Luxury & Fashion Biz News: June 24th, 2011 (Of Industry Pressure, Prada Clowns and Cheap Sexy)

1.) Azzedine Alaïa Says “Thanks, But No Thanks” to Head Designer Position at Dior:
“His name was never mentioned when the rumours swirled about who would replace John Galliano at Dior, but according to the Financial Times, Azzedine Alaïa was asked to take over the couture house, and their offer was turned down . . . ‘Mr Alaïa wasn’t interested,’ says Vanessa Friedman (writer for the Financial Times), ‘Flattered, but not about to pursue. The story of what happened with John was a sad story, he said when I asked him, and he didn’t want to be part of the next chapter.'”

Which is entirely understandable, when you think about it. Who would want the thankless task of following behind in the wake of that particular train wreck? Every single review and/or article would begin with, “Mr. Alaïa, who took over the helm at Dior after John Galliano was forced out in disgrace following his now infamously racist rant caught on video-tape . . . “

There aren’t enough sanitizing wipes in the world.

Besides, Alaïa is now 71 years old, so despite his obvious talents, Dior is a massive commercial enterprise that requires two haute couture collections and four ready to wear collections a year, not to mention art-direction responsibilities for perfumes, color cosmetics and accessories. This would be a daunting task for even a revved-up twenty-something, but for a 71 year old designer who’s become accustomed to working at his own pace and under his own inspiration, that much sudden onslaught of commercial responsibility is just way too much to cram into the daily planner.

Alaïa has had choice words to say in the past about the fashion industry’s relentless push to produce more more more and faster faster faster, believing that such an approach is to the ultimate detriment of fine fashion, if not the fashion designers themselves. Writes Vanessa Friedman: “Mr Alaia has been perhaps the most vocal advocate of all living designers about the need to change the fashion system, to slow it down, to stop the relentless demand for more collections and more store openings.”

*NOTE 1: Galliano blames the pressure of his workload under Dior for his addictions, and infers that he’s only had a problem with alcohol since 2007. Though I recall reading a passage in Alicia Drake’s The Beautiful Fall which vividly describes a party scene at a club in Paris in the 1970’s where, among others, a young Galliano was drunk and high out of his mind. That predates 2007 by at least thirty years, so I’d bet that Galliano’s alcohol and drug addictions were a decades-long issue, and could explain why the execs at Dior and LVMH were so quick to kick him to the curb when accusations of drunken racism surfaced earlier this year.

Interestingly enough, a 2010 NYTimes profile of Alaia presciently defined the gulf between the slow and steady Alaia vs. the three-ring circus Galliano before the names ever became entwined in the news cycle: “The standard pattern of a designer interview is to give you emotional turbidity. (For example, John Galliano, on a 2003 Dior couture show: “I want to feel it. I want to rip and tear it and cut it until the pain is in the dresses.”) Mr. Alaïa would show you how to make the dress and shut up about the rest. Not talking about it is also a way to avoid a falseness — the falseness of thinking poetic language can be applied to dressmaking. At some point you have to decide what color “pain” is, and whether it should have long sleeves or short.”

Oh, ouch! Color Team-G smacked-down.

Video clip below of an Azzedine Alaïa retrospective:

Azzedine moves at nobody’s pace but his own

And as if on cue, the frustration with the big money, venture capital backed, corporate fashion system starts to spill over in the aftermath of the latest menswear shows in Milan.

Giorgio Armani, famous for talking very little and appearing in the press even less, let loose a pent-up gust of irritation with the attention-seeking contortion acts of his fellow Milanese designers as they bend themselves into pretzels for headlines: “‘I’ve wanted to say something about this for awhile, and now’s the time: fashion is in the hands of the banks (and) the stock market,’ Armani told reporters Tuesday. ‘It no longer belongs to the owners, but to those above them . . . There are thousands of ways to make money. But for me, I don’t want to wind up having to knock on the door of some Thai managers to explain myself.’ He said that Prada chief Miuccia Prada was ‘ingenious’ for her ‘irony…and bad taste that becomes chic.’ But he complained that certain collections that are ‘sometimes ugly’ always get positive coverage in the press. ‘You know why . . . ‘”

And by “you know why”, he means, “because Prada and Dolce & Gabbana buy a lot of ad space in the fashion magazines and lifestyle sections of newspapers” . . . end paraphrased quote.

