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Suzy Menkes: ‘The Fashion Industry is Broken’



Last February, in anticipation of Fashion Week, Suzy Menkes published an editorial takedown of street style culture titled, "The Circus of Fashion." With the next round of shows just a couple of weeks away, the legendary critic is back to decry another kind of circus: This time, Menkes is going after fashion's accelerated trend cycles, specifically, the growing importance of mid-season Resort and Pre-fall collections.

By her count, top brands are currently designing an unprecedented number of collections, around ten a year: two ready-to-wear shows, two Haute Couture shows, two mens shows, one Resort, one Pre-fall and maybe "a couple promotional shows in Asia, Brazil, Dubai or Moscow."

Menkes argues that fashion media and critics are out of sync with the new pace. Editors typically write about Fall and Spring collections extensively (and disseminate photos of runway looks) many months before the clothing appears in stores — and by then, it's already old news. Not only do fast fashion retailers (Menkes calls out H&M, Zara, Topshop, Target and J.Crew) replicate and produce imitation versions of designer pieces months ahead of the high-end brands, ready-to-wear is also forced to compete with the label's Pre-fall and Resort collections. As Menkes put it, "The Fall collection will be gone from the stores in approximately two months, with unsold pieces we had raved about hanging forlornly as markdowns."

In her sweeping assessment of the fashion industry, Menkes finds fault with e-tailers and limited-edition collections for creating a "phony current of desire and longing" in consumers. She suggests that ready-to-wear might be joining couture in its role as a "laboratory of ideas," valued more for its creative vision than its commercial viability. 

It's a passionate and perceptive editorial right up until the ending, when Menkes reveals her obliviousness to the true cost of this accelerated fashion cycle:

Does this nonstop parade of what’s new have an upside? With global warming upsetting traditional summer and winter climates, and with a global market expecting clothes at once suitable to a warm and humid Singapore, the deep freeze of Russia and the upside-down seasons in Australia, all these fresh fashion shows each month could be seen as logical for customers.

But whoever said that logic and fashion make a good fit?

Global warming is changing our seasons, but that's not a "logical" reason to ramp up production. Increased clothing manufacturing has a devastating impact on the environment (not to mention its impact on factory workers), one that's more likely to speed up, not reverse, global warming. If anything, climate change only makes it more illogical for fashion trends to keep on at an accelerated pace. Menkes is a powerful figure with a keen sense of how the industry operates on a structural level;  it's disturbing that she doesn't see how changes in fashion intersect with what's happening in the outside world. 

Sign of the Times | The New Speed of Fashion [T Magazine]