The State of American Fashion – WWD

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The state of American fashion – everyone knows this is both a fascinating and unsettling question. The tribulations of negotiating New York Fashion Week have been a topic of conversation for years, recently exacerbated by a decision to establish an official fashion week in June that incorporates men’s spring and women’s spring into what was previously a resort/cruise season. The prevailing postmortem of NYFW’s first attempt in June is that it won’t work without critical mass.

To that end, the numbers are a problem — too many show weeks, too many shows — especially in New York. Yet increasingly, the conversation around American fashion is focusing not just on the issues surrounding NYFW, but on the fashion displayed there. Or more specifically, there’s a conversation about the lack of global conversation — of excitement and even interest — around American fashion.

This comes at a time when all of fashion is in a complicated state of transition, driven in large part by the twin forces of technology and insecurity, as well as a heightened focus on diversity and inclusivity. Each must negotiate new territories, often on dangerous ground. But not everyone suffers from it – eg Gucci, 6.2 billion euros last year. It is undeniable that a great excitement is currently circulating around many European brands. It is also undeniable that most of them belong to a luxury group, which relates to the very real problem of the immense amount of cash and hard cash required to compete on the world stage, and its general lack in United States. In this context, American designers are no longer fashionable. The retreat from prominence has been recent and swift, and shows how quickly fortunes can change in this volatile industry.

The mid-90s through the 1990s was something of a golden age for American fashion. It all started with daring young Americans who made do with legendary European houses – Tom Ford at Gucci, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors at Celine, Narciso Rodriguez at Loewe. This wave broadened the profile of an American industry that had until then been very much centered on one side by the Ralph-Calvin-Donna triumvirate and on the other by the distinguished power brokers Oscar, Blass, Carolina.

This global recognition of American design talent has proven to be major. So too is growing consumer fascination – the proverbial emergence of fashion as entertainment – ​​fueled in part by the growing fusion of celebrity fashion and instant access via the internet. This helped spawn over the next decade a generation of young American designers – mostly graduates of newly established fashion schools – who entered the workforce determined to get out on their own immediately, usually without substantial experience in design. full-time studio under their belts.

Starting with Zac Posen and Proenza Schouler, they appealed not only to domestic industry, but to global commerce, many – but not all – aided and mentored by the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which became a major developer of fledgling businesses. . Posen was all about glamour; Proenza, a daring fusion of high technology and craftsmanship; Rodarte, marvelous romance; The Row, refined sobriety; Jason Wu, chic lady; Altuzarra, young chic too, with a hint of French savoir-faire running through his blood. Others came and went: Thakoon, Doo Ri, Peter Som, Richard Chai. Alexander Wang performed for the cool-kids demographic, posing as its built-in leader.

The world loved them all. At the same time, many others have waded into contemporary waters, often less editorial but building significant businesses: Phillip Lim, Amy Smilovic of Tibi, Rebecca Minkoff, Marcus Wainwright of Rag & Bone.

They have been celebrated at home and abroad. Even after the financial meltdown of 2008 threw global economies and industries into turmoil, there remained a lingering optimism about American fashion, rooted in its youth movement.

But newness is a transitory state; by definition it does not last. New ventures must eventually find their footing, as everyone in the once-fresh Aughs generation has been very publicly forced to learn. At the same time, the power base of American fashion has changed dramatically. As Ralph celebrates 50 years of remarkable brilliance, Donna now oversees the Urban Zen niche, the Bill Blass company no longer exists as a luxury house, and it remains to be seen how the Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera firms fare. will come out with new creations. . Calvin Klein regenerates under the European eye of Raf Simons. Marc Jacobs remains the creative jewel in the American crown, but his company has not been immune to market uncertainty. Each in their own way, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger have the biggest global profiles in American fashion.

Everyone who has been rated and many more are doing a great job. But the bottom line is that, as an entity on the global stage, American fashion is not seen as the hub of excitement it was just over a decade ago. And then there’s the show system.

As Diane von Furstenberg says, “we all need to talk to each other”. To get the conversation started, WWD asked a wide range of global industry players – designers, publishers, retailers, PR executives, consultants and CEOs – for their thoughts. Many responded – and some declined, whether because of summer vacation or in the interest of avoiding a controversial topic – some in phone conversations, others over email. We received a flurry of comments, most of which were presented with surprising candor. Again, a topic of conversation. We do not offer solutions, or even definitive conclusions. Except one, which became very clear: people care passionately about this industry, the whole world and its American subsidiary. They want it to survive and thrive; they want its many brilliantly talented designers to have a voice in the culture.

Beyond this absolute, other common points of interest have emerged:

1. The American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and a source of great pride.

2. It’s generally accepted that American fashion isn’t driving the global conversation.

3. Overall, some see American fashion as the land of denim, sneakers and nothing else.

4. That the streets and sports drive international fashion is a source of both pride – these are American concepts, after all – and frustration – the only Americans to be credited are the iconoclast Supreme and Virgil Abloh, that of Louis Vuitton and Milan based Off-White.

6. Money matters. Many American brands suffer from a lack of funding to grow their businesses and market in a world dominated by the majesty of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Kering and Chanel.

7. The study commissioned by the Boston Consulting Group of the CFDA which determined that “every brand should do what is best for itself” has considerable support among designers.

8. Many designers seem oblivious or indifferent to onlookers’ strong sense that New York Fashion Week is becoming increasingly unmanageable.

9. Given 1 and 2, the CFDA has a very tough job, starting with, but not limited to, the fashion calendar.

Read more:

The Current State of American Fashion: Industry Pros Weigh in

The DVF view: “We must be true to ourselves”

CFDA’s Steven Kolb sees an industry trying new things

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