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The latest fashion month was unlike any other in recent memory. It kicked off with several questions surrounding the operations of fashion month in the face of climate change, a global emergency that is becoming increasingly harder for the industry to overlook. By the last two weeks of fashion month, the outbreak of the coronavirus in Lombardy – the region in Northern Italy that includes Milan – had stirred even more questions about if and how the remainder of fashion month would carry on.
A number of buyers, editors and industry executives had to make an early trip back home and resort to completing their jobs virtually as a result, be it by watching runway shows online or placing their orders through virtual showrooms. Many of the remaining attendees showed up with masked faces and hand sanitisers at the ready, and the themes tackled by designers this season – climate change, political unrest, and social injustice, to name a few – only heightened the palpable tension.
In this time of crisis and uncertainty, the role of fashion journalists has become more important than ever. While 2020 had started off as a fresh new page for the decade ahead, the onslaught of calamities has been nothing short of relentless. There is becoming an increasing number of issues that are affecting the way that the fashion industry functions, and an even greater amount of issues within the industry that have to be addressed. On top of that, the growing spread of the coronavirus has caused an increased reliance on those within the fashion journalism industry to broadcast information on ongoing events in the fashion industry and how the virus may affect its operations.
This is, however, just the tip of the iceberg of what a fashion journalist does. It could be said that fashion is about making statements, and there was certainly no shortage of statements made by designers on the runway this season. Maria Grazia Chiuri took this quite literally at Dior, where huge neon signs suspended over both the audience and models as they strutted down the runway. One sign read “Women are the Moon that Moves the Tides” while another said “Patriarchy = Climate Emergency”. At Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia confronted the issue of climate change by using an end of the world set as the backdrop for his show. The runway and front rows were submerged in water, and cloud graphics moved quickly overhead as models splashed through the runway, shifting from ominous storm clouds to a blazing, red sky. The excruciating music that reverberated through the venue only served to enhance the looming apocalyptic world that Gvasalia was trying to narrate.
Meanwhile, the collection at Marine Serre spoke for itself. Serre continued to harness the power of fashion to stimulate wider conversations around current affairs this season, with climate change being the most notable of them. She expressed her fears for the future not just through her clothing line – of which 50% was made from upcycling – but also by featuring a cast of models of every age imaginable, emphasising that climate change is an issue that concerns all generations. For the finale at Stella McCartney, people dressed up in animal costumes were seen walking in between models. While the costumes hadn’t been made by McCartney, it was a humorous way of reiterating that these animals are the ingredients of other fashion shows and showing that no animals were harmed in the making of her own.
While these brands have proven that fashion has the power to convey truths about the issues plaguing our helter-skelter world today, the statements made by designers through their shows would have had a diminished impact if not for fashion journalists. Fashion journalists, who are expected to understand the language of fashion and be able to contextualise and translate it for readers, are vital in sustaining the ongoing dialogues that concern the industry in order to invoke change. It is fashion journalists who can make a call for action in the industry and make known what needs to be done, and it is them who educate and inform readers that the fight for changes in the industry does not belong to one generation or country alone – it requires the effort of people of all ages, races and regions.
Despite the turmoil that the world is facing, it is a hopeful time for fashion. Changes have been made, and many are still in the works of being made, but the question remains: Are we doing enough to combat the pressing issues faced by fashion today? Uncontrollable forces have shifted the way the industry operates these past few months, and many are still trying to figure out the direction that fashion will take from here. The coronavirus has brought tragedy and stirred panic, and the urgency of the climate conversation has forced us to rethink fashion month altogether. We are still operating in a context of great uncertainty, but this has lent us a rare opportunity to reevaluate how the fashion industry functions.
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