Luxury & Fashion Biz News: Ego Will Eat Itself

Big Personality Designers are Out, while Big Personality Style Bloggers are In

It’s the classic swing of the pendulum — once the fashion world hit the peak of designers as rock stars (because, after all, what’s more rock star than drug abuse, nervous breakdowns, dating porn stars, stints in rehab, demands for huge payouts and an over dependence on spectacle), it was only bound to swing back the other way.

Thierry Mugler + Gaga: the creative low point of the high-concept

The Wall Street Journal featured a recent article on the House of Ungaro, with Jeffry Aronsson, the new head for Ungaro (replacing CEO Mounir Moufarrige, who dragged the brand into disgrace after hiring celebrity wild-child Lindsay Lohan as a design consultant) remarking that the brand had lost its way, and the best step forward is to concentrate on the talent it already possesses in-house instead of attempting another celebrity electro-shock revival.

Ungaro Plots a Comeback Without a Design Chief: “Mr. Aronsson says that when he arrived in June, he found a discouraged team of 35 employees. But he noticed young talents, as well as veterans who had worked under the founder. Seeing them and their knowledge of the archives convinced him to rely on them as designers. ‘I’m not looking for a big name from the outside because I don’t want the development of the brand to be dependent on a big ego,’ he says.”

And global fashion giant Dior is still without a head designer after LVMH management sent Galliano packing back in February of this year once his substance abuse and rampant racism became too big a problem for the brand to ignore. Speculation has been swirling ever since over who would take the reins of such a commercially lucrative design house (see: Christian Dior: The Job No One Wants), but so far, executives are sticking with Bill Gaytten, the low-wattage, long-time right hand man for Galliano during his many years at Dior.

And while Gaytten may have stumbled in his first haute-couture presentation post Galliano, he just presented a subtle, suitable Ready To Wear collection in Paris for the Spring 2012 shows that, while not leaving critics in raptures, is notable for hitting smart, retail-friendly notes in these turbulent economic times.

Dior Spring 2012: ladylike chic ripped straight from the archives

Writes Lisa Armstrong for The Telegraph UK: “With Galliano and McQueen no longer on hand to provide the spectacle, designers are racing to show clothes that real women can wear: in Paris, that’s radical.”

Even the once highly conceptual Hussein Chalayan, infamous for creating clothing that functions better as interior design, toned down the experimental excesses and debuted a runway full of graceful, flowing items that were masterful in their simplicity.

Hussein Chalayan Spring 2012: outré gives way to necessity

He’s still offering a few challenges in some respects, but at least you can sit down in one of his Spring 2012 dresses without fear of breaking a light bulb.

Though a 2009 interview with the Financial Times gave a clear indication that Chalayan was tiring of his notorious-designer routine and wanted, instead, some good old fashioned retail sales: “Sometimes people say they come to my fashion shows to get inspiration. That’s like the kiss of death for me. They need to buy. I think the monumental pieces have overshadowed the clothes. But I don’t want that image. It’s a waste of my time.”

In other words, the age of the designer as uber-ego might just be a bygone era.

Take a look at what happened at Tom Ford’s last show in London. As exclusive and tightly controlled an event as his No Photographs Allowed return to womenswear back in September of 2010 in New York, his London show boasted all the biggest editors from all the biggest magazines and newspapers, but the “you’re so special just to be invited to see my collection” vibe of the event appears to have worn out its welcome. Jess Cartner-Morley of The Guardian stated that the collection was Tom on an off-day, and Virginie Mouzat, editor of Le Figaro fashion magazine, described Ford’s Spring show as a “slowly unfolding nightmare” — and then pretty much yanked down the curtains and set the chairs on fire to drive the point home.

Tom Ford Gets Ripped A New One: “After this inventory for Kim Kardashian, Tom Ford appeared on the runway. He walked out. And stayed there, in the middle of the catwalk, wordlessly awaiting his standing ovation. Perhaps people would oblige out of anguish, or sympathy, or because all of this is supposed to be fun, after all. But everyone just looked at their feet.”

But if we’re witnessing the end of the Designer As Rock Star age (“I hate exclusive. I hate it,” said fashion critic Lynn Yaeger when asked about Ford’s highly restricted guest list and no-photographs policy), then what will replace it? Because nature abhors a vacuum, so when one empire falls, then another must rise to take its place.

Well, first off, it’s the workhorse designer that’s getting the attention: no drug addicts, no alcoholics, no nervous collapses need apply. Just to cite a few examples:

1.) Miuccia Prada is guiding her Prada and Miu Miu brands into ever greater successes throughout Asia; 2.) Erdem Moralioglu is critically respected, courteous and low-key, and his designs have been so consistently lovely and retail-friendly that he’s now dressing global power players like Michelle Obama, Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron while also getting his name tossed into the ring as potential successor for the big job at Dior — and he probably wouldn’t require a $10 million dollar paycheck to do it, either; 3.) Alessandra Facchinetti, best known for taking over the reins at Valentino once the orange-hued designer retired from active duty and then just as famously kicked to the curb in no time flat (and despite critical support), has re-entered the fashion fray with a new “seasonless” project funded by an Italian fashion backer and aimed squarely at the internet shopper; 4.) award-winning Alexander Wang runs a burgeoning brand with the help of his family and a no-nonsense work ethic; and 5.) Belgian designer Dries Van Noten has quietly and progressively wowed both critics and consumers with collections that are just as long on style and beauty as they are short on ego and vanity.

