Thirteen years ago, when Takahiro Miyashita announced to the world that his cult brand Number (N)ine would be shut down, he said, “When you are done changing, you are done”. A motto that has found more than one application in recent months. From the recent divorce between Alessandro Michele and Gucci to the final closure of Raf Simons and the sale of Tom Ford, the last few weeks have been marked by the conclusion of narrative strands characterized by the theme of repetition and fatigue. Tired was the creative output of Simons, a brand that has now distanced itself from youth subcultures and also lacks a precise position in the luxury market; “brand fatigue” was used to describe Gucci, which after seven years of tumultuous growth has spun around on itself in a spiral of excess and predictability; and fatigue can also be used to describe Tom Ford, whose revered name and mega-luxury menswear sells well but whose conciseness was lost some time ago. In all three cases, and with different contexts and outcomes, creative stagnation has led to system reversals that were as undesirable as they were necessary. But where are we heading?
After all, fashion is tied to its era, and when that era changes, fashion must follow – nor does any brand fatigue do any harm. If the fatigue around Marc Jacobs, for example, led to the birth of Heaven two years ago, one of the most interesting fashion comebacks in recent years, the closure of Raf Simons has made room for new, young brands that have more to say without wasting space in the market by keeping the brand alive without its creator; Michele’s exit from Gucci, on the other hand, like Tisci’s from Burberry, will make room for alternative creative visions that, frankly, have been needed for some years. Even the two celebrated Roman designers, as well as Simons, have, to use Miyashita’s words, finished with change – with Jacobs finding new life with a youthful and current line whose freshness clashes with ready-to-wear reduced to a catalog of 85 monogrammed basics. Markets respond well to the change that follows fatigue. In the case of Burberry and Gucci, the shares of both brands rose immediately after the departure of their creative directors.
Elsewhere, in the world of commercial fashion, the advance of ‘luxury as authenticity’ continues: Celine and Saint Laurent, two brands that have never engaged in conceptual or creative acrobatics, are posting huge gains; Hermès, Zegna and Brunello Cucinelli, to name two examples of independent brands with a more mature clientele, can boast positive financial results despite inaccessible price points. Not to mention Pinault, the CEO of Kering, who said in February that he wanted the brands in his portfolio to focus on a more classic and timeless approach to luxury: fewer items that are so tied to a specific time that they become obsolete in three months, and more products that last decades and inspire confidence. Below the luxury segment, in the premium market, brands like Aimè Leon Dore, Studio Nicholson, Our Legacy, and Officine Générale are quietly thriving thanks to a young audience that is fascinated by high luxury prices, craves freshness and novelty, but also remembers what happened after the streetwear hurricane when they found their wardrobes full of logo print sweatshirts and over-the-top trainers that now seem almost childish. The streetwear hangover and the scars left by the pandemic have brought Millennials back to the more concrete and tangible sides of life, as have the astute members of Gen Z who live off gimmicks on TikTok and bypass the price problem, by consuming dupes, fakes, second-hand clothes or simply Shein and fast fashion – that is, consuming at full speed without spending huge sums in boutiques or becoming direct luxury customers with no qualms about buying fake goods. It is no coincidence that BoF has called the age of Gen Z ‘the age of realism, with all its implicit contradictions.