Is Fashion Dead? Trend Forecaster Li Edelkoort Thinks So, But Here's Why That's A Good Thing

At last month's Design Indaba conference in South Africa, influential trend forecaster Li Edelkoort proclaimed, “Fashion is dead." For Edelkoort, fashion as we know it has come to an end. As an indie fashion designer, I say good riddance.

Let me break down what I think Edelkoort means by “as we know it.” Fashion — as an inaccessible art form available only to those privileged enough to be included — is over.  The fashion industry has operated like a high school clique and society has decided not to wear pink on Wednesdays.

In her annual presentation at Design Indaba, Edelkoort read an essay entitled “Anti_Fashion.” Marcus Fairs of Denzeen magazine interviewed Edelkoort about the presentation. Education, textile design, marketing, and the relationship between advertising and editorial coverage were among Edelkoort’s hit list.

Her interview itself is so conceptual that I’ve read it at least 50 times trying to interpret what exactly she’s trying to say. She places a huge emphasis on education and criticizes that designers are taught to become catwalk designers and yet, she sounds bored by fashion shows today compared to the Thierry Mugler shows of yesteryear. Does she want these designers to be better catwalk designers or does she just miss a time when celebrities (and their babies) didn’t take up all the front row seats?

Edelkoort argues that "fashion shows are becoming ridiculous" and adds, "The editors are just on their phones; nobody gets carried away by it." Maybe those editors should look up from their phone because I wasn't even there and I know that fashion shows are become more inclusive. 

Up-and-coming brand Chromat made headlines when they became the first straight-size high end designer to feature a Latina plus-size model, Denise Bidot, in its Spring/Summer 2015 show at NYFW. Zana Bayne, also a straight-size label, featured plus model Gia Genevieve in the same season. And the more recent Autumn/Winter 2015 shows brought another industry first when actress Jamie Brewer became the first model with Down Syndrome to walk in NYFW.

The AW15 shows also saw an increase in transgender casting.  

"Trans people have been central to New York's art and fashion scene for nearly as long as those 'scenes' have existed as we know them. It's about time that this reality was represented on the city's runways," AW15 model Hari Nef told Dazed.
Nef’s point about representation in the high end fashion scene is one that I observe within the plus-size industry. Customers demand more diversity in body types showcased by brands. And it’s a demand that I’m eager to meet as a designer. Fashion shouldn’t be about showcasing art on those deemed most acceptable by society; it should represent those who are creating it and wearing it.

Representation has never been a strong suit of the elite fashion industry — even with the progress previously mentioned, 77.4 percent of the models in the AW15 shows were white, according to The Fashion Spot. Though that number is still disappointingly high, it’s a two percent improvement from the SS13 numbers reported by Jezebel. 

While Edelkoort seems to be clinging to the narrow beauty standards set by fashion "as we know it," other industry titans such as Diane Von Furstenberg are pushing for change. In her role as the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), Furstenberg penned a letter to designers prior to the AW15 shows urging them to promote health and diversity. The Huffington Post reports that the CFDA has even adopted a set of diversity guidelines with the help of activist Bethann Hardison.

Up-and-coming designers are at the forefront of diversity and representation, but yet Edelkoort says that “new brands will never get editorial in the magazines because they don't buy advertising."

Edelkoort makes the absence of editorial sound like a death sentence. But do these brands even need it? When iconic celebrities such as Beyoncé wear designers who sell on Etsy, it’s clear that Anna Wintour is not the gatekeeper she used to be. Indie designers can’t pay for advertising in magazines but they can build their brand followings through social media, celebrity endorsements, and blogger backings for free.

It can be argued that a targeted blogger backing can be even more influential than a magazine editorial. In the plus-size industry particularly, bloggers are extremely influential. In 2014, the New Yorker reported that “plus-size bloggers have the highest ‘conversion rate’ in the business — meaning that their blog posts result in sales.”

Nonetheless, Edelkoort argues that this influence works against fashion, citing that bloggers are “dependent on inducements.” Some bloggers may work with certain brands because of what those brands can offer them financially but a blogger who does that exclusively most likely won’t last long. Consumers seem to identify with bloggers because they trust them. Unlike a byline on a magazine editorial, blogs are extremely personal. The coverage that Edelkoort deems “shallow” is extremely relatable for consumers. And since most of these bloggers are neither devils nor clad in Prada, their approach to fashion is less high-brow. It’s not uncommon to see them reporting first on new designers— not because they’ve been paid to but because these designers excite them and their idea of fashion doesn’t involve only supporting designers who fit a certain mold.

As a self-taught designer who features not only plus-size models size 20 and above but also models of color in my campaigns, I can only imagine the horror that Edelkoort would experience knowing that I consider myself part of the fashion industry. But I am just one of many designers working towards putting Edelkoort’s idea of elite fashion in the history museum where it belongs.

Images: Fotolia; Getty (2); Giphy (2)

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