Luxury & Fashion Biz News: Loosening the codes that bind (and how the fashion industry can be its own worst nightmare)
The monthlong slog of major-city Fashion Weeks is over, having wrapped up in Paris with some creative and thought-provoking visions of new target markets and changing luxury demographics (Dior and Givenchy), and when it wasn’t particularly creative and thought-provoking, then at least it was entertainingly theatrical (Chanel and Louis Vuitton).
Upson Downs at Louis Vuitton, Spring 2013
However, absent a healthy dose of creative vision or enough flair for the dramatic to get people talking, a designer can always attract column inches the good old fashioned way — throw a public temper tantrum that’s too juicy to ignore. See: Hedi Slimane has a public meltdown at YSL (or Why Are Fashion Designers So Ridiculously Touchy About Press)?
Yet while the professional fashion pack raved about what they considered the boldly updated look that Raf Simons debuted for his first Ready-to-wear Dior collection, they were mostly unmoved by Hedi Slimane’s ‘long on hype but short on ideas‘ approach at YSL — after all, it’s difficult to find a strict 1970s-era homage to Yves St. Laurent exciting when Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe has been peddling that very same thing for the past decade, and has managed to spin that very specific stylistic influence into her own mid-price clothing & accessories line:
Saint Laurent Rachel Zoe Resort collection, 2011
So, yeah, the retailers were happier with the new Yves Saint Laurent spring collection than the critics were — because the retailers already know that it sells by the bucketload (whether or not it will sell at a price-point that’s significantly higher, by thousands of dollars a pop, than what’s already stuffing the racks in fast-fashion and vintage stores is, however, anyone’s guess).
Said Mark Lee, Barneys chief executive officer, in an article for WWD: “Critical elements of YSL style and wardrobe have been under-utilised by YSL over the past 12 years and over-utilized by dozens and dozens of other brands and houses. I think it was only correct that Hedi reclaimed for Saint Laurent Paris what belongs to the maison.”
But can you really do that? Reclaim a very specific design aesthetic that has since filtered out into the general public, I mean. Once the high-fashion cat has made itself cozy on every Topshop, Zara and H&M shelf in the world, is running through the streets mewing “Mine Mine Mine Mine Mine!” genuinely the wisest course of action?
*NOTE: It’s like when Hormel stomped around flinging lawsuits at every tech company that attempted to trademark software or services that used the word “spam” — even though spam had quite emphatically drifted away from its original canned-meat meaning into a wholly different “junk email” category. Hormel eventually lost their case when the Spam-arrest company took the matter to the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
In other words, vintage Yves Saint Laurent is now so thoroughly associated with fast fashion and celebrity stylists that the younger generation of uncritical blogging voices doesn’t even recognise it as YSL. Merely changing the brand’s name and logo plus boutique design, while trotting out what looks like high-street inspired Ready-to-Wear, can’t stop that level of bleeding.
For a PR-related take on missteps (or not) of the new YSL, see: A Wake-Up Call for YSL’s PR Team
*SIDE NOTE: And yes, I realise that I just spent most of my time talking about YSL over other brands, so the Slimane hissy-fit seems to have worked in some respect. So let’s look at Riccardo Tisci‘s surprisingly soft and appealing Givenchy spring collection (another old house that’s going for a fresh, modern look instead of endlessly recycling the past) and wash that tired YSL taste right out of our hair (if I’m allowed to mix my metaphors):
Givenchy Spring 2013 — loosening the codes that bind
UNRELATED BUT RELEVANT: Just a couple of further things to say about the latest round of fashion week shows:
A.) Did you notice how Marc Jacobs took the Louis Vuitton damier check and “exploded” it all over the spring collection? It calls to mind how Burberry temporarily lost control of their brand image to British thug culture in the 2000s and resorted to “exploding” the distinctive Burberry plaid (among other measures, such as suing and shutting down counterfeiters) in order to restore its appeal.
It makes me wonder if this isn’t a validation of the talk of how over-exposed the LV brand is in Asia, and China in particular (see: Louis Vuitton Risks Logo Fatigue as Chinese Tastes Mature and Louis Vuitton heads to Federal Court to take on alleged counterfeiters).
