Interview with Serge CARREIRA (Fashion and luxury expert & professor at Sciences Po)
By Thomas ZYLBERMAN (Stylist & Trends analyst at CARLIN Creative Trend Bureau)
THOMAS ZYLBERMAN : In addition to the boom that disappeared as quickly as it appeared, the fashion industry is beginning to distance itself from street style and sports style codes. Fashion itself is always in movement and luxury brands will need to propose new aesthetic codes one day too. Of course we can’t forget the shift between what is shown on catwalks and what is actually sold in boutiques – sales of sneakers and caps with logos won’t stop anytime soon!
Indeed, the essence of luxury brands is to create offer. The constant challenge for them is to create something for tomorrow – while maintaining a pragmatic and true perspective of the reality and the market of today. Today’s paradox in fashion is that everything can cohabit – the ultra-elegant with the ultra-basic, fast fashion with haute couture… The consumers’ behavior isn’t as rigid as it used to be, fashion is viewed a declaration of status more than ever – yet everyone can be fashionable, regardless their budget. 30 years ago the situation was the exact opposite.
T.Z: Especially – or, rather, particularly in Europe – where no one has a problem wearing fast fashion-branded clothes and a luxury bag. In China or in the USA the approach isn’t the same at all.
S.C: That is certainly true, but the clients’ mindset is changing all over the world. China saw phenomenal success with Uniqlo – a brand that perfectly supports my point. As a matter of fact, there are countries where the statutory and ostentatious aspect is more important due to cultural differences. There are cultures in which this is more or less acknowledged. Regarding France, just because people mix expensive pieces with cheaper ones it doesn’t mean the statutory aspect doesn’t exist anymore. It very well does – it’s just an unspoken cultural rule. Cultures that have only recently been introduced to luxury products will acknowledge their ostentatious aspect much more easily, given the fact they’re being used as a sign of success and power.
This situation arises along with the progress of individualism. Success permits the affirmation of one’s belonging to a certain social group. More importantly, personal success highlights the singularity of each individual. This phenomenon is clearly visible in the behavior of the new Chinese woman – clients of haute couture, they increasingly prefer buying vintage products. Such pieces are thought to have history and heritage, and they are sure to be the only ones owning such masterpieces.
« Interesting enough, sports has also integrated the notion of “vintage” into its creation.»
T.Z: Interesting enough, sports has also integrated the notion of “vintage” into its creation. Looking at the coolest sports brands at the moment, retro brands like Fila or Champion lead the way – despite having been believed outdated and obsolete for the past couple of years. Vintage and retro codes are propelled from formal wear and included in sportswear.
S.C: And they regenerate it! From the moment brands have recovered these codes – the ostentation of the sports brands’ logos – it inevitably renews the ones that were falling behind and out. These codes enabled the creation of style icons. Converse shoes or Adidas tracksuits, to give you some examples, are very well present in society’s collective imagination; they possess a certain power of recognition. And this regeneration of sportsmanship has revitalized Converses, Adidas’ and others relevance.
T.Z: The question of timing, of relevance in relation to timing is key… Recently, Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy introduced her version of the “ugly sneakers” but it was already too late – in all cases, their launch went virtually unnoticed.
S.C : There are several elements to consider. Above all, fashion is a step forward, not a step backward. Next, the market is so saturated with offers and information that brands need to be truly distinctive and original (when speaking of notoriety and visibility), otherwise they will be overlooked. Lastly, we cannot forget that Givenchy carries a legitimacy vis-à-vis streetwear with its 10 years’ worth of heritage from Riccardo Tisci (the maison’s former artistic director). Nobody is saying that these sneakers aren’t selling very well, because the name Givenchy is inherently associated with street heritage, especially for Asian customers.
T.Z: Agreed. Finally, we can ask ourselves if this “haute street” phenomenon hasn’t been taken to the extreme by a variety of celebrities, by a generation that is slowly beginning to age – that has become mainstream. At one point, the myth of the rapper as the next consumer of luxury goods starts to be obsolete, right?
S.C: The funny thing is that the Harlem style of the 1990s was to reclaim the codes of US’ white elite of the time. It was a caricature, something exaggerated, something deemed “too much”. The same codes are still used today, albeit in a literal, not caricatured way. Everything has become more and more literal in fashion – everything is transmitted by image and thus must be legible immediately. Excess has, naturally, a much stronger impact that subtlety.
T.Z : It is precisely this literal interpretation (e.g., no longer in the second degree) that marks the delicate moment in which the counter-culture is absorbed and becomes mainstream.
Absolutely! There isn’t just one counter-culture today; there is a wide plethora of groups and subgroups. Individuals can identify with multiple communities at the same time, which adds complexity to the matter. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see that even though some young designers like Marine Serre have their roots in sports, their attitude isn’t sporty. There is a real search for attitude, femininity, even sophistication that can also embrace sport codes and logos. It’s a peculiar look on the world, something much more subtle.
T.Z: It’s also what we see in young creators like Christelle Kocher – this deciphering of what is occurring socially. It’s a strong look at society and that’s what gives Paris its energy – it’s something almost political. These designers manage to make fashion, glamour and style, along with a real decoding of what is happening around them. Ultimately, we feel that the future of the luxury – chic – sports interpolation is side-by-side with young designers – those that breathe new energy into these associations.