A look at where South African Fashion shows are lacking when compared to the world's ramps
Words: Tshego Red Mosiane | Photographs: REX Features
Fashion weeks were originally much simpler events. First known as Press Week, it was created in order for designers to showcase their collections to editors from only the most prestigious publications and buyers of major retailers in a more practical way. As decades have passed, they have grown to be the media frenzy and street style spotting mecca we are familiar with today, but not here in Mzansi.
Fashion weeks are a global stage for brands, regardless of how big or small that country's fashion industry is. They turn both the local and international spotlight on to the brands who are showcasing so it usually is one of the most effective marketing tools for a fashion brand, especially one in an emerging industry. As events, they are part of a global network and – if executed correctly – attract invaluable opportunities for designers and various other fashion professions such as models, photographers, makeup artists, journalists and publicists.
With the newly revamped AFI Fashion Week coming back around for another season of shows (sans Mercedes Benz sponsorship), so does the almost decade long debate of whether or not our local fashion weeks are worth the resources for brands and the industry at large.
To show at a fashion week, though, is extremely expensive. The cost of producing the actual collection, building sets, hiring models, arranging seating, travel expenses as well a publicist and show producer to organize the entire thing really adds up. What should make up for this expenditure is the return of getting press and meetings with buyers, but here you can get more press from an aesthetically pleasing lookbook with a tactical social media strategy, while the number of buyers and media outlets willing to cover or even physically attend South African fashion weeks drops by the season.
What's the problem? As events, they are a nightmare.
Attending a fashion week is supposed to be more of a treat than a chore. It's a more glamorous version of a convention of sorts in the way that it also serves as a chance to network and engage with other members of the industry and fans alike. The atmosphere directly impacts the experience and therefore attendance numbers. People don't not go to fashion week because of the designers, it's the event itself. Media being promised accreditation that is changed the night prior to a show or at the desk where they collect their passes at the venue; having to wrestle for the same front row seat that was promised to nine people; having a Buyers Lounge that's essentially a few clothing rails in a corner; and then also mistreating the paying ticket holders who spend their hard earned money on supporting your event. And after we put up with all that, then what? We're cramped in to the venue to watch a show that looks like it's being held in a high school assembly hall (or a tent on the brink of being blown away. Remember that?).
Each show's set – be it runway or presentation style – is supposed to have a touch of showmanship and a dash of spectacle mixed together with the individual brand's identity and theme using art, props, music and technology. In this social media focused age there has never been more emphasis on the importance of a well-designed creative set. That's because runway photos and videos double as marketing content after the show has ended.
Often the shows from Paris, London, Milan and New York that get attention past fashion twitter/Instagram and make it on to the feeds of the general public do so because of interesting sets. Think of this past season and Dior's black and white lucid dream for couture, Chanel's life-like forest for ready-to-wear and Gucci's surgical operation room with severed heads. These sets trended more than the clothes and in so doing drew more intrigue to the collections. The attention to detail of sets from even smaller, emerging or less publicized designers on those schedules such as Iris van Herpen, Pyer Moss and Molly Goddard has also allowed more opportunities for exposure and thus to expand their brands.
To be fair though, not every country's fashion week has the brands who can afford to up the spectacle. It then becomes an issue of meticulous execution. Even the simplest runways need to be done well. If you look at smaller fashion weeks such as those in Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow and Berlin that have plain sets in comparison to the Big Four, the shows are implemented in an equally crisp and visually pleasing way (especially in further comparison to ours).
In South Africa, we instead have runway shows that bring new definition to the term lacklustre. Meaning the hair and makeup are not even styled in a way that compliments the collection but rather models wear wigs that look like they were stolen off China Town mannequins. Also, the lighting and backdrops do not enhance the clothing but are rather harsh to the eyes with the bright white sets and what may as well be florescent lighting that have our runway photos looking very rinky-dink. The only attempt at variation or creativity is how sometimes models carry props that don't make sense in relation to the collection, other times they line six feeble pot plants down the centre of the runway. Cool-kid brands cast the designers' friends instead of actual models, and randomly having some kind of car drive in or laying the cheapest looking patches of grass sporadically around the set are all lazy tricks that distract instead of add value to these shows.
What we have in this not-so-Rainbow Nation of ours are shows that'll have more people losing faith in our fashion weeks and designers than those gaining interest. We already have more designers ready to pull out from participating than those willing to sign up, because they have gained more opportunity for a lot less money elsewhere. If you think about it, it's ridiculous that we currently have three different major fashion weeks per season but you can go a whole year without hearing of a single one if you do not work in the industry. Given the large cash injection that successful fashion weeks are to their domestic GDP, with NYFW generating almost $900million dollars for the city in 2014 (more than that year's US Open, Super Bowl and New York Marathon), the industry shouldn't continue to allow for an opportunity for growth of this magnitude to continue to be wasted.
The need for innovation is reaching fever pitch and the powers that be are moving at glacial pace, if at all. In order for the organizers of our local fashion weeks to drive this vital sector of the fashion industry, instead of driving it into the ground, they need to hurry up and realize this goes far past them.