It’s like Burberry vs. The Chavs all over again.
*SPEAKING OF TACKY: Dolce & Gabbana’s latest spring collection had internet fashion watchers flummoxed with its overtly colonial-racist prints and “black mammy-head” accessories.
Lexi Nisita writes for Refinery 29: “The luxury brand debuted a spring ’13 collection that rested heavily on the laurels of a long-lost colonial era, complete with all the cartoonish, debasing, subaltern imagery that would make even your politically incorrect Grandpa think twice . . . There is no creative interpretation or buffer between these earrings and the kind of lamentable, dated figurines you find in airport gift shops.”
All I can say is, D&G are likely *really* happy that Hedi Slimane had a meltdown in Paris, because it momentarily distracted the fashion pack from coming down hard on their thick heads. Though they still totally deserve it for such a bizarrely off-kilter move (see: Dolce & Gabbana ‘Blackamoor’ figurine earrings spawn accusations of racism).
*NOTE: The Dolce & Gabbana team are certainly no strangers to the concept of discrimination for dollars.
But these designer temper-tantrums that are more like the behaviour of a bratty 12 year old than the 44-year-old creative head of a global corporate enterprise; these do and redo (and redo again) branding machinations, these deliberately calculated racial provocations — maybe this is why we get articles like the following: “Luxury Brands Are Dangerously Close To Losing A Generation Of Customers“.
Gee, you think?
2.) INDUSTRY QUICK HITS:
A.) Men’s fragrance is starting to catch on in China: “The word perfume often has feminine overtones among male consumers, however, thanks to the popularity of Japanese and Korean TV dramas, fashions from these countries are shaping Chinese men’s perceptions of personal grooming . . . This has caused manufacturers to launch male-specific brands, including toiletries, despite the fact that they were previously associated with being a woman’s product . . . Most Chinese males tend to enter the beauty-care category in the middle to high-end product category, buying into those products with credible quality, thus they are willing to spend more in their first experience of grooming products.”
The article also mentions that there’s a growing desire among Chinese consumers to express individuality, and that wearing a fragrance (while others around them may not) helps them to stand out at social functions and formal gatherings.
*Speaking of Fragrance and standing out: Chanel has released a new video campaign for its best-selling No. 5 perfume, hoping to communicate the creative history of the iconic perfume to a new group of consumers.
Chanel No. 5 — for the first time
I’m fascinated by the proud admission that the perfume contains synthetic ingredients. Perfume advertising has mostly been coy about its use of manmade essences, and I remember having a discussion two years ago at a Nordstrom Chanel beauty counter with a sales assistant who insisted that Chanel No. 5 was “all natural” — she was genuinely surprised to learn that it wasn’t.
B.) Tom Ford has been extremely controlling about inviting critics to his recent shows, as well as what kind of images (and when) get released to the public (now we know who Hedi Slimane was truly channeling).
But Ford seems to have softened his stance this year and released images of his Spring 2013 collection now, instead of the six months later when the actual clothes start hitting the shops:
Tom Ford Spring 2013 – a lot of Tom Ford (and not much else)
Did he realise that not being a part of the immediate fashion conversation was hurting more than helping?
And Vanessa Friedman writes over at the Financial Times that Azzedine Alaïa didn’t invite editors to his atelier this season because he didn’t feel like he had anything ready to show — a sentiment she thinks the entire industry could learn from: “This doesn’t mean don’t make clothes while you’re thinking, and it doesn’t mean don’t sell — Mr Alaïa’s wholesale appointments are continuing as normal — but it would take some of the pressure off for designers to continually churn out new and ‘innovative’ stuff, which often just means the same stuff as the last stuff, slightly evolved, with new bells and whistles attached.”
And as long as we’re on the subject of bells and whistles, Friedman references the latest Gaultier show, which was embarrassing to watch for how few ideas it had to offer, and for apparently revealing how little Gaultier has left to say:
Gaultier Spring 2013 — literally, a 1980s fuelled greatest hits
Both Ford and Gaultier seem to be coasting on their past successes; which, I suppose, is fine. It’s at least their own success they’re coasting on, and not someone else’s (a la Slimane).