Luxury & Fashion Biz News: H&M’s diminishing returns; Richemont lands on Fifth Avenue; and Christopher Kane for Balenciaga?

The Law of Diminishing Returns: H&M debuted its fast-fashion version of Maison Martin Margiela this week, and unless you’re a die-hard fashion and design obsessive, the name Martin Margiela likely doesn’t ring a very loud bell. And there’s the rub — H&M is trying to generate the same kind of free marketing hype and consumer enthusiasm by pairing with designer brands who aren’t as well known as the previous batch of big global luxury names.

Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate the Margiela brand, but it’s not at all what it used to be after it was bought out by Diesel jeans in 2002, and licensing out the name to a fast-fashion brand like H&M is just the wrapping paper and bow on the end of an era — as the Margiela brand was originally founded on the principle that authenticity trumps marketing hype and label recognition.

Margiela especially deplored celebrity marketing and famous models, which H&M used in abundance to promote their own Margiela collaboration (is this the definition of irony?):

“Uhm, what can I tell you about H&M? . . . uhm, I don’t know . . . “

A few of the not-so-cheerleading headlines related to the H&M + Margiela launch:

Smaller Crowds Turn Out for Margiela at H&M“’It [Margiela] is different from what we’ve done lately,’ said (Margareta van den Bosch, former head of design and now a creative adviser to H&M). ‘We’ve done a lot of glamorous things. This is more conceptual. There’s more tailoring, more shapes, surrealist ideas such as printed fur, empty watch bracelets. There’s a sense of humour. It’s something that may be difficult for Americans to understand. But many people missed Margiela and he’s coming back now.’”

Margiela x H&M Launches With Little Insanity“H&M’s limited edition collaboration launches have become famous for extremely long lines and die-hard fans camping out days before. Today’s launch seems to have been pretty manageable so far in all major cities–perhaps thanks to H&M learning from past experience and figuring out what works, along with MMM having a more niche fan base than, say, Versace.”

It’s A Horrible Idea For High-End Designers to Get Into ‘Cheap Chic’“Making affordable clothes isn’t the problem, it’s that designers are encouraging a culture where people don’t value the things that they buy. Because the cost of clothing has gone down over the last century, people started buying trendy and disposable pieces instead of staple pieces . . . ‘If you are willing to buy into this collaboration, please do, just don’t think that you are buying ‘fashion’ or a part of Margiela’s legacy,’ (says StyleZeitgeist magazine editor Eugene Rabkin). ‘What you are buying are assembly line knockoffs that you will discard by next year.'”

*NOTE: Maybe the biggest trend as a result of over-collaboration with designer name brands is that consumers are growing weary of the endless cycles of massively hyped yet completely disposable fast fashion.

“Value your brand, and your brand will hold its value,” writes Marguerite at Design Bridge.

And from the Bloomberg News article, Gap Gains With Zara Responding to Fast-Fashion Fatigue“‘I can wear Forever 21 or H&M-type clothes a maximum of two or three times until the seams start falling apart or they shrink in the wash,’ said Kendra Melnychuk, a 25-year-old diving coach at the University of Chicago. ‘Now that we’re not in school anymore, it’s not an option to wear those types of clothes. You have to look good at all times, and you can’t buy new clothes every month.’”

In other words, that consumer just stated that she could easily continue to buy H&M and Forever 21 clothing, but not if she wanted to look good or possess anything with a quality that would outlast more than two times through the washing machine.

Is it just me, or does that sounds like a stinging indictment of the entire fast-fashion industry?

*RELEVANT ASIDE: Toxic tanneries drive Bangladesh leather exports“At least 90 percent of the leather and leather goods produced in Bangladesh come from Hazaribagh, a foul-smelling area where up to 15,000 people are employed in tanneries.”

There are 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh producing clothing for H&M, Tesco, Wal-Mart, JC Penney and Marks & Spencer (among others), with some garment workers earning only $36 a month.

H&M has outpaced Wal-Mart to become the largest single buyer of Bangladeshi garments.

Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont may be witnessing a slowdown in growth, but sales numbers and profits are still high, and the company just bought a piece of major Fifth Avenue real estate at the old-school St. Regis hotel in New York in order to firmly establish its high-end, heritage, “we’ll always be here for you (whether you can afford us or not)” intentions.

From the article, Richemont Group purchases retail condominium at New York St Regis“The condominium at St Regis which faces Fifth Avenue at East 55th Street is presently leased by multiple luxury retailers, including De Beers, Bottega Veneta and Pucci. Richemont presumably intends to open one of its stores at the site when space becomes available.”

The Richemont conglomerate is mostly top-heavy with fine jewellery and watch brands, but they’ve also made major investments in Dunhill, Chloe and Azzedine Alaia, as well as, most recently, the Net-a-Porter online fashion site and Hong Kong’s Shanghai Tang brand, possibly the first Chinese brand to receive significant investment from a Western luxury corporation.

From the Wall Street Journal article, Promoting a Chinese Bran to the Chinese“On a mission to liberate men from the necktie and promote a Chinese brand, Mr. le Masne de Chermont said Chinese have stopped looking exclusively toward the West when it comes to fashion