As the coronavirus pandemic spreads worldwide, many of us working in industries that are not health-related or in the front line of support are searching for relevance. From entertainment to media, travel to fashion, whole swathes of the world economy suddenly seem superfluous.
And yet we’re not. For the fashion sector specifically, the single statistic of 40 million garment workers worldwide highlights its importance to many nations’ economies.
Fashion has been under intense scrutiny over the past year as its wasteful ways have been exposed and its draining of the world’s resources highlighted. For the luxury sector, the response has been to shift the emphasis to craftmanship, to the development of more sustainable materials and to the championing of ethical business practices. Yet all those – however genuinely pursued – don’t seem enough. Fashion suddenly feels like it’s fighting for its very existence.
These are a summary of the thoughts expressed by many of us at Central Saint Martins as we plan ahead for likely remote teaching next summer term, which begins in mid-April. Shows and exhibitions are being cancelled, online learning software options urgently explored, while students who are currently dispersed worldwide seek reassurance about their futures.
Linking up through Zoom, I spoke to MA Fashion Communication students in Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Finland, America, Russia, India, Canada and the UK. I asked the same question on behalf of Fashion Unfiltered: does fashion still matter, and if so why?
Here is a selection of extracts from their uplifting replies:
Fashion can be a beacon of light in dark times – a source of comfort, inspiration and happiness. These days, we are forced to engage in fashion differently, whether by browsing through our closets to find hidden treasures or by making use of online archives now opened up for free. Constant innovation and the power to question the status quo make the world of fashion so exciting. In the end, it will be those qualities that will sustain fashion. Our lives may be on hold right now, but fashion is constantly moving, even if it is only in our minds. – Lisa Zirngast, Austria
In these days when we’re forced to slow down and spend time at home, our clothes are more relaxed and comfortable. But looking at couture gives me a sense of hope. I find myself taking refuge in dreamy collections as a form of escapism from the doom and gloom of the world at the moment. The industry of fashion will continue to produce clothes because they are essential, but maybe the fashion system will slow down and reflect on what’s truly necessary, just as we are all doing right now. – Chiara Margherita Di Bernardini, Italy
Fashion has always struggled with the stereotype of being superficial. The industry needs to show that fashion is not just about clothes but it can also be a tool to encourage change. The luxury sector may have to think differently in future, working more on providing solutions to living rather than simply feeding escapism. And the fresh faces entering our tight-knit community will need to act responsibly and focus on building a strong support system. – Shriya Zamindar, India
For me fashion is a getaway and place to dream. Although it has a frivolous nature at heart, right now it’s crucial to concentrate on things that generate joy, whether through magazines or our own wardrobes. Fashion connects people, fuels discussion and records the times in its own unique way. It enables us to see from different perspectives, helping us to understand unfamiliar cultures, history and issues, all the while driving innovation. – Hilda Kosunen, Finland
During self-isolation, fashion is keeping me afloat. I’m stuck in my suburban hometown in my childhood bedroom, indulging in editorials and runway shows to relieve the anxiety and boredom of being sequestered at home. The glamour of fashion gives me the rush of excitement I’ve missed in quarantine. Fashion reminds me that I’m still connected to other places and other people. While I can’t leave my house, it gives me a little hope for when this is all over. – Dora Boras, Canada
Fashion, to me, is pure unadulterated beauty and joy. The act of dressing up can improve my mood and transport me into an entirely different headspace. To be able to express how I’m feeling, daily, through my sartorial choices is my favourite part of getting ready. Despite all of its issues and shortfalls, fashion right now provides a distraction from the current situation. – Ellie June Goodman, UK
After COVID-19, environmental consciousness will become stronger, forcing the fashion industry to speed up the process of change. Sales may decline for both fast fashion and luxury brands, but businesses will eventually find a way to adapt. In any case, fashion is relevant because people wear clothes not merely to cover their bodies, but also to express who they are. Fashion is part of our identity, and that will always make it matter. – Zoel Hernandez, Spain
Fashion is still relevant, absolutely! People will always need clothes, not only to be presentable but especially because a good dress can help to boost your mood. During these absurd days, all of us involved in the industry are trying our best to entertain through social media; I find it really helpful just to pass a few light-hearted minutes. Many Italian fashion magazines have given free access to their archives and to their future issues so in this way I can stay update with trends, be inspired and dream about what I will wear as soon as I get out of my house. – Sophia Mozzali, Italy
Fashion is more relevant than ever, even if it has a way to go with its sustainable practices and social equality. Its perpetual evolution brings hope. As one of the world’s biggest industries, it provides millions of jobs. For me personally, it’s also a source of endless dreams, constant inspiration and a vision of freedom. – Léana Esch, France
Fashion is my Rosetta stone to relate to the world. As the pandemic raises (already) risky stakes on my MA gambit, I simply lean into positives. It’s an industry that communicates semiotics of sisterhood (Philo’s Celine), Black and Jamaican pride-filled histories (Wales Bonner) and takes action against our current crisis. As fashion’s mechanisms shift, the world’s window will always feed my beloved, stylish cockroach. –Malcolm-Curtis Hill, USA
When it’s all over we will need a celebration. Not a flashy one. Just full of life and happiness. And we will need to dress for the occasion. The desire to consume will come back. It might start with colourful lipsticks and nail polish. Slowly building back our need to dress. There will be laughs and date nights, heels and summer dresses. Yes, our five-year plans and businesses may be on hold, but we will get through this. – Katia Smirnova, Russia
- Roger Tredre is Course Leader of MA Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins