The fashion calendar has never been particularly mindful of the human toll that relentless output can have a person. Productivity is the tires on the car of capitalism in any field, but in fashion, the public display of work (i.e., runway shows every few months) as well as demands to meet shareholder expectations can have uniquely negative effects. In some cases, it has pushed designers to the brink.
Raf Simons, Phoebe Philo, and Christopher Bailey all noted upon their exits from fashion houses over the last few years the immense pressure that comes with the constant need for designers to pump out as many as 12 collections a year. In his posthumous 2017 documentary, Alexander McQueen was described as under stress as a result of his workload designing his own label and Givenchy simultaneously in the late ‘90s. Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang — two of the most influential designers of the 1990s — simply up and left their own brands after decades of consistency, virtually disappearing into the background of society.
Today, designers are faced with an even newer task, and now have acquired an extra job in the process — social media influencer. A modern creative’s work is both what they create and how they tell the world about it, and often includes an endless list of side projects meant to keep audiences interested 365 days a year. Between consumer demands and the rise of “hustle culture,” we truly are living in an age of doing the most.
“THIS FASHION WEEK WITHOUT US MADE ME THINK A LOT…I DON’T WANT A BIGGER BUILDING, BUT I WANT PROJECTS WITH MEANING, GOOD PRACTICES, MEETINGS, AND MORE SHARING,” designer Simon Jacquemus — one of the hottest names in fashion of the moment — posted on Instagram on October 3rd.
Instead of trying to outdo his show in June, which became instantly one of the most social-media-shared runway shows of the decade, he took the week off to focus on other things. Jacquemus’ post can be read as the result of an era in which overworked designers are taking time to reflect on what’s important rather than charging relentlessly forward without second-thoughts. But it also signals a general paradigm shift not in the amount of work creatives do, but in the ways they’re expected to do it. Jacquemus, who is only 29 years old, understands that being a designer in 2019 isn’t all about putting on high drama runway shows. But he said himself in the caption that he hopes to approach 2020 by sharing more, not less.
Just because Jacquemus didn’t put on a runway show in October doesn’t mean he wasn’t working. In fact, he opened a new restaurant in Paris’ Galeries Lafayette. For what it’s worth, the space looks stunning, and is as Instagrammable as his lavender-fields runway. But herein lies why those who create things today are feeling constant pressure to move onto the next thing, and to have a constant flow of diverse projects from which to harvest content. An Instagram post has incredible power to spread the word about a new drop, a new project, or a new restaurant. The problem is its lifecycle is incredibly short.
As soon as one’s fans, followers, or customers have double tapped, they’ve moved onto the next photo in their feed. Spaces like restaurants can help extend the life cycle of a project, as patrons can keep the buzz going through their selfies and food pics. Yet today’s attention span-less era means it’s also up to Simon to find the next chiquito bag, lavender field, or giant hat if he’s to remain top of mind, and thus maintain the halo effect of hype that surrounds his new restaurant.
Then there’s of course Virgil Abloh, who after a decade that saw him establish himself as a designer, DJ, creative director, jetsetter, and the poster boy of hard work, finally decided to take some time off (albeit on doctor’s orders). But even so, he’s still is posting on Instagram, promoting the fact that Off-White™ just opened a store in Korea, that he designed Hailey Bieber’s wedding dress, and that his Ikea collab drops on the first of November, among numerous other projects and releases.
By normal standards, Abloh is still out-hustling everyone else. These projects have been months in the making, sure, but the point is it’s not as if he’s out in the middle of the desert meditating for the next few months. One wonders if such a thing is even possible in 2019 while still remaining at the center of the zeitgeist, or if a true extended hiatus will cause the public to forget about a person entirely. And it’s this anxiety of irrelevance, fueled by both Instagram’s algorithm and a general human need for community and belonging, that keeps creators constantly working, as well as trying to one-up each other.
But there are signs of a changing tide. Demna Gvasalia left his brand Vetements earlier this year, stating essentially that his mission was accomplished. This kind of “okay, I’m done with that” attitude is brave in today’s climate. And it leaves him in a position of being the designer of a single brand in Balenciaga, which by today’s standards is light work. And until now, Demna has, despite being a designer who understands modern society, and the internet, better than almost any other, one that existed largely off of it. If anonymity in the 1990s meant never showing one’s face in public (a la Margiela), Demna’s version seemed to be not having an Instagram account. But In September, two weeks before leaving Vetements, that changed. Though he hasn’t posted but one photo to the page, it signals that even he knows that what people want is more, and eventually he intends to do some posting if he is to stay in the game.
So the answer to the status quo’s unreasonable demands for content and creation remain elusive. In Abloh, we see a cautionary tale that may help un-glorify the need to be on a plane 300 days a year, and in Demna we find someone who is approaching social media cautiously.
Ultimately though, something’s gotta give. Social media has been linked time and time again with the rising statistics surrounding anxiety and depression in our culture. It’s a tool that can fuel the fire of capitalism from any corner of the planet with the touch of a button, but with that ease has also come a shorter shelf life for content and products.
If we return to Jacquemus, perhaps it has something to do with not working harder, but working smarter, and creating things that can last more than a season. He said he’ll be back in 2020 with some fresh answers, and I for one can’t wait to see what wisdom he’s willing to share — even if it happens on Instagram.