Leandra Medine: Fashion Houses Need "Generation Z Mentors"

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 Man Repeller's Leandra Medine, in her own words.

The biggest problem in fashion seems to be the runway-show-to-wholesale-to-retail cycle. I don’t necessarily believe there are too many shows — perhaps there is too much product — but I don’t really want to say that either, because whoever is producing that product deserves a chance to have their opinion heard. I know in New York, for sure, the issue is that we’re quite a contemporary market; the brands we have nurtured, built, and grown are really at the crux of what contemporary fashion means. We do a really wonderful job at taking the complicated opinions coming out of Paris and other European cities and simplifying them, making them a bit more digestible for the laymen consumer.

The trouble is, when you’re taking such a complicated idea — which really does require a runway, and also a specific amount of time allotted between when you see a product and when you’re able to purchase it — it requires time to let it marinate. I recall quite vividly watching Marc Jacobs' shows on Style.com and thinking to myself, I would never wear those clothes. Cut to six months later when the clothes are available for purchase in a store like Barneys or Saks, and I’m completely bought in. I remember feeling like this is the genius of Marc Jacobs: he gives us what we don’t yet know we want. Because we’re living in the era of Instagram and such profound immediacy with giants like Zara and H&M, I’m not sure we need to see something six months before we can buy it. Maybe that used to be true, but it’s not anymore.

I’m not nuts about [the see-now, buy-now] solution. I think Amy [Smilovic at Tibi] does a phenomenal job of tapping into what's in the zeitgeist and making it her own. I think about her runway show and wonder, If I were able to purchase this stuff now, would I be more inclined to buy it?, and I think the answer's yes. I think about that with Creatures of Comfort, too. I’m sitting at a show and I’m watching these beautiful tweed blazers walk down a runway; it’s the middle of February, and all I want to do is wear them right now. But, it doesn’t feel sustainable; that model doesn’t seem to allow for nurturing creative fulfillment. It just feels like you’re making, making, making, running, running, running. I don’t know that that see-now, buy-now is going to complement the lives of the actual designers, which is really important too.

Today, we’re so motivated by immediacy that we don’t allow designers to really settle into their roles. If you look, for example, at how Maria Grazia Chiuri is doing at Dior, her first collection was relatively soft, her second collection was not met by a resounding glow, but her third collection — the resort collection shown in Calabasas — was gangbusters. I appreciate that Sidney Toledano is really giving her a chance to flex her muscles and explore the boundaries of her creativity at Dior. It’s impossible to assume that a designer is going to come in and change a house in the span of 24 hours, or the equivalent of one collection or season. It just doesn’t happen like that.

I don’t think it would be the worst thing if designers were doing two collections a year instead of four, but I wouldn't do away with resort and pre-fall — I would do away with fall and spring. I think resort and pre-fall are sort of the unsung heroes of fashion — they stay on sales floors the longest without going on sale and they deliver in decent timing. I wonder about the shopping habits of the regular consumer, and whether or not they’re really in high pursuit of a bathing suit in November anymore. If there was a delivery occurring around the time resort delivers, and a delivery occurring around the time that pre-fall delivers (which is in June/July), you would end up with clothes that were of the season. I think about that all the time. It makes no sense that coats are on sale by November before you’ve even had a chance to wear them. I’m a consumer before everything else, don’t get me wrong. I love a sale just as much as the next Jewish person does. But even more than a sale, I love seeing talented young designers be able to continue on their career paths.

The brands I’m really excited about are ones I’m seeing sprout up on Instagram that seem to be run by denizens of Generation Z. It feels a lot to me like the new mode of operation is work smarter not harder. Look at a brand like Antisocial Social Club: I don’t even know what they sell, but I follow them on Instagram and, from what I understand, they’re doing millions of dollars a year on these T-shirts that they’re only producing once they’ve been purchased. It’s wild to me. There’s definitely a tact about the generation below my own and an understanding of how the internet works that it seems like fashion really desperately needs. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for the CFDA to match Generation Z mentors to these fashion houses and have them help them.