Luxury & Fashion Biz News: A new direction for Dior, Downton Abbey is old world chic, and Dunhill looks outside of China for customers

1.) The Rumor Merry-Go-Round Finally Stops Spinning at Dior:
“Belgian designer Raf Simons is taking over as artistic director at Christian Dior, the Paris fashion house announced on Monday, ending months of speculation over who would replace his disgraced predecessor, John Galliano . . . Simons, who previously worked for fashion house Jil Sander and is known for his understated looks, was long considered an unlikely candidate as Dior conducted exploratory talks with more high-profile rivals ranging from Marc Jacobs, head designer at Louis Vuitton, to Alber Elbaz of Lanvin.”

Back in 2011, LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault hinted at a new approach for Dior, as well as a new look at the old ways of luxury branding overall, stating that he felt the impeccable tailoring and chic styling of the Celine brand under the artistic guidance of Phoebe Philo was the future destination for high-end fashion’s yellow brick road.

“‘It will take time, but [Céline] is on the way,’ Arnault says (in an interview with fashion journalist Robin Givhan). ‘Phoebe has the potential. She is doing a style which is completely in line with our time’ . . . Arnault suggests it’s time for change, time to recast his global, glittering, status-laden empire as something else. The watchwords are: intimate, Old World, artful. And the timing feels right.”

Below is a video clip of the Celine Spring 2012 collection, showcasing the kind of intimate, artful flourishes that Mr. Arnault believes are crucial to the success of a 21st century luxury brand:


Celine Spring 2012 — “Couture has been such a big talking point this season”

And now, after watching that show, take a look at the work Raf Simons was doing for Jil Sander before he was hired by Dior. I think it becomes immediately apparent that Arnault has a vision for the future of Dior, and it’s the Anti-Galliano future, ditching overt theatricality and brazen excesses to focus on sheer strength of design:


Raf Simons for Jil Sander, Fall 2012

Because if the understated chic and wearable-couture sensibility of Phoebe Philo is what Bernard Arnault truly admires, he couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate designer to head the LVMH flagship brand than Raf Simons, though Simons most certainly has a pressure-filled job ahead of him.

From the article, New Dior designer faces tough task to polish brand: “The stakes are high because in many ways Christian Dior, part of the luxury goods empire of billionaire LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, has become the public face of the group. While LVMH’s iconic Louis Vuitton brand accounts for more than half of its operating profit, it is the splashy Dior commercials featuring a rapidly disrobing Charlize Theron for which LVMH is increasingly known.”

*NOTE 1: I have to admit to a certain fondness for interim Dior designer (and ultimate fashion industry underdog) Bill Gaytten, the Dior Atelier head pattern-cutter who was thrust into the glaring spotlight after Galliano’s ousting, and who had the unenviable (and thankless) task of learning how to be head designer for one of the world’s biggest luxury brands on the most public of stages: What will become of Bill Gaytten?

*Personal Aside: I’m kind of hoping that Mr. Gaytten is allowed some small measure of creative freedom, such as continuing on as head-designer for the much smaller John Galliano label. It would be seriously cold on the part of LVMH management if they returned him to anonymity in the back room, especially after all the kicks, cuts and bruises he suffered for Dior at the hands of what turned out to be a rather merciless press corps.

*But speaking of Old World and artful: Vanessa Friedman at the Financial Times writes that the ‘Downton Abbey’ TV show has made a big splash in the world of fashion, influencing countless runways and inspiring numerous trends, and she tries to understand why“A friend suggested that the Downton effect was attributable to the mixture of soap opera and period, which means that the show gets the broadest possible audience. Another said she thought it had to do with the undiscovered nature of the time period; precisely because it has not been a classic part of the fashion scene, it is primed for re-discovery.”


Downton Abbey, with the kind of popularity that all the catwalk CEO’s crave

From a Fashionista article about how popular Downton Abbey is with the fashion crowd: “At the Victoria Beckham show I remember overhearing Glamour’s Cindi Leive discussing the show with her seat mate. That is how much of a thing it is . . . (so when) Ralph Lauren opened his fall (2012) show to the theme from the hit British period drama, the weary crowd of editors literally squealed with delight.”

