When Raimund Berthold sits in the Soho design studio of his eponymous brand, he often ponders the weather. Perhaps this is unsurprising. At one end is a wall of windows that makes a snug room feel spacious. At the other, the moodboard he’s translating into clothes for next winter. It is a dark affair, both literally and figuratively – cowls, prosthetic limbs, a noose – and hints that the collection will not be kaleidoscopic. “My PR company is always asking for colour,” he laughs. Its representative, silhouetted against sunshine, nods. “They know I like black. But we have pink for next season.”
His own outfit shows no such concessions; a pair of wide-legged black trousers, a matching tunic shirt. Only his glasses buck the colour scheme, their oversized frames flecked with tortoiseshell. They lend him a mole-like air, as if Kenneth Grahame’s hero had spent his hibernation reading i-D, then traded his tweeds for something more directional. “I don’t hate colour,” Berthold says. “I just don’t wear it very much. I don’t like mixing colours together very much. My mind, there’s so much going on that I don’t need that as well.”
Berthold’s mind reflects the industry he works in. Fashion is currently rupturing in ways not seen since the second world war. A system that has sold clothes in great volumes, for half a century, is suddenly in flux. The internet has collapsed longstanding barriers between brands and the people they sell to. The most recent fashion weeks played out during the hottest September on record, against the spectres of Brexit and a contracting luxury market. “It’s confusing times,” says Berthold. “I’m really not sure what’s going to happen.”
On Oxford Street, a few hundred yards away, the big brands seem just as confused. The busiest shopping destination in Europe bristles with faux fur. The stores are air conditioned to a temperature where trying on coats doesn’t seem ridiculous and to step inside is to find relief from 30-degree sunshine. On the other side of the glass, shoppers prefer cotton and bare flesh to cashmere. Here, it’s like Narnia crept a few feet inside the wardrobe.
So people try on parkas, tease boiled wool between their fingers, coo as they slip into puffer jackets that could double as tents. Then, inexorably, they drift towards the T-shirts. Because who could leave a brand new coat dormant for three months?
People have long accused the fashion industry of a disconnect from reality. And as an industry, it has proved that you can know nothing about racial identity, about sexual identity, about how much grown people should eat, and yet still make enormous amounts of money. Practicality seems moot in a world where Rick Owens sends exposed penises down his runway. But as anyone who has debuted their winter wardrobe too early knows, style melts in the heat. So why, as London basks in BBQ weather, are its shops full of wool? Are these stores in on some meteorological secret?
Topman doesn’t have a red phone to the Met Office. It just share’s fashion’s belief that winter starts in August. You pack for holiday, retailers pack away all the clothes you actually need, to clear space for coats. It’s not a decision informed by atmospheric conditions, but by a model the fashion industry has clung onto for more than a century. A model that’s earned it trillions by opening the door to mass production, to clothes produced in giant factories on the other side of the world, months before they go on sale. A model that, suddenly, doesn’t look well.
You can’t buy a swimming costume after July because, 70 years ago, the French worried Americans might steal their jobs. In 1945, Paris’ fashion houses were regrouping after years of Nazi occupation. For years, New York’s designers had copied what came across the Atlantic. With that inspiration shut off, they were showing flickers of originality.
To snuff them out, the old guard formalised rules that a brand had to adhere to if it wanted to market itself as haute couture – the highest of high fashion. The clothes had to be made-to-order, for private clients. The house had to have an atelier in Paris, with 15 full-time staff, and at least 20 technical staff on the books. And it had to host fashion shows twice a year, showing at least 50 new designs at each. The interlopers were locked out and the city cemented its status as fashion’s thumping heart, one that a mere world war couldn’t quiet.
