Luxury & Fashion Biz News: Celebrities drive sales for apparel (whether the fashion industry likes it or not); plus, It’s tough being the little guy!
Women’s apparel is the biggest selling category at US chain stores: “While celebrity designers have a mixed record — model Milla Jovovich’s Jovovich-Hawk line fizzled — their fashions, along with a flood of brightly hued clothes and accessories, have helped perk up women’s apparel sales after a prolonged post-recession slump . . . Women’s apparel sales climbed 3% to $108.1 billion in the 12 months ended in June … US department-store chains sell more women’s apparel than any other category of merchandise. At New York-based Saks (Fifth Avenue), women’s apparel represented 35% of the chain’s $3 billion sales in the most recent fiscal year.”
The Bussinessweek article states that gossip show & magazine interest in the lives of celebrities has pumped up awareness of fashion trends and styles as celebrity watchers take shopping cues from the wardrobes of their famous idols — and that this celebrity-effect is beneficial for the fashion industry, whether or not the fashion industry likes or appreciates the growing influence of celebrities in what was once a very designer/fashion editor focused world.
Below is a video clip of actress Katie Holmes and stylist Jeanne Yang presenting their Holmes & Yang Spring 2013 collection in New York — industry analysts speculated that the massive press surrounding Holmes’ recent divorce from Tom Cruise would be a net benefit for her three year old and yet still not widely known clothing label:
You may have heard of her? Katie Holmes? Yeah, *that* Katie Holmes
Though a few critics complained that the famous design duo may have played it too safe in their attempt to woo retail buyers and magazine editors.
For example, in Really, We’re Just Here to See Katie, Eric Wilson of the NYTimes wrote: “A navy strapless dress, some slouchy leather pants, a motorcycle jacket and a dress with a questionable floral print — it was all perfectly commercial, but none of it added up to a statement. That seemed a missed opportunity, given the fickleness of fashion. You don’t get that many shots to make a splash at Fashion Week.”
But then again, it seems as if it’s the famous faces and celebrity names instead of splashy design tricks that are drawing shoppers into the stores, so who’s to say?
*RELATED: Victoria Beckham and the Olsen twins have also turned their fame into fashion careers, with great financial success. The Brisbane Times reports that “sales of Beckham’s two ready-to-wear lines, sunglasses and denim totalled £60 million in 2011″ while Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have built up a fashion empire — including Olsenboye, Elizabeth and James, and The Row — that’s won coveted industry awards and is rumoured to be worth over $1 billion.
*SPEAKING OF APPAREL SALES: Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing states that “the sales are in high luxury brands that can deliver clothes that are dynamic as well as unique and in lower-priced, youthful contemporary lines with a point-of-view. The squishy mid-point — perhaps like the middle class — is feeling the stress.”
One luxury brand that consistently delivers dynamic and unique style is Prada, which just showed its Spring 2013 collection in Milan — a seemingly Japanese-inspired, geisha-friendly collection that wowed the critics but might not play very well in the newly volatile Japan-hating Chinese marketplace:
Prada Spring 2013 — just what the Chinese didn’t order?
*NOTE: Prada has always incorporated an interesting mix of Italian cool and Japanese playfulness, so while the new spring collection isn’t an unusual direction for Prada, the recently heightened political tensions between Japan and China could prove difficult for a Japanese-inspired Italian brand that relies heavily on the Chinese market for sales and growth (see: Prada’s Focus on China Pays Off).
*Political Fallout in the Fashion World: China-Japan row takes toll on Uniqlo outlets — “Following anti-Japan protests stirred by a diplomatic row between China and Japan over a group of islands in the East China Sea, Japanese retail major, Fast Retailing Co, has closed around one-third of its Uniqlo casual apparel outlets in China. The retailer announced that it has closed down 42 of its 145 Chinese outlets, sacking around 200 Japanese employees employed at these outlets.”
But hey, if all this social unrest spells goodbye for Hello Kitty, I’m sure Minnie Mouse will be more than happy to step in and take her place:
Minnie Mouse and Americana hit London Fashion Week — “At the more playful end of Saturday’s programme, a dozen designers including Giles Deacon and Lulu Guiness created one-off works inspired by Disney’s Minnie Mouse to be auctioned off for charity on eBay . . . Richard Nicoll turned Minnie’s famous black ears into the shoulders of a strapless dress that featured a print of her with Mickey . . . Hand-painted wedge heels by Terry de Havilland paid tribute to the red and white polka-dot print of her dress, as did a long, layered skirt by Dutch designer Michael van der Ham.”
“Rocking out with Minnie Mouse” at London Fashion Week
*Relevant Aside: Why the Rise of Asia In Fashion Isn’t As Beautiful As It Seems — “We’re seeing a moment of profound transition, where the industry knows where it needs to go and doesn’t know how, or won’t admit what it’ll take, to get there . . . they want to appeal to the Asian consumer, but they actually have quite a low opinion of that consumer — they know Asians buy brands but don’t believe that they really have a sense of style: ‘Oh, they just buy whatever’s in the magazines.’ Is it any wonder they’re making all these missteps when they have that kind of a perception of their consumer?’”
*BUT BACK TO THE SUBJECT OF DEPARTMENT STORES: Remember how peeved all the big fashion brands were with department stores when chains like Saks, Neiman Marcus, Barneys and Nordstrom slashed prices drastically on luxury designer merchandise back in 2008? This inspired luxury brands to take back control of their sales points, building more stand-alone boutiques and relying less on chain stores for their sales.