He actually dissed his Italian peers’ collections as “clownishly” ugly, and he has a point. Prada famously sent her male models traipsing down the runway in tutus back in early 2008, shortly before the stock market froze and cash seized up in the system. She then did an abrupt about-face and churned out a few collections of surprisingly wearable suits, coats and separates before returning to the unfortunate pastiche of her latest 1950’s meets Looney Toons 2012 Spring/Summer Men’s collection — obviously aimed at squeezing out inches of valuable press a week or so before the company went public on the Hong Kong stock exchange:

Send in the clowns — Prada menswear Spring/Summer 2012

Meanwhile, Dolce & Gabbana’s overwrought fishnet theme for Spring 2012 is a reverse in progress from the mostly comfortable and retail-friendly collection of menswear they sent down the runway for Fall 2010:

Cool world — Fall/Winter 2010/2011


Cruel world — Spring/Summer 2012

In related news, Prada’s public stock offering on the Hong Kong exchange didn’t attract the rosy, best-case scenario they’d hoped: “‘Setbacks’, ‘strained’, ‘faltering’, ‘nerve-wracking’ and ‘disappointing’ were the sort of words most often used to characterize the deal which saw Prada cut the price of its stock by a whopping 20% at the last minute in order to attract investors . . . According to the Financial Times, ‘institutional demand suggested that Prada’s [global] expansion plan – which includes opening 80 stores a year until 2014 – was a compelling story. But some analysts doubted whether the aggressive strategy would dilute the long-term value of the brand.'”

Gee, ya think?

In other runway mishaps, a sharp-eyed Tumblr account notes that this season’s Louis Vuitton menswear collection appeared to take its cues from last season’s Thakoon womenswear, which only reinforces my suspicion that most designer brands treat menswear collections as either the recycle bin, or as practice runs for upcoming womenswear concepts.

*NOTE 2: I might venture a guess that Louis Vuitton’s problems aren’t limited to lack of inspiration in their menswear collections, and even Angelina Jolie is getting slammed for appearing in a Louis Vuitton ad that appears to use poverty stricken Cambodia as a mere luxury brand backdrop. Not to mention that Cambodia is ground zero for much of the horrifying treatment of subsistence-wage garment workers.

Back to an earlier point: one reason that Giorgio Armani cites for his empire’s continued profitability and success is that he creates menswear that men might actually want to wear. Not really a novel concept, but it seems to fly right over the head of a good chunk of designer brands, nonetheless.

2.) Mulberry Reports Record Profit — Seeks to Expand:
“British luxury brand Mulberry is expanding its Somerset factory after runaway demand for its Alexa and Bayswater handbags saw annual profits more than quadruple . . . With UK like-for-like sales running 33% ahead of last year’s levels, chairman Godfrey Davis said the brand was striking a chord with shoppers: ‘People are getting more concerned about disposable fashion and Mulberry is not a throwaway brand.'”

Although if they keep producing handbags in pink metallic tiger stripes, that “not a throwaway brand” thing could very well change:

Once on the shoulder, forever in the back of the closet

Meanwhile, Brit bag designer Anya Hindmarch wants to be as big as Mulberry, and she may have just hired the right exec to help her do it: “She handed over the role of chief executive of her business, which has a turnover of £20 million and includes 54 shops, to James McArthur, who has worked for Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Harrods . . . Now she is back where she started, running the creative side while he grows the business, which she hopes will soon be as big as Mulberry.”

Granted, she has a lot of catching up to do. Last year saw the Hindmarch brand reporting £35million in global sales for the entire year of 2010, while Mulberry raked in £122 million in sales for the first three months of 2011 alone.

3.) UnTruth in Advertising? Cosmetics Companies Sued over “Organic” Labeling:
“An environmental group filed a lawsuit Thursday against 26 cosmetic companies, claiming they are improperly labeling products such as shampoo, facial washes and soaps as organic. The Center for Environmental Health said in its lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court that the companies are violating a California labeling law requiring organic products to contain at least 70% organic ingredients . . . In the latest action, the Oakland-based center alleges in its lawsuit that popular organic cosmetic companies such as Kiss My Face, Alliance Boots and others (such as Jason and Avalon Organics) violated the California Organic Products Act of 2003, which mandated the 70% rule.”

But, you know, it’s not as if the “organic” label managed to prove itself particularly well during the latest e-coli outbreak in Germany. From Dr. Albert Fuchs, a doctor of Internal Medicine in Beverly Hills: “The fact that the contaminated bean sprouts were grown in an organic farm is relevant. Sprouts are among the most likely produce to be contaminated because they grow close to the ground in warm humid environments, perfect for contact with waste and for bacterial growth. And organic food that avoids synthetic fertilizer has to use natural fertilizer – animal waste.”

Dr. Fuchs expresses some strong opinions about the relative value of going organic, and of course not everyone will agree with his conclusions. But the rush to slap the “organics” label on a slew of cosmetics products that may or may not have earned the distinction is enough to make me stop and question the fashion/beauty industry’s hasty embrace of the “organic” label overall.

Is it substance, or just a lot of empty style?

