at integrating the process of creation into the presentation’ were the official standpoints at the time of our interview – suffice to say it will be an exciting, experimental and likely experiential offering that will gloriously break with tradition in yet another refreshing Fyodor Golan chapter. It’s an exciting time in an evolving industry where as many lessons come from Darwinian truth as they do from social media metrics. If fashion’s future is about creative adaptation, dynamism, freedom of thought and individuality, Fyodor Golan are surging ahead.