Fashion’s Unaddressed Cultural Divide

My latest article for FashionUnited.com is on a subject that preoccupies me often but which is never really addressed honestly by fashion schools or the industry at large…Yet it effects the careers of the students who are most vulnerable and unaware that this grey area exists.

(I watched the brilliant documentary The True Cost last night and it made me even sadder for the industry that our students are now entering.) I can only hope that the new generation of creatives are filled with the revolutionary desire to make a difference that is often typical of youth. But that is another blog/article. Back to this one…

Mr Walter van Beirendonck, designer, head of Fashion at the Royal Academy of FIne Arts in Antwerp and original member of the legendary Antwerp Six

Mr Walter van Beirendonck, designer, head of Fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and original member of the legendary Antwerp Six

Walter Van Beirendonck said this week in an op-ed piece in the Business of Fashion that fashion students should not receive more business training. “We must do everything we can to prioritise creativity in fashion education,” he explained, “it is the thing that keeps the industry going.”

That I can’t make this statement without reservation is something that saddens me. The reality that encroaches on this vision of an artistic utopia is right outside my midtown Manhattan classroom window. Although fashion as an industry is often referred to as global, the fast fashion phenomenon has created a cultural divide between Europe and the US that is wider than ever. Historically, the American fashion industry paid homage to the Parisian houses by bringing new couture styles home to be manufactured for the US market. The Wall Street Crash of 1929, wartime unrest, combined with other contributing factors led to strides being made during the inter-war years that improved production and created a domestic ready-to-wear industry that financially exceeded the European one. There was no turning back. As the city’s skyline touched the clouds, the seeds were sewn for the apparel industry that we know today to spring up and usurp the spot reserved for a fashion industry… continue reading here

from Central St Martins runway

from Central St Martins runway

from Royal College of Fine Arts runway

from Royal Academy of Fine Arts runway

9 comments

  1. That was an amazing article. I agree with you – to be truly creative you need free reign and no limitations. From then it can be interpreted and pared down. 🙂

  2. Thanks Gorgeous! It’s certainly a conundrum I find. We are so used across the pond to applying a certain attitude to creative study, an attention to the art of the thing which can also lead to employment, however niche. But here it can seem as if there’s a black hole and no bridge to the other side! 🙂

  3. Wow! What a tough line to take (or not take). An answer comes to mind in my naiveté…get that job coming out of school. Learn as much as you can, save your $ and start you own line to offer up your creativity. Easy to say, not easy to do…..argh! Seriously tough call.

    • It’s certainly one avenue. But it’s becoming more and more an avenue that requires a backer or large investor to compete in this fast fashion wasteland we’re currently in. I hate to think over all the labels I’ve known that have folded after on average 3 years. Not that it can’t be done. If you can get Anna Wintour’s attention, there’s a good chance but otherwise it’s a slog. But some students have no alternative as their art is what drives them and nothing else would satisfy them. And I admire that…but I don’t envy them if that’s ok to say… Conundrum! xo

  4. Thomas Conway

    J, Great article, I too watched “The True Cost” last weekend, things need to change, I couldn’t believe that this industry sits second, just behind the oil industry in the ruination of our people and planet, all just to keep the shareholders happy. Keep up the good work, I hope all is well with you, take care.T.C.

  5. That was an interesting read. And I just found out the American girl I know who got accepted into St. Martins’ has no intention of coming back upon graduation.

  6. Oh? You know what, I can’t say I blame her. I’d tell her “Get your feet under the table at a nice London, French or Italian house and you’re set then for later either side of the pond!”

  7. It does seem a shame when success in creative industries requires an aptitude for business and self-promotion. Being business-minded really stymies creativity, but, as you pointed out in your wonderful article, these days the one cannot exist without the other. It’s a very difficult balancing act, and I applaud you for believing in giving your students all the help they need to achieve it! Jx

  8. in567

    Yowzers! They look like I had made ’em! O.O

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