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Retail is being transformed, offices are evolving, cities are getting younger, people have started saving more and governments have started to persuade them to spend again. In many such ways we are manoeuvring our way towards a new normal – if there ever was any such thing as normal anyway.
Yet, amid all the talk about the consumer becoming more environmentally cautious, travelling less and buying less, the leather industry will have to quickly focus on what she, or he, will actually want to purchase and to wear.
In a compelling piece of writing at the start of June, Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times has done just that; and if you do not subscribe, it is well worth at least giving up your email address to have access to read what she has to say in her column. While all the arguments to date have focussed on the need to change the structure of fashion, the shows, the seasons and the supply chains, she reminds us powerfully that when all this misery does really come to an end, probably not until spring 2021, people will have had enough of endlessly wearing work from home informality. They will have two targets only – security and to party.
After the Great War and the Spanish Flu we had the flappers, and after the Second World War we had the Dior New Look of 1947. Light after the darkness and misery, to lift our spirits. Even after the first great European plague in the 14th century, she notes, women’s dress in particular becomes much more body conscious and lavish. Remember that weird phrase “anti anti-ostentation” that appeared in the 1990s after the recession that had followed the over-exuberance with brands of the late 1980s. Everyone had suddenly hunkered down, cocooned and avoided anything flamboyant in public that might display wealth or frivolity. Sadness and misery predominated: it had to end and it did. Now Friedman anticipates “Dressing with a capital D”. A return to a more formal look. Clothes that are chosen carefully, and not bought only to last a short season and then be discarded, but to be worn regularly and used for many years.
Rigid seasonality and relentless Instagram offerings feel very yesterday
While the fashion houses and others have been making statements about the seasons and overloaded ranges, climate change has already more or less terminated any residual value in seasonal ranges for much of the world. Returning to rigid seasonality and relentless Instagram offerings feels very yesterday. Indeed, Instagram has become so commercial, it is getting hard to navigate; time to move on.
Well designed, beautiful things are more likely to be the consumers’ target now, things that will last. Items that display craft, and a degree of timelessness. Why should items that last be reserved for luxury goods and everything else be disposable?
And youth will start to take control. While JW Anderson produced the famous new cardigan that has created #HarryStylesCardigan and shown us the new power of TikTok in marketing programmes, it was a 22-year-old from California who set it alight. Liv Huffman decided to use her time trapped at home to make her own copy and posted the process on her account @lilbittylivie. While some of the big brands have been paying for their TikTok presence, this one post propelled JW Anderson to the forefront, and has brought the whole #craft concept sharply into focus, along with the personalised, individual aspect that comes with the making and the consumer choices involved. A new direction for a different world order, curated by youth. Bright, quality, crafted, individual and enduring.
If understood and managed, these trends can play to the strengths of leather. As Vanessa Friedman says, “Times of great trauma also produce moments of great creativity as we attempt to process what we have been through. The functional side of that is fashion. After periods of extremes — war, pandemic, recession — dress is a way to signal the dawning of a new age”.
There is light at the end of this long tunnel. Thanks, Ms. Friedman for pointing it out.
July 7, 2020
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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