During the lockdown we experienced what living in a sustainable world really means: no consumption, no production, no traffic, no emissions. Yet we have not saved the world and we do not even feel better than before.
On the contrary, we are angry because this empty theater did not show a return to the state of nature but the whole crystal fragility of our cultural superstructures. We also experienced diversity in its most extreme form: life, disease and death. Because with this outbreak, we are all subject to an illness that does not discriminate against gender, race or religion. Still, the first time the media eased attention on COVID-19, they did it to tell George Floyd’s story of racial violence. So, apparently, even this time we didn’t learn anything.
They say that between our four walls, we finally had a chance to experience our creative nature to carry on a more authentic idea of design, driven only by our fantasy, with no external influences. Pure utopia, because the Internet, the real place where we live now, is full of things to be virtually copied. Moreover, fashion viewed on a flat-screen simply becomes graphic design to be modified in its decorative parts, without a real change in silhouettes, cuts and volumes. Of course, now we have our tablets to draw, 3-D design software to make our creations look three-dimensional, avatar meetings and even virtual fashion shows.
All insanely useful and progressive, but just substitutes for real fashion.
Fashion doesn’t exist without physical interaction. Clothes and accessories are made to be worn on our bodies, they must be smelled and touched, they must remind us of the mythical figures that have been repeated in our subconscious forever, they give us an identity and a role in our relationships with others. Real fashion serves to decide who does what to whom. Cynical to say but that’s how it has worked for some time now: the new slogan that I call virtual insanity might soon take the place of sustainability, diversity and authenticity as a topic that all media praises, all intellectuals justify and to which all people must finally bow to. But pay attention, not everything virtual is virtuous and not everything that looks insane is genuinely sane.
Fashion after COVID-19 will need more quality because people got used to getting straight to the point in recent times. We can no longer stand the formless jumpsuits we wore during the lockdown but neither the creative redundancy of the pre-pandemic period. Apparently, collections will no longer follow the frenzied rhythms of fashion weeks and this will be a great occasion because if designers now create new products only when they feel inspired, stores can be visited more frequently, above all, by clients always searching for goosebumps. Therefore, retail spaces need to be conceived according to new archetypes, previous mausoleums and supermarkets are out. This is not a slogan.
What fashion really needs to do after the pandemic is what it has actually done in every historical tipping point: a type of innovation that does not just create new products, but invents new ways to conceive them. Between the two great wars, Chanel in women’s wear and Ferragamo in footwear introduced new materials, shapes and occasions of use. During the 1978 crisis, Armani deconstructed a jacket and completely redefined men’s wear. The Nineties were supposed to be the end of the world and instead, we had the Avant-Garde movement. The system’s recovery will depend on the hands that we now cannot use, on the human relationships that have now been banned, on human ingenuity and not on virtual reality or other fancy shortcuts.
The history of the city where we live, Florence, teaches us that after the plague comes Renaissance, as long as creativity is fed by tycoons like Cosimo De’ Medici and his grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent. The new Leonardo must be identified as well as the new Margiela. We must reconnect art, fashion, music, cinema and education. We need the street, nightlife and new neighborhoods. We must give new life to historical buildings and bring the headquarters of big brands to the city center. Technology giants must finance the creative industry as bankers did in the Renaissance, not replace it. An app-controlled big data-driven world would be unbearable, Alexander McQueen already warned us in his Dante collection.
This issue does not only concern fashion as a mirror of society but also fashion education as part of its foundation. As one of the world’s top-ranked fashion schools hosting more than 2,000 students from 70 different countries and aged between 18 and 28, we thought of replacing the graduation show traditionally held in mid-June with a virtual one due to the current safety restrictions this year. We consulted the best producers, did all of the necessary tests and reached a good quality, but we didn’t feel represented by that stuff at all. So, in the end, we decided that the show will only be organized when it will be possible to perform it live, in a cool location, with models, music, guests and with all garments designed and hand-sewn by our students.
Our grandparents serenaded each other under windows, our parents met at home with gramophones, we had clubs and concerts and our children link videos on social networks but everything is always a matter of declaring love and hate to someone. It is those human feelings that we really care about. Furthermore, the epidermis is our first skin, clothes are the second, homes and cities are the third and technology is only the fourth, so it can wait a little longer. We are happy that this was the occasion to think about such a topic and we respect all those who have made a different choice but this is our statement: when technology is at the service of humans we embrace it and when it becomes the substitute we reject it. That’s it.
Danilo Venturi is the director of the Polimoda fashion institute, which counts three campuses in Florence.