In search of the new; culture counts
Fashion is always about the new; new colours, new items, new names. Looking for a new city outside of the big four fashion weeks; New York, London, Milan, Paris, has become a familiar story. Yet at the same time these familiar questions always arise - what, where and who do we look at, when there are so many options and alternatives?
Many fashion weeks are not aimed at international buyers, although obviously no one turns them away. But they are often a specific showcase for the local industry. At designer level from Tbilisi to Copenhagen to Sau Paulo there is something for everybody. The intrinsic cultural influences provide both a strength and a flavour to much of fashion, which, when shown in situ surrounded by the scenery of the country, is obvious; transplanted it’s not always so clear. Yet, in recent years this has become less true, cultural heritage, designer’s origins and the honesty of cultural references has become more respected and accepted. Remember also that not everybody has the budget to show in one of the big four cities or, in some cases, the desire.
Multiculturalism should be a given in fashion, from designers to models, editors and photographers, fashion today comes from almost every corner of the world. Where and how those in the fashion business formulate their creativity is often based on a range of factors, from birthplace or heritage through to haphazard circumstances. The London born tailor Oswald Boateng, once told me all his colour sense came from his mother’s Ghanaian background. Scandinavian TV drama, Swedish Ikea, and Japanese Uniqlo are all part of our lives and all keep their cultural aesthetic as the heart of what they offer to the world.
By tracing or knowing a designer’s cultural origins, we can observe the effects of this on their creativity. Schiaparelli was Italian, Yves Saint Laurent was born in Algeria and lived there until he was seventeen, Balenciaga, in spite of thirty years in France, remained resolutely Spanish in his aesthetic. We embraced Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto because of their Japanese views of fashion. Today designers from India, many of whom show across the globe, come from across their own vast country. Amongst many, Sabyasachi hails from Kolkata, Rahul Mishra was born near Kanpur, Manish Arora hails from Mumbai- their culture is embedded in their work and their respect and love for Indian tradition is obvious.
All Belgian designers seem to have a specific aesthetic, which is truly celebrated and loved by their devotees. It covers a broad spectrum of menswear and womenswear, and the heart of their mood always seems to be drenched with a hint of romantic melancholy. This Belgian invasion into the global fashion arena includes Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons and many others, all of whom remain resolutely Belgian. The Lebanon designers, especially those from Beirut, adore and excel at special occasion and evening wear with Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, Tony Ward, and many others, always enchanting us with embroideries, sparkle and glamour.
Victor & Rolf are Dutch, Talbot Runhof are German, Akris, with wonderful designer Albert Kriemler at its helm, is Swiss with Swiss fabric at the heart of the house. Yet, we know all this mixing of cultures is not new, it has been true across so many seasons, Xuly Bet comes from Bamako in Mali, Azzedine Alaia was from Tunis, Helmut Lang is Viennesse.
Understanding the client
The big shift is that even those designers who show in other cities know that the clients who fully understand their ethos, aesthetic and cultural references are often from associated backgrounds. However diluted or subliminal, thousands of years of heritage cannot be erased, nor would anyone wish it to be.
Vogue Arabia and Vogue India demonstrate the need to link fashion with culture and heritage; politics, religion, and tradition cannot be ignored. At the present moment the search for new fashion weeks and new faces is looking all over the world and finding an inspiring mix of heritage coming to the fore. American born Virgil Abloh (now creative director menswear at Louis Vuitton) has Ghanaian parents, Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond is Haitian American, London born Duro Olowu is Nigerian, and Suzy Menkes had just chaired the Condé Nast International (CNI) Luxury Conference in South Africa with designers coming from a wide range of countries within the African continent. Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh have both their own label, Rushemy Botter, and are now designers at the classic Nina Ricci in Paris. These two exemplify the mix; Botter was born in Curaçao and is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, which Herrebrugh also attended. She divides her time between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic. There are times when heritage muddles rather than clarifies; but in fashion it’s all about the new and the next, and these are exciting times to be seeing new designer heritage breathing life into established fashion houses.
Let us close with a quote from the New York Times article on Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss. First let us note “His role models are Martin Margiela (Belgian), Rick Owens (American with a Mexican mother), Dries Van Noten (Belgian) and Yohji Yamamoto (Japanese)” certainly a fascinating selection. He also said “In the beginning of Pyer Moss, I didn’t want people to know I was black because I knew they would make all these assumptions, now I fully embrace who I am. I’m black. I’m here. And I’m really good.”
Haiti, Paris, Ghana, New York, Cote D’Ivoire, London, or wherever they’re from, the strength of purpose of these designers points the way to a new fashion movement. I repeat the words “A label concerned with building a narrative that speaks about heritage and activism.”