This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York. It’s the start of the season, a solid month of over a thousand catwalk shows. I head to New York on Friday – by the end of the month in Paris, I will have seen about 120 labels’ presentations and around 6,000 individual outfits.
Daunting numbers. Here’s another: of all those, I estimate that only a dozen designers really count. Not in terms of shifting clothes – they all do that, with varying degrees of success. But when it comes to shifting fashion, the real game-changers are few and far between. The rest frequently just add a few frills to old ideas and gussy them up as something new.
It’s always been the way. Look at a specific period in history, and despite the proliferation of designer names, only a handful change the direction of fashion.
Back at the end of the eighties John Fairchild, then publisher of Womenswear Daily and W magazine, narrowed it down to six in his book Chic Savages. From them, he said, “all fashion hangs by a golden thread... they show the rest of the industry where to go.” He nominated Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld and the now rather odd Emanuel Ungaro and Christian Lacroix. In 1989, however, they were the dernier cri.
I’m not sure it would be possible to pinpoint just six today – fashion is a far bigger business, our style fragmented from the pouf ‘n’ pad single-mindedness of the 1980s, the last time we saw designers as dictators. There are a multitude of styles, themes and silhouettes on offer today. And besides, I’m not sure how much I agree with Fairchild’s assertion of just those six. What about Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons (incidentally, one of the designer dozen who always count for me)? Or Azzedine Alaïa, whose body-consciousness had already influenced a generation of designers and whose work continues to be prolifically copied although he no longer presents a formal catwalk show as part of fashion week? And where was Gianni Versace?
Circa right now, who are the designers that really count? Who should you be looking at – at least, in my opinion? At the opening of a fashion season, stating that is a bit of a gamble. A designer is only as good as their last collection. In my estimation, the most interesting of the decade thusfar invariably include Miuccia Prada, Christopher Kane, Rei Kawakubo, Raf Simons and Nicolas Ghesquiere at Louis Vuitton. They’re the ones the rest of the industry watch season after season, the leaders in an industry packed with sheep. They’re the ones that matter.