Closing the gap between the runway and real life
Words: Modupe Oloruntoba | Photographs: Carl David Jones | Stylist: Gavin Mikey Collins
The fashion industry often feels like a bubble – operating independently of the world around it. The fact that it's viewed as frivolous and unimportant (despite generating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars globally) doesn't help, but the disconnect extends far past opinions of the industry to the general public's perceptions of the product: clothes. Fashion weeks are typically for presenting ideas – inspiration developed and manifested as dresses, pants, coats, and bags, shown primarily to press and buyers. To be memorable and effective, designers try to present their ideas in their truest, and often radical forms. It's about making your point of view loud and clear, and it works. If your show is snapped and published (and now, tweeted and Instagrammed) by all the right people, you can consider it a success. But what about the people you expect to buy it?
I haven't been working in the industry very long, but I'm already pretty tired of explaining to people how fashion works. Nevertheless, I'll keep doing it because I can see the gap that confuses them, annoys them, makes them feel 'out' – the distance between the idea of "fashion" and everyday life. I'm of the opinion that it's there because the runway has no real-life context. Whether it's a minimal 90s Calvin Klein set or the elaborate garden built for Raf Simon's Dior debut, the environment is constructed to have you focus on the clothes. There are exceptions, like Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel grocery store, but even that doesn't take the walking distance from the door to your car, bags of milk and toilet paper in hand, into account. Real life has office buildings, intimate cafes, tiny cars and even tinier closets, and when you try to fit fashion's grand ideas into your context – your cubicle – the fit doesn't seem quite right. When my dad sees a runway picture and asks me for about the thousandth time, "but who would really wear this?" I realise that whether or not they "get" fashion, everyone can see the gap. So why does the industry focus on clothes people can't see themselves living life in?
We invited a few of our favourite South African fashion voices to talk about closing the gap and enlisted Superbalist stylist Gavin Mikey Collins to style statement boots, sheer layers, sparkling textures and off-the-shoulder shirts – four trends hot off the international Spring/Summer 2017 runways.
"It all depends on so many things – the functionality of the garments, the physical requirements of our jobs, the general interest level of the consumer and of course dat price taaag. It's mad subjective. Honestly, it's a personal dream of mine to be adorned head to toe in Rich Mnisi, Vetements, Jacquemus etc. every single day but the reality of the matter is, I am not earning drug gang boss money and my routine limits me – it's impractical for me to wear certain runway trends while running mini marathons around Canal Walk sourcing for shoots." – Gabrielle Kannemeyer
"One of my favourite things about the various fashion weeks – aside from devouring what’s presented on the runway and seeing how the fashion press handles Yeezy – is the ‘runway to reality’ trend analysis: ‘Take this look from couture straight to your cubicle.'"
Sometimes these tips can seem a little unrealistic, but taking clothes from the catwalk to the sidewalk depends on a few factors.
While anyone, with the correct dose of confidence, can wear anything, context is key. Doing your articles at a top law firm? If you're heading to the office dressed like Rihanna’s understudy, you probably won’t get kudos, but you could sneak in a jersey with a sparkle trim to play off the 'daytime shimmer' trend. You might not be able to wear a deconstructed pinstripe one-shoulder shirt, but a belted oversized shirt dress? You’re still bang on trend.
Defining your style and staying true to it is also critical when weaving in the best of the runway shows. If you’re more Thuli Madonsela than Tavi Gevinson, a good way to slip the 'sexy sheer' trend into your everyday look is to invest in a sheer hemmed pencil skirt – that way you've got a happy ratio of catwalk to conservative.
Personal taste plays an important role in my wardrobe decision-making process. I work in a relatively casual space, so something like patent thigh-high boots wouldn't work, and aren’t really my thing anyway. Working a lucite-heeled ankle boot into my double denim look means I don’t look too ‘try hard’, but I'm still very much fashion week compliant." – Janine Jellars
"Who could forget that memorable blue sweater scene from the Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep basically invents the term 'resting bitch face' while simultaneously schooling us on the trickle-down effect of fashion on consumer culture?
The fashion world thrives on exclusivity, but that doesn't mean runway fashion can't have an impact on your everyday life.
Take the Vetements hip-high boot trend hot off the SS17 runway. It might seem slightly impractical for the office, but a more subdued, yet equally badass, iteration from Daisy Street could have all your colleagues gasping at your high fashion aesthetic.
Trying to shine a little brighter so your crush will finally realise that you're soul mates and belong together forever? Aren't we all? Take inspiration from this season's shows by adding some sparkle to your outfit. Chanel, Saint Laurent and Lanvin are all doing it, so what's stopping you?
Even something as simple as identifying the season's favourite colours can help you navigate the complex and ever-changing fashion landscape. "Look! An all-red outfit from Gucci. I like red. I look great in red. I think I'm going to wear something red."
Connecting with a particular subculture is also another way of interpreting trends. If the post-Soviet aesthetic of blue jeans and baggy T-shirts appeals to you, then embrace it wholeheartedly. Remember that authenticity is key when it comes to expressing yourself so don't do things just because they're cool, do them because they genuinely make you happy.
Fashion is meant to excite and inspire people, and for me, it's a way of expressing personal identity through clothing.
"That being said, balancing your need to peacock with work appropriateness can be a challenge. If your profession restricts you from pushing boundaries and being your beautiful self during work hours, there's always date nights, brunches and other social engagements where you can slay in your favourite runway-inspired looks." – Gavin Mikey Collins
"For me, there has always been an exchange between the runway and real life. Since the beginning, they've both taken inspiration from each other. Now, more so than ever, designers are creating collections based on what they see on the streets, how people buy and the way they wear something.
Alexander Wang’s philosophy began as a fascination with real women and how they dress in their downtime. Comme des Garçons, Off-White and Hood by Air are just some of the brands with a downtown aesthetic that’s totally wearable. I don’t think there is a disconnect between fashion and the real world at all, as fashion is developed FOR the world. Sure, certain designers create shows that transport you to an alternate universe, but the clothes themselves should be and are worn every day, even couture.
Fashion, for me, is about so much more than the clothing. It’s a representation of our time, culture, social, political and economic climate.
"Take a designer like Issey Miyake – he put on crazy, larger-than-life shows and created clothing that was anything but boring. But his philosophy has always been about pragmatism, freedom of movement and the relationship between a piece of cloth and the body. Sonia Rykiel’s design story was born out of her need for better maternity wear and brands like Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford are now exploring the idea of seasonless collections whereby they're making ready-to-wear clothing that's available in stores straight after it's appeared on the runway - to meet the demands of customers who don’t want to wait a full season to get their hands on the new range. This goes to show that fashion is actually intertwining itself with our daily lives more than ever before." – Kelly Fung