There is a big happening sweeping through New York City and it is officially called “Fashion Week.” But really it should be called “The Creativity Carnival” and anyone and any business interested in innovation needs to participate. Fashion Week is all about discovering what Chicago School economist Frank Knight calls “higher order wants” that people dream of, often can’t express but desperately want to have. Higher order wants are the true engine of new products, new companies and new profits.
How does Fashion Week do all that? Look at the process. It’s a series of big Play Grounds, in tents at Lincoln Center and in studios all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, where ritual, deep play by creators takes place. They offer their original ideas to fashion experts (professionals and consumers) who jury the work. It’s serious play with serious economic consequence. It is Creative Capitalism and it requires three things to work: creative people, experts who can judge cutting edge work, and scalers who can take what is judged to be great and scale it into commercial brands sold on the market. Fashion Week does all this.
I am teaching Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s book on Creativity in a course at Parsons on Creativity and Cities this week and “Chicks” says that “creativity must, in the last analysis, be seen not as something happening within a person but in the relationship within a system.” Fashion week is that system.
“Chicks” talks about how creativity takes place within a domain–fashion, science, math, music, health, painting–and new work is judged “creative” by a field of experts within that domain. He says that there are domains with cultures that welcome change, insist on change and those that don’t. Creativity happens fastest and most where it is core to the culture. Fashion is that kind of domain. He also says that creativity happens fastest in domain cultures that have the experienced experts to just what is truly unique. Again, Fashion is that kind of domain (see how this is important to your business culture?).
Fashion Week mirrors our society and economy because there are formal and informal Play Grounds. I went to the opening day of Fashion Week at Lincoln Center and the first thing I saw walking up the steps to the wide plaza were dozens of young designers who were NOT invited into the official Fashion Week runway tent all dressed up in their own clothes being photographed by dozens of friends and professional photographers. They were all posting their own fashion blobs and sites or the many other online “street” fashion sites.
Social media is expanding both the domain of Fashion and the field of “experts” who judge new work. It was amazingly cool and a significant addition to capitalism. What is “creative” is increasingly being determined by the “crowd” expert. It may be that extending the domain and field of experts wider changes the nature of Flow (“Chick’s biggest intellectual contribution). There is a big new push on Flow research. When you talk to brilliant tennis players, chess players, artists, designers or basketball players–really brilliant– they always talk about being "3 to 4 moves ahead” of their competition. So Flow is not just a state of being, it is a state of being forward. Way forward.
Again, Fashion is a domain where experts reward that kind of Flow. Runway shows are about showing off cutting edge fashion that then gets toned down for the prevailing market. But the goal is to go way forward. Alexander McQueen was brilliant at this. And the Lincoln Center Plaza unofficial runway show allowed for even wilder fashion looks, maybe 4 or 5 moves ahead.
When we talk about innovation and creativity, we need to understand the relationship between creator, culture and the city. Fashion Week in New York highlights all this. Fashion Week is about a lot more than just fashion.