Luxury & Fashion Biz News: October 7th, 2011 (The Designer Merry Go Round, Luxury Bubbles and McQueen is Cooler than Chanel)

1.) If ever there would have been a time for a big, media-buzzy announcement of the rumored appointment of Marc Jacobs as head designer for Dior, it would have been at the end of the Jacobs’ designed Louis Vuitton runway show in Paris — a wowzy theatrical presentation that featured a giant carousel as its central set design, an obvious visual commentary on the ceaseless shifting of designers from brand to brand as corporate executives attempt to ensure (or, as in the case of the long dormant house of Paco Rabanne, revive) retail success in a recessionary environment.


Louis Vuitton Spring 2012: round and round they go

But there was no media-frenzy announcement, and Marc Jacobs brushed off journalists’ questions about a potential move to Dior by stating that he was happy right where he was at Louis Vuitton: “‘I could never do this anywhere else,’ he told the Telegraph, after his fairytale Louis Vuitton show yesterday. ‘It’s not just a Paris thing – Vuitton allows me. It’s really, really something I feel particularly proud of and am grateful to the team for. We’ve all worked really hard and gone through a lot to get this to where it is now and we’re starting to see results.'”

Which makes sense when you think about how Jacobs presently designs for his own namesake brand and for Louis Vuitton, where he has complete creative freedom. Louis Vuitton had no ready to wear division before it brought Marc Jacobs on board as designer, which means he’s been responsible for essentially programming the brand’s DNA when it comes to clothing.

Should Jacobs move to Dior, he’d be saddled with a very deep and emphatically drawn design archive that he’d be expected to honor and uphold. So buh-bye creative freedom, and hello straining at the leash. Not to mention that his own work for Dior would be continuously (and unfavorably?) compared to the extravagant flourishes of both Christian Dior himself and the still highly regarded design-talent of John Galliano.

So maybe not just straining at the leash, but also chafing under the collar.

Another, and likely even bigger, sticking point in the negotiations between Jacobs and LVMH has been Jacobs’ stated desire to bring his Louis Vuitton design team along with him should he relocate to Dior.

But the workers behind the house of Dior are famous for their talent and skill, and are considered the best in the biz. Bernard Arnault compared them to a world-class orchestra in a recent interview: “I think we have the equivalent of the Vienna Philharmonic. From time to time, the Vienna Philharmonic could play without a conductor because they are so good. But that cannot last forever,” he said.

Bringing the Jacobs’ led Louis Vuitton team to Dior would mean ousting some of the incredibly skilled talent that’s already there, and you just have to compare the technical successes of the Dior spring 2012 show with the Louis Vuitton spring 2012 show and you can easily see what a mistake that would be.


Dior Spring 2012: a world-class orchestra waiting for a conductor

Both houses went for a conservative and traditionally pretty aesthetic (pastels, florals, structured jackets and sheer fabrics), yet where the Dior team was able to construct an impeccably tailored collection that flattered and floated (whether or not you cared for the overall theme), the workmanship behind the Louis Vuitton runway was often stiff and bizarrely ill-fitting.


Louise Vuitton: is awkward and unflattering the new black? (click to enlarge)

I can only imagine the resistance of LVMH executives to reorganizing the exceptional talent pool behind Dior — especially should it involve plonking in a less experienced and lesser skilled design team in the process.

Besides, if mere pattern-cutter Bill Gaytten is churning out the same kind of traditionally feminine and pretty pastel Ready to Wear as an allegedly world-class contemporary designer-savant, then why does Dior need Jacobs in a hurry anyway?

If anything, Gaytten’s safe, retail-friendly spring collection allows Dior executives some breathing room when it comes to selecting a successor to John Galliano. The orchestra may lack a strong conductor, yet it seems entirely capable of playing a few more seasons on its own.

*Speaking of awkward and ill-fitting: Rap-music star Kanye West debuted his first luxury womenswear collection this season in Paris. The critics pretty much ran a sword right through him in response: “At a dinner party in Azzedine Alaïa’s kitchen on Sunday, Mr. West complained rather bitterly to those assembled that he meant for those sausage-casing dresses, the sagging trousers and the swimming jackets dripping with sparkles and strips of fuzzy bits to fit the way that they did, though everyone else seemed to read them as a failure in tailoring.”


