If anything characterises the past decade in fashion then it must surely be the concepts of both volume and speed. While designer fashion was formerly a strictly limited edition and elitist pursuit, today there is a truly spectacular amount of product to choose from – and it's aimed at anyone and everyone the world over, no longer just the privileged few. Add to the skincare, fragrance, accessory, footwear and diffusion lines of yesteryear, second and third lines, pre-collections and cruise collections, knitwear, denim, fine jewellery, swimwear and more, all at various price points and arriving in store on a monthly basis ensuring that merchandise is "fresh", and one could be forgiven for thinking that our desire is insatiable. And by and large that has proved to be the case. Amongst the most highly visible and overtly glamorous symbols of capitalism, fashion responds to demand. It's as simple as that. And the growth of the luxury goods industry to hitherto unforeseen heights is nothing if not testimony to that.
"Fast fashion" – 10 years ago no one knew what such a thing was – must take at least some of the credit (or should that be blame?) for this.
After all, in order to keep up with the budget copies of designer clothes, many of which are available only weeks after the designer originals that inspired them were first shown, the high end has retaliated in kind. In this case, the internet, not to mention the weekly glossy magazines filled with paparazzi shots of celebrities endorsing the new season's designs, have both played more than a small part.
What goes up must come down, however, and so when recession hit more than a year ago even the most audacious and high-profile names were forced, once again, to take action. They have done so in different ways. In some cases, the fashion superpowers have responded by going back to their roots – producing finely crafted clothing that bears the instantly recognisable hallmark of the designer or heritage behind it, thus ensuring that more trend-driven aesthetics seem ephemeral to the point of wasteful by comparison.
Others have relied more on sheer inventiveness, creating innovative new fabrics and finishing techniques, and pioneering and increasingly complex silhouettes, that seem to be saying: "copy that if you dare". It almost goes without saying that such expertise and imagination come at a cost, and so the price points of main-line collection designer clothing in particular has soared to the point where it is not uncommon for a ready-to-wear jacket, say, to weigh in at upwards of £4,000 and, even so, such pieces may sell out within days of their appearance.
Of course, the economic downturn has led to more than a few casualties – the demise of the house of Christian Lacroix, the brilliant, southern French-born couturier who revitalised fashion in the Eighties, is one such. Luella Bartley, as fashionable as ever but struggling to make ends meet nonetheless, another. Yohji Yamamoto, one of Japanese fashion's biggest names, also filed for bankruptcy this October, but has since found new backing. Competition for what has now become a less buoyant market has never been so fierce and this is true right across the board, from catwalk to high street. No one is immune.
Fashion is nothing if not a resilient creature, however, and so the spring/summer 2010 collections were some of the most inspirational, and indeed aspirational, in recent history; and, having cast off at least some play-safe retrograde tactics, also the most modern.
"No more history," the Balenciaga designer, Nicolas Ghesquière told American Vogue' s website style.com immediately after his most recent offering – and it could be a mantra for the season as a whole.
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