The Misplaced Competition in The Fashion Industry

By Odunayo Ojo

The Misplaced Competition in The Fashion Industry

It is no secret that the fashion industry is competitive. The competitive nature of fashion comes in many different forms. People are drawn to specific fashion designers that resonate with them. This can lead to a perceived need to prove that one’s personal favorite fashion designer is one step above the competition. The question is, how exactly can fashion designers be objectively compared?  Let’s take a deep dive into the careers of three legendary fashion designers namely Rei Kawakubo, Vivienne Westwood and Ozwald Boateng.

Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, 
Photography Paolo Roversi

Rei Kawakubo, the queen of avant-garde fashion and the founder of the Comme des Garcons empire has had an endless impact on the fashion industry. She is frequently called ‘a designer’s designer.’ Her impact in fashion comes in many forms. She spearheaded the new era of anti-fashion in the 1980s. A philosophy of fashion design that was later adopted by the likes of the Antwerp 6, Martin Margiela, Rick Owens and many more current household names in fashion. She is also responsible for training and nurturing many current designers who have gone on to do great things. Names like Junya Watanabe, Chitose Abe and Tao Kurihara come to mind.

Vivienne Westwood Seditionaries Clothes Collection

Vivienne Westwood, credited as the mother of punk rock created a movement of fashion anti-establishment misfits. Punk rock is one of the most referenced movements in fashion. Brands like Ann Demeulemeester, Undercover and Takahiromiyashita Thesoloist are built on ideas that were cultivated through the punk rock movement. The idea of punk rock is often characterised as ‘avant-garde fashion before avant-garde.’ This suggests that the new era of avant garde fashion created by Rei Kawakubo thrived off the prior work of Vivienne Westwood.

Ozwald Boateng for Givenchy

Ozwald Boateng, a master of quirky tailoring famously known for being the youngest tailor and the first black man to open a store on the famous Saville Row. He bridged the gap between tailoring and fashion design. When he became the creative director of Givenchy, he became the first menswear designer for the brand to show a runway collection. Giorgio Armani said that Ozwald Boateng is leading the new school.

All three previously mentioned designers are known for completely different contributions to the fashion industry. It would, therefore, be an impossible task to decide who had the better career. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. This need to compare different designers like for like is a very fascinating phenomenon that doesn’t occur in other sub-sectors of artistic expression. It is a rare occurrence to witness art fanatics engaging in heated arguments over whether Pablo Picasso created superior artwork to Leonardo Da Vinci. It is generally accepted that they are both iconic artists without the need to try and decipher who is the better of the two. When it comes down to artistic expression there are many factors that determine if work is perceived as good. In the case of fashion, one of these major factors is garment construction.

In fashion, it is widely accepted that at the highest-level, clothing must be perfectly constructed using the best materials. This is because clothing that you typically see on runway shows are very expensive. Rei Kawakubo has stated in various interviews that her designs are about aesthetics first, not quality. She has been known for using materials typically considered ‘low grade’ if those specific materials help her achieve an intended silhouette. The same is true for the construction of her garments, there are times when the garments are constructed poorly in a deliberate way for artistic effect and commentary. This is completely different from the ethos of someone like Ozwald Boateng, a master tailor is who has dedicated his life to creating the perfect suit cut. He uses the highest quality materials, with the best garment construction techniques.

The judgement of whether a designer is ‘good or not’ also comes down to how people interpret different artistic expressions. People from different backgrounds can look at the same collection and think it signifies completely different things. This means that one’s decision as to why a collection is good is based on extremely subjective parameters. Therefore, it is not possible to objectively reduce the artistic expression to bad. Just because one does not like the inspirations that they interpreted from the collection does not make it bad, it just means that it did not resonate with said person. In a world of praised drama and controversy, it is especially good to go against the grain and appreciate what everyone brings to the table.

In a broader sense, competition in fashion is a necessity. It is common knowledge in the business world that when a few companies dominate a market they can cut costs and compromise quality as consumers do not have alternatives. The competitive nature of the industry forces fashion brands to constantly innovate in fear of being left behind and forgotten if they don’t. Anything that is based on perception and not unbiased evidence is subjective, making it unfeasible to definitively say who the best is. In fashion, it is good to recognize and differentiate between healthy competition and misplaced competition. It is about time people are more positive about their fashion counterparts.

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