Kanye West for Spring 2012: sparkles and strips of fuzzy bits

Ouch.

*As long as we’re on the topic of celebrity designers: NY Daily News reports that the Olsen twins found themselves with an unexpected hit on their hands after their $39K crocodile backpack sells out: “A $39,000 backpack designed by the Olsen twins’ designer brand The Row is selling out . . . Amanda Brooks, the fashion director for Barneys New York, told Fashionista this summer that the line of super-pricy bags was a surefire attempt appeal to a younger crowd. ‘Obviously we don’t carry Hermes bags in the store so we were trying to find something that appeals to that customer who is willing to spend a lot of money on a bag that’s going to last a long time and has a classic design,’ she said.”

*Relevant Aside: All of Which brings an enhanced meaning to the latest statements of Central Saint Martins’ design professor Louise Wilson when she states that today’s fashion graduates have more marketing savvy but less skill and talent in actual clothing design and construction: “I think the students work harder than we ever worked, but they have to because a lot of them haven’t got the skills that the old courses trained people in . . . They have less skills now though, and I don’t care who hears that – they outsource more. When you talk about people like Lee McQueen or Christopher Kane, they did everything themselves – with no money, they could generate whatever they needed to.”

*Did someone mention Alexander McQueen? Because it’s now official — the Alexander McQueen brand is cooler than Chanel: “The label, headed up by creative director Sarah Burton since Lee McQueen’s death in 2010, came eleventh overall in the 2011 list of cool global brands – four places ahead of iconic Parisian fashion brand, Chanel, at number 15.”

The article also notes that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York staged a retrospective of McQueen designs which quickly became the most popular of the museum’s exhibits ever, attracting 661,509 visitors in just the three months it was on show.

2.) Milan Fashion Week Organizers Pick a Fight with London and New York:
“Milan has announced that its fashion week next September will overlap those of New York and London, meaning that if no solution can be found, department store buyers and fashion magazine editors would be forced to choose one city over another . . . A source said: ‘Each country has fashion industries worth a great deal of money to their respective economies. We need to collaborate, not go head to head. If we go head to head, all sides will end up losing out.’ Thus far, however, neither side has managed to find a compromise, despite a round of meetings between representatives of the four syndicates.”

Milan is bitterly complaining that the original deal of starting New York’s Fall Fashion Week on the second Thursday of September was supposed to last only three years, and that the 2012 shows will arrive so late in the year that Milan will be scrambling to produce orders to meet retailers’ deadlines.

“The real nub of the problem, say sources on both sides, is that the second Thursday in September falls so late next year, jeopardizing production deadlines for meeting retail orders. It is this that has driven Milan into its decision to announce a clashing fashion week.”

New York and London, for their part, are holding firm, claiming that the agreement was permanent and that they won’t renegotiate what they believe is the most efficient fashion week schedule for the press, starting in New York, hopping to London, then jetting to Milan to wrap everything up in Paris.

CFDA president Diane Von Furstenberg has said that New York will keep to the originally agreed upon schedule, the British Fashion Council has indicated the same, and the Conde Nast publication empire stepped into the fray and stated that if Milan changes its schedule to overlap with New York or London, then all its fashion editors will choose to skip the Milan shows (Conde Nast publishes all the Vogue magazines).

It’s a battle for fashion supremacy and market dominance, but also a warning shot across the bow that perhaps the traditional globe-hopping, “runway show as spectacle sport” days are numbered. With so many shows broadcast live already, and images and videos available on the net in lightning speed, is it really necessary for the industry to continue with a system that was established well before Al Gore created the internet?

Stay tuned.

3.) China’s Luxury Bubble About to Go Kaboom:
“Luxury fashion firm Burberry and leather goods maker Mulberry, which to date have managed to escape the downturn unscathed, are beginning to feel the pain after China’s manufacturing sector contracted for a third consecutive month . . . Investors took fright that the world’s second-largest economy is not immune to the global crisis.”

