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May 18, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Fashion in a disintegrating world, pt. 2

You may recall my first ever piece for Salient, where I explained that my column would avoid “vague fashion dos and don’ts”. This is purely since I don’t hold that authority, and because they’re a synonymous feature of every Vanessa Hudgens-covered magazine in town.

But I failed…sorry.

Several issues back I sold out and wrote a ‘Winter Trends’ piece, complete with bits about “what kind of legwear is in” and other vomit-inducing statements, and why? I was attempting to satisfy a couple of readers who were after some comfortably recognisable fashion content.

In hindsight, I should have referred them on to Girlfriend magazine instead of trying to produce something I am no good at. However, it did serve to illustrate a point; these articles—about the top ten must have items and the hottest new looks—are indispensible marketing tools that are particularly essential in the current economic climate.

In times of economic unease, the efficacy of creating desire is pressing on the minds of everyone in the industry, and these shamelessly direct articles are key in maintaining this. Makes sense right? The industry tells us what they think we should like, we think we like it, decide we must have it, and cha-ching! Young moolah, baby.

However, the survival of the fashion industry in a recession—when businesses are closing down, products are going off the market, jobs are being lost—depends on the implementation of more than simple advertising strategies. The general consensus is that expenditure has decreased in comparison to figures this time last year, so how is the fashion world defending itself from the stifling grip of an economic decline?

I have, in my experiences, found that customers are still buying, often a few pieces at once, but with less frequency. They are also opting for more timeless cuts, rich colours and textured fabrics, and eyeing out pieces which are distinctive and individual.

This observation was reiterated on, where it was said that “in times of consumer worry about the economy, designers must work harder to give the public a reason to buy. Aside from price, that’s most easily achieved by creative unique pieces, adding special details and, especially for women, injecting irresistible colour.”

In more desperate attempts to capture the market, some have turned to the art of personification to excite the consumer. Designer von Fürstenberg remarked that “You need to show clothes that are real friends to women, so that ‘friend’ will make you feel good when you open your closet”. Okay, well aside from the fact that it’s an overtly creepy way of looking at fashion, I have found that telling a customer that their dress looks like a good friend tightly caressed around their body is not the best way to sell an item.

Simon Collins, the dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design, offers a more tangible approach to the industry’s adjustments, saying that “a lot of the rubbish will be swept away” and that “we are going to focus on brands with real integrity”. He also noted that merchandising will become more intelligent, and although the level of creativity will stay the same, the focus will be placed on saleable items.

What I find most interesting is the way in which retail has had to adjust. At the end of the day, boutique stores offer luxury over value and they’re not trying to pretend otherwise. You can’t expect to walk into a high fashion store and get a ‘buy one, get one free’ deal. Selling in this economic climate has become an art of conveying luxury. The level of service is heightened, the decadence of fabrics and colours are discussed, and in desperate times, we may even refer to clothes as our best friends.

The fashion industry, like the spending habits of consumers, has adapted. To be honest, I doubt we have seen the full extent of these changes which will become more apparent as conditions worsen. At this stage the emphasis is on creating insatiable desire for luxury from the design perspective, through to fashion journalism, and the selling techniques of the retail world. So perhaps my trashy ‘Winter Trends’ piece wasn’t so bad—it is in keeping with the needs of the industry after all. In consideration of this, I think it’s pretty clear what my next article will be; ‘Shopping for Friends—How to Avoid Buying the Shit Ones’.


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