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Claire Barrow AW16
Claire Barrow AW16Photography Chris Rhodes

Is fashion week becoming outdated?

Yesterday, London designer Claire Barrow announced a step away from the fashion system – should more brands take note?

Yesterday, London designer and artist Claire Barrow announced that she would cease showing seasonal collections at fashion week in favour of focusing on projects and collaborations. It’s a choice that makes a lot of sense. With a solo show of her art at M. Goldstein Gallery, a project with Reba Maybury, a fake retrospective fashion exhibition at the ICA and a recent triptych of three films, Barrow has repeatedly demonstrated that she has the ability to present her creative vision in more ways than the expected fashion formats. “Claire will continue to work on a range of her own creative projects in both worlds,” a press release read, “and is looking to take the chance to really look at the way her work is presented and how she can develop in myriad ways, for the moment outside of the fashion week cycle.”

2016 is a year that has seen that fashion week cycle put under scrutiny – with designers including Vetements, Tom Ford and Burberry announcing that they would be stepping away from the current system that sees clothes on menswear and womenswear runways twice a year, six months before they reach stores. However, they’ll still be making traditional collections, just showing them at different times and in different ways, rather than detaching themselves completely. Barrow is going one step further, throwing out the SS/AW collection schedule entirely and therefore declining to be creative on cue. After all, we don’t expect musicians to put out a new album every six months – does the same have to be true for designers? 

“We don’t expect musicians to put out a new album every six months – does the same have to be true for designers?”

She’s not the only one currently taking an unorthodox approach – designer Dasha Selyanova of London-based label ZDDZ has also made the switch to a project-based way of presenting her designs, preferring to debut collections with off schedule presentations in abandoned clubs in Moscow or short documentary films. “Fashion shows create a huge distance in time and space between the clothes and the audience who they are supposed to be for,” she explained of the decision. “With ZDDZ, I love making people who wear the label tell me how to showcase or present the next collection or project. I'm interested in them, in what they have to say and how they live. The old school fashion structure and its formats became too suffocating for younger generations. It doesn't work anymore.”

So why ditch fashion week? For one, it’s expensive – even if you have support from schemes like NEWGEN. With a venue, music, lighting, models, hair, make-up, invitations and promotion, a runway show can easily cost tens of thousands of pounds – a sum which isn’t affordable for many, especially those who are just starting out. It’s something that London-based menswear designer Martine Rose has spoken about before – while she still creates seasonal collections, recently she has presented them through video and photography. “It’s incredibly hard to keep going season after season and pulling money out to do these incredible spectacles show after show,” she explained last year. “It's part of the reason why I stopped doing catwalks and became more interested in a different way of presenting. It’s an old model of business that needs updating in many ways.”

With its aim to present collections to journalists and buyers, the fashion show was previously the only way for brands to communicate their visions to consumers. That’s long since stopped being the case – thanks to social media, designers are closer than ever to their audiences. And with customers now used to constantly-restocked shop floors or staying up for streetwear collection drops, people don’t view buying clothes as something seasonal – they’re happy to cut out the middleman and purchase directly from brand’s own e-stores rather than visiting boutiques where they’re stocked. Of course, if you can make your brand stand out from the hundreds of others showing, there are obvious upsides to fashion weeks – like guaranteeing the attention of international press and buyers, raising your profile by participating in a respected event, and securing show coverage. But ultimately, there’s no reason to try and bend your creativity to a rigid, outdated system. Designers need to find a way to make the industry work for them.