While a Bloomberg article linked below, published this past week, points to the possibility of China’s economic fall, not its rise, as being the biggest threat to global stability:

China’s Fall, Not Its Rise, Is the Real Global Threat: “economic stress is mounting at home. Labor costs are surging as the supply of young, capable factory workers wanes and living conditions rise along with expectations of better wages. Cheap and abundant credit has driven over-investment and pushed up real-estate prices to levels many families can’t afford, adding to social tensions and possibly setting the country up for a bust.”

Global designer brands like Burberry, Mulberry, Prada, Tiffany and Coach have experienced record growth in the past year, entirely due to their expanding presence in China and Hong Kong. If the Chinese economy experiences a series of hiccups followed by a slowdown (and all the signs point to exactly that), then all those eggs placed in the Asia retail basket will be just one more bubble on a grim collision course with a bust.


Mulberry Spring 2012: a high-flying brand about to crash?

China’s facade disguises economic troubles: “Never mind a two-speed world economy, China is a two-speed country economy all on its own. The woman smilingly showing me round Mixc seems oblivious to the warnings of a Chinese property bubble, the wobbling Hang Seng index and the fact that according to Asia economist Jim Walker, Chinese growth will slow to 0% next year.”

Robin Parbrook, head of Asia equities for Schroders, states that anyone hoping for China to ride up like a white knight to the world’s economic rescue is in for a serious reality check, while Gianluca Brozzetti, chief executive officer for designer Roberto Cavalli, had this to say about the future of luxury retail: “The debt crisis ‘will definitely have an impact on consumption’ of luxury goods . . . The luxury sector is not immune … companies should brace for weaker growth in 2012.”

The Business Insider asks the question on everyone’s mind: Is Luxury Retail About To Finally Tank?

*Weird but related: One Chinese artist views the intense focus on status luxury brands in his country as a problem and created an art installation in response, an art installation that got him booted out of the Hermes sponsored exhibition in which he was invited to show: Hermes kicks up a stink over ‘Dog Feces Fragrance’ exhibit“The professor’s exhibition piece is a mass of “golden dog feces” weighing 1.2 tons. Furthermore, the mass of golden feces has been arranged in a way to resemble Hermes’ H BOX logo. The title of Feng’s exhibit is “Dog Feces Fragrance.” The artist says he wants to use his artwork and its title to satirize what he feels is China’s growing trend of worshiping big brands and labels.”

I can’t say I really blame Hermes in this instance, as it would totally suck to splash out $125K to sponsor an art exhibition only to have one of the artists involved publicly trash your brand as dog-sh*t. The artist is now loudly complaining about censorship since he’s been booted from the show, but really, what did he expect would happen — a bouquet of post-opening flowers and a group hug?

Lesson for the day: If you rely on corporate sponsors to get your art into the public sphere, try to be a little less snippy about it.

*In other corporate sponsored art news: It’s hip to be arty“A century ago, when wealth made in business was still sniffed at in the UK, industrialists bought respectability by collecting art or building concert halls. These days, “patronage” has morphed into “sponsorship”, but the principle remains: the corporate world can try to overcome its reputation as a machine of ruthless self-enrichment by funding the arts.”

Just as long as they don’t step in any golden feces. That’s always hard on the hand-loomed boardroom carpet.

*Speaking of Hermes and hand-loomed anything: “Did you know that Hermès closed all 24 of its U.S. stores on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday so it could host a ‘family reunion’ for 515 American employees? Neither did we. What an effective way to prove its core values as a family-held company . . . The event was apparently such a success, the family-owned company hopes to turn the reunion into a triannual affair.”

Each employee was encouraged to decorate their own white Hermes scarf at the event, with the scarves later put on display. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some went into production,” said Bertrand Puech, who chairs the main Hermès family holding company.

You see? That’s how you properly respond to corporate largesse — you create yet another money-making opportunity for the guys footing the bill. Cuz nothing says job-lovin’ like a scarf project in the oven.