The fashion show itself had evolved over the preceding century. Before the arrival of British ex-pat-turned designer Charles Frederick Worth, wealthy Parisians designed their new wardrobes at home, in one-to-one consultations with a dressmaker. The customer would make demands, the expert would offer advice, then their design would be made in an atelier. But at the House Of Worth, you saw options. He would design a collection then showcase it on live models. His clientele could adjust the materials, tweak the colours, have it cut to their fit, but they picked from a template. The dressmaker moved from fashion’s engine room to its helm.
His success was immediate. After two years he was dressing Empress Eugénie; then every attendee of her lavish balls (including, reportedly, her husband’s lovers); within a decade, every female royal in Europe. The problem was that, come summer, society abandoned the city. Worth’s fix was to show warm-weather clothes in January, when his clients were in town. This also gave him time to produce their orders. Other houses quickly followed suit. Soon, all but the bluest blooded travelled to an atelier twice a year, to peruse, and order from, the new season’s collections.
In 1901 the House Of Worth, then run by its founder’s sons, hired a designer called Paul Poiret. Like Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis, Poiret was an iconoclast in a house that valued tradition. Worth’s clients found his corsetless designs unsettling and, like Jacobs, he was soon jettisoned. Unbowed, Poiret launched his eponymous house in 1903. With an unrecognised name and a revolutionary silhouette, he resorted to guerilla marketing to win clients.
“He dressed models and socialites for social events,” says Johannes Reponen, course leader of MA fashion cultures at London College of Fashion, “and used different places to promote his fashion.” Poiret outfitted actresses, turning the stage into a billboard, in an early form of product placement. He launched new lines with lavish parties, realising that if people wouldn’t come for the clothes, they would for displays of wild animals and a man selling monkeys.
“Some of the early shows were just presentations,” says Reponen, “but from early on they started to understand that you could wrap it around a spectacle. It makes it more appealing for the clients and potentially seduces them to buy a few more frocks.” (In 2008, Alexander McQueen channelled Poiret, his runway flanked by a Parisian taxidermist’s menagerie.) Poiret pioneered the trunk show, touring Europe with suitcases of clothes and a bevy of models in tow.
On the continent, those who could afford to ordered garments direct from the runway. Those who couldn’t would make their own versions at home, or commission copies from dressmakers. For Americans, all fashion flowed from Paris. Importing it, however, was out of reach for most. To bolster domestic manufacturing, the US government had introduced steep import tariffs on French gowns, coats and gloves. Already expensive fashion was now almost entirely unaffordable.
In response, department stores set up bureaus in the city, which relayed images of the new designs home as soon as they were shown. Some smuggled dresses in through Canada, to avoid the taxes. To counter, the haute couture houses scaled up production, so that by the time the rip-offs were on sale in New York, they were passé in Paris. Then, in 1940, Hitler marched into Paris and its fashion industry went on hiatus.
A year earlier, Eleanor Lambert had founded the New York Dress Institute, to wean American designers from Paris’ creative teat. In 1943, she launched the precursor to New York Fashion Week. “In the second world war, the buyers couldn’t go to Paris,” says Reponen. “The couture houses were closed. They called it Press Week, not Fashion Week, which shows the role it had not just for the buyers, but for journalists as well.”
It marked a departure from the Parisian system. There, the press were relegated to the back rows. Though the couturiers enjoyed exposure, their concern over copies made them wary of disseminating images. “Because they were so worried, newspapers couldn’t actually show the garments,” says Reponen. “They published pictures with just the model’s head, neck. The garment was blank.”
With no Gallic design to cover, editors filled their magazines with domestic fashion instead. With no concerns over copying, they could cover it in its entirety. American women discovered that their compatriots could clothe them just as well, at a fraction of the cost. Since many of the supposedly French designs they’d been buying for years had been knocked off from previous seasons’ knock-offs, or based on sketches drawn by illustrators with no understanding of fashion, these new designs proved remarkably similar to the old. As the military receded from Paris, its designers realised they were facing a new enemy.
Their industry body, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, introduced new rules for haute couture houses, including biannual shows, to provide enough work for dressmakers recently returned to their ateliers. To counter American brands, these shows had to be hosted in Paris.
