“Commercial”: a word that business minded brains love to hear but makes artists recoil. Fashion is a bit of a paradox. On one hand, designers are artists who love to create, regardless of whether it will sell or not. Some make clothes that aren’t even wearable, that won’t even make it off the runway. Think of Alexander McQueen’s dress from his Sarabande collection made of flowers that rotted as the model walked: that was art. On the other hand is the CEOs of the companies, the business brains who want to make sales. If it weren’t for sales, the business wouldn’t survive. That is what creates the issue. The artists want to create without restrictions whereas the “men in suits” want them to create something that sells.
A very avant garde, out there collection will likely be praised on the runway. Critics will love it. It is so easy to get lost in the fantasy of fashion that we can forget that it is a business. The clothes need to be sold in order to make a profit and generate funds in order to create the next collection. It can’t all be fun and games, a magical dream world. However, when designers create a commercial (read: sellable) collection, they are often criticised. But aren’t they doing something right?
Some of the most successful designers are the ones who create clothes that people want to wear and will therefore buy. When I say successful, I mean it in monetary terms. Take Ralph Lauren who personally has a net worth of $7.9 billion, according to Forbes, and a company worth even more. Ralph Lauren is a man who has built himself an empire, literally a self made billionaire. That is not something to be taken lightly. And you know what made him so successful? It was the fact that he built a lifestyle brand that millions of people wanted to buy into. It was aspirational yet reachable, so people bought it – and continue to do so to this day. Just recently did he launch a womenswear division of his hugely successful Polo range. But we all know that Ralph Lauren isn’t any great artist. He simply designs clothes that people want to wear. Very commercial, very normal, very successful.
Take another designer, Lee Alexander McQueen. He really is the exact opposite of Ralph. He was a man who was more an artist than a designer. He created clothes that were more than just clothes, they were something so much more significant. His designs had a meaning, a purpose. But really, whether he would class them as it or not, they were an art form. Even the shows were big spectacles: less a line of models strutting down a catwalk, more a piece of performance art. So how is it that even though what Alexander McQueen created was so experimental and artistic, it managed to sell? Well that is really down to the fact that what you see on the runway is rarely what makes it into the stores. Even if a collection looks slightly more commercial, it will still be edited to suit the market. Hem lines will be fiddled with, slight details will be changed and some looks may not ever even make it into production.
If everything is edited down anyway then why would designers bother making art-like pieces? That is something that I have often wondered, and I’m sure many others have also. But then it’s easy to understand when you really think about it. Fashion is a form of expression. The designers create what they imagine, things that they have dreamed about, and make them into wearable garments – even if they are only wearable temporarily. Despite the fact that they are going to be changed so much before they actually make it into the store, the clothes that make it onto the runway are still seen. They are an outlet for the designers’ creativity to be showcased.
However, this aforementioned creativity is becoming increasingly rare. Out of the four main fashion capitals, in general, London is the most experimental. Yet this season, there were more and more commercial-like collections. Designers are playing it safe. Or not even that, they are just creating clothes and it so happens that these clothes are more wearable than what others have created in the past. I am all for this wild inventiveness that the likes of Alexander McQueen possessed and John Galliano still has, but really, when looking at collections I prefer to see pieces that I would like to wear myself. I love to watch the big spectacles of shows that very creative designers put on, and enjoy the clothes whilst watching it, but see it just as a performance piece, as beautiful clothes but not as something that will ever really be sold. These are the pieces that make fashion what it is. They are museum-worthy and blur the defining lines between fashion and art. As a consumer, I don’t get anything from looking at clothes that I know would have no place in my daily life (apart from to look at in lust). That is one of the biggest issues in fashion.
So yes, maybe commercial is a dirty word in fashion, but I don’t think it is that bad. We can’t just refuse to acknowledge that fashion is a business. Yes, it is a wonderful form of expression (with some pieces even veering into art) but it is also an enterprise. Fashion provides livelihood for many people. As an industry, it employs over 25 million people worldwide and generates money that is used for more than just clothes. It can fuel an economy and it does more than just clothe us. Fashion is so important to the world and touches each and every one of us, whether we like it or not. So let us enjoy the artistic pieces when they come, even if they are few and far between, but don’t shun the designers who create clothes that are less inspired. Even if something looks basic, there is likely hours of work and ample thought that has been put into it before you see it. Sometimes the most understated of things take the longest to perfect. Appreciate the grandeur of fashion but also realise that, sometimes, more lucrative (for the designer) and wearable for us is the way to go. We all win in the end.