The new Gucci

I break my hiatus to write about the new Gucci creative director and collection, simply because it does have an impact on my future and the future of fashion.

Gucci as a brand as been special to me because I did my first fashion internship at Gucci in Singapore. I spent a lot of time in the sample room examining and learning about luxury fashion and it had a great impact on me. In my mind, I began to form the luxury brands worked and saw how it operated with many locations worldwide.

After watching the new Fall 2015 womenswear show, I was filled with doubt and uncertainty. The new creative director, Alessandro Michele, to me has taken the path that Hedi Slimane did with Saint Laurent. Not only did he youthify the brand, as tasked since sales at Gucci were falling, but he designed a collection for a very young and skinny crowd. Holding on to Gucci’s 60s and 70s roots, Michele designed a soft and feminine collection full of frilly and billowy silhouettes tailored to the waist. Huge 70s inspired aviator tortoise shell glasses were on almost every model, adorned along with an artsy knit beret. This was a completely different Gucci that we’ve known- one that was very strong into the gender differences- sexy women and strong, masculine men. At the show yesterday, male models were mixed into the crowd and some female models looked like men. The whole gender-neutral concept was strong in this collection and just surprising for the brand.

NYT noticed that Michele was designing for the wearer, instead of designing from a concept which was usually the case. And that meant that a lot of the clothes were not exactly new, which I noticed too. Fur bedroom flats that appeared in the Simone Rocha show two seasons ago surfaced and were also combined with the classic Gucci brogues. In fact, one thing you always see at Gucci would be the luxurious sexy eveningwear closing the show but this time, it was completely different. The closing look featured a pair of red pants that hung off the model’s hips that looked much too low for the modern skinny pants lover. The show certainly presented the 70s very well but did it do well for Gucci? I’m not sure.

This then makes me wonder about the future of fashion. No doubt, there will be concept driven designers like Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen but is the future of luxury fashion only about selling straight off the runway? Designers like Nicholas Ghesquiere and Phoebe Philo also design for wearability but their collections are still concept driven with a stronger focus on construction and fit. Michele over here however, seems to be designing very simple clothes, much too simple for a luxury brand. To put it crudely, I even thought that Hedi Slimane’s clothes looked very much like the ones I could see in Bershka or Pull & Bear. The cut and fabrics are definitely different but somehow, I personally believe that fashion is about seeing something new and unique. It isn’t about producing clothes that has been done before or clothes that could be done easily by someone else.

So where exactly is fashion heading to? The battle between the bottom line and creativity continues.

We are all hypocrites

And that includes me too. Today’s blog post is going to be full of contradictions, of which I am still working out in my mind and have yet to fully understand or find the answer to.

Recently, I picked up the book ‘Why Fashion Matters‘ by Frances Corner (as seen above). Ever since I moved to Hong Kong to fully submerge myself in the world of fashion, I’ve begun to try to find a purpose in this seemingly superficial industry. I love fashion for its craftsmenship, the way it pushes mankind into creating beautiful works out of nothing and how people constantly innovate. The great thing is that fashion allows anyone of any background or mental capability to enter the industry. Unlike a scientist, you don’t need to be intellectually ‘smart’ to qualify for the job. I guess fashion designers are much like an artistic scientists?

Anyway, over the course of last quarter’s work, I was pushed into using more luxurious fabrics for my clothes. At the same time, we were studying about how textiles are made. And truthfully, a lot of fabrics out there use a lot of water and resources. The tanning of leather into your specific colours, for one, requires a lot of effort. Ostrich leather goes through about 30 cycles of tanning, and not every piece that enters the cycle makes it through all 30. Then there’s the story of denim which goes through several rounds of washing, scrubbing and eventually ‘spraying’ and ‘scratching’ to give you that worn out look.

In the book, Corner mentions the issue of water and fashion. I quote, ‘It takes 2700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt from ‘crop to shop’… In the meantime, five thousand children die each day due to the lack of clean water.’ When we begin to look at the way we consume fashion in perspective of the world out there, I think it’s obvious how much we could have ‘not bought’ and done without. I would raise my hand first and admit how big a criminal I am in this aspect. Looking at my wardrobe and the amount of clothes and cheap accessories I have out there, if I channeled all my money into buying something that was durable and could last long, I would have saved so much of the world out there.

And when it comes to buying something durable, I often think about leather. But that’s where another problem lies. Leather has been promoted as an environmentally friendly by-product of the meat industry. Cows killed for their beef have their hide turned into leather. But in reality, only about 20 to 30% of the hides are used for leather. The imperfect parts are then thrown away. (This is much like how farmers actually throw away fruits and veggies that look too ugly to sell away! Read more here.) Then, during the manufacturing process, the leather hides undergo severe chemical treatments, leaving the water that washes them contaminated and possibly discharged irresponsibly.

So there are so many question marks. The thing is we consumers don’t know how our products are made. But in honesty, would you expect clothes that you pay a low price for to produce clothes in an extremely environmentally friendly way? Chances are much slimmer when compared to something you pay more for. And don’t forget the poor labourers in third world countries slaving away in terrible conditions to produce those clothes on the rack. Fast fashion is killing the world slowly by telling you that you are out of fashion and you need to buy something new. In order to keep up, it’s better to buy something cheap because the trend doesn’t last long and soon you’d be giving those clothes away. It’s a virtuous cycle which I’ve fallen into and I’m trying to get out of it. If you keep buying, it signals to them that there is demand and they will keep producing. But if we slow down on our consumption, the huge supplies they are left over with would let them know that they have to make less.

So what do we do next? I’d suggest a few ways:

1. Spend on less things and buy more high quality items. Invest in clothes that last longer and could potentially even be heirlooms, passed down to the next generation. If you could pass down a coat to your son or daughter, how many cheap coats could you have saved on?

2. With that said, also research into the brands you are purchasing. We are in the internet age. Use your digital devices well! If they say they are environmentally friendly, are they serious about it?

3. Buy second hand clothing. This usually works for designer labels because they carry a resell value and are lasting. By using second hand clothing, you prolong the lifespan of the clothes and save on materials for new clothes.

Maybe this is a whole new thinking for most of us. We have grown up in a generation where shopping is the national sport and seeing racks and racks of clothes daily isn’t new. But think about the time before the industrial revolution. Ladies had one or two dresses at most. Were they dying at the lack of options? If they could do it, I don’t see why at least I can’t. I look at my wardrobe and see I have 8 winter jackets. I only have one body and I need 8 winter jackets?!

By now, you’re probably also wondering why an aspiring fashion designer like me is talking about buying less clothes. The truth is, I’ve never really been totally comfortable with the whole idea of fast fashion. What I appreciate instead are clothes made by hand and made with love. This issue is a big contradiction to me but I believe that if I continue to work at it, I’d get to a good answer. I, as a fashion designer, have to be one of the most responsible people out there in the fashion industry, from the fabrics to pick to the labour and production methods I use. My choices would impact the world and have a lasting effect.