How the Chinese platform is dictating the changes in the fashion world.
Imagine a Gen Z approaching, looking at you intently for a few seconds, and then commenting on your look with an “it is a very Dark Academia vibe” or “the dress really has a CottageCore soul,” panic! (or how we say in Italy “First reaction: shock!”). Is it an insult? Is it a compliment? What does it even mean? The world is changing and there is only one platform responsible for these new ways of speaking: TikTok.
There have always been two months heavily marked on the calendar of every fashionista: February and August, the two key times of the year. Magazines splurge on new trends, stores fill up with new collections, and fashionistas hang on the lips of designers who paint the world to their liking. The chain of trend diffusion has always followed this three-step process, starting with the presentation of the designers and the new collections moving into the hands of opinion makers and trendsetters. This leads the vast majority of fashion lovers to look for these pieces, clothes that enter in this way the mainstream phase and fill the shelves of half the world. “And then [they are] trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin” because the new must-have of the season has arrived. Miranda Priestley’s unforgettable speech in “The Devil wears Prada” and the cerulean controversy explains this three-phase process in an elegant and edgy way, so if you cannot recall this scene: GO NOW AND FIX IT!
Every year, designers dictate the ground rules for being in vogue in the following months. WGSN, a trend forecasting company, bases its work precisely on analyzing what will be trendy in the future. The difference, it seems, this time would be in the generation, and in fact, Gen Z is overturning quite a few sectors. We all remember Trump’s Rally prank or the strikes on climate change, and these are just examples of what they can do. Young people are making their voices heard and they are doing it through platforms like TikTok, which has become a window to a new world, now that our doors are closed, with us inside.
As for the fashion system, the awareness of these new consumers, with their attention to detail, provenance, and ethicality of the garment, is shaking up the values that have been central to this industry until now.
If until recently it was the big fashion houses that dictated the annual trends, the scepter of power has changed hands and TikTok churns out clothing trends that – sometimes unknowingly – fill our closets. Dark Academia is the first major example of this change at the top, but what is this “trend”? It’s a real subculture, grown on TikTok, starting from the nostalgia for the pre-pandemic classes and taking inspiration from 19th century English private, Ivy League boarding schools as well as from fantasy schools like Hogwarts and following their aesthetics. An actual uniform, an aesthetic that goes beyond just clothing, but that includes books, music, hobbies, and sports, all in palettes of course. A passion for art and knowledge romanticized and currently inaccessible. Featuring colors like forest green, brown and burgundy, fabrics like corduroy and tweed, songs by Liszt, Leonard Cohen and Lorde, books like Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” – an essential text – and movies like Kill Your Darlings and Dead Poets Society, this trend is a blend of key cultural works from the past few decades, and the contents that carry the #DarkAcademia are 509 million.
(Here some TikTok links to explore this hashtag: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMee4GrNw/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeVPLhx/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeVrWb3/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeV6ybm/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeqdRLc/)
Arising away from the runway shows, however, was another trend, Cottagecore, and unlike the former’s dark vibe, it features flowery lawns, puffy sleeves, and lace collars, inspired by the rural aesthetic, based on a fascination with nature and luxurious outdoor spaces. In this case, content comes in at 5.2 billion. Yes, you read that right…billions!
(Here some other TikTok links: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeV39J5/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeVEraa/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeVWS3W/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeV4vm9/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeVqAq7/ – https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMeeVVynH/)
Nostalgia for a life yet to be lived
The aesthetics of these trends are the digital alternative for all those students and young people who have had to put their plans for education and future on hold and find themselves only able to fantasize about something that has yet to happen and potentially never will. It’s a way of exploiting the current situation no matter what, fascinating in its mystery and detachment from reality and unattainable, but still reassuring in times of great uncertainty like the one we are forced to live through.
These tendencies born in the privacy and isolation of someone’s bedroom are the highest form of modern evasion, of rejection of current reality, of a disappointment for political failures and the countercultural response to the tragedy of an endless pandemic. Having literally no one around us to dress for, we started wearing what made us feel good, and the inspiration came from the only things available, such as social media, books, and movies.
Of course, anyone can be a part of it. There have been those who have criticized these movements by branding them with elitism and Eurocentrism, as “once again valuing only the Western canon”, but the truth is that GenZ’s characteristic inclusiveness makes no such distinctions and fights these criticisms to the tune of vintage finds and great literary classics. If in the real-world students from BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds still make up a small portion of those who can attend these elite universities, in the digital one they can claim their place in these contexts, contributing to these movements by bringing their own way of life. You don’t need castles or large amounts of money to really be part of these colleges, you just need an internet connection and a photographic filter that captures the characteristics of the analog cameras to be part of this new reality. This inclusiveness seeks to break down the distinctions that exist in the real world and that are not yet eliminated, creating a new space, which can be just as attractive, so much so that it is able to influence the fashion market without actually having any major privileged figures.
The consequences for the luxury industry
What seems clear, then, is that the concept of ‘trend’ itself has changed, because it now arises in different places and in different ways than it always has. If initially, the big brands had time to build trends and position them in the market at the right time, with this reversal, they must now be the ones trying to keep up. Instant apps like Depop fly into the Olympus of the most used (Gen Z is known to have a keen eye for environmental issues, and also, we’re broke), while old-school fashion remains a step behind due to the speed of change of these trends. We can already see the first effects, and it’s no coincidence that in the new Dior collection presented digitally by Maria Grazia Chiuri, the brand’s first female creative director, a style and a theme have been chosen that are linked to these new digital creative impulses. The fashion film made by director Matteo Garrone is called “Le Chateau du Tarot”, in which all the characters represent tarot cards, with dresses with embroidery and inlays, worked with peplums and Bar jackets, monochrome and velvet, with a few pearls here and there. So, we find the Papessa, the Sun and the Moon, the Fool and Justice leading a protagonist in search of herself in a mysterious and unreal castle, where a story with esoteric contours is outlined. The atmosphere from which you are surrounded is not far from what we have come to know as Dark Academia, which with its aesthetic has references to film, music, and literature.
What is clear is that in 2021 people play chess, read tarot cards, prefer old books, and surround themselves with candles. But we could cite many other examples, such as the designer knitwear that echoes the DIY of quarantine (and Harry Styles), represented by the Jacquemus campaign, particularly with sage green – color also familiar to Academia – or the E-boy style that Celine chose for its latest men’s collection. Miu Miu presented a Gen Z-friendly show, taking the teenage approach of the moment with sweatpants and crop tops, Chanel and Gucci were influenced by old Y2K reminiscences with paillettes trousers, while Sportmax and Givenchy focused on layered printed mesh tops. If in the last few years, the fashion world had turned its head to looking at street style and what’s being worn IRL, with the pandemic, that’s no longer possible (for obvious reasons…) and all these inspirations are being fished out of the place where all style has poured in: Socials. TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest become the new catwalks and dictate the rules for the coming months. And if you ever need some inspiration for the future, all you have to do is immerse yourself in these new worlds that make us feel far from home and in the middle of a runway show.