The number of designers showing their collections at the current run of fashion weeks has doubled from last year. This could be good for diversity and customer choice.
The more designers the merrier?
Just a few days to go before the spring/summer 2011 ready-to-wear shows wrap… Did you know that this season, the number of designers showing their collections in New York, London, Milan and now Paris has doubled? In London, organisers who had been trying to keep a lid on the ever-increasing number of new names emerging had to acknowledge the existence of an "unofficial" off-schedule to add to the "official" off-schedule, and of course the official on-schedule event.
Paris, meanwhile, continues to wield a vice-like grip on fashion because the Fédération Française de la Couture continues to be spoilt for choice. Whenever a rare slot does crop up, they can cherry-pick designers from lesser fashion capitals such as London and the various other fashion weeks taking place around the world. Ahead of New York, fashion weeks had played out in locations as varied as São Paulo, Sydney and Manila. Last month Madrid and Mumbai staged theirs. October will see Dubai, Japan, Los Angeles and Moscow do the same.
The importance of a flourishing home fashion market is not simply to produce a designer who might end up showing fancy frocks at the Ritz in the French capital, but to address primarily the needs of a country's culture. Fashion, no matter how fancy the frocks, does boil down to the simplest economics of supply and demand. But none of this answers the questions as to why we need so many designers, so many fashion weeks and, as a result, so many trends. The answer lies in our appetite for fashion, which is seemingly inexhaustible. Don't believe me? Did you hear that Marks & Spencer has just announced it is to launch a designerwear range for boys?
Boyswear is the most notoriously difficult area of clothing to get right. Once happy to pull on a scruffy pair of Nike trainers and a Disney-branded T-shirt, young boys now demand catwalk style as much as their sisters. The fashion photographer Rankin will shoot the boys campaign, natch. The other factor to consider is this: although we appear to want to follow fashion like sheep, we are also growing more individual, opinionated, confident and experimental.
Could this be why we are seeing more polar opposite trends emerge in the same season? In Milan, for example, there were flat Birkenstock sandals (high fashion plus comfort at Pucci) and sky-high raffia wedges (Prada). Rather than confusing the customers, though, the vast scope of fashion viewpoints out there throws more fuel on the fire. Some women are willing to pay enormous amounts for Bottega Veneta stealth wealth; others want Balenciaga bling; and some want both.
The blizzard of contradicting silhouettes, shapes, colours and fabrics emerging for spring/summer 2011 is indeed more about commerce than chaos. In the back of my mind, when I'm making myself watch some debut show that I've read is the next big thing, I remember a proverb I learnt during childhood: big oak trees from little acorns grow. How well I remember going to Alexander McQueen's debut in a cold, dirty car park in London. He certainly wasn't on any schedule. What a great example of why there is always a need - and room - for newcomers in fashion.
McQueen, like Miuccia Prada, made a career out of triggering the fashion "gag" reflex, where the first time you see something you cringe, then reflect and ultimately love it. When I saw the Raf Simons collection for Jil Sander - an intriguing fusion of minimalism and maximalism, where a white T-shirt was teamed with a complicated couture-like evening skirt in eye-popping orange - my fashion radar started to bleep.
There was a point during London Fashion Week, after yet another homage to the 1970s, when I seriously questioned the concept of fashion-forward. Then, just as I was about to agree with my mother's favourite saying ("everything comes around again; there's nothing new in fashion these days"), Simons' T-shirt and evening skirt combo - despite its reference to the great designer Yves Saint Laurent in terms of colour and optimism - felt wonderfully original.
Perhaps it's not so much a question of the number of designers, but of their sheer diversity, which is needed to create the thoroughly modern jigsaw puzzle global fashion now is. Or is it a case of customers (in their billions) daring on designers and not the other way around?