“No, really, you don’t know Li ?” : an Anti Fashion story

Today was not a red shirt day. But cosmic revelations have weird ways to find you, don’t they ?

Today was a « No, really, you don’t know her ? » day.

I had an appointment with my director of studies. I wanted to have her opinion about my chances to work in Fashion Design with a Marketing degree obtained at a Science Political university (yup, normality). She ended up talking to me about the death of creativity in the field and about a strange and mythical women with an unspeakable name, that has been apparently predicted all of it for years. She has even written a manifesto about it, recently. « No, really, you don’t you know her ? » Well, uh, she really has an unspeakable name.  But shame on me, I admit it, there was no « Lidewij Edelkoort » in my address book. And I decided it was time I knew a bit more about her.

She appears to be a famous Dutch trend « forecaster » based in Paris, named in 2008 by Time Magazine  as one of the 25 most influential people in fashion (so, indeed, shame on me), and who presented at the beginning of February her « Anti-Fashion Manifesto » or the 10 reasons why according to her, « our fashion system is completely obsolete » (as we are going to see it, moderation is not Li’s cup of tea).

However, here, when we talk about “Anti Fashion”, it is important to understand that there is a real difference with the nineties movement represented by designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and the brand Comme des garçons with Rei Kawakubo. This “Anti Fashion” movement was questioning our connections to our body and our vision of beauty, but was reviving the codes of the industry, not pointing out the obsolescence of the entire system. Presented at a Parisian conference as a prelude to her design house “Trend Union” introducing its new predictions for the 2016/17 autumn and winter season, this text divided into 10 chapters deals with every important aspects of the fashion industry : education, manufacturing, designers, retailing and marketing. She examines the changes that actually render this system “completely obsolete.”

According to her, it indeed starts with an inadequate education still centered on the expression of exceptional individuality in a work environment based on the principle of collective creation. Indeed, “Fashion schools and colleges continue to teach young students to become catwalk designers, divas. They keep on being led to believe that what awaits them is a life of fame outside of the rules. In other words schools are continuing to teach the principle of unsociable individuality to young people whose environment, in these days of social networks, is based on sharing and creating together. In reality, training in fashion has gone out of fashion.”

Moreover, the interest in textiles, in fabric, in clothes themselves are lost, as the students are more trained to communicate about their design than to actually design them and work on their creativity. ”Students are being taught to become little Karls(…), to arrange the show, brochures, communications and photography – all in three years. And during these three years, little time ends up being dedicated to clothes, which are just one element among many.” The studios have been sacrificed on the altar of globalisation, the formel small labels have been integrated into huge groups. The ancient techniques are not perpetuated and Li finds it « terrifying » (moderation, always).

She then challenges the quality of the press and its content, by underlining the lack of   basic education of fashion editors: “We have seen, for example, in major magazines such as Vogue or Marie-Claire triumphant announcements rejoicing in the return of prints. Do your homework madam editors and stop talking about prints when what is meant is actually jacquard.” (you don’t want to upset Li)

She denounces the naive attitude of consumers ignoring the exploitation of the workforce producing the cheaper clothes they buy in mass, an attitude encouraged by the well-known and oh so brilliant position of the media :  as we all know it, wearing the same outfit twice is pure evil. (of course, of course.)

Finally, for her, it all comes down to a creativity crisis, the imperative need to sell in mass having limited  the possibilities of pure creation. “When you add them up there are no longer any creators really creating fashion. To put it simply, this is because marketing has killed the fashion industry by over-exploiting it, by subjecting designers to unbelievable stress (they have to do everything) and where their originality is sacrificed in the constant quest for the slogan, by saturating the market with products made to create nice images designed to be ‘liked’ (in order to sell perfume) to the detriment of clothes made to be worn. »

That was one nice checkup for fashion.  With no quick fix on the horizon.

But if you follow Li’s analysis, there is a possibility of redemption. « Clothes », or the renewed interest in them, are going to be fashion salvation. Returning to « the basics of ‘couture’ with its genuine interest in the fabric and the ‘way’ that we examined them before the invention of prêt-à-porter clothing. » would revive creativity. « Fashion is dead. Long live clothing » or the economy of clothes replacing the fashion industry => Li Edelkoort has weird ideas.

But after finally knowing a bit more about her, I can’t deny I am currently training to pronounce her name out loud. Maybe because her weirdness possesses such peculiar accuracy, I currently want to do one thing and one thing only : turn over to the next person and ask her with incredulity :

« No, really, don’t know her ? » 

(You got me, Li.)

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