What did Commes Des Garçon customers wear before Rei Kawakubo came along? Who was Ann Demeulemeester designing for?
I’m asking these questions because when I watch fashion panels, critiques or presentations and people comment, “who is the customer?” or “Is there a market for this?” I wonder, about the number of labels that get turned away from buyers because there is no apparent market. I chose to open with the designers above because they embody that friction of designing a vision vs creating for a market. It’s easy to buy into a jean or coat. But who would have guessed how big Commes Des Garçon and Maison Martin Margiela have become.
When Yohji Yamamoto and Commes Des Garçon first launched in Paris, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
It took time for customers to process, digest and adopt the Kawakubo way. If this happened today, I doubt buyers would be quick to carry Commes Des Garçon. What does this mean?
Timing and Social Movements
Dior’s New Look, launched in the late 40s faced resistance from World War Two’s Utility Clothing era, pre-existing rationing and a fear of being counter progressive by being blatantly ultra-feminine. Despite its initial controversies, the New Look came to define the 50s as consumers grew bored of simple lines.
Chanel’s tweed suit was in line with the First Wave Feminist movement. Designing as a woman, Chanel freed the female form. Yves Saint Laurent recontextualised pants with the presentation of the Tuxedo in his premier collection, knowingly or unknowingly resonating with the spirit of the Second Feminism Movement in the 60s.
Fashion is a zeitgeist, a time capsule capturing the social and economic state of their time. Chanel and Saint Laurent’s body of work hit the nail on the head during those periods while Dior and Rei Kawakubo created silhouettes and visions that were before their time.
Phoebe Philo’s vision of beauty resonated with female customers worldwide. Her ten-year tenure at Celine was dedicated to creating clothes for “real women”. It wasn’t fantasy; it was wearability. She redefined beauty in the fashion industry and echoed what looking beautiful meant to so many women. Did she create a customer or did she find it? I say both.
In an interview with Diane Pernet, Ann Demeulemeester speaks about how she designs for a market and what designing means to her.
I found that such a powerful sharing of what it means to Ann to be a creator.
All you need is a vision.
A common thread runs through the labels referenced in this post; they were lead by visionaries that were loyal to their ideas and concepts.
- Dior: Ultra Femininity
- Commes Des Garçon: Clothes designed for mobility and comfort
- Yohji Yamamoto: Asymmetrical, monochromatic
- Ann Demeulemeester: Constant experimentation, ‘Funereal’
- Phoebe Philo: Casual Femininity
Dior and Kawakubo, despite initial public response, were steadfast in their vision. Phoebe Philo was determined to share her ‘philo-sophy’. Ann Demeulemeester is aware of her role as a creator; ‘to give… to create… to renew…’.
This post is a shoutout to the creators and designers out there. If you are clear on who you’re designing for, what you are creating or the underlining philosophy that drives what you make, continue in your pursuit. As long as your vision, values and philosophy resonate with people, the product of those factors will be desired. While it isn’t going to be a walk in Versailles, be firm to your vision, fight and follow through.
“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”