When being interviewed for the release of his new collection under the label Blue Roses, Edward Meadham claimed that he was “really bored,” with everything in fashion at the moment. This comes in the wake of the closure of Meadham’s joint project with Benjamin Kirchoff in 2015, Meadham Kirchoff. As a brand, Meadham Kirchoff was notable for its avant-garde approach to couture – every collection was a chaotically coloured celebration of decadence, in both the collections themselves and the theatrical approach to fashion week showings. Whilst this submission to decadence drew acclaim nearly unanimously from all corners of the fashion world (adored alike by devotees of Dazed and Confused and Vogue – two very different creatures) it failed to be financially lucrative, leading to the aforementioned dissolution of the label in 2015.
One could easily attribute the closure of Meadham Kirchoff to the fact that haute couture is inherently unsustainable. Pricing items so highly means that the pool of people able to buy them is inherently narrowed, and having some of the main facets of said clothes be, for example, tampons (SS15 ready to wear) or Courtney Love (SS12 ready to wear) lookalikes, is a risky venture. Admittedly, a lot of people don’t like and aren’t willing to wear either tampons or Courtney Love related paraphanelia – but it seems suspect to blame Meadham Kirchoff’s failiure solely on economics or the particular vitriol that people hold for certain aspects of their subject matter. Returning to Meadham’s comments about his very real boredom with just about everything in fashion and having reiterated the same comment equally emphatically in pretty much all the publication for the release of Blue Roses, questions are raised: is fashion, in particular high fashion, becoming stagnant? The fact that creativity so widely lauded as Meadham Kirchoff failed to be nurtured would certainly suggest so.
Is there then a correlation between this stagnation and the people making the clothes? A link between such stasis and the fact that the majority of major fashion houses are still in the process (and indeed, the early stages of said process) of installing their first female heads of houses? Does this stagnation have anything to do with the fact that the majority of creators are white men drawn from a very narrow pool of influence? Perhaps that can that be put down to demographic coincidence.
This could certainly be argued in the case of Gucci. In early 2016, following the installation of Alessandro Michele as head of house, Vogue published the article ‘Michele’s Gucci Coup’ chronicling his success in said role. It was noted that under his leadership, both financially and in terms of critical reception, the brand is on an upward spiral. The collections almost instantly became more colourful, more kitschy and unique. Perhaps the catalyst in this improvement is Michele himself; Vogue pointed out that it was under Gucci’s previous leadership, notably the proteges of Tom Ford (such as Frida Gianini in his own particularly lucrative stint at the company), that this aforementioned stagnation set in. However, it must be conceded that Michele himself is from very much the same stock as Gianini and Ford, having worked his way up through Gucci in a similar manner to the former.
Indeed, more recently, Michele has been footing claims of plagiarism for his sci-fi inspired AW17 collection. An online rumbling of discontent made the allegation that Michele’s collection was eerily similar to the work of Pierre Louis Auvray, a womenswear student at Central Saint Martins. While Michele has made attempts to refute the claim, instead citing Star Trek and alien movies from the 70s as his influences, the appropriation of ‘youth culture’ has long been a criticism of Gucci under the new leadership, especially the employment of Petra Collins for various campaigns. As a photographer known for her soft and emblematic depictions of youth, Gucci received complaints of attempting to plunder the aesthetic without making its products actually accessible to the people from whom they drew their influence.
This is not necessarily an unfair comment. It’s not as if I, a youth, sit here writing this article head to toe in haute couture (something which may well contribute to the somewhat morose tone this article has taken). It should be further noted that such declarations have not just been levelled at Gucci; a common nit pick directed at Dior’s collections under the new leadership of Maria Grazia Chiuri is that they have been too conscious of indulging street style (especially in the form of the branded waistbands and t-shirts) to the detriment of the label’s image. Instead, incorporating these influences has lead to some change. For example, the hyper-femininity of the brand has taken on a more human tone. Even the classic hourglass silhouette of the 1950s New Look silhouette has softened.
Yet is this a bad thing? Certainly, yes, if, as Pierre Louis Auvray claims, young creators aren’t being given credit. But this freshness appears to have exempted certain brands from the boredom that Meadham condemns. Going back to Dior, the hyper-femininity that was once imagined solely by men has been diminished with this new found looseness of t-shirts and waistbands into something more ironic, more ‘obnoxiously feminine’ – something distinctly more fun. The aforementioned silhouette has indeed softened, and in the process been desexualised – taking the emphasis away from bust and hips to simply a neat waistline has made it more androgynous, less restrictive, and as a result, more modern. I would argue that this is generally something positive.The same can be said of Gucci – it is rarely said that the output of either brand recently has been boring.
But it must be noted that this exemption from the aforementioned tepidity is not a universal thing. But it does appear to be on an upward swing, albeit a flawed one, if one considers that one of the main impetus for change has been unattributed reference – though the result may be good, the fact that much of the inspiration is seemingly drawn without credit bodes less than well for the industry as we know it.