Is this the kind of “old world” reference that Bernard Arnault was talking about? It’s not very Phoebe Philo or Raf Simons, but it does seem to hit a chord with the contemporary consumer.

For example, when the BBC mini-series “Sherlock” first aired (a contemporary retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories), it’s tailored Savile Row look proved so popular that heritage Brit brand Belstaff quickly rushed its long overcoat back into production to meet the sudden upsurge in demand, but only for a limited time, much to the dismay of fashion hounds that arrived late to the party.

Sherlock Holmes reignites a fashion for classic tweed coats: “A far greater mystery, surely, is why the BBC hasn’t put Sherlock’s lovely, swishy, swaggery, tweed coat into production? Belstaff, who made the original, say they are not producing any more for the foreseeable future and there’s only one left in store. Hello? Are they insane? . . . Think what a cult the Withnail tweed coat became and mark my words if the same doesn’t happen to the Holmesian version. Dolce & Gabbana’s and Ermenegildo Zegna’s catwalk shows this week had clearly ransacked the sleuth’s closets, and Ralph Lauren can’t be far behind.”

Ah yes, Ralph Lauren — he’s apparently ransacking British heritage style before the British even think to get back around to it.

See also: How Sherlock became stylish

*NOTE 2: I’d also suggest that the increasing popularity of the BBC resurrection of the Dr. Who series — with its uber-Brit wool overcoats, tweed blazers, suspenders, bow-ties and brogues — is also having a monumental impact on current menswear trends.

It seems it’s all about the Brits these days: British fashion manufacturing having a revival

2.) *As long as we’re on the subject of Brit brands: Lifestyle brand Dunhill has been rapidly expanding in China, and was one of the beneficiaries of arriving early and expanding aggressively, but Dunhill grew so far and so fast throughout China that they damaged their own brand, becoming, essentially, victims of their own success.

The signs that Dunhill was on its way to being out of favor in China started as early as 2010: Get rich, ditch Dunhill“The basic theory is that as a new generation of entrepreneurs emerges, the absolute last brand they will patronize is the one popular among the first wave of get-rich-quickers – and that’s Dunhill. The last 20 years have been good to Dunhill in China, but many younger men don’t want to be identified with the man-bag-clutching, chain-smoking, thin white-socked brigade and their love of Dunhill belts.”


Dunhill presentation in China — trying to woo back their Asian clients

In 2010, Dunhill was second only to Louis Vuitton for popularity among wealthy Chinese consumers, but after a very aggressive expansion scheme into second-tier markets, the gleam wore off the Dunhill nameplate as wealthy Chinese consumers began to look to other brands that hadn’t cheapened their once upscale names by opening hundreds of stores in bland shopping malls.

From the Red Luxury article, “What happens when top-tier brands get too much exposure in China?” — “The problem seems to be that Dunhill didn’t storm the market as much as flood it. The large number of stores means savvy and sophisticated consumers in first-tier cities look elsewhere for exclusivity . . . Many Chinese consumers think Dunhill is sending a mixed message: the Shanghai Dunhill Home store embodies ultra-luxury, but no other (Dunhill) store comes near its level of sophistication.”

As a result of its fading popularity in Asia, Dunhill is returning to Western markets in the attempt to jazz up its influence and engage a new generation of customers in the United States: “After years of aggressive expansion in Asia, Alfred Dunhill is gambling big on the U.S. market . . . ‘We, in the last six years, have focused where the fish are for us, and that was predominately in Asia, that’s what we went out to focus on. We now have the need to focus on the west, and that is the U.S.,’ Dunhill CEO Christopher Colfer tells CNBC.”

The article notes that about 30% of Dunhill’s revenue stream comes from sales in China alone, so Dunhill still has a lot invested in the Asian market, but with excitement waning for the brand among China’s big spenders, Dunhill is hoping the revival of classic menswear in the U.S. market can goose some consumer interest in the brand’s very British heritage and history.

*Speaking of engaging new customers: Final Fantasy + Prada: When Gaming and Fashion Collide“Square Enix, creators of the Final Fantasy XIII-2 game, collaborated with leading fashion brand Prada and Arena Homme+ fashion magazine to feature its main characters Noel, Hope, Snow, Sazh, and Lighting. All five models adorned Prada’s 2012 spring and summer menswear line.”

