Why Do Fashion Brands Continue to Look Back?

It seems that fashion is increasingly referential. Nothing is really new anymore. No new silhouettes are created. No new innovations are made. Nothing. But is this a bad thing? And is it unexpected?

I started to think about this topic after catching up with all of the shows at Milan Fashion Week. There were two brands in particular that I felt specifically looked back in time, into their own archives – Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. However, their techniques were different. Versace was deliberate, Dolce & Gabbana was not.

This season’s Versace show was, as Donatella put it, a tribute to her late brother Gianni Versace, to mark the twenty year anniversary of his death. The show was filled with her takes on his most famous designs. It was like the highlight reel of Gianni Versace’s career and what made him, and the family name, famous and into a brand. Donatella looked back into the archives (no, literally, she went to the physical archives and looked at his pieces) and chose the silhouettes and prints which were most iconic and ran with it. She featured the Marilyn Monroe and James Deen portraits by Andy Warhol (which Gianni turned into a multi-colored, tile print), she used the baroque that was last en vogue back in 2013 when hip-hop artists like Migos and Drake were obsessed with the brand, and the leopard print (most notably, the yellow version worn by Kaia Gerber who opened the show). According to this New York Times article on the show, “Every garment will come complete with a label that notes the collection and the year, so consumers will know the moment of origin.”. It is a way to incorporate the brand’s history into it’s present show but do it in a way that is of the moment but still collectable. I suspect that items from this show will be just as valuable as the originals from 20+ years ago. Many have wondered if this collection was Donatella’s farewell to the brand as rumors about her imminent departure have been swirling for months now, but she says otherwise. It was, in fact, just a tribute to her late and beloved brother. Of course, no mention of this show would be complete without bringing up the finale which featured the supermodels of Gianni’s shows marching out to Freedom ’90, the iconic George Michael song which lent its sounds to a Versace show back in 1991. Of course, the crowd went wild for this. It was nostalgia at its finest, and that’s what made this show great.

The finale gowns at Versace.

Dolce & Gabbana, on the other hand, offered none of the nostalgia factor. They produced a show of beautiful, albeit boring, clothes that could’ve been any one of their shows from the past five years. Dolce & Gabbana refuse to innovate anymore and it has gotten dull. It is hard to believe that 10 years ago, they were one of the main attractions in Milan and they actually made futuristic, fashion-forward styles. Remember the show opened by Snejana Onopka strutting down the light-up runway, after arriving in a glass elevator and descending down some stairs, to the sound of Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back? That would never happen nowadays. Instead they play it safe, season after season, year after year. I guess they are doing what works for them and their business, but that is why Versace was all over your social media for the entire weekend and Dolce & Gabbana was a blip that almost went unnoticed.

Dolce & Gabbana SS07

Designers often look back though, at their past work (like the No. 21 show, also at Milan Fashion Week), or at the brand’s own heritage. That’s what almost every designer does who becomes the Creative Director of a storied brand, like Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne. The chainmail, futuristic styles are nothing new, but they work and people love them because they look cool. It is said that Alexander McQueen was so impressive because he is one of the only designers of the past quarter century to create a brand new silhouette, the Bumster, the ultra low-rise pant style which exposed the top of the butt and caused women to shave their pubic hair because the top of the area was revealed. When the Bumster trickled down into mainstream fashion, it came in the form of low-rise jeans, beloved by your favorite mid-2000s celebs who loved to show off their g-strings peeking out above their waistband.

McQueen’s Bumster

Maybe this is just how fashion is going to be going forward. It isn’t about innovation. It’s about commercialism. It’s about sales. It’s about social media coverage. It’s about short-term attention. It’s about building a brand. The only way to build a brand is to be consistent, but I believe that there is a way to do it by innovating or making some changes and introducing new things along the way.

Eve Gardiner is the founder and content creator behind evegardiner.com

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