The Fashion Professorship aims to rethink the cracks in the fashion system and the role that fashion plays – and could potentially play – in relation to urgent social, cultural, environmental and political developments in contemporary society. We envision an alternative and more engaged future of fashion in which we do more justice to fashion’s human dimension. Through research, design and critical thinking, we analyse and develop alternative approaches, systems, vocabularies and strategies. In doing so, we aim to activate the power of fashion to reimagine future bodies, future materials and future makers to contribute to resilient futures and inclusive societies.
Fashion in times of the coronacrisis, and post-crisis
by Karmen Samson
In response to our Open Call, MA Fashion Strategy alumna Karmen Samson decided to join the conversation and wrote a beautiful letter on the changing, subjective experience of time. Thank you for contributing, Karmen!
Sept. 22 2020
Autumn day: 01
Dear Hanka and Danielle,
Thank you for starting this dialogue about the coronacrisis and opening it up to all who feel addressed. I’ve read the letters from the other writers with both joy and apprehension. Isn't it remarkable how much has changed in a short amount of time? Complete industries had to adjust, as our lives got shut down.
Even fashion was forced to change its set ways.
For me, the period from March until today has been one big blur. As my daily life and social and work-related activities and structures got rescinded, I noticed that I got numbed for the passage of time. This as a result of the main things that provided me a framework of our annual time course, got postponed or erased from our collective calendar.
We are a couple of months into the coronacrisis, and I have realized how little I'm depending on the months and seasons for my notion of the passage of time and by that also, my place in time. I understand this now as a consequence of two things.
One: all seasons, due to global warming, nowadays being very much alike. The seasons are transferring seamlessly into each other without any clear distinctions. Of course aside from some exceptional weather events (yet another side effect of climate change).
Two: The lack of social structures and events led to a loss of direction to this year, or any other pre-arranged time frame. The coronacrisis forced the world population to leave their study and workspaces. Remaining home as much as possible. The national holiday celebrations, graduations, festivals, cultural events, birthdays and other social gatherings that used to give profound meaning and joy to our lives, got canceled.
All of this made me think about the correlation between time and fashion. As fashion, historically, is founded on and constructed through the passage of time. Meaning in a more practical sense, the designation of seasons. After some contemplation, I decided to observe fashion as an entity of time, rather than the fashion industry. And soon I found out that fashion also had a hard time finding its place within time. Let me explain…
The philosophy of time states that we move through space as we like, we can choose to go to some other location in space. We can’t choose to go to some other location in time. We enviably move through time at the rate of one second per second. Time is relentless, where space is up to us, how to move in. Due to the global lockdown, we suddenly got limited in our spaces. This in combination with the fixed limit of time it self, resulted, at least for me, in losing track of time in a broader seasonal and annual perspective. As there was literally no space or events to move through or to.
That's to say that my notion and instinctively experience of time stopped. Time is a unit of measure. A clock is something that does the same thing over and over again in a repetitive way. And so, with clocks, we can measure the passage of time. A well-known example is the earth rotating around its axis and simultaneously revolving around the sun. These are two things the earth does and does that in a predictable way. They are comparable to each other. This is predictable. The sun is one clock, but also the stars, the moon and other planets are reliable clocks of nature we can observe in the sky. It gives us repetitive phenomena that we can use to measure the passage of time.
A good clock should do something you can rely on, that does a certain action over and over again. Fashion is as time, predictable as it follows a repetitive and rigid rhythm every collection cycle. Just like time, fashion is a form of measurement, showing the beginning until the end of something. In fashion’s case, the period of blooming and decay of a trend translated into a commodified collection. Philosophically speaking, we could therefore say that fashion is also a clock. As fashion moves in the same repetitive structure every ‘season’ collection presentation - new collection in-store - mid-season sale - final sale - collection presentation. Or spring/summer - autumn/winter etcetera. Change for the sake of novelty is the only constant, the only thing we can count on.
Time / Fashion. Time is inherent to fashion, fashion is even a system for time to some extent. We think of reality in one moment of time. We think of fashion(able) also in one moment of time. Fashion is a style that is popular at a particular time, especially in clothes.
Place / Fashion. Practically speaking the place of fashion would be at a store, catwalk, or wardrobe. But that is from a perspective that only sees garments as fashion. Fashion as an abstraction arises and exists everywhere and nowhere. It is an ethereal energy.
But the pandemic and global lockdown has disrupted this rhythm. Fashion weeks have been canceled, stores were closed; the fashion calendar and seasons are turned upside down. Meaning that fashion could not carry out its normal repetitional actions, and therefore, not be able to measure time. This results in aunfathomableperiod of time. Something critics of the fashion industry have been longing for quite some years, even decades, now. Due to Covid-19 fashion finally did slow down.