Before, shows were ad hoc and aimed at customers. Now, they developed an international focus. “The [Chambre Syndicale] grouped events together, because Europe always did well from US clients,” says Reponen. “If you group them, it’s more convenient for buyers and press to come look at the shows.”
But haute couture’s resurgence was short-lived. Women who’d entered the workforce to replace men never left and though they had spare money and an interest in clothes, they had no time to sew their own. At the same time, to drive domestic manufacturing, the US Department of Agriculture produced a list of standard clothing sizes. They were swiftly adopted by manufacturers, who could churn out fashionable garments on factory production lines, and by retailers, since they could sell more clothes, with fewer staff, if customers just had to pick the version that fit.
Fashion houses, too, realised that ready-to-wear offered profits that haute couture never could. They translated their artisan designs into something replicable at scale, that could be made by cheap workers in factories, not ateliers. As the audience for haute couture dried up, the number of houses plummeted; more than 100 hosted presentations in 1946. Today, there are only 13.
Mass production was cheaper but, like haute couture, it still took months to prepare stock in volume. So it copied the extant model, hosting fashion weeks in September and February for designers to present new collections to press and retailers. Magazines had months to photograph the clothes for their new season issues. Brands had the time to manufacture enough pieces for stores. Though some would experiment with lavish staging, they were, by and large, industry events. Until they weren’t.
Blame Amazon and its same-day deliveries. Blame McDonald’s for making two minutes too long to wait for a burger. But when modern man has an itch, he scratches it immediately. The tech industry doesn’t bake a six-month delay into its product launches. Apple sells its phones seven days after they’re announced, to capitalise on an audience that responds to novelty like sharks to blood. But fashion’s timescales have never been that fast.
Designers are cagey. They show collections then respond to feedback. If a buyer doesn’t like a fabric, it changes. If the press slate a jacket, it never gets made. Six months after a runway show, half a collection won’t have made it to store. Most of it probably wasn’t meant to. The most eye-catching pieces are designed to pique the rage of Daily Mail headline writers or the interest of fashion editors, both of whom then provide free advertising.
Take Hood By Air’s AW16 runway, the subtly titled ‘Pil-Gram’ collection, which featured fur-sleeved dusters, leather stockings and airport luggage reimagined as outerwear. It was shot by Vogue, worn onstage by Rihanna. On the brand’s online store? Logo tees, logo hoodies and logo jeans.
This approach echoes the haute couture presentations most brands are banned from, for lack of a Parisian HQ. Hood By Air founder Shayne Oliver even described his show as “a men’s couture moment”. The similarities are striking. The likes of Dior and Chanel still present theirs, then sell them at a loss (couturier Jean-Louis Scherrer once complained his couture garments cost more than £50,000 to make, then sold for £15,000 less). It’s fashion as marketing, unfettered by economic concerns and, generally, unbought. These are clothes that instead make people want the ready-to-wear, the fragrance, the iPhone case. Fashion brands are not about attainment, after all, but aspiration.
But Fashion, with a capital F, is now so prominent in our culture that this model is buckling. Social media has opened up a once-cloistered world. Though there have always been supermodels, they’ve never been as obsessed over as Kylie and Gigi and Lucky Blue. And the runways they walk have never been as accessible.
“At early fashion shows, there’d be one or two photographers,” says Reponen, “because they didn’t want people to see the looks they were presenting until they hit stores.” A decade ago, there were 30 photographers, in a pit at the end of the runway, capturing images that newspapers would publish the next day and magazines would publish in half a year. Now, there are hundreds, every smartphone capturing every angle of every look, and sending them to millions of Instagram followers in real time.
