Bridget Foley: "We’re In An Experimental Age & Fashion Is Only A Microcosm Of It"

In our State of the Industry series, fashion's most respected critics, editors, designers, publicists, and entrepreneurs discuss the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry today. Here's Women's Wear Daily's Bridget Foley, in her own words.
Fashion has grown exponentially over, forget the past 20 years, but the past 10 years. It’s so attractive — it’s vibrant, it’s glamorous, it’s romantic. Though new global markets have opened up, they don't parallel the number of new brands and designers that have come into the market. At some point, there has to be some kind of a Darwinian reckoning, because there is too much merchandise out there — specifically expensive merchandise. There’s also the reality [of balancing] beautiful luxury clothing with the increasingly casual lifestyle we all live. Once upon a time people, dressed for occasions, people had their personal version of a red carpet, [like] a wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Now, almost any type of apparel is considered appropriate for almost any activity or place.
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[Fast-fashion] stores are also supplying so much stuff. They’ve done a fabulous job and there’s a lot to be said for making fashion accessible to a broad cross section of the population. That’s great. But we all know that copying and knocking off designers is a huge issue, as is the turnaround time for a collection. It’s a major, major issue for luxury fashion — intellectual property and coopting of creativity. I don’t know what you can do to stop it. There are lawsuits that get won and lawsuits that get lost, but overall, it’s not going to change.
I think that the number [of shows at New York Fashion Week] have become a problem. I think there’s a reevaluation going on and one of the things that people are seeing right now is people are genuinely experimenting with other formats. Some people are not having shows — Narciso [Rodriguez] and Zac Posen are doing theirs via appointments. Once upon a time, a show was the only way of getting the message out there, the press came and photographed and that’s how word got out. Now people are finding that there are other options, so we’re in an experimental phase and I’m optimistic about that. It's interesting to see people trying different things and if you do something this season it doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing next season. But if everything’s fabulous you can’t get to everything because there are just too many shows — the numbers are overwhelming. There are a lot of people like myself who would love to see more but you can be, each hour of the day, only in one place at one time. I would love to see a tony trade show. I know that you see the words trade show and everybody thinks its tacky, but the art fairs that have taken off and are so chic and become must see viewing, all of fashion goes to them. A microcosm of this idea is the way LVMH shows its finalist for its award. It could be chic and someone wanting to see [multiple brands] could go from booth to booth to booth, then you could see more. I love going to shows. When you do go to something that takes your breath away or challenges your perceptions or that makes you think in a different way, it’s really exciting and that still exists, but I think it’s not the essential vehicle for everyone and this is a very transitional moment.
See-now, buy-now didn’t really work. I interviewed Tom Ford when he decided not to do it after a single season of doing it and he brought up something that was very interesting that I’d never thought of. He said, ‘I still think it’s the wave of the future, but until the entire machine is geared toward it, it won’t work.’ What hadn’t come up in the full discussion was that the earliest shows are after Labor Day in September, but fall ships primarily in August. A huge percentage of Fall ships actually late August so he said that he had his collection completely finished, but he had to hold it from the stores. That was a big problem and he said ‘I don’t think of our customers being the type who necessarily shops in August because I think they’re away, but she does and we lost a lot of selling time.’ I think it’s interesting that Ralph Lauren is still doing it and it’s apparently worked for Ralph, but there are many scheduling things that don’t work at the luxury level.
I think it’s incredibly, incredibly hard to stay afloat in this business. If it were easy there would be more Annas [Sui] and more Drieses [Van Noten]. If it were easy to be in business over the long haul and maintain a vibrant business, more people would do it. Yes, everyone would love to have the IPO and become really, really rich, but I don’t think most people set out for that. I think most people want to have something to say creatively and want to make a viable business out of it. It’s very difficult. You can become famous and your reputation and the aura around you can bear no relationship to the reality of your business.
I’m not pessimistic about fashion. I think we’re in an experimental age and fashion is only a microcosm of it. We’re in an age that’s experimental in terms of technology, media, everything, but I think there are amazingly creative people out there. I do not know how designers do what they do, I’ve always thought that, it just blows me away the creativity on demand that is parallel to nothing else. The one thing it might be parallel to is writing for television except writing for television, there are seasons and then you have a hiatus. In fashion you don’t, it’s just constant, constant, constant, crank, crank, crank. And yet it’s supposed to be creative and it’s supposed to be viable. It’s relentless and there used to be either periods of downtime, that sort of scheduled-in "creative refreshment," and I think that we see as much innovative work as we do see it is really remarkable, given the demands on designers and the creative process.
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