Thankfully some fashion brands and designers adapted to this new area by postponing their collections (or rather moving monthly drops into later seasons) and canceling their collection presentations. In March La Federation de Couture canceled Paris Fashion Week. And brands such as Temperley London, Chanel and Versace decided to postpone their collections store launches. These designers are thus acknowledging that there is not a real difference in when or what is presented. The only thing that matters is the manifestation of the new, the execution and the presentation of this. All for the valorization of the new.
This abstract freezing of time resulted in fashion taking a less rigid and more fluid attitude towards time but also space. It finally developed the capability of practicing an overarching view. Daring to concede the lack of importance of the new and hitting the break regarding fashion as a mere form of consumption.
One could wonder, did it really take a pandemic for the fashion industry to become a bit flexible regarding the speed of fashion? Letting go of a seasonal system, that doesn't even follow the seasons any longer due to environmental weather changes and many more collections produced than seasons exist, seems so simple, yet, unthinkable for fashion for a long time.
However, it seems like the vast majority of fashion brands and designers have an deeply rooted insecurity for structural change, inevitably many big fashion chains rushed into panic discount strategies.
Even before the first day of autumn, I received an email from cos. The mid-season sale starts online now. I got confused. Which season? We are nearly at the end of summer, how could it possibly be that a midseason sale is already being announced?
Will the increasing of fashion’s online presence accelerate the sales period and the rhythm of the collection seasons?
By doing so these brands and designers adopted an eternalist view: a theory regarding time which states that the past, present and future became the same. This means, within the context of fashion, that instead of only valuing the current collection and moment they proved themselves able to see the broader perspective. By taking themselves outside their everyday experience and developing an omni-gaze, treating the past, present and future on an equal footing. Thus, placing the value of the new on an equal footing with the old.
If every moment in time becomes the past, is there really a present?
If every moment in fashion becomes old-fashioned, is there really a new?
This newly gained understanding of the new also ties up with fashion’s capability of performing a tigerspung. Tigersprung meaning a tiger’s leap, was conceptualized in the context of fashion by Ulrich Lehmann, who was inspired by Walter Benjamin. Benjamin equated it to fashion's leap into the past to create an ever-changing present. Indicating that fashion from the past, present and future are exchangeable and thus have the same value, with no signification of time being necessary. This loosening up on the concept of time thus suggests that the future of fashion will be more rhizomatic instead of linear. “A rhizome has no beginning or end,” declared Deleuze and Guattari, in a series of works they titled Capitalism and Schizophrenia.  “It is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.” This automatically also subverted the, still strongly hierarchical structure within fashion. As the past, present and future are equally as valuable, the old, now and new therefore as well. This consequently raises the question if the need for a source of creating fashion is still needed, as the structures and regulations are proven to be, paradoxically, old fashioned.
Fashion sells a product in which time is inherent.
As time slowed down, did the demand for commodified fashion as well?
This raises the question if fashion has been using seasonal thinking as a hideout, a scapegoat, to remain free and untouched in their production newness for the sake of the commodity? I would say so. In this current day and age, it makes absolutely no sense to stick to any time frame or cycle. Seasons are more alike. It all results in us not needing the season.
Seasonal thinking has created a set-up in which fast fashion has flourished grandly. As the passage of time continues, the value of a fashion item decreases. The more time, the less valuable. It did, however, not evolve healthily, with many malfunctions and desires still in there. Fast fashion has turned communicating through fashion into a mutant.
As I told you at the beginning of my letter, I lost my notion of time due to the cancelation of social gatherings and events which gave, evidently, structure to my annual perspective of time. Analyzing the past half-year, I can see that fashion also had a social structure, which tied up with its self-made calendar and seasons. No fashion weeks, no showroom days, nor new collections in stores. The only thing that remained was visual promotion strategies combined with deep discounting. The limitation in space resulted in a pause of time. And a timeless period in fashion occurred.
Fashion’s value creation is in flux
The fashion industry has been claiming to desire change. This pandemic has forced the fashion industry to re-think and re-structure the whole system. Creating a different kind of stability, which is based on sensibility and reason rather on tradition and hierarchical regimes. The normalization of deviance of the design to consume has begun to falter. The need for seasons even more so.
The coronacrises showed me that fashion is able to work like a clock and measure time at its own pace. That’s why I would like to end with a final question.
Why not reset of the fashion clock?
>> Join us in this ongoing conversation about fashion in times of the coronacrisis and post-crisis, and click here to reply all.
Poidevin Le, R.(1993). The Philosophy of Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press on Demand.
The Great Courses Plus (2018) What Is Time? | Professor Sean Carroll explains the theories of Presentism and Eternalism. [online video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAScJvxCy2Y (Accessed 22/09/2020)