When the world first went into lockdown last year, the creative world responded quickly. Museums have launched virtual exhibitions is cultural programs dedicated to fashion that could have been lived at home have sprung up everywhere, from Argentina to Canada to South Africa. THE theaters have begun streaming the shows. The musicians collaborated via TikTok. The painters held live art classes on Instagram. The stylists have achieved virtual presentations similar to fashion shows.
So, do difficult times stimulate creativity or simply survival? It has been a matter of debate since time immemorial, often in the spotlight when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances again. During the first lockdown the question was asked again. How, we wondered, will this period of disruption and loss affect what is created and spread around the world? Will it lead to a visionary rethinking of systems and forms? Will it affect art? About our culture? About the clothes we wear? Like Shakespeare who writes King Lear during one plague epidemic or Isaac Newton inventing calculus during another, what new innovations or discoveries could be made?
Fashion is indestructible, British Vogue June 1941
© Cecil Beaton / Vogue / © Condé Nast
Surely, the course of history suggests some obvious alliances between seismic events, global or personal, and the consequent creative response. Obviously it is useless to expect brilliant greatness in a tragic period for many, inexorably stressful for others (especially financially for creatives) and monotonous for everyone. But last year it produced a number of imaginative innovations and solutions, as well as an overwhelming sense of curiosity about how this period could pave the way for further transformations.
The fashion industry has also called for big rethinks, with Tom Ford posting an open letter on behalf of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) last May. “The industry will change; but the change also offers an opportunity to restore, reboot and create a solid foundation for the future of American fashion, ”he wrote. This letter announced the fundraising and storytelling initiative A Common Thread, a continuation of the CFDA /Vogue Fashion Fund established after 9/11, which has since donated more than 5 million dollars to US businesses in need.
It is this idea of transformation and renewal that seems particularly pressing right now, all over the world. It is an idea that raises further questions and reflections. How has South Korea’s positive response to Covid-19 intersected with the country’s dynamic and forward-looking cultural and fashion scene? What impact has a greater emphasis on digital innovation and online shopping had on African designers seeking a wider audience? What changes still await us?
What does it mean to be creative in difficult circumstances?
Before making any further speculations about the future, it is worth taking a moment to look back at the past Vogue English during World War II. Director Audrey Withers she suddenly found herself having to balance the magazine’s more standard fashion with the recognition of her readers’ widely altered circumstances, often enlisting the sensitive eye of the American photographer Lee Miller to accurately reflect the reality of the times. In 1944, Miller traveled to France where he began documenting the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe as one of only four photographer accredited by the US military. The heartbreaking images and written reports he sent were often published in the magazine in their entirety.
Fire Masks, American Vogue July 1941
© © Lee Miller Archives
There are many other events we could tap into that show a mix of imagination and responsiveness. One could, for example, look at the Cold War as a prolonged period of uncertainty and read a kind of optimism and fear mixed in in subsequent space age projects of Pierre Cardin is Paco Rabanne, described by Jane Pavitt and David Crowley in their book Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970 (V&A Publishing, 2008) as it possesses a “duality of utopia and disaster”. Similarly, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 cemented a small but growing techno scene and transformed it into a huge youth-led movement, fueled by reunification, which spread beyond rave parties to incorporate art as well. , fashion and queer subcultures.
Pierre Cardin and Lauren Bacall with the models on the set of Bacall and the Boys, 1968
© Archives Pierre Cardin
What is the role of the fashion industry after the pandemic?
Honestly, at this moment, we are still in the middle of the ford, we are making a common front with respect to the facts as they are: sometimes with imagination, sometimes in a pragmatic way. Undoubtedly, a greater change awaits us. The rims rose and the 1920s made themselves felt because they came after the loss and social transformation of the First World War. Dior, in response to the deprivations of World War II, embraced a silhouette based on excess. According to the reflections of the former creative director of Lanvin Alber Elbaz on the recent launch of its new brand, AZ Factory, “After the Spanish flu and the First World War, there was a peak of creativity in France known as les année folles (the crazy years). I keep asking myself, what will happen after the pandemic? Will we return to the année folles? “
Loewe Menswear fall winter 2021
There are already many inspiring suggestions for what’s to come. The big fashion houses have had to challenge themselves with presentations in an age of social distancing: be it LOEWE that brings tactility to the fore through shows in elaborate boxes or Balenciaga that embraces digital potential through an interactive video game. As with the latter, technology is likely to play a particularly instrumental role, whatever happens, potentially through unexpected paths like all-digital apparel or VR technology.
Fashion publishing has also undergone an introspective process. The special covers of Vogue like that all white in April or that of June with children’s drawings they suggest a willingness, much like Withers during World War II, to go beyond normal fashion media coverage and think more deeply about reflecting the reality of the times we live in. The meeting of designers and other industry professionals, both for the purpose of create protective devices, breaking down barriers to entry into fashion or supporting smaller, independent businesses also suggests a welcome sense of community cohesion and a desire for a better and fairer world of fashion for the future.
Kenneth Ize spring summer 2021
Elsewhere, the pandemic appears to have prompted further focus on the environment. Fancy solutions to current limitations, such as the use of dead stock and recycled fabrics, are a nod towards a leaner and greener future potential. The emphasis on slow craftsmanship, perhaps through a desire for tangible creativity and manufacturing, has also found new acclaim. As the Nigerian designer states Kenneth Ize who, during an argument with Marc Jacobs for the Global Conversations series by Vogue last year, he talked about building a new loom for his weavers to use at home, he says: “Creativity never stops, absolutely. It has to keep moving. You have to find a way to keep it going. “