This week, Vogue is hosting a series of talks virtually, through Zoom, between global editors-in-chief — like the U.K.'s Edward Enninful, Spain's Eugenia de la Torriente and China's Angelica Cheung — and influential figures in the fashion industry across the globe, from designers to executives.
The event, which spans four days, is titled Vogue Global Conversations, and it kicked off on Tuesday morning with Enninful in (socially-distant) conversation with Marc Jacobs (the editor in his home in London, the designer at the Mercer Hotel in New York) where the two discussed the future of creativity in fashion.
As New York continues to practice self-isolation, Jacobs said he has been working, though it has been more about "continuing to participate via Zoom with things that are ongoing."
"It's life that stimulates and provides a catalyst for what me and my team create each season, so I wouldn't say [self-isolation is] the most creative place to be," he explained. "It all just feels like a terrible, terrible episode of 'Black Mirror.'"
The biggest challenge for Jacobs, he told Enninful, has been "being present" during this time: "In this isolation, being present is a place of no fear. It's drifting off into the future that makes me quite frightened about what might be, what could be.... Living in the past, while it seems fun sometimes to revisit memories and how great everything was, I find, going forward, we have to let go of our past a little bit and learn something new. To carry around the past probably isn't the best way forward."
In fashion, he continued, "creating isn't done in a vacuum or a bubble — it might be done within the bubble of our fashion world, but it's the stimulation of the entire world that's the catalyst that gives us the drive and the energy and the passion to create. It's quite complicated, really."
Jacobs is concerned about our dependence on technology and screens — an issue that pre-dates the pandemic, he said — and how that will continue to affect the way we interact not just with each other, but with the world around us. "People coming to shows and holding up iPhones and iPads... making the live experience obsolete, in a way," he listed as an example of how this manifested before the world was in lockdown. "If we really do value the idea of human connection, we've got to take much better care of it."
When asked whether he's working on a new collection, the designer answered point-blank: "No."
"To be honest, I don't know what we'll be doing or when we'll be starting," he elaborated. "To design a collection, I need my team. And my team needs to look at fabric, and those fabrics come from Italy. We travel. [There are] a lot of things that go on." And they aren't necessarily possible in quarantine. So, Jacobs said, until they find an alternative way to collaborate and be creative and move forward, there may not be a new collection — and he's "grieving" the way he was used to working: "We've got to let go of old ideas. I don't know if I can get far enough in this process without grieving the process I knew and let go of that to see a new tomorrow."
After all, it's not just the process of designing that's changing, he added — it's the way it's produced, the way it's distributed, the way it's shown. "It's the new way of fashion," Enninful echoed.
As far as what the future holds, Jacobs himself doesn't have a firm answer. "I'm not sure there will be a Spring 2021 collection," he said. "If we get out of this at an early enough time for that to even be possible, it still requires research, fabric development and all this other stuff — if we were to do it the way we've always done it, which is the only way we currently know how to do it. The process won't allow for that old way of developing a collection."
His legendary fashion shows are also coming into question: "We certainly won't be showing it that way [we had been.] Already, last season, very few people came to New York, very few people showed in New York. The idea of everybody getting on a plane, coming to a show — from models to makeup artists to editors to journalists — that's just unrealistic to think about right now. I just don't think that when this lifts, everyone's just going to get back on a plane and back on a train and back on a bus to come to a show. We have to be patient with the process. While everyone wants to heal the economy and restore some sense of [normalcy], we have to be very careful because this is very real."
The pandemic, he continued, has exacerbated certain issues that were already affecting the fashion industry, like the slowdown of retail. "This has been a very difficult business to be in for a long time, I think," Jacobs explained. "We have struggled with how to reach the consumer because people aren't shopping in stores as much as they used to. They like to buy online. If we're going to rethink our business as an online business solely, then we need to think about what we make."
That might mean less red-carpet dresses, since red carpets may not be as big of a focus, he offered. "What I do and the clothes that I make and the way we present a show, it feels like that probably will never exist as we know it, the way we did it."
Jacobs's most recent collection, Fall 2020, closed New York Fashion Week in February. However, he said it wasn't able to go into production, because of the global shutdown. It went to a showroom in Paris for buyers to see and place orders, but many buyers left Paris Fashion Week early, as the coronavirus continued to spread through Europe, and no orders were placed, he explained. It had a domino effect: Because there were no orders from stores, they didn't place orders for fabrics, which mostly come from Italy, which at that point had shut down.
"The reality of a collection like that and the cost and the price of those clothes, it's produced in such small numbers, at such a great expense," Jacobs said. "It's always been something that's more about its halo effect... You see it in editorial and on the red carpet — it's more of a statement that's meant to inspire people and to keep the company and the world at large engaged in the conversation of fashion. It's a lab for ideas and thoughts and feelings."
Its contribution is more in influence, he argued: "It reaches so few, but its thoughts and ideas affect many more — in the cosmetics that are inspired by it or fragrances or accessories. Those are things that reach many more people. So I think, unfortunately, we didn't get to ride on the energy of that collection. I think [it] would've given birth to a lot of very dynamic thoughts."
Where we as an industry from here, Jacobs doesn't know. However, this reflection on the way things have been done and how they could be improved are likely to affect how we think of other practices, like the frequency of fashion shows. Jacobs clarified that he's always held a two-a-year stance on runways — he doesn't know if that will even be the case in the future, but he told Enninful that if he does return to that cadence, "I think that's all there needs to be."
"The amount of stuff we make and the quantity we make and the amount of time — it's just so excessive," Jacobs went on. "We've done everything to such excess that there is no consumer for all of it. And everyone's exhausted by it. No one really appreciates it. It's all become a chore, and it's a chore that's just a waste of time and energy and money and material. I think that whole waste is taking the luxury and the creativity out of [it]."