*More Hermes craziness: Who wants a $100,000 stuffed leather panda?

Wait, is that a trick question?

4.) QUICK HITS:

A.) German designer makes clothes from milk: “Anke Domaske, 28, has developed a fabric called QMilch made from high concentrations of the milk protein casein — the first man-made fiber produced entirely without chemicals. ‘It feels like silk and it doesn’t smell — you can wash it just like anything else,’ Domaske told Reuters . . . The casein is extracted from dried milk powder and then heated up in a type of meat-mincing machine with other natural ingredients. The fiber comes out in strands and is then spun into yarn on a spinning machine.”

This should put a nice new spin on the next ‘Got Milk?’ campaign. Or crying over spilled milk.

B.) Chelsea Fagan asks the important questions of the increasingly brand-focused and fashion-mag influenced street style photographers, like, “Why won’t they admit that they clearly only photograph models? I thought the point of street fashion was to take pictures of people that don’t look exactly like everyone you see in every magazine ever — when did that turn into ‘Oh, this model’s late for a casting call — better get a few shots of her while she’s on her way?’ If I had a dollar for every person on these sites that wasn’t 6’1”, 110 pounds and f**king beautiful — I would have, like, three dollars max.”

C.) Mercedes Benz has decided that men can’t live without smelling like a car brand: “The German luxury automaker has introduced a men’s fragrance with the catchy moniker: Mercedes-Benz Perfume . . . The scent, which combines woody notes with hints of floral, will be packaged as an eau de toilette, after shave, deodorant and shower and body gel.”

I now have the Queen song “I’m in love with my car” playing endlessly in my head, and I doubt I’ll get rid of it without the help of an entire bottle of gin and a crowbar. Oh wait, let me share!


I’m in love with my woody-scented hints of floral car

*Related: Because nothing goes together like cars and beautiful models: Coty To Launch Elite Models’ Fragrances“‘The new collaboration will fuse Coty’s unrivaled fragrance expertise with the global reach of the Elite Models brand to distill the glamorous appeal of modeling and fashion into a fragrance line,’ said Cristian D’Ippolito, CEO of Elite World.”

Mmm-hmm, yes, I’m just nodding along as if any of that makes logical sense.

*But maybe better news?: Hermès will Launch the 10th Hermessence perfume, Santal Massoïa, based on the smell of a tree bark that wafts of coconut.

You know, maybe Jean-Claude Elena could take a few lessons from Selena Gomez and allow his fans to help him create his next perfume. It might turn out better than some thin, watery concoction that smells faintly of tree bark and coconuts.

*About that Jean-Claude Ellena fellow: Denyse Beaulieu attended a recent PR function for the release of Ellena’s new book and gives us a wry write-up about the man and the event over at her site, Grain de Musc — Jean-Claude Ellena: “The day I manage to create a perfume with two ingredients, I’ll stop.”

D.) A call for regulatory standards in the increasingly lucrative oudh market: “Delegates at the first Middle East Fragrance Summit, which was held earlier this week in Dubai, called for the establishment of a committee to develop standards for perfume produced in the Emirates. And one of the ingredients that will be monitored is our . . . ‘Oud that is 10 years old is more expensive than one year because it stays longer and better, says Mohamed Saleh Badri. ‘That’s why it is very essential that the perfume that they create which is called oud is regulated right for the protection (of the consumers) and transparency of the process.'”

Because when you have a market potential of over three billion dollars, setting some hard standards might be in everyone’s best interest: Gulf perfume market reaches $3 billion

Not certain what this oudh thing is all about? Popular mystery writer and regular L.A. Times contributor Denise Hamilton is here to help with her article, Beast in the Bottle: “Whether natural or synthesized, what’s beyond doubt is oud’s ascendance. Anthony de la Cruz, who manages Barneys’ perfume counter in Beverly Hills, says sales of oud scents spiked 25% last year. Franco Wright, co-owner of Scent Bar and its online entity, Lucky Scent, calls oud ‘the new black.'”

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