Brands have struggled with how to handle this shift. On the one hand, free advertising is free advertising. On the other, they risk overexposure. “Because of social media, particularly Instagram, a lot of our clients are tired of the imagery by the time it hits the stores,” says Charlie Casely-Hayford, who runs his eponymous brand with his father. “They’ve been bombarded with it.” Fashion is sold on emotion, not reason. But when a collection is finally available, the excitement that would drive people through doors has dissipated.
Fashion’s gatekeepers have also struggled. Since ready-to-wear made brands shift their focus to the masses, editors have traded access for reach; place us front and centre at your shows, give us first pick of your collections, and we’ll show your clothes to millions of people. They provided reach to labels that could otherwise only show a new season to the people who flanked the runway.
Magazines would delay their coverage until clothes hit stores, to provide the maximum marketing impact for brands. In return, brands would advertise the same collections alongside the editorials. The symbiosis made everyone happy. But now, before GQ can even request pieces to shoot, Bryanboy has shared the look with 600,000 people. All of whom then glance at their suddenly sad, tired wardrobes and think, “I want that now”.
Which raises the question of what a runway show is actually for. It is a laborious and inordinately expensive way to show clothes. Designer Oliver Spencer estimates that his biannual walks cost as much as £10,000 a minute. And he doesn’t book Hadids to walk or, like Philipp Plein, install a working roller coaster at the end of his runway.
You could argue, correctly, that even in less distracting shows, the 10 minutes it takes for 50 new pieces to strut past doesn’t arm anyone to pass judgment on a collection. Which is why buyers decamp to a private salon afterwards, to feel the fabric, examine the stitching, and assess in person which garments they actually want.
So if runway shows aren’t for press, and aren’t for buyers, then who are they for? “Catwalk shows were always this closed, quiet, secret industry event and the revolution of the internet, digital media, has opened it up,” says Graeme Moran, head of content at Drapers. “They make a huge hullabaloo around the catwalk event and it’s completely wasted because no one can actually shop any of it.”
That changed this season when Burberry announced it would sell its entire AW16 collection straight off the runway. Dubbed ‘see now, buy now,’ even in an industry beset by hyperbole, it promised a revolution. “They’ve said, ‘This is how it’s worked for many years, this is how it’s worked for decades, but we don’t want to do it that way anymore’,” says Moran. “To be so bold, to say to the entire industry – from the factories, their manufacturers, their buyers, their stockists, their stores: ‘We’re changing how this works’, you cannot deny that’s a huge step. A complete rethinking for everyone that’s involved with them.”
For big brands, it makes sense. Like Tom Ford, who announced a similar move, Burberry is vertically integrated. It owns its factories, it owns its stores. It is also a behemoth, with revenue of £2.5bn in 2015. Which means that, as in with the traditional system, it could fly in buyers and editors six months early to see the collection on mannequins. Only it then had each sign a non-disclosure agreement. “But what if you’re a small London Fashion Week designer?” says Moran. “You can’t very well call up the buying directors of Harvey Nichols and Bergdorf Goodman and say, ‘Hey, come to my studio on this date. I’m not going to show you when you normally see it’.”
How successful Burberry’s new approach proved is questionable. The next day its Regent Street store was teeming. Moran even went searching for a piece that caught his eye on the runway, only to find it had sold out. But as he points out, the brand may have deliberately limited stock, either out of caution or to create the perception of demand. In an earnings call a month later, the brand’s CFO, Carol Fairweather, confirmed that, in cash terms, the result was negligible.
“I wouldn’t say it had a meaningful impact on sales numbers,” she said. “I do think we were really pleased with the response of the show through every dimension, be it brand reach, be it share of voice, magazine covers.” She added that the runway collection only tends to make up five per cent of global sales. Which begs the question, if the point of selling straight from the runway isn’t to sell straight from the runway, then why do it?
The answer might lie a couple of hundred yards up the road from Burberry’s show venue. The fast-fashion retailers that line Oxford Street have carved multibillion-pound businesses by emulating what high-fashion brands send down their runways. It the 1920s, it took American department stores months to copy a dress from Paris. Zara can take a runway piece and have its own version on sale in a fortnight.
