Luxury Industry News Roundup: 01/29/10

1.) Lagerfeld Still Knows How to Wow the Critics:
“Chanel was the best show of the spring haute couture collections, in a class by itself. Those ethereal cloud colors–pale pink, blue and violet, a sudden vinegary yellow. Those subtle wool boucle dresses and jackets at the beginning with the seams magically erased by flat, random stitches. Karl Lagerfeld said he had been thinking for awhile about how to do a seamless dress and only recently found a method that satisfied him. He said he thought this collection might be his most interesting in terms of technique. ‘It took me 54 collections to get there,’ he said.”

An unfortunately very brief video clip below of the Chanel Haute Couture show, but it’s in Hi-Def, which allows us to get a better look at the technical wizardry of the garments.


Practice makes perfect

If you pause the video at 00:13 and look carefully at the shoulders on the pale blue jacket, do you see any seams? I don’t think I do! That blows my mind. Well, not in a “Wow, a gene therapy that cures cancer!” sort of way, but it doesn’t take a big rock to make a splash when the pool is so shallow . . . oh, you know what I mean!

This kind of creative and technical progress in garment making is what keeps Haute Couture, despite its often maligned reputation for over-indulgence and irrelevance, genuinely and completely relevant to the fashion industry as a whole. Without the enormous time and resources poured into these collections, we would never witness these types of creative leaps.

And as politically toxic as the phrase “trickle down” has become, the advances propogated by Haute Couture do eventually find their way to the street. The end result isn’t nearly so glorious — and minus the heart-shaped candy-box hairdos, do we even dare? — but the female CEO’s and those wives of billionaire oligarchs sitting in the front rows (well, give or take the occasional thirteen year old) can be thought of as the fashion world’s version of hi-tech early-adopters, dropping $70K on a breakthrough, hand-sewn seamless jacket so that the peasants can splurge on a significantly more affordable, mass-produced version . . . someday.

Speaking of a thirteen year old sharing front row privileges at haute couture shows with the fashion press and Hollywood actresses (who unashamedly request dresses for free), Dave McGinn at The Globe and Mail published an article that examines the fashion industry’s latest (sort of creepy?) obsession with the opinions of teenagers: “Our idea of expertise has undergone a massive change in the Internet era. Until recently, an expert was someone who had spent a few years undergoing training in a field and then even more time sharpening his or her critical skills. Now, though, wisdom and experience appear to have been supplanted by a thirst for novelty and newness . . . Making celebrities out of 11-year-olds makes one wonder if the industry’s cult of youth has any limit, Matthews David adds. ‘Fashion has always fetishized youth, but how far can this go?’”

But while McGinn assumes that the issue is general “youth obsession”, the story is more specific than that. Teenage style bloggers are the Internet’s Lolita story — high-school girls parading about in mommy’s sexy stilettos, role playing with an arsenal of beauty products, writing reviews of couture shows peppered with ass and fart jokes, and otherwise bending an industry that’s allegedly for and about the mature woman into yet another tender fantasy pretzel for daddy.

It’s not surprising that teen style blogs are embraced by the industry. What’s surprising is that anyone would even question why.

In other news, Gucci has announced plans to enter the rarified world of haute couture, positioning head designer Frida Giannini as one of the few women to break the chiffon ceiling and direct a couture line: “Sources claim that Gucci’s couture collections will not be showcased at Paris Couture Week alongside those from Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, and others, but will be available on an appointment-only basis for celebrities and big red carpet occasions. Versace’s ‘Atelier Versace’ line works on a similar basis.”

Meanwhile, industry insiders are crowing over the “recovering” economy because wholesale menswear orders saw a 15% uptick during the latest round of shows, but, really, the 15% increase is in comparison to January of 2009, which immediately followed one of the most abysmal holiday seasons ever for retail — meaning that orders in January of 2009 were cut severely, suddeny and drastically. So it’s not like the industry had anywhere to go but up: “‘Let’s say that it can only get better after coming from a not very enthusiastic 2009,’ Mario Boselli, head of Italy’s National Chamber of Fashion, said.”

Exactly. In more pop-culture friendly words, “Great, kid, don’t get cocky!”

Related: a video roundup of the Fall/Winter menswear collections in Milan and Paris:

2.) Men are the New Market for Fashion and Beauty Products:
“Japanese college students are more interested in moisturizer, cleansing scrubs and beauty salons than they are in cars, according to a survey of 1,600 men and women by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association last year . . . ‘We aim to lure the middle-aged men who aren’t used to skincare products,’ said Tadashi Kirai, a spokesman. ‘There is more potential for the men’s skincare market because more than two-thirds of men have never done any care.’”

And with growth predictions flat to declining for the industries overall, catering to the men in the club seems as good a direction as any if companies wish to replace lost consumers with new ones.

