Mental Health

The fashion industry is often portrayed as an industry full of glamour, extravagance and fun, where creative eccentric people create out of this world masterpieces. But beneath the glamorous exterior lies a dark and unspoken secret. When the party’s are over and the catwalk’s are done, we’re left with an artists,unable to switch off and trying to reach an unattainable high. It’s time we spoke about mental health in the fashion industry.

Here at Focus we take mental health seriously and with World Mental Health Day just around the corner (10th of October) we feel it is our duty to talk about what generally goes unspoken in the fashion industry. For outsiders the fashion calendar can be a difficult one to get their head round. For anyone that follows the fashion calendar its an endless parade of fashion shows, fittings, campaigns and long days. The fashion calendar use to run on a six month cycle, it now has been cut in half and if you ask any designer at a major fashion house, it feels much more like a three week cycle. What makes the situation even worse is the fact that the work load has mostly increased despite the shorter turnaround time. The fashion calendar is jam packed, there are couture shows in January and July, runway in Autumn and Spring, cruise collections twice a year and some fashion houses do both men’s and womenswear. Then add to that list other lines such as bags, perfumes, make up and Children’s wear. It comes as no surprise as to why so many people that work in the fashion industry suffer from mental health problems.

Its no secret that the fashion industry is ruthless and the pressure and demands in the jobs can lead people to breakdowns. Fashion demands perfection and so it attracts perfectionists such as Galliano, who was let go from his position at Dior due to racist rants. Who later confessed to regularly downing bottles of vodka and taking pills as it was the only way he could switch off. Yves Saint Laurent was another designer that frequently took drugs and alcohol and at the end could barely walk down the runway at this own catwalk show. The sadist one being Alexander McQueen a fashion icon and genius who turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his own demons before committing suicide in 2011. Although all these designers are different with their designs, they all share the need to push boundaries and deliver outstanding cutting edge design’s season after season. And with the industry only getting faster and the schedules only getting fuller, the expectation on designers are building every year.

The fashion industry has existed for years, so why all of a sudden does it seem all these designers have this extra pressure? We live in an age where information is needed and used at a much faster rate. Things seem old to us much faster, so this create a clientele that is in constant demand for new things. Designers aim to keep up with this demand by taking on more and more then they can handle, as they need to keep up with competitors too. This creates an unhealthy amount of pressure and causes huge strain. Galliano shared his feelings in an interview with Vanity Fair, “I had all these voices in my head, asking so many questions. I was afraid to say no, I thought it showed weakness. And with more success, I would just say yes. And keep on taking more work on, which took its toll. I was going to end up in a mental asylum or six feet under.” Galliano was overseeing an incredible 32 collections a year between Dior and his own label, this lead him to feel “emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally bankrupt” and led him to drink and drugs. “That was a man who was broken, drugged, at the end of his tether, virtually insane,” said Nick Knight. “John wasn’t that person.” Speaking to French newspaper Le Point, Galliano offered one expiation for his behaviour: “I’ve been told I committed professional suicide because it was the only escape from the terrible pressures I was facing.” In a world where tastes changes twice a year, it is always possible that the fashions will change leaving last season’s most talked about out of the spotlight of which they have become accustom. Isabella Blow allegedly committed suicide out of her ‘concern’ for her “waning celebrity status”; the anxiety of remaining ‘in’ with the crowd is perhaps nowhere more intense than it is in the fashion world.

Individuality, these cases are tragic, but they point towards a larger problem, high pressure and expectation mixed together with an impossible workload is a toxic cocktail, and leads many people in the fashion industry to substance abuse, depression and self harm. But for some reason, this poisonous deadly lifestyle is being undermined by the fashion industry, by the glamorisation which fashion bestows on unhealthy ideals. It is perhaps a result of a world which seeks to find the most beautiful and thrilling aspects of life, to elevate them and turn them into a product to be bought or lusted after. We have all heard the stories of models making themselves sick in order to achieve the ‘perfect weight’. Then theres the image of the typical ‘fashion lifestyle, with free flowing alcohol and illegal substances being taken in the back room.But not all designers see this as a problem in the fashion industry that needs to be addressed. Karl Lagerfeld argues, “If you are not a good bullfighter, don’t enter the arena. Fashion is a sport now: You have to run.” Even though it is good to hear both sides of an argument when presenting an article it baffles me that people still in this day and age try to belittle mental illness as if its nothing a overreaction from people who aren’t tough enough to deal with life.

But for some when the fashion world get to much they decided to detached themselves and do it their own way. Viktor and Rolf are an example of just this, they abandoned the fast-paced world of ready to wear to concentrate on couture fashion.“The speed at which it has to be done does not help us. We are reflected people and we need time to create.” Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaïa has a similar approach, refusing to show as part of fashion week’s insane calendar. Instead, he presents his collections whenever he feels his designs are ready.

If these designers can do it and still be successful brands then surely others can follow, especially if it means healthier, happier minds. Christopher Kane believes the secret to success is not in the pace but in an alliance between the creative and commercial cannons. He feels that more business orientated minds need to be attracted to fashion.

We may not need to change the whole system as it clearly works for some, like Karl, but those who find themselves at breaking point should be aware of other options. Fashion culture, as a whole, needs to stop thriving on unrealistic expectations and realise the damage it can cause. Designers should be able to work in a healthy environment, and not feel pressurised to keep up with constant competition.

As Justine Picardie, a biographer of Coco Chanel, once said, “People often think about fashion as if it’s just about the surface of things. But there’s often a very dark side to the life of a designer. The reason clothes are potent is because of what they are covering up.”