Luxury Industry News: 06/18/10

1.) Get Your PH.D. In Designer Fashion Fave Lady Ga-Ga:
“The (web)site, Gaga Stigmata, is a collection of musings and art about Gaga, including submissions comparing the ‘Bad Romance’ video to the work of Stanley Kubrick and a look at the legacy of Michael Jackson in Gaga’s work . . . ‘When people dismiss Gaga’s art as poseur-y, they miss the point of her project. Gaga’s about faking fame, and she doesn’t claim to be genuine. I definitely find her performance to be consciously a pose. That’s part of her goal: to demonstrate how powerful the artificiality is’ (says doctoral student Meghan Vicks).”

And this highly artificial pose is what has drawn the industry’s top designers, from Giorgio Armani to Miuccia Prada, to Gaga’s pop-culture corner like silk-wing moths to a lite-brite flame. Despite the deliberately antagonistic veneer toward concepts of mainstream beauty and traditional prettiness, Gaga’s music videos now have as much global name-brand designer support as ‘Sex and the City’, yet Gaga’s been on the scene for only about a nanosecond in comparison to SATC, which is somehow creaking along twelve years after it first debuted on HBO (the book on which the series is based was published in 1996, two years before the series first hit the airwaves).

Below is Lady Gaga in her ‘Telephone’ video, featuring looks from Victor & Rolf, Thierry Mugler, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Chanel, Brian Lichtenberg, Atsuko Kudo, Jeremy Scott, Fred Butler, Rachel Barrett, Franc Fernandez and Oscar Olima (plus appearances from Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip):


Fuh-fuh-fuh-fuh-fuh-fashion!

The runway shows, print advertising campaigns and fashion films are clues into the overtly theatrical (i.e. artificial) nature of fashion, so it certainly sense that the corporate peddlers of illusion would gravitate to a performing-artist celebrity who so clearly understands the need to drive a stake through reality. Consumers line up to buy dreams, not drudgery, and what is Gaga but a middle-class Cinderella story, a young girl’s pop-star dream come true — replete with a wardrobe fit for any grand ballroom.

Speaking of which, another doctoral dissertation could be written about celebrity athletes and their partnerships with global designers. The latest match made in marketing heaven is Armani’s underwear ad campaign featuring world-famous soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, with pre-release photos leaked to the internet just this past week, during the height of World Cup soccer mania (of course).

Armani_underwear_celebrity_athlete.jpg
Nothing comes between Armani and his celebrity endorsements

Only two photos have been released, but they’ve burned across the net like wildfire. Brilliant timing.

In comparison to Gaga, the methodology is different (a heavy reliance on mainstream concepts of masculine beauty) but the artifice machine is still very much present in #1) its fantasy portrayal of Ronaldo as lounging hunkily in surroundings anonymous enough to be your own . . . or your grandma’s, and #2) images that are still just as tantalizingly illusory (“I could be that sexy if I just bought some Armani underwear . . . right?!”).

Or something like that.

As long as we’re on the subject of Armani and celebrities, the Armani brand has actively courted Hollywood and its stars for decades, famously achieving huge success when they dressed Richard Gere in the movie “American Gigolo”:


Richard Gere whores it up for Armani

Armani rocketed into mainstream demand after ‘American Gigolo’, becoming the label of choice for Hollywood’s leading men (and ladies), making it thereafter the de facto label of choice for the aspirational Tom, Dick and Janes who wished to purchase a little of that celeb-glamor pixie dust for their very own.

But once that segment had achieved saturation (and Hollywood movies and red carpet events are now product and label placements from top to bottom), designers needed to find fresh blood to stamp with their imprimatur. Hence, the lesser glow of Broadway’s Tony Awards: “Giorgio Armani Dresses Tony Award Participants: “The awards ceremony took place yesterday evening, June 13th, at Radio City Music Hall and was broadcast live on CBS . . . Presenter Cate Blanchett wore a Giorgio Armani Privé shimmering silver organza evening suit. Katie Holmes presented an award wearing a Giorgio Armani Privé grey strapless silk chiffon evening gown. Sean Hayes hosted the 64th annual Tony Awards in a Giorgio Armani classic one-button peak lapel tuxedo with a pleated front evening shirt and classic bow tie.”

The stars may not shine so brightly, but they still have recognizable names and the show was broadcast on a mainstream American television network, which makes it a great way to achieve the broad reach of TV advertising without having to pay TV advertising rates.

And since we mentioned the World Cup above: UK Retail sales boosted by World Cup“British Retail Consortium Director General Stephen Robertson, says: ‘The World Cup helped sales of televisions, though this was largely discount-driven. With the tournament in full swing, there should be further gains for other football merchandise, such as flags and replica kits, which will show up in the June figures.’”

Retail sales in the U.S., however, dropped for the month of May: “Retail sales unexpectedly tumbled in May in the biggest drop in eight months, raising a vexing question for the nation’s still-shaky economy. Last month, Americans slashed spending on everything from cars to clothing to building materials, the Commerce Department reported.”<
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Though Lisa Tant, Editor in Chief of Flare Magazine, Tweets that the Paris retail buzz is all about the new openings of Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors flagships in the city. So just maybe somebody’s going to have a good June?