Newsweek reported on the growing man-trend in their article, “It’s a Man’s World“,
detailing how many companies are redoing their interiors to make men feel more comfortable shopping, with some brands dividing the sexes into separate boutiques altogether: “Just as some educators believe that single-sex classrooms are better for learning, some luxury brands are finding that single-sex boutiques boost the bottom line. While it’s not exactly a man’s world on Main Street, luxury brands are increasingly offering greater exclusivity in men-only shops.”

Tom Ford famously opted to target the underserved world of men’s high-end fashion after departing from his role as head designer for Gucci women’s wear in 2004, opening a men’s only boutique in Manhattan in 2007, followed by boutiques in Zurich and Toronto. Louis Vuitton and Vivienne Westwood have recently opened men’s only stores in Japan, Hermes is scheduled to open its first men’s boutique in New York this coming February, and Ralph Lauren has announced plans to convert one of its landmark Manhattan stores into a men’s only shop. In China, where men are still the major purchasers, men’s only stores are expected to flourish.

The main reason for dividing the sexes when shopping is that men are believed to engage in much different shopping behavior than women — targeted hunting rather than casual browsing — so a one-size-fits-all environment that skews female is turning the average male shopper away. You know those men you see standing impatiently outside of stores while their wives shop? Right, well, the brand managers have seen them, too, and decided that now it might be time to do something about that.

Speaking of catering to men, the Yves St Laurent company hired famed video director and fashion photographer Bruce Weber to film their Fall 2010 menswear collection:

Personally, I’m not a fan. Weber’s style is oh-so 90′s (think Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game“), which makes the campaign feel out of date already, despite the fact that it was just released.

And black and white slo-mo shots of young, skinny models jumping up and down in various states of shirtlessness, not to mention various states of pantslessness, seems a tad too been-there, done-that, freshman year art school project for a global luxury brand with a history of cutting-edge innovation.

In fact, the YSL film views like a classic example of what Cathy Horyn may have been referring to when she wrote: “Some efforts by luxury houses to engage fans through social media feel awkward, though — like watching your grandfather attempt the twist in the 1960s.”

3.) Anna Wintour Asks French Govt to Stimulate the French Fashion Industry:
“Anna Wintour, the influential editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, told French officials that the country doesn’t do enough to support its fashion sector . . . Fearing that France’s preeminence in fashion may be dwindling, the government was already taking steps to protect the industry, which employs 125,000 people in France. Mr. Estrosi said state-owned banks and investment funds will soon offer streamlined financing for start-up fashion businesses.”

One of the ways in which Wintour stressed that the government could help the fashion industry is by relaxing France’s strict 35-hour work week policy in order to allow French fashion industry employees to work longer hours in the run-ups to the major shows held in Paris several times a year. The government is considering a work-week exemption aimed at fashion industry employees only.

Speculation has been that Wintour was hit particularly hard by the collapse of the House of Lacroix (she and the designer were/are allegedly friends), and is determined that other French icons of fashion not suffer the same fate.

Speaking of Anna Wintour, Vogue ad pages are flat to down while competing magazines are showing increases. And GQ magazine has embraced its new Internet overlords, selling 12,000 issues of its January edition over the iPhone for $2.99 a pop. Smart.

4.) Pricey Balmain Raises Hopes for Diffusion Line, Then Dashes Them:
“Rumors abounded on fashion websites and blogs earlier in the week that Balmain was set to launch a new affordable diffusion line . . . Much as we would love to confirm this for you (and ourselves) … sadly we are the bearer of bad tidings. ‘There is no Balmain lower priced line,’ a spokesperson told Vogue.Com today. ‘What I think you might be referring to is a capsule collection that was prepared for some Parisian retailers. Christophe Decarnin wasn’t involved in that project. The brand has decided to not repeat the experience, preferring to concentrate all its efforts on the mainline.’”

Anticipation was especially keen for a Balmain diffusion line as Balmain items typically start expensive (offensively so, says Cathy Horyn), then keep climbing from there. A Balmain cotton t-shirt is $1500.00, while jackets and dresses run into the tens of thousands.

But Balmain is the it, hip and cool label right now, and its stratospheric pricing has guaranteed it a cult following among young celebrities, supermodels and trust fund kids. Everyone else is relegated to sad wannabe status. A video clip below of the so trendy it hurts Balmain Spring/Summer 2010 collection, a kicky look at the modern military machine:

Another designer that took the millitary look and (over)ran with it is haute couture man Josephus Thimister. Mixing pop-culture politics with fashion is a trend that will never die, but creating an entire collection around the violent, blood-soaked side of human nature is something else altogether, and I wonder who his customers will be:

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“I’ll take the blood spattered trousers and matching knife slashed tee, please!”

But hey, if you can’t find your way into either of the above, you can always get JWOWWed: “Jersey Shore alumnae Jwoww is embarking into the world of fashion designer. That’s right, the reality tv star with a penchant for plunging necklines and crotch-grazing skirts is soon-to-be stocking her very own styles in a store near you.”

I know, I’m sorry, you were right in the middle of lunch and now you’re not feeling so well . . .