“The internet has intercepted everything and shown it before it’s available, so the high street have got six months to copy us,” says Spencer. He showed his AW16 collection at London Fashion Week, with each look immediately shoppable through a smartphone app. It kills the high street’s head start. “It’s full circle,” says Reponen. “In the 1940s and 1950s, brands were scared of the power of media, so they weren’t allowed to take many pictures. Now because of places like Zara and Primark, [which have been] accused of copying, brands are taking control of the narrative.”
In doing so, they’ve copied their copiers. Zara, too, is a vertically integrated brand, with a supply chain and retail outlets that let it control every element of production. The first time you see its clothes, they are available to buy. The only difference is their quality. And their price tag.
At the big four fashion weeks – New York, London, Milan, Paris – brands have tended to present collections for those cities, where winter arrives in November, summer in June. But in Hong Kong, long the shopping spot of choice for China’s well-heeled (who account for almost half the global spend on luxury goods), the temperature rarely drops below double digits. The customer in Dubai, whose oil money propped the luxury industry up when it was battered by the recession, gets little wear from a cashmere overcoat.
But brands and retailers are now reaching these customers as soon as they set up an Instagram account. “Because we’re a global business, it’s always hot somewhere, it’s always cold somewhere,” says Sam Kershaw, senior buyer at Mr Porter. “Making things more trans-seasonal makes sense, because you’re going to appeal to a wider audience, more of the time.”
Like many customers of luxury fashion, the Mr Porter shopper is peripatetic. He needs a wardrobe that can cross continents. “Versatility within collections is massively beneficial,” says Kershaw. “Like knitwear that works as outerwear, whether it’s a lightweight cashmere blazer, or a lightweight merino knit. They’re seasonless, in a sense. You could wear them in June, or in November.”
He points out the glut of brands tweaking fabrics to cross seasons, “which lets the customer get more mileage out of stuff”. “Officine Generale, who do water-resistant suede. It feels very summery, but you can wear it in winter. Something like Valstar, the same principle.”
This trans-seasonality is vital since, even in fashion’s heartland, the traditional seasons now make little sense. On the first day of November 2015, Britons basked in a 22-degree heatwave. That month was New York’s hottest on record. September this year also set new PBs, and almost guaranteed that 2016 would take over from the previous 12 months as the warmest in history.
In response, a brand like Burberry can slow production of coats, ramp up T-shirts, and make sure the appropriate pieces are in stores. “But when you’re an independent brand, it’s difficult to keep up with the bigger guys who can have that flexibility,” Casely-Hayford says. Their schedule is instead dictated by retailers, who make up the majority of a brand’s revenue. “We’ve just delivered all our winter coats to store, and it’s high summer,” says Casely-Hayford. It’s 24 degrees outside his studio. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
It’s here that fashion as art competes with fashion as commerce. Berthold grimaces at the idea that he might design according to what his buyers want. “I think that every designer has a love-hate relationship with buyers,” he says with a shrug. “Often they want what you don’t have, and if you do have it, they don’t want it. Often it’s a little bit safe. I think they cater for – especially department stores – they buy what they know they can sell. That’s not easy for a designer, if you have a whole vision and they want a simple T-shirt.”
Earlier this year, British designer Nasir Mazhar announced that he was abandoning wholesale entirely. He would instead sell direct through his website and at a pop-up in his studio. In an interview with LOVE, he said: “We stopped doing logos three seasons ago and yet for the last three seasons I’ve had stores saying, ‘Where’s your logo sweaters? We only came to buy logo sweaters’. There’s always this pressure. It gets to the point where we’ve got to make a change, and it’s got to be this drastic.”
Berthold has also launched a web store, which he hopes will allay any pressure, overt or not, to design ‘safely’. “It’s the way to find out that the buyers were right all along,” he laughs. But as well creative freedom, it also benefits his bottom line. Like Louis Vuitton, which only sells through its own stores and concessions, direct sales mean no cut to retailers. It also means he can sell the pieces he wants, when he wants. And can control when, and if, they’re marked down.
