» HADOUKEN « see now, buy never: on relevance and the difference between fashion and apparel
“Situationalism” — it just sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Born out of anti-authoritarian Marxism and numerous avant garde art movements of the early 20th century, Situationalist theory, generally speaking, is a criticism of advanced capitalism. Specifically, however, it actually recognizes capitalism as fundamentally superior to all forms of economic theory, that is until society becomes so utterly obsessed with its principles that it begins to glorify accumulated wealth and reifies the ephemeral experiences of authentic life into commodities. Popularized by Guy Debord’s 1967 tome The Society of the Spectacle, whereby Debord claims that authentic social relations have been replaced by what people perceive them to be, Situationist theory has become a powerful critique of contemporary consumer culture. Honing in on the importance of image in contemporary society, Debord claims that “[a]ll that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” The “spectacle” is our reality, even if it is only a string of representations society deems to be correct or appropriate at a given time.
I found myself thinking about Debord quite a bit this week. Ephemeral symbolism was all around me. On one end of the spectrum was the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, a poignant reminder that life is short — real short. And on the other end of the spectrum was New York Fashion Week, a poignant reminder that seasons come and go (and along with it so too does good taste and manners). Seeing that I was a 17 year-old high school senior when the towers fell, I knew a good amount of people who lost their lives that day. While we’ll #neverforget, New Yorkers don’t like to think about that day any more than they must, so I spent most of my time thinking about clothing instead.
The big trend this NYFW was not only seen on the runway but also in (some) stores: the ubiquitous and alluring see now, buy now (“SNBN”) movement. Arising from a desperate need to keep up with those dirty little fast fashion fuckers, those crafty little independent direct-to-consumer nerds and society’s clamor for more, more, MORE, the SNBN movement has taken fashion by storm. The concept is simple. By simultaneously presenting seasonal collections on the runway and making them available for purchase at retail brands can capitalize on consumer demand, shore up the supply chain and run a more profitable business. Brilliant? Hardly. This should have happened 15 years ago when the proliferation of high speed Internet shrunk the world and every consumer industry with it. But fashion, despite being deemed progressive and always ahead of the curve by most lay people, is way late to the game (as it so often is).
But how do we get the mills to cooperate and produce on time? But how do we determine our margin plan if we don’t know our wholesale orders? But we’ve always done it this way…
Lots of questions and complaining, very little action. Sound familiar? It reminds me of the music industry in the late ’90s; while big wig, fat cat executives were questioning and complaining, outsiders were eating their lunch and pillaging their profits. Do you think Spotify and Apple Music would exist today if the industry got its collective shit together during the days of Napster? Most likely not.
We are undergoing a similar revolution in fashion today. While behemoth brands and department stores scramble to reinvent themselves, the rest of the world simply doesn’t care. Consumers are only interested in the spectacle — in what’s relevant, in what makes them look “cool” and/or feel good. Just because your collection is available for sale at the time you show it to industry insiders doesn’t really mean anything if no one buys it. Why should they? Fashion is an ephemeral game of association, and if you are not associated with the spectacle, well, then you’re just making apparel.
Instead of fighting it, embrace it. Maybe “just making apparel” is better than “just changing the fundamental nature of your business because you are chasing a relevance you will never achieve without spending ungodly sums of money and even then it’s 50–50 at best.” Adopting the SNBN format should not be deemed a brand’s magic bullet to success. A brand is misunderstanding fashion — the spectacle — if it makes the costly decision to change the way it manufactures without first convincing potential consumers to actually give a shit about the products it creates.
What I’m saying is that if all of your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge that doesn’t mean you should as well. You don’t know what kind of safety devices they have equipped before they took the jump. Maybe instead of jumping, you should just continue to make apparel, hone your vision and find your customer elsewhere and through other channels.