2.) Kelly Cutrone Says to Designer Labels: Fashion Luxury is Dead:
“Here is what I think is the future: Street style and lifestyle. Style is in; fashion luxury, forget it. It’s over. Gucci, Vuitton, Hermes . . . those businesses will continue. Retail business, pretty much over. I think people who sell to retail companies are people who can’t afford their own stores . . . Old Navy, J.Crew, Gap, they already knew that and aren’t wholesaling. Editorial, magazine, we are going to say buh-bye to them as we know them. They will still exist but everything is on the internet.”

Cutrone is a high-profile PR mogul for fashion brands, organizing runway shows, parties and PR events. Her insights about the state of the industry are taken from direct experience in working with fashion and luxury brands, and her direct experience is telling her that the public mood has shifted to personal style and away from the mass market spread of luxury labels.


“Any company that’s not on the internet . . . they’re just not happening.”

Which dovetails neatly with a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the rise in demand for independent fashion and style labels, titled Crafts, Clothes and Clout: “Towering brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton may dominate ad pages and storefronts, but small designers are gaining a bigger foothold in fashion . . . consumers are increasingly hungry for independent designs. In part, brand fatigue is to blame. Big fashion labels sell the same products the world over, diminishing their logos’ cachet. Their designers work on collections a year or more in advance of the clothes’ appearance in stores and rarely–if ever–meet the people who eventually buy them. Moreover, many consumers lost faith in luxury brands after watching prices soar during the boom, then plummet during the crash in the fall of 2008. The slashed sales prices raised questions about the true value of branded goods.”

Read the whole article, because t breaks it down nicely, summarizing the problem that global fashion conglomerates now face: when you’re everywhere and make everything, how can you still be special and exclusive? Chinese consumers wised up quickly when foreign companies like Tommy Hilfiger and Coach showed up in Beijing, attempting to pass themselves off as “luxury” — I think the same might start happening with Western consumers and brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani and Versace, high-end brands that were once small and exclusive, but which have spent the past twenty years trotting about the globe, unfurling bigger and glitzier flagship stores while also pushing into department store chains and opening online shops.

Armani is now like an extremely expensive Target — lipstick, trousers, socks, underwear, lamps, perfume, shoes, TV stands, sunglasses, watches, handbags, flatware, vases, rugs! It’s a bonanza of one-stop shopping for the hedge fund crowd. Is it any wonder that consumers are turning away from fashion’s mass-market sameness to find items and designers that stand out? As WSJ author Christina Brinkley writes: “I’ve noticed that the clothes and jewelry of mine that garner the most compliments are those that come from indie designers. They’re not the same old trendy looks. Plus … the “buy local” movement has whetted shoppers’ appetite for a greater sense of connection with their goods’ creators.”

On the same topic, the NYTimes’ Cathy Horyn writes about Cecilia Pagkalinawan and her quest to start a website that features indie designers. Says Ms. Pagkalinawan: “‘Coming from the luxury industry, I know there’s a sense that a lot of the goods by traditional brands are overpriced, especially now that the prices have been exposed by flash sales,’ she said. And big luxury brands are ubiquitous, with their attention focused on fast-growing markets in Asia, especially China. ‘For the true fashionista, the success of wearing something isn’t, ‘Oh, she’s wearing Chanel,” Ms. Pagkalinawan said. ‘It’s ‘Where did you get that?’ Because no one else has it. And she might be proud to say she actually discovered a new designer.’”

Video clip below of Ms. Pagkalinawan talking about the upcoming indie-focused Style Trek, to be officially launched in September of this year, though they’re accepting submissions from designers now:


The customer will get to know the passion that goes into each piece they buy.

Which leads me to a great interview with Tilda Swinton in the Dallas Examiner. Writer Carla Hay asks Ms. Swinton several questions about her film “I Am Love”, but also has the presence of mind to engage the actress in some Q&A about her advertising work with fashion brand Pringle of Scotland, as well as the symbolism of Jil Sander designer Raf Simons’ wardrobe pieces for the film. But it was the following question and answer that I found most intriguing, and which speaks to the issues raised above:

Carla Hays: You said earlier that you’re not very keen on movies having messages, but can you comment on how life among the wealthy, and materialism, are portrayed in “I Am Love”?

Tilda Swinton: “There’s a sort of hierarchy — I think a completely false hierarchy in the market, kind of global availability and domination of certain luxury brands which is disappointing at best. It’s possible to walk into a rich person’s house in any city in the world and find the same make of candles or the same shoes. I find it a waste of cultural specificity and history. I would so much rather walk into someone’s house, however much money they have, and feel I’m actually connecting with the culture of that place and the people who live in that place. I’m disappointed when I go through airports and I see the same shops. I think that particular luxury milieu is like one big duty-free [place].”