5.) Worlds Collide – Victoria Beckham and Karl Lagerfeld to Design a Hotel:
“Fashionista Victoria Beckham has been offered a staggering $40 million to design a new luxury hotel in Dubai. The future hotel, which has also enlisted the help of designer Karl Lagerfeld, will be on Dubai’s Isla Moda – a fashion-themed island.”

As if the JWOWWing of the fashion world wasn’t enough, now we have our lord Lagerfeld sharing marquee space with a lowly WAG. Beckham’s probably getting paid the same as he is, too — if not more.

You see, kids? This is why it’s important to go to school, toil away for years at a painstaking craft, pay your dues as a subordinate, and work like a freakin’ dog for decades to earn respect for your talent and the accolades of your peers . . . or you can just become a surgically enhanced pop-star, marry well and pose for underwear ads.

Either way, you’re a smashing success, with your own international high-end clothing line and Dubai investors hounding your waking moments.


Beckham shows what it takes to be the next emperor of haute couture

21st century life is bafflingly grand, aint it?

6.) INDUSTRY QUICK HITS:

A. Where Barbie went wrong in China: “Like Apple when it launched the iPhone in China, Barbie made the mistake of paying too little attention to local consumer tastes. Chinese women tend to like cutesy, girlish pink clothes (think Hello Kitty), not the sexy and skimpy kind Fields designed. Odd as it sounds, Snoopy-branded clothes, cartoon logos and all, are hot sellers for women entering the white-collar workforce.”

This is a common criticism I’m hearing of Western brands who set up shop in China — they continue using marketing strategies developed for Western consumers instead of creating an entirely new look and feel for the Chinese market. Taking a product and simply plonking it down in China, without consideration for local tastes, is an invitation to disaster.

As much as I find the idea of an Hermes diffusion line created just for China to be kind of horrifying, I can also see the wisdom in such a move.

In other Barbie news, Barbie gets her high-fashion spotlight: “12 of the CFDA’s top designers have used their iconic accessories to create one-of-a-kind Barbie Basics dolls . . . The dolls will be auctioned off on Ebay.com starting January 28th at 10pm EST and will run through February 7th. Proceeds from the sales will benefit the CFDA Foundation and the organization’s scholarship and educational programs.”

B. Sample sales are a dying breed: “Word is that the Alexander Wang Gilt Groupe sale that kicked off yesterday will replace the designer’s much-anticipated bi-annual sample sale.”

Wang, instead, opted to unload his sample merchandise online only, which completely democratizes the sample sale phenomenon. In the past, denizons of major metropolitan centers (mostly NYC) were the only beneficiaries of the sample sale, where designers unloaded merchandise that was created for runway shows, photography shoots and magazine editorials, if not just plain excess that they couldn’t sell in their stores.

But with the rise of sites like Gilt, Haute Look, Rue La La, Beyond the Rack and more, designers can ship the merchandise off to a website and wash their hands of it. No scouting for a location, no rental fees, employee wages, no lugging merchandise around the city. As the author of the article noted, the prices are higher online than they were in the old physical locations, but that’s because there’s now so much more competition — instead of just a few thousand that might hit the sale in New York, there’s the potential for millions of interested purchasers online.

And nothing gets ripped, torn or yanked into oblivion in the process.

C. Inter Parfums sees 13% growth for the latest quarter: “Inter Parfums Inc. announced that net sales for the fourth quarter were about $113.6 million, a 13% increase from $100.4 million in the prior year quarter.”

Inter Pafums creates fragrance products for brands such as Burberry, Lanvin, Van Cleef & Arpels, Banana Republic and The Gap, as well as the upcoming Jimmy Choo launch. Inter Parfums has also announced a 10 year deal with Montblanc to sell and market perfumes under the Montblanc name, so the company has obviously been busy behind the scenes.

Philippe Benacin, CEO of Inter Parfums, revealed several new projects on Inter Parfums’ plate for 2010: a line of Burberry Sport fragrances in February; the launch of Oriens, a female fragrance line, by Van Cleef & Arpels in March; a full Burberry cosmetics line in June to accompany the extensive line of Burberry fragrances; new Lanvin and ST Dupont fragrances in July; and a line of men’s fragrances under the Van Cleef & Arpels banner in September.

And the Valentino company has officially announced its move to Spanish fragrance licensor Puig, leaving Proctor & Gamble as P&G lost faith in the brand and expressed little desire to spend further resources in support of present and future Valentino launches.


No heat between P&G and Valentino

D. Financial tidbits and company shakeups: 1.) LVMH appoints a new creative director to eco-conscious fashion brand Edun; Chanel is raising its handbag prices 15% to 20%; Italian luxury brand Tod’s reported disappointing sales for 2009; Bulgari sees 4Quarter sales slide 5%; Estee Lauder sees sales climb 11% for the quarter; Swedish fast fashion retailer H&M reports a sharp increase in December and January sales; Billionaire Ronald Burkle is hot for a big chunk of Barneys; online luxury retailer Net-A-Porter expands into the lucrative bridal business; and Neiman Marcus appoints a new men’s fashion director.

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