Fast forward a couple of years and department stores have revamped their interiors, reworked the way they do business and began building little shops-within-the-shop boutiques to feature their best-selling designer brands. Voila! All is now forgiven.
Fashion brands say long live department stores: “Department stores, particularly at the high end, are in vogue again, their renaissance helped by efforts like Macy’s $400 million makeover of its Manhattan flagship and a bigger emphasis on exclusive, high-fashion clothes . . . By breaking up their sales floors into sections dedicated to individual labels, department stores have transformed themselves into houses of brands … That means shoppers less focused on any one brand may choose department stores in favour of specialty stores.”
WWD also reported that in August, “department stores showed the only sign of strength, with sales rising 0.1 percent to $15.3 billion in the month.” But otherwise, the big back-to-school season fell flat, with the India Education bureau reporting that, “While US consumers shopped this July and August, they were not buying clothes and notebooks for their children but rather items for the home.”
J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler stated that the fault for lacklustre retail sales in the clothing business has more to do with too much emphasis on ecommerce growth and supply chain efficiency and not enough attention paid to creative product design: “‘You have to work harder, be better, create and innovate,’ (said Drexler). ‘Product is an art, product is not a science, and creativity needs to be appreciated. You have to take a risk.’”
J.Crew takes some risks with bright, bold prints for Spring 2013
2.) INDUSTRY QUICK HITS:
A.) Chanel is ordered to pay 200,000 euros to small knitwear company World Tricot as a fine for blatantly copying a World Tricot design without permission — “In 2009, the Paris commercial tribunal ruled that Chanel had not stolen the design although it did order it to pay 400,000 euros in damages to World Tricot for breaking the contract. (But) Friday’s ruling (from September 14th, 2012) said that ‘a visual comparison of the original and the crocheted Chanel vest shows that the vest is a slavish copy’.”
A slavish copy! That’s gotta sting.
*In related design-law news: Van Cleef & Arpels won a significant court case detailing the rights a company holds over designs that are created by its employees: “Thierry Berthelot had worked for Van Cleef & Arpels and had taken legal action to try to claim rights over the jewellery that he designed while working there, according to a report in The Financial Times. The court ruled against Berthelot on the basis that the designs created for the house were done so with the involvement of others at Van Cleef & Arpels and so were a collective effort.”
The US already has a settled “work for hire” system in place, but this is a big step for the French courts, with Van Cleef & Arpels chief executive Stanislas de Quercize stating that this decision brings “much needed clarity” to the relationship between designers and employers.
B.) It’s tough to be the little guy: India’s perfume capital Kannauj threatened by modern fragrance makers — “While it is still popular with natural fragrance enthusiasts, attar is increasingly shunned by India’s brand-conscious consumers who have become used to foreign products since economic reforms in the 1990s opened up the country . . . Armani, Azzaro and Burberry were listed as the top three leading perfume brands in the country, boosted by a trend for male grooming among urbane Indians . . . for many like Delhi businessman Anshul Agarwal, nothing compares to the high-end brands that he is fond of buying from the modern glass and steel shopping malls in the city. ‘One of my friends had gifted me an attar around a year back. It is still lying unused because I love my Calvin Kleins and Davidoffs,’ said the 34-year-old.”
The article notes that “Kannauj is to India what Grasse is to France” and that the city once boasted nearly 700 material distilleries up until the 1990s, but now has only about 150.
C.) What’s a $4,000 Suit Worth? — “Modern clothiers’ profits have long come from establishing a strong brand and then emblazoning it on all sorts of cheaper products, like fragrances, which can be mass-produced. Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren — not to mention Carolina Herrera — began as small studios before spinning off into variegated billion-dollar businesses . . . The only way to make money in the perfectionist craftsperson industry, it seems, is to stop being a perfectionist craftsperson.”
Though articles like this often neglect to mention the big difference between growing fast and making quick money, and making a steady living doing what you love to do while continuing to do it well.
For instance, the Malaysian-born shoemaker Jimmy Choo exited his eponymous high-end luxury brand in 2001 when it became apparent that his business partners wanted to go the mass-market big bucks route rather than continue to focus on quality and craftsmanship.
He now lives in London, produces specialised one-off custom shoes, teaches part-time (and sponsors a Jimmy Choo scholarship) at the London College of Fashion, and is working on a partnership with a shoemaking institute in Malaysia to both financially help and creatively inspire local Malaysian designers.
Rediscovering the importance of craftsmanship in the world of design
Or, as Vanessa Friedman writes in Only in America: “If you make your clothes better — better fabrics, construction, raise them to the level of luxury — that is the point of difference. You can’t knock off incredible fabrics.”
*Speaking of which: GQ’s Best New Menswear Designers Land In The Gap — not that you’ll find incredible fabrics in The Gap, but the designers they’re teaming up with are from some of the buzziest, sizzliest up-and-coming menswear brands on the market today: Todd Snyder, BLK DNM, Ian Velardi, Mark McNairy, Ovadia & Sons, and Saturdays Surf.
It should provide The Gap with a nice jolt of contemporary spin, just when it needs it the most, though WWD has a different take on it in their article, Handicapping the New Generation of Designers: “While the revenue will help the emerging designers build their own labels, there’s also the risk that they dilute their nascent brand equity in the process — and become another flavor of the month that the big retailers cycle through each season to add a little zip to their fleet of stores.”