Dries Van Noten Spring 2012: clothing to be worn now

But it’s not as if all the backstabbing theater and Me-First drama is disappearing entirely from the fashion scene — it’s merely transferred from backstage to online, with young style bloggers now snagging front row seats, internet attention and heavyweight agents.

They also have their own ego clashes, especially as their egos get bigger . . . and bigger.

Scott Schuman, the fashion photographer behind the popular Sartorialist blog, gave an interview this week for ‘The Talk’ in which he disses the rise of the majority of the style blogosphere as “a little bit of a conspiracy by established print media that wanted to show that this blog thing is not that important, that it’s done by a bunch of twelve year olds.”

But then he went on to gushingly praise the website of his girlfriend, Garance Doré, a (wait for it) style blogger whose arduous path to mainstream recognition seemed to be the bagging of one well-known fashion photographer as a boyfriend — which leaves Schuman looking somewhat mean-spirited about the competition (if not even a little paranoid about the industry as a whole).

But petty cronyism aside, the aversion of brand executives to rock star antics in their showrooms has cleared the field for rock star antics from the bloggers who cover the showrooms, and with a greater degree of power now wielded by the consumer (thanks, recessive economy!), the blogger as face of any respective target demographic is a definite force to be reckoned with.

Alisa Gould-Simon writes in Mashable Business that “bloggers are not only creating editorial to rival that of the glossies, they’re leveraging myriad talents in shooting lookbooks, styling them, and, in some cases, starring in them. In addition, they’re hosting events, dressing the windows of some of 5th Avenue’s finest storefronts — after catching a fashion show from the front row, of course — and moving product on behalf of retailers.”

Style blogger Suzie Bubble happily shills for The Outnet

And don’t think that retailers haven’t noticed. Style bloggers have been signing branding deals, trailing interviewers, gaining wider recognition as professional stylists and working with print media to actively push lifestyles that are geared to hit any merchant’s sweet-spot.

In his article “Fashion Bloggers, Posted and Represented“, Steven Kurutz writes: “Indeed, seemingly every fashion brand is working with bloggers these days . . . But deciding which opportunities to accept can be tricky for bloggers, who risk overexposure and being seen as a corporate shill. A blogger’s influence is derived from independence.”

Which is why diva behavior and a sense of entitlement can push all the wrong buttons when dealing with style bloggers. Macala Wright Lee, a digital consultant and founder of Fashionably Marketing, a website that tracks the advent of social media in the world of fashion and luxury, recounted her story of one blogger demanding “a first-class flight, hotel, five grand a day for three days — and an extra day to recover from the flight” to appear at a fashion trade show panel in Vegas. “Just because you have 15,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t equate to Anne Hathaway showing up,” she said.

But Twitter followers are a sort of currency in the world of online influence, and the bigger the Facebook and Twitter friends list, the better the chances of an invitation to fashion week, or a new product launch, or a bag full of swag. Says StyleCaster’s Jessica Hoppe, “There is no doubt that bloggers have become the new stars of the fashion world. People aren’t as interested in celebrities; they want real people who are celebrities.”

Be careful what you wish for.

But don’t think the magazine editors are going to just sit back and watch their decades-long run of influence crumble in the face of the hoi palloi. If style bloggers can cut merchandising deals and reap the financial rewards of their readership, then so can the magazines . . . and so they have!

Magazines Dive Into the Retail Industry: “Magazines today are increasingly diving into the e-commerce world with partnerships or their own sale ventures, blurring the lines between them even further . . . ‘What magazines have always done is to create desire in consumers,’ said David Granger, Esquire’s editor in chief. ‘The next logical step is to fulfill that desire by selling the product. If we don’t do it, somebody else is going to.'”

And that “somebody else” is the pesky style blogger, responsible for leeching readers away from traditional magazines, resulting in a perilous drop in advertising revenue. So GQ partners with Park & Bond, Vogue hooks up with Moda Operandi, Esquire launches its own retail webshop, Harper’s Bazaar gets a fling with Net-a-Porter. Why give ground when you don’t have to, right?

Tavi Gevinson: The 13-year old that changed the style blogging world

“’Fashion magazines are fighting for their lives,’ said Uché Okonkwo, executive director of Luxe Corp., a consulting firm based in Paris” — as brands carefully examine where their advertising dollars are best spent, and etailers like Net-a-Porter and Mr. Porter develop their own editorial content to rival the once all-powerful magazines.

“It’s about instant gratification,” says Alison Loehnis, Vice-President for Sales & Marketing at Net-a-Porter. “Bridging the gap between seeing something in a magazine and actually buying it.”

But gosh darn it — even Tavi Gevinson, Scott Schuman’s teen nemesis (she’s now 15), is in on the game with her new Rookie Mag site, offering up style assessments of 12-year olds in between dreamy diary entries, movie reviews and articles about boys, peppered with surprisingly subtle links to merchant pages.

Just how is a proper old-school magazine supposed to compete with that?

It’s a whole new crowdsourcing world out there, which probably makes editors bang their heads on their desks and long for the days of substance-abusing rock star designers.

At least they knew where they stood in that particular universe.


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