In other cosmetics industry news, the bruising L’Oreal family battle over control of shares in the global company continues to create ripples: “A fresh problem appears to have emerged for L’Oréal over the position of Liliane Bettencourt, the 88-year-old daughter of the company’s founder and major shareholder. An agreement last April underlined a reconciliation in the long running dispute between mother and daughter, but a report from doctors effectively recommending that Mme Bettencourt be placed under guardianship protection is seen as complicating the situation . . . Some observers have suggested she must resign since it would be impossible for her to continue if a court decided she was incapable of coping. This would in turn raise the question of the sale of family held shares.”

Though a French court has declared that this is a moot issue since the Mother-Daughter stand-off was resolved and the formal request for guardianship withdrawn as part of the deal, yet the plot grows ever more complicated as daughter Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers again issued claims that her elderly mother was being taken advantage of, this time by the lawyer appointed to manage her mother’s affairs.

Expect a new round of lawsuits to follow.

In a classic case of Dog Bites Man news, 35 year old model Caroline Louise Forsling is suing the Estée Lauder cosmetics giant over claims that they used a test-photo of her face to promote a new anti-aging wrinkle cream aimed at women 45 to 60 years old.

The lawsuit states that Estée Lauder “did not disclose in the Plantscription ad . . . that Forsling never used Plantscription, that Forsling is not aged 45-60 or that the so-called ‘dramatization’ of the product did not result from the use of the product by Forsling, but rather reflected [their] manipulation of a photograph.”

Forsling also claims that Lauder’s use of her face in an ad for a wrinkle cream damaged her career, making her appear older than she really is and ruining her chances for contracts aimed at younger demographics.

Me? I’m just flabbergasted at the audacity of using a 35 year old to model an anti-aging cream for 60 year olds, and then computer-correcting the “results” — because what’s the message here, really? That you, too, can look like you’re 35 if you’re, you know, 35? And know how to use Photoshop?

Helping women look their real age the world over

In other fun lawsuit news, American designer Tory Burch wins $164M in a lawsuit against online counterfeiters. She’s unlikely to collect the full award, but the lawsuit does give her company the ability to disable the 232 offending websites, as well as potentially seizing any financial assets associated with the websites: “So far, Tory Burch has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from PayPal, which many of the online counterfeiters used to collect funds for goods from customers.”

In thoroughly unrelated yet bizarrely fascinating news, Evolutionary biologist Santiago Ramirez has discovered that male Euglossa natesi bees gather pollen from many different flowers to create a multi-layered “perfume” that woos the females of the hive: “’Each species has its own mixture of different chemicals that they collect,’ said Ramirez . . . The perfume acts sort of like a pheromone: ‘Females use these chemicals to identify and mate with males of right species, [and] also use them to discriminate between males in the population.’”

Maybe there really is an archaic evolutionary explanation behind the collections of eau de parfum bottles we stash away in our bathroom cupboards, after all . . .

Wanna come over and see my pollen collection?

4.) Versace Unveiled as the Latest H&M Collaboration Brand:
“Both companies need to tread carefully, warned Louis Marino, who previously worked as P. Diddy’s creative director and who is now executive creative director at MKTG. ‘If it’s done incorrectly, it can look like Versace is pandering to the mass market in order to remain relevant,’ he said. ‘Versace has more to lose. H&M knows what it is’ . . . ‘In the branding world, it’s always smarter to marry up rather than marry down,’ said branding expert Rob Frankel.”

Scary designer wants you to buy her cheap clothes

The Daily Mail reports that Donatella Versace herself stated in 2008 that “she would never do a diffusion line, claiming ‘the Versace line in H&M would confuse the brand'” . . . yet here she is, only three years later and voila! Versace + H&M = Confu$ion.

*NOTE 3: There’s nothing like the sweet smell of scorched principles in the morning.

My partner and I have discussed numerous times what makes a diffusion collection successful — why some of them sell out in minutes (H&M with Karl Lagerfeld) while others languish on clearance racks (Zac Posen for Target).

The BF said it’s about perceived quality vs. perceived sexy — that a reputation for quality can be translated downward (hence, the continued success of Emporio Armani, or Louis Vuitton canvas bags), but that lower-priced va-voom just comes across as cheap and trashy without any perceived quality to back it up.

For example, the idea of the high-priced call girl is theoretically desirable to men because the higher prices create an automatic exclusivity. You have to be someone with means and/or power to access the fantasy (see: Eliot Spitzer). But take that concept down to the street level and the high-end appeal/demand drops considerably once any Joe in a Yugo can drive up and haggle.

Versace has spent decades nurturing a very high-priced call girl/gigolo image, to varying levels of success, but now the brand has decided to bring that special ‘tude of sexy to a street corner near you.

Versace womenswear Spring 2011 — it’s not quality & craftsmanship she’s selling

I can’t imagine this will turn out well in the long run.


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