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Fashion during crisis and post-crisis: how did it change and how it’s changing now

It’s been more than a year since the first time we heard experts comparing the Covid-19 economic crisis to the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the postwar period. Back then, webinar and podcasts tried to foresee the possible developments and changes in the fashion system. And now, after one year, we are trying to sum everything up.

By Beatrice Jennifer Tagliabue

Past is precious because it gives us the possibility to analyze and better understand the way certain situations have been handled, what worked in a specific time, what were the consequences, what changed, how and why.

Both the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis and the two postwar periods have brought radical changes in fashion, as it evolves with society telling its story through clothes.

November 1918: World War I came to an end, a war that saw men leaving for battlefields and women going to work to replace the male figure and survive economically.

As a consequence, the 20s was a decade characterized by parties, frivolity, dances and thoughtlessness: people wanted to have fun, The Great Gatsby is a proof.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da C I N E M A D E L A R T E (@cinemadelarte)

Fashion inevitably changed, and the splendor of the Belle Époque was replaced by a sense of freedom never had before, especially for womenswear. It was at the beginning of this decade that queen Gabrielle Coco Chanel made her real appearance in the fashion scene.

Her shapes and lines were not as tight as they used to be, she used jersey a lot, a softer and more elastic fabric, she shortened the skirts and transformed and introduced male clothes into the women’s wardrobe, providing not only more comfortability and freedom in the movements, but also the courage to women to make themselves, to emancipate and to be independent.

In the 30s, she created her iconic Chanel Tailleur: a new chic and elegant uniform composed by a men’s blazer and straight skirt or trousers, perfect to go to work without losing class. This will contribute a lot to the new idea of woman and femininity.

Settembre 1945: con la resa dell’ultima unità di combattimento tedesca termina la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, più dura di quella precedente.

September 1945: the return of the last German army declared World War II finished.

The situation was even worse than the previous one: demographic decrease, dead industries and cities fragmented by bombs.

Once again, during this war women had to take men’s responsibilities and the “CC41 – Utility Clothing Scheme” at the beginning of the 40s threw away the concept of style and fashion: clothes were inspired by military uniforms.

However, in 1947, after the War ended, French couturier Christian Dior presented his first ever fashion collection, which will then be remembered as the New Look, reaching worldwide success.

Dior’s New Look rewrote the history of fashion, restoring the femininity, the elegance and the charm that got lost during the war.

The iconic piece of the collection, the Bar Suit, was composed by a slim-waisted jacket, a pleated skirt above the knees, gloves and a large hat.

Despite this type of uniform was way stricter than Chanel’s (with the New Look the waist got smaller and the skirts wider), the emphasis on women’s curves was appreciated, probably because the war took female sensuality away. The 40s and 50s were tough years for Chanel, but don’t worry: she will rise again, but this is another story.

2007-2008: Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and the Great Recession period got started. The crisis of Wall Street had consequences all over the world, especially in Europe.

I remember my fashion history teacher saying that the Fall 2007/2008 Dior’s Haute Couture collection, under the direction of John Galliano, was the last real and true Haute Couture runway since Yves Saint Laurent’s revolution, because from that moment on, due to the imminent crisis, high fashion would not have been the same.

And it was true, let’s just compare that Dior’s show to Dior’s 2012 Couture show under the leadership of Raf Simons.

The Great Recession changed society, and so people’s needs changed with it. Haute Couture was then no more seen as a stage to exhibit a designer’s highest artistic and creative ability, as it started to become simpler and more commercial: it had to sell.

February 2020: Covid-19 started to expand in Italy, arriving soon in the rest of Europe and the world. Confusion, fear, uncertainty and unbelief dominated the Italian scene, and in March of the same year the Country declared the lockdown for the first time. Italy closed and people got locked in their houses: while the government was asking us to stop, we were thinking about alternative ways to move on.

Online sales, the first traits of the upcoming economic crisis, remote schooling and Instagram lives.

Fashion’s fast rhythm slowed down, factories started manufacturing face masks and the sales’ drops brought to the first negative semester for many fashion brands.

However, the industry didn’t give up and adapted to changes turning into digital, pushing the e-commerce channel and experimenting with social media.

But then summer came, and with that the will of starting fresh new and the fashion weeks of June and September: brands choose different ways to showcase their collections, from videogames to mini-series.

Not only the contents changed, but also the way it is presented and their objective. On one hand, ready-to-wear had a more laid back, concrete and intimate approach: Valentino presented its collaboration with Levi’s, Silvia Venturini Fendi was inspired by house’s warm atmosphere and Saint Laurent introduced knitwear and biker shorts.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Fendi (@fendi)

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da SAINT LAURENT (@ysl)

On the other hand, Haute Couture took another direction instead, getting closer to what used to be before: it is no more the maximum artistic expression of designers, but the maximum manifestation of the brand’s values.

It is impossible not to notice a change either in the fashion system and in the way we consume and look at fashion.

Besides we haven’t gone out of the crisis yet, we have found a switch especially in our style, divided by the comfort of the loungewear and the will to dress up, and despite we don’t know what the final consequences will be, we know that fashion might slow down, but never stops.