COMMENT

A Capsule in a Nutshell

London

11 October 2017

Trying to lay claim to an original idea in fashion often gets you into trouble. A respected maison can quickly become a glasshouse, so it's best not to debate who-did-what-and-when. Yet for the modern idea of the capsule collection, it's generally accepted that Donna Karan can take the credit – or the blame – for her mid-1980s Seven Easy Pieces collection: seven items of essential, rational and seasonless clothing.

From this humble beginning, the capsule collection has grown into an amorphous, gluttonous, avaricious concept that can include almost anything. Old styles recycled and repackaged; celebrities dabbling in design; over-hyped collaborations – anything that sells, regardless of integrity or necessity. Hysterically anticipated H&M guest-designer collections start with a huge cheque for the famous creator and hopefully end with a riot on the shop floor. The 2016 "Official Fake" collection of reworked previous-season pieces by tax-haven-based subversives Vetements sold out in an hour, despite its sole point of retail being a warehouse in the middle of the South Korean countryside. Meanwhile – if you didn't spend enough just to get in – the shop at the Met in New York was recently turned into a Comme des Garçons store for the duration of the Japanese label's retrospective, with even-more-special Met editions of the supposedly already-special Comme editions of the Nike VaporMax on sale.

A capsule collection can encompass any offering in addition to the seasonal cycle of spring/summer and autumn/winter, and, speaking as a designer, this is the problem. Huge companies like Gucci or Saint Laurent have upwards of 2,000 pieces in each main collection every six months. More is always more, so there are also two pre-collections that drop between the main seasonal deliveries. If you include two seasons of menswear, you get a total of six or eight main collections every year. Thousands of clothes and bags and shoes, all done by a poorly paid design team that usually numbers no more than 15 people. You can imagine the enthusiasm and creativity that designers are able to muster for a capsule collection. We're professionals and we want to care, but we know we're only doing these collections for the money, which we rarely see anyway. Buy into them all you want, but at least you should know too.