Scott McCollum, a Senior Marketing Content Manager at OnMessage, had this to say about the Prada + Final Fantasy collision: “It’s a clever co-marketing gimmick, but the typical doughy thirty-something urban white hipster manchild in America that loves Japanese comics and cartoons probably won’t even notice it.”

For a counterpoint to Scott’s assertions, check out: I Got My Fashion Sense from Video Games (And You Can, Too!)

Though judging from the flood of “I hate this article and the guy who wrote it!” comments under the Video Game Fashion Sense post, I wouldn’t call it a particularly successful counterpoint to McCollum’s assertions.

INDUSTRY QUICK HITS:

A.) Former Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon sold her stiletto-heeled soul for cash and regrets it: “‘What happens in private equity is they come in and they say we’re going to be a great partner. We want to hold this long term and we’re going to help you nurture and build this brand,’ Ms Mellon, who left Jimmy Choo in November, tells the Financial Times. But ‘the day after signing, they talked about selling the business’.”

And right on cue, that very same private equity group trots out its tired routine of artist-brand collaboration in order to pump up media interest in Jimmy Choo (while probably ginning up extra attention for a contemporary artist they might also be heavily invested in promoting): Jimmy Choo teams up with Rob Pruitt for new collection“Another collaboration between the art and fashion world has been announced, with Jimmy Choo revealing a team-up with contemporary artist Rob Pruitt for a capsule collection of shoes, handbags and leather goods . . . Pruitt is best known for his glittery panda paintings and creating the Guggenheim Art Awards. Last year he unveiled his statue of Andy Warhol in Union Square, New York.”

B.) 107 Garment Workers Fainted In Cambodian Factory This Week“According to WWD, employees of Sabrina Garment Mfg. Corp. fainted in a factory that is believed to produce apparel for Nike Inc. Local media blame the fainting to overexposure to chemicals and poor ventilation, but Nike has yet to release a statement . . . 284 workers fainted in a factory that produces apparel for H&M last August and in June, 49 workers in a factory that produces for Puma also fainted.”

Someone is paying a high price for cheap goods, even if it isn’t the consumer.

Check out “Blood, Sweat & T-Shirts” for a sobering look at what working & living conditions are like for a lot of the workers who produce fast and cheap fashion.

*RELATED: Why Luxury Brands Will Fail Without A Clear Design Philosophy“After having gone through the recent financial crises, many people still want to enjoy luxury products but at the same time they don’t have the desire to show-off their wealth as much. That is why luxury brands today need to focus on fulfilling core values. It’s all about quality and an improved life . . . People care more about where materials come from and about quality and design as well as their individual style.”

C.) Luxury retailers in India shrink the size of stores to maximize profit: “When luxury brands started setting up stores in India a few years ago, they decided to go with their global format of large stores; however, such large stores failed to generate the revenue that big stores should generate . . . While retailers cannot alter duties or cut down on manpower costs drastically, they are looking to save on the rentals. It makes business sense because, as a few retailers say, they have been able to optimise the retail space by reducing the size of the stores.”

D.) Consumer demand sees strong growth for natural cosmetics in the Middle East: “An increase in consumer demand for green and organic products has seen the natural cosmetics market in the Middle East grow 20% in 2011, with the UAE market comprising the major portion of regional demand.”

But the natural and organic sector for beauty products still has a long way to go if natural brands wish to make a dent in overall consumer demand, currently representing only 3% of the market share in Europe and North America, and only 0.1% of the overall market in the Middle East.

Which may help explain why Marc Chaya, the CEO and founder of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, stated in a May 2010 article with The Philippine Star that “An all-natural fragrance does not exist” — even though all-natural perfumes clearly do exist, and Mandy Aftel has the FiFi nomination to prove it.

*NOTE 3: I mean, yes, sure, it may help *explain* the statement, but it certainly doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

I guess if you’re a finance and business consultant who’s now fronting for a self-described luxury French perfumery with ambitions of a future corporate merger/buyout, then natural products are such an insignificant portion of the total beauty and fragrance marketplace that the segment will be all but invisible to the incurious eye.

But hey, incurious corporate eyes are exactly why independent artisans are flourishing — more consumers want to know where the raw materials for products are coming from, who’s making the goods they buy and exactly what’s in the stuff they find on store shelves.

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