Demise of the fashion industry: simple elegant clothes stage a comeback

As I sift through the wreckage of the fashion industry, whose fortunes are getting dimmer by the day with the financial crisis dragging on, I ask myself what has really changed and what has not. Over the past ten years, the easy-money economy has created an entire ecosystem that encouraged gaudy, overpriced clothes for women whose entire existence depended upon showing off the fact that they had money, but no taste.

Fashion magazines became celebrity gossip rags showing starlets in Roberto Cavalli’s hideous (but expensive) dresses, where every square centimeter is covered with some kind of print or frutsel. TV shows like “Sex and the City” glorified the kind of  conspicuous brand consumption (Manolo Blahnik shoes, Fendi baguette bags) that only someone with a six-figure salary could afford (definitely NOT the Sarah Jessica Parker character on the show). Right before the world’s economic system entered its intensive-care phase, women found themselves unquestioningly paying over $1000 for handbags. I remember the good old days (in the 1990s) when a handbag that cost between $500 and $1000 was considered extravagant.

I need to dial back to the 1990s to remember with fondness the beauty and elegance of Sergio Rossi’s shoes before Gucci took over the company. Gucci Group, led by Tom Ford and Domenico de Sole, wrecked Sergio Rossi. Gone was the original Rossi family, making gorgeous shoes for stylish women. What filled the shelves of Sergio Rossi boutiques were extremely high-heeled, vulgar creations that one would associate with high-end hookers (basically the style of the “new Gucci” as reinvented by Tom Ford). I stopped buying Sergio Rossi shoes after Gucci Group took over the company. Recently, they’ve shut down the US stores of Sergio Rossi. Although my bank account was very thankful to the Gucci Group for making Sergio Rossi’s shoes unappealing, I am saddened by the demise of this great brand (and the family’s exit from the business).

That’s why I was thrilled to see the 2009 fall collection from Jil Sander, the fashion house founded by (the still active) Jil Sander (now designing for Uniqlo). The designer at Jil Sander is Raf Simons, a Belgian whose clean, simple elegant lines bring fashion back to where it has always been, at least for me. These are clothes (see below) that anyone from the ages of 18 to 85 can wear.

jil sander fall 2009 ensemblejil sander fall 2009 dress

The Financial Times Weekend edition (March 21-22, 2009) published an article entitled “Fashion for Grown-Ups: Do this season’s favorites work if you’re over 25?”, to help women out of their teenage years select clothes that don’t make them look like teen pop idols or underage Las Vegas call girls. This is how low the fashion industry has gone, but now that people have much less money, they will be much more critical about how they shop.

There are a few fashion houses that still create clothes, shoes and accessories which make women look beautiful, dignified and confident:

(1) Jil Sander (see above): expensive but if you are going to spend these sums of money on clothes, it’s at the top of the list.

(2) Max Mara and Sportmax: less expensive, although still pricey, they have never wavered from their dedication to quality and style. They still make the best coats.

(3) Agnes b.: French fashion house that does not advertise in magazines, has a few stores around the world, much more affordable than Max Mara and Jil Sander.

(4) Bally: you can still find beautiful shoes and bags although this Swiss company is dangerously skirting the edge of vulgarity in their drive for more profits. This is one company that could end up in the Roberto Cavalli/Gucci camp of vulgar accessories and clothes.

(5) Lanvin: thank heavens, Alber Elbaz is designing for them. Elbaz is supremely talented and his clothes make women look alluring, not cheap.

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Here is my graveyard of fashion houses that used to make decent clothes and accessories, but have gone over to the Cavalli mentality of sticking more ornamentation and prints to distract the lady from the fact that she is paying lots of money to look sleazy:

  • Sergio Rossi
  • Chloe
  • Celine (when Michael Kors was designing for them, it was wonderful)
  • Gucci shoes and bags (became much worse under Frida Giannini if one can even imagine that)
  • YSL (I don’t think Stefano Pilati comes close to the late Yves Saint Laurent, regardless of how much the fashion magazines fawn over him)
About Esme Vos

Esme Vos is the founder of Shopplr, a site on fashion, beauty and design. Esme is the founder of Mapplr.com (travel guides and hotel reviews) and MuniWireless (WiFi networks).