#alienadventures: when fashionably late is no longer fashionable #MBFWA

[origional copy from my City Press column: African Time is a time bomb – 4/11/2012.  I feel it deserves re-posting]
The old saying that “time is money” takes on a new meaning in our digital age. Time is not just money, but has become one of our most precious commodities. Technology has not only created a faster paced world, but our smart phones have also ensured that the boundaries between work and play have been forever blurred. Since we now work at double the speed we used to, it means that in a year we’ve probably worked the equivalent of two. It’s no wonder everyone is burnt out.

Even meetings have become the bane of business, and there’s a growing trend of conducting meetings standing up to save time. (If you hate meetings, give it a try. It works.)
The point is we all battle to manage our time. Today, a single mom secretary has the same time pressures as the CEO she works for, if not more.

In the fashion world, the mantra for arriving at a function has always been “fashionably late”. You don’t want to look too eager, and your tardy arrival might just provide you with a suitably dramatic entrance. But this mantra was born in a very different era. Today there’s a very fine line between fashionably late and just downright rude.

In the past, arriving late conveyed some aura of importance. It sent a subtle message to the early arrivers that your life was so much busier – and therefore more important – than theirs. Today however, everyone has busy lives, so you can’t mess with people’s time. For event organisers, timing has become crucial. If you wait for the late comers before starting an event, you risk insulting the guests who made the effort to arrive on time. Keeping people waiting for a social event is annoying. Keeping people waiting in the business arena is unforgivable. What used to be a subtle power play now simply reads as disrespectful and bad business etiquette.

Our public servants have elevated this disrespect to a fine art: from civil servants who have no empathy for the hours you spend in a queue, to government ministers who keep guests at events waiting, only to deliver a droning speech and then leave in a blue light convoy, before anyone else is allowed to leave. This is justified as “protocol”, but it just boils down to ego and lack of mutual respect: inappropriate behaviour for our new world order.

Even in the fashion world, “fashionably late” is no longer tolerated. The turning point was in 2007 and played out in the international fashion arena – an industry that houses egos, almost as large as our politicians. The darling of fashion, Marc Jacobs (who is also the head designer for Louis Vuitton) had cultivated a reputation for running late with his New York Fashion Week shows – anything up to an hour and a half. The world’s fashion media put up with his shenanigans until his fateful show at the unglamorous (read uncomfortable) New York State Armory, which ran two hours late: the 9pm show started at 11pm. The incident prompted a wave of complaint by editors in American and European newspapers, as well as influential trade publications like Women’s Wear Daily. The highly respected International Herald Tribune’s Suzy Menkes wrote a scathing attack: “A bad, sad show from Marc Jacobs, running two hours late, high on hype and low on delivery, symbolized everything that is wrong with current fashion.”

The incident proved to be a watershed moment. Jacobs’ shows, especially for Louis Vuitton, now start on time, or at least within an acceptable (for fashion) half hour delay.
It is therefore puzzling that back home the Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week Africa (MBFWA) has not learnt any lessons from it’s international counterparts. For the past two years MBFWA has not managed to keep to its published schedule, and delays between an hour to two hours have become the norm.

At last week’s MBFWA many editors skipped the last shows on the programme simply because the schedule ran so late, which is obviously contrary to the core purpose of a fashion week.
A spokesperson for MBFWA sited “logistical problems with getting audiences into the venue, creating a knock-on effect” as the cause. But surely if the same problem persists two years in a row, it would be wise to plan a schedule to accommodate this? If theater productions can start on time, I don’t see why fashion shows can’t.

The MBFWA is brave and visionary platform. For the first time in fashion history it unites creative talent from the continent. It is slowly gaining traction and international interest, and is in line with the trajectory of Africa fast becoming the planet’s future consumer force. However, running late is not only a disservice to the designers they represent, it merely reenforces the disparaging stereotype of “African Time” which, in business terms, simply translates as a lack of professionalism. If we want to compete in the global arena, best we understand which time zone we’re operating in.

Published version – http://www.citypress.co.za/Columnists/African-time-is-a-time-bomb-20121103

2 Responses to “#alienadventures: when fashionably late is no longer fashionable #MBFWA”
  1. Eugenie Drakes says:

    Logistical problems getting people in …….???? does not particularly make sense when people for the first show are queuing at the door for over an Hour……

  2. Hayley says:

    My question is always, who has the right to decide, that their time is more important than mine!! Great article.

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