Globally, more than half of luxury goods are bought at a discount, according to Havas Media Group’s LuxHub 2015 report. Research by Dynamic Action found that, for US retailers, full price sales dropped 4 per cent in the first quarter of this year. In the same period, though discount sales jumped 63 per cent, the number of first-time buyers who made a second purchase at the same retailer slipped 6 per cent. Stores have been trigger happy on when they drop prices, because the faster fashion cycle means they need to shift more stock. Though modern customers won’t wait to wear their clothes, they are happy to wait for a bargain. And they’ll shop around to find it.
This was fine when a cold snap in November sent people rushing to buy their winter coat. The new climate means that winter doesn’t bite until January, when its clothes are already marked down. The Casely-Hayford fix is pragmatic: strip away bulk so people can wear a new coat from the start of the season. “What we’re very much moving towards is creating lightweight garments that have volume, that people can layer up,” he says. “It’s creating clever clothing that is reactive to your environment and situation. It has mobility and versatility, in that it can be worn in hot climates and cold climates.”
That change is trickling into the high street as well. “We’re looking at a lot of style staples,” says Matthew Braun, design manager at River Island. “As opposed to designing autumn pieces and summer pieces, it’s about how you layer those pieces. Through summer, we sold a lot of bomber jackets. Guys are wearing them around the office, indoors, almost like a shirt. So we’re seeing sales continue for outerwear, which is really strange, because previously they’d dropped off in summer.”
But to make sure pieces can transition between seasons, they can’t look too of-a-time. Directional patterns and cuts age a piece quickly. An avant-garde fabric that’s on trend in summer might not make it through to winter. Designers strip away detail to make pieces more timeless, or reboot successful pieces each season in a different shade.
It’s how Spencer, a designer who prides himself on his pragmatic, retail-focussed approach to fashion, begins each new season. “The way forward is to look at the past and to take the best things, bring them forward, and add alongside the interesting and innovative,” he says. “Sometimes, that means if it’s not broke, don’t fix. Sometimes, move a pocket to the other side. Sometimes, throw it in the bin. It’s old hat, we’ve done it. And that’s it.”
The fashion industry has long sold its clothes as quality items that offer wear for years, while telling customers that they need to buy new things every season to stay on trend. But in the face of fast fashion, which prioritises churn, the luxury industry has doubled down on its claims of quality. When it’s also designing clothes that don’t date, that’s problematic, says Moran.
“[Brands] are filling their collections with things that are seasonless, to carry shoppers across the seasons,” says Moran. “Then trying to create pieces that excite them enough to buy into that again. So shoppers aren’t thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got that.’ And that’s a contradiction, in a way. To crack that is the challenge.” The answer might be variations on a theme. “You’ll get the same piece – same shape, but it comes in other colours, other fabrics, different weights. You wear your boiled wool one at the end of the season, the linen one at the beginning.”
But while that approach rewards customers who want the same things every season, it also means there’s more of those pieces available. “When people are buying a designer piece, it’s often not from the current season and they’re often not paying full price,” says Jian DeLeon, senior menswear editor at WGSN. “If you want the thing from Acne [Studios], or even someone like Rick Owens, there’s less reason to pay full price when there’s core pieces on Grailed and eBay for much less.”
For Christopher Raeburn, another British designer who shows at London Collections Men (now rebranded to London Fashion Week Men’s to “better engage with a consumer audience,” according to chairman and British GQ editor Dylan Jones) the answer is to empower the customer. Like Casely-Hayford, his eponymous brand is known for its outerwear. This is good news when it’s cold, less so in a world that’s warming up.
