A Conversation About The State of Fashion With Curator José Teunissen
José Teunissen is the Dean of the School of Design & Technology at London College of Fashion and the curator of the thought-provoking “State of Fashion” exhibition that is currently showing in Arnhem, The Netherlands, from June 1st to July 22nd. The new quadrennial fashion event is following in the footsteps of the former Arnhem Fashion Biennale and is “Searching for the New Luxury”, the title and theme of this year’s first edition. On display are innovative technologies, digital platforms, and creative processes that fundamentally rethink traditional notions of luxury and, in so doing, contribute to a sustainable future for the industry.
We had the pleasure to interview José Teunissen, and photographer Maaike Mekking captured the exhibition’s opening night.
José, could you give us some insights into the mission of “State of Fashion”?
“State of Fashion” presents – as the former Biennale – the state of the art in the field of fashion. However, since we all feel that fashion is not anymore about THE next designer, but much more about the urge to change and to re-think the fashion system, it has a slightly different approach. “State of Fashion” is about the awareness that we have to change the system because it is unsustainable as it is.
The exhibition takes a positive design approach because we think fashion should build on its strength: it should use her seductiveness with attractive stories and products. In the current edition ‘Searching for the new Luxury’ we present 50 projects, brands, designers who try to approach fashion differently, varying from introducing a new story, being socially responsible, using tech to change the system or by trying a new business model such as Mud Jeans with their lease concept. Commercial brands such as H&M and Zalando are presented along luxury labels such as Vivienne Westwood and young designers such as Liselore Frowijn or Orange Fiber.
What do you think are the key challenges that the industry is currently facing?
Sustainability, fairness, a production model that doesn’t use too many resources, the implementation of new digital tools and new materials, and an openness for new business models. And possibly de-growth, and raising consumer awareness for buying less but better. In short, change must happen on all levels. Facing the complexity of what needs to be changed and being open to changing the system, which will cause disruption, is probably the key challenge that the industry is facing.
For big companies, this will introduce hugely disruptive new processes and it will certainly be difficult. At the same time, big brands have the money to invest in innovation and in monitoring startups, as H&M and C&A are already doing. The sustainable jeans by G-Star is an amazing example – they worked for years on achieving this result and on being able to introduce it at scale (by starting to use slowly more and more recycled denim in their products without mentioning it at first).
For young designers it is easier to do things differently and – it is almost a paradox – they’ve gained a lot of new opportunities. They can now start from a very different business model, such as by starting a direct-to-consumer online platform (Maven Woman) and by only producing when enough buyers opt for the piece.
“Fashion no longer seems to be in touch with the standards and values of our current time”, is a quote from your curatorial statement. What do you think it would take for fashion to become relevant again?
It has to connect itself more to our current cultural and daily lives that are completely different to the 20th century, where the luxury dream was invented. The world of Hollywood glamour, the elegance of the Parisienne and the fashion magazine is outdated and should be replaced by a new visual language that underlines and expresses the values of the Millennium generation – worldwide around 30% of the current work population. Their lifestyle, preferring a ‘shared economy’ over property and possession, using a bicycle instead of owning a car, and their environmental awareness make them conscious consumers. Also, they work from their pockets, which is re-defining the classical functions of a home, an office and café, making the current boundaries between public and private disappear. This will also affect how we want to dress and behave. Finally, the straitjacket ideal of young, slim, white and rich men and woman is about to be replaced by a more open and inclusive aesthetics that celebrates nature and new ideas of gender and people.
What do you see as the new values of luxury and beauty and how could “the seductive powers” of fashion help transform outdated definitions and ideas?
‘Searching for the new Luxury’ has a manifesto with nine hashtags which define what the new luxury is: #imagination #agency #essential #tech #care #reuse #fairness #no waste
Is a lack of aesthetics, sensuality and seduction perhaps the reason why sustainable fashion is still partially received in a negative way?
Probably. But it is very hard to escape the existing system and present a convincing new aesthetics or product. Stella McCartney is a successful example of someone who is able to develop attractive sustainable products as well as a convincing new visual language. Her latest campaign by Viviane Sassen is a beautiful example of a whole new, attractive world that you want to be part of as a customer. I think it is remarkable that a lot of photography and film introduce nature and abstract landscapes to avoid any existing reference to the world of fashion as we know it.
What are your personal exhibition highlights and why?
The installation that Vivienne Westwood created of the handbags she produced in the slums of Nairobi, is so beautifully presented. Raw and with a direct reference to the Nairobi markets – on rugs with a background of bricks and with pictures of the craftsmen at work. Another favourite of mine is Yuima Nakazato with his outfits informed by laser cuts and 3D body scans. Also the Zegna Foundation collaboration with the London College of Fashion, that shows imprisoned women working with women in St Patrignanio is very moving.
Who drives change – designers or consumers?
Designers can make the consumer aware and present them with an attractive new future. And, the other way around, consumers have the power to take agency and to push the fashion industry and its designers to produce better products.
According to trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, we are in a long-term fashion shift towards durable clothing. Do you think fashion as such can be sustainable at all?
We will definitely redefine what fashion is. For more than a century, fashion was very much about the NEW and the new meant that it was in tune with the zeitgeist. But now, as the fashion system has sped up the fashion cycle, there are new trends every six weeks and the old system of meaning doesn’t work anymore. So I believe – and I agree with Li Edelkoort – that we will slowly move towards a fashion system in which the product itself gains more value and is not outdated as soon as it’s been launched on a catwalk. Because we know how it is made, because of its strong story and its quality.
“State of Fashion” runs until July 22nd, 2018, and you find more information here!