Thought Piece: Is Fashion’s Obsession with Newness Healthy?

It’s the middle of Paris Fashion Week and runway shows are going up on NOWFASHION like fashionably delayed clockwork. Thousands of blog posts, tweets, forum discussions will be posted today reflecting on Hedi’s first collection under the re-vamped YSL (ahem Saint Laurent Paris) label. Countless new items will be hung onto retail shelves online and uploaded digitally on a myriad of online shops.

It’s no surprise that fashion has an obsession with newness. The fashion industry is about capturing the energy and excitement of new designers, new trends and new designs.  In a 2011 cover story in Fantastic Man Raf Simons states “I want new, new, new” in reference to his design output. It’s not often when anyone stops and asks the question “Is fashion’s obsession with newness healthy?”  The answer is not black or white but I feel that this is a question worth asking.

Somewhere along the line the coverage and pace of the fashion industry accelerated to a breakneck pace. Luxury brands and fashion houses have thrived off of creating business through a culture of  “It Bag” and “Designer of the Moment “worship. Nowhere is this climate more evident than outside the runway shows in Milan, Paris, London and New York where a parade of perfectly groomed and pea-cocked men and women pose for an army of streetstyle photographers.  The number one rule to abide by if you want to be snapped for digital eternity: BE ON TREND.

As we dive head first into this strange new world I feel it is the responsibility of the gatekeepers of fashion to not just feed our appetite for what’s new, but to deliver appropriate context and reflection on what has come before. If there were just one blog post about a designer’s archive for every one hundred about a new fall coat consumers would be more knowledgeable and passionate about their purchases. High fashion is an industry that relies on image and frivolous consumption for it’s profits; but the best selling point of all is great design.

I see much more reflection of past works among film or music critics. Film critics like Robert Ebert routinely go back and review older films. Music publications frequently print pieces that reflect on discographies by artists who are dead or retired. There is no reason that fashion media can’t hold itself to a higher standard and follow these examples.

By looking back at past collections , critics can shed new light on a designer’s body of work or re-visit the cultural impact of a particular collection. From a consumer perspective, a shopper may not find their dream leather jacket on the designer floor at Barneys, but they may discover what they truly want through a decade old editorial. The signal-to-noise ratio in the fashion media is worse than it has ever been and it’s hurting innovation in the industry. The press would be doing a service to the entire fashion community if it spent less time obsessing on newest and just a little more effort researching the past. Highlighting truly GREAT design is a  responsibility that fashion critics , magazines and blogs should take on whether those designs are brand NEW or years OLD.

 In an interview last week with WWD , Yohji Yamamoto states:

“We are losing those young people because we have too much information by media, especially [through computers]. We can see everything at the same time, so already they are spoiled too much. So when we have talk sessions with young designers or students, I tell them: “Be bright. Your eyes have become dirty.”

The Internet and the pace of information it provides is here to stay. The best way to refresh our ‘dirty’ eyes may be to take a break from the new from time to time.

By Rocky Li