Historically, fashion has reflected global upheavals and structural transformations through its ever changing aesthetics. From the industrial revolution when weaving, knitting and sewing were mechanized for faster, bulk production to the World Wars that transformed womenswear from fitted, diaphanous garments to practical silhouettes that didn’t hamper mobility, fashion and style have been informed by utility just as much as by beauty.
Currently, the world is gripped by communal trauma. Concerns ranging from immediate health and well-being to long-term economic consequences are the forefront of our collective consciousness, causing the global population to take a moment and reassess their priorities, differentiate between want and need and perhaps step back from the maximalist consumerism that had defined the decades post World War II.
The same post war decades can also be credited for a meteoric rise in consumable, fast fashion. Ateliers the likes of Dior and Chanel emerged as the custodians of style, blurring the lines between fashion for men and women, incorporating new technology (necessitated by war) to streamline production and distribution.
Similarly, we were witness to technological transformations of fashion. Whether one approaches the business aspect or the aesthetics, technology has been transforming not only design and its various processes but the very way we engage, consume and disseminate style.
This hyperlapse speed of production and consumption has taken an unwilling break and the countless manufacturers, designers, retailers, models, photographers and various others artists and artisans involved in the creation and sale of clothes have had to reckon with the fact that the world is still running without new, disposable clothing making it to ready-to-wear racks.
We can say nothing as to how the business of fashion (a global, multi-trillion dollar industry that provides employment to millions while also playing hard and fast with human rights and basic wages) will be long term affected by Covid-19. There is too much uncertainty regarding the future and the fashion fraternity, like the rest of the world, must wait with baited breath for nature to take its course.
However, while Corona might be bad for business, it seems to bring much needed respite for creatives, commanded to churn out new, innovative ideas ever so often, battling burn-out to keep up in a rat race that renders you obsolete or irrelevant at times of low productivity. Designers, models, stylists and even consumers have complained of inspiration fatigue, of having no time to let ideas simmer and coalesce at their own pace, without being rushed for output.
This lockdown has provided innovators, designers and creatives a rare chance – to enjoy the process of creation as opposed to be focused on the outcome of the process itself. While concerns regarding economic viability are natural and rational, this quarantine has provided (the privileged at least) people who work in creative fields a chance to engage their art on a personal level, free from the conforming guidelines of commercial fashion.
But what does this mean for the industry overall? How will this time transform our relationship with clothing? Will there be a shift from profit based business models to more sustainable growth and production? Will our clothes begin to look different? How will they incorporate new utility aspects (face cover/protection) into older silhouettes? Can we expect new fabrics that champion eco-friendly production or can be reused and recycled multiple times? We reached out to three designers with individual niches to ask what the new landscape of fashion looks like, according to their visions.
Speaking to Mahgul Rashid, the creative director of her eponymous label, is like taking a long draught from a tall, chilled glass of lemonade on a sultry, summer afternoon. Her positivity and warmth radiate through the phone and her passion for taking this time to create and innovate is contagious. According to Rashid, who runs a boutique atelier based in Lahore, this lockdown has really driven home for her the unsustainable business model that the fashion fraternity has propagated.
“I can’t imagine reopening shop and creating one-off couture pieces that cost enough to probably feed a couple of families for a year. It’s just not the need of the hour. I’ve been ruminating on ways to make my brand more sustainable, to create clothes that are heirloom pieces or can be repurposed or re-stitched.
“It would also be interesting to see how global trade/import/export restrictions will change the face of fashion. We’ve gotten so used to the global marketplace and buying everything that our hearts desire on a whim that we’ve forgotten the craft of repairing or making do with whatever is locally and readily available. I’m excited about the challenge, about creating something new, fresh and innovative, not with the world at my fingertips but with whatever raw material is at hand.
“Similarly, style had become synonymous with consumerism. It had become all about wearing IT bags and shoes, buying the same accessories and wearing the same clothes, not necessarily because they suit us but because they denote economic standing or a particular price-tag. I think these are all practices that will be scrutinized now that we have a chance to take a step back and re-evaluate things from a more humane perspective.
“I also believe that this is the point where fast fashion begins to phase out. Mindless capitalism buoyed by unchecked, inorganic growth is what has brought us to this point; we must learn from our mistakes and rectify them for the future,” says the young designer.
Classical dancer, designer and yogi, Rehan Bashir who has worked with The House of Kamiar Rokni, Elan and is currently spearheading design for Afsaneh, a local pret-wear brand, doesn’t seem to have Rashid’s sunny outlook. Bashir feels that the processes are too strongly entrenched in a greedy system to give up their benefits.
“People who’ve postponed their weddings or have the power to spend upwards of a million rupees on a single jora will continue with their practices,” he says. “The women who bought Rs. 8500 lawn suits each summer will continue with the same shopping habits.
“The markets will open soon because our country can’t afford the economic shut-down and we’ve been crippled by our own destructive policies that have rendered our textile manufacturing capabilities at an all-time low. If we can’t import silk from China, what will we use? Our own silk production plant in Changa Manga has been facing decline for years now and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have outstripped us in terms of cotton production. While sustainability is important, I don’t foresee anything drastic or revolutionary shaking up the world order because of the virus.
“As far as my own style is concerned, I’ve always been more inspired by local iterations of style, fabrics, accessories and aesthetics and will continue to champion a minimal feel, at least personally. The trends were all pointing towards a break from whatever we had been seeing for a while; prints are taking a back seat, solid or textured textiles have been replacing overworked, over-embellished outfits. People will definitely want more value for money and this pandemic will drive that point home,” he opines.
Known for this dramatic outfits and antics, colourful collections and eccentricity, couturier Ali Xeeshan has a massive audience, locally and internationally. The intrepid designer, known for sporting avant-garde headwear, claims that sustainability will be the driving force of the transformation to the fashion landscape.
“I think fashion will take a minimal, more eco-conscious approach. For my brand, I’d like to go back to basics, incorporate more hand-made pieces and reduce the number of outfits produced with each collection. I think this lockdown will help us focus on quality over quantity, whether while buying or selling. I’d rather put out a 6-8 piece collection after this than a 20 piece show that tests all limits of creativity and endurance.
“I also think that people will be more discerning about what they buy. Fast fashion’s irresponsibility has come to forefront and I think designers and consumers will both push for items that come with a price tag that is justified by the product. I see my collections become more chilled out, more edited, less frantic and chaotic. Don’t get me wrong, my clothes will be still be dramatic but a more relaxed version,” exclaims Ali with a laugh.
While each designer has a different forecast for the future, there are common themes running through-out the fraternity’s thought process. Sustainability is still the buzz-word and the need to edit and create meaningful rather than whimsical clothing seems to be at the forefront. The innovators, movers and shakers, designers and creators are grateful for a respite from catering to commercialism and perhaps we will see art bloom, unshackled by demands of productivity and commercial viability.