“We’ve always been interested in layering and functionality, and pieces working trans-seasonally,” says Raeburn. He points to the brand’s pop-out parka, a quilted bomber jacket that zips into a waterproof outer layer. “We were selling these two things together. It was a heavy coat and the price point was up there. But when we separated them, gave the option of buying one or the other, or putting them together when it really did get cold, we had two more affordable pieces that gave the customer real choice.”
Choice might be the biggest trend in fashion. Since Charles Frederick Worth, customers have been dictated to by designers. Now, the traditional barriers of geography, of availability, of power, have collapsed. “[Customers] are dictating when they want to buy something and what they want to buy,” says DeLeon, “more than any one retailer or designer.”
The connectedness that has challenged big brands has opened the door to small ones. They can reach audiences even without a seven-figure ad spend. They can blip onto the radar of bloggers and fashion editors. To stand out, the big brands have gone bigger – more spectacle, more speed, more products. Unable to compete, smaller labels have charted a more unique course.
This year, Christopher Raeburn moved to a new studio in Hackney Walk, in a building that was once a Burberry factory. It offers more space to focus on his brand’s Remade In Britain collection, which creates new pieces from salvaged materials. This season’s parkas and anoraks are handmade from recycled German military ponchos. Last year, he turned a life raft into bomber jackets, parkas and backpacks.
“I’d bought it still in its beautiful, giant capsule on eBay, on a Sunday afternoon, for £50,” he recalls. “Then it arrived at the studio weighing nearly half a tonne. You pull on the cord and this thing expanded. Everything was still inside it – rations, flares, everything. Then from there, I’ve got to do a whole collection round this. It was a 25-man life raft so it made sense to consider – in a slightly romanticised way – the 20-odd people who’d be in that raft. And what they’d need to be in there.”
This kind of story, the provenance of his materials, can’t be emulated on the high street. And because each piece is made to order, it justifies the wait. “It’s educating our customers that you shouldn’t be able to get this immediately. It is going to take two, three, four months. It’s going to take the time it needs because we make each of these things ourselves in our own studio and it’s a real labour of love.”
For Casely-Hayford, the solution is a little quicker. As befits a brand with tailoring at its heart, it offers made-to-measure that, like Worth’s couture shows, lets customers tweak the brand’s designs. “People can get what they want within a four week turnaround. Whereas with our ready to wear, it’s a six-month cycle,” he says. “Whether that’s a bomber jacket, a leather jacket, a coat or a suit, it means that we can react to the market as it moves. To the weather and the seasons.” Customers can even order archive pieces, since the brand holds onto fabrics from past seasons.
In his studio, Berthold fingers through clothes on a rail. For him it’s about offering flexibility within a collection. So that no matter the weather, the locale, there’s always a piece that fits. “I love layering and for me it’s that, more than anything,” he says. “I grew up in a ski resort in Austria so I know all about being cold.” The clothes he pulls out are loose, floaty, almost monastic. Though there are recognisably shirts and coats, their inkiness and lack of structure makes them as seasonless as robes.
“Even as a kid, I’d always wear a t-shirt, then layer. I always have. I think that’s stayed with me ever since. It’s quite difficult, because everything is so global. You buy from so many different sources. If it’s online, you don’t know where it’s going – really cold, really hot. You’d be foolish if you just catered to one particular season. And that’s how it is. But it makes it more difficult because you have to be clever.” His clothes, with their billow, their fabrics that feel substantial but don’t add weight, are certainly that.
Consumers want pieces that are timeless, but novel. That they can wear all year, but which service their exact need at an exact time. They want it at the right price. They can buy from any brand on earth, whenever they want. They are, in a word, spoiled.
So the people who buy clothes need to slow the cycle and make sure they buy the right things. To think long term and invest in pieces that resonate, that work for what they wear and how they wear it. Brands will reinvent the system, but the system, as it has always been, is designed to sell us clothes that, on reflection, we might not need. “Guys are so inundated with choice,” says DeLeon. “This all might just be another thing to choose from.”