Which just makes me appreciate my subversive little bottle of “Like This” even more. I mean, is it really special when a designer brand starts tossing gold glitter on contact lenses before stamping its initials on the front? I think not (who needs Dior branded eyeballs, anyway?).

What’s next, logos on transplant organs?

3.) INDUSTRY QUICK HITS:

A.) Daphne Guinness buys the late Isabella Blow’s entire Alexander McQueen collection: “Designer Daphne Guinness purchased Isabella Blow’s entire Alexander McQueen collection, so it won’t be going up for auction at Christie’s this fall as had been planned . . . she felt that the extensive and deeply personal (Blow and McQueen, both now deceased, were very close longtime friends) collection ‘should not be scattered to the four winds’.”

Daphne Guinness is the daughter of Irish beer and business magnate (and British politician) Jonathan Guinness, and an heir to the Guinness family fortune. She’s a noted collector of haute couture, a fashion writer and insider, and the Comme des Garcons ‘Daphne‘ perfume was created for (and with) her.

Isabella Blow was a UK magazine editor and “international style icon”. She was an early champion of McQueen’s designs, buying up his earlier collections as a means of providing financial support and encouragement to the young designer, so Blow’s McQueen collection holds significant value for its insight into the early directions of the subsequent global design player.

B.) Fashion designer Yigal Azrouël bows to market pressures and launches a lower-priced diffusion line: “The designer is launching Cut 25, a contemporary capsule collection. The Fall offerings will be available exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Intermix in July . . . Cut 25 is way more wallet-friendly than his main collection — wholesale prices are $53 to $365 versus $145 to $900. We can expect a lineup of black, cool neutrals, and crisp white.”

Azrouël joins the long list of high-end designers who have adopted the “accessible premium” approach to staying in business: “One of the most glaring differences between ultra premium and accessible premium products is where the products are sold. Unlike luxuries, which are hard to find by the majority of consumers, accessible premium products are widely distributed.”

“Accessible Premium” also distinguishes itsef from luxury or ultra-premium through, well, its distinct lack of distinguishability from its competitors — “Accessible premium products tend to be measurably better but not fundamentally different from their competitors. Grey Goose vodka is quantifiably better than its competitors (more involved distillation process, wins taste tests), but it is still vodka.”

In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Welcome to the world of “Who is that designer you’re wearing? It looks just like (fill in the blank).”

A look below at Yigal Azrouël’s Fall 2010 collection — the non-accessible premium one, that is:


A cut above himself

Meanwhile, financially troubled brand Gianfranco Ferre hits the auction block.


The fashion house that’s up for auction

Again, these moves are the result of the homogenity of global fashion. When everything starts to look and perform similarly, and within the same range of quality, brands without the quickly recognizable (or socially coveted) names to back them up are bound to start floundering.

C.) Sporty Takes Over Menswear: “Colorful, casual and cash-driven were the three “high Cs” of the menswear summer 2011 season.”

Suzy Menkes has spoken.

But it’s the start of the Spring/Summer 2011 menswear shows in Milan (I know — already!) and we’ll soon get an eyeful of what designers are hoping that men have enough money to buy come next year: “Burberry is set to show on Saturday alongside Calvin Klein and Versace. Sunday sees Italian heavy weights Armani, Prada, Roberto Cavalli as well as Alexander McQueen. Next week will showcase more home grown names in the form of Gucci, Moschino and Etro and also CFDA winner Marc Jacobs.”

The women’s 2011 Resort collections are just wrapping up, too, with Resort considered the most sellable and wearable womenswear collections that designers produce for the market.

D.) Some perfume news: #1) Ralph Lauren launches four new men’s polo fragrances in colorful, graphic-design focused bottles aimed at 18-30 year olds; #2) flavor & fragrance giant Givaudan wants to talk to you about perfume . . . from your iPhone; #3) Inter Parfums reports a 2.1% decrease in sales for 2009 — says that sales of Burberry, Van Cleef & Arpels and Paul Smith fragrances dipped slightly, while sales of Lanvin fragrances held steady; #4) Alexa Chung, former model/TV personality and inspiration for the wildly popular Mulberry “Alexa” bag, has been announced as Lacoste’s first female fragrance spokesperson in, like, ever!

Speaking of Mulberry, the brand has announced that wholesale revenue has “rocketed by 84% since the launch of its autumn 2010 collection, driven by soaring demand in Asia.”

So now do you see why Lacoste was so quick to hire Ms. Chung as a spokespers
on? Mulberry + Alexa bag + rocketing sales in Asia = kaching! for the Lacoste fragrance in Asia, too. Or so they’re hoping.

E.) Retailers find that Fashion Bloggers make a difference: “Fashion bloggers have begun to take the reigns from traditional media in the fashion industry . . . Just like how seeing pictures of a great party makes you wish you’d been there — having a product innocuously sold through blogs about people having a good time and doing what they love will always resonate stronger than a carefully curated image designed just to sell.”

The author of the article notes that retail chain Urban Outfitters has even partnered with style blogger Sea of Shoes on a small capsule collection of shoe styles.

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