Has the economy killed avant-garde fashion? According to a lengthy article in WWD, avant-garde designs, save those by a select few like Gareth Pugh and Bernard Willhelm, have fallen by the wayside. Fashion designers want to sell clothes consumers want to buy, and avant-garde does not fall under that umbrella anymore. Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology Valerie Steele says, “Most people want very familiar, nonthreatening-looking clothes.” She adds, “The general mood in fashion is somewhat conservative due to the economy. It’s not a risk-taking moment for most people. Consumers have retreated and stores are worried.” Dutch designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren posit, “Avant-garde fashion probably exists out there, but it is somewhere on the streets … what is avant-garde today is mainstream tomorrow. It can be copied and marginalized very easily.” Luxury-industry consultant Concetta Lanciaux, based in Paris, says younger generations don’t want avant-garde. “Avant-garde is the desire to break with the establishment, and today the desire is the opposite.”
We disagree with Lanciaux. We might be seeing less avant-garde designs on the runways, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want them. We’re of the younger generation, and fashion to us has always been about developing a personal sense of style that separates one from everyone else. Indeed, shows like Pugh’s and Maison Martin Margiela’s are two we look forward to more than any others because we know we’re in for something completely unexpected. And in a time when consumers are spending so much more selectively, won’t they seek out unique items that truly give them a reason to part with some cash? It seems you can’t walk two feet without bumping into someone who’s striving to stand out. Look at Rihanna in her diamond eye patch, and Beyoncé in her Gareth Pugh and Theirry Mugler. And everyone knows female pop stars are the heartbeat of the needs and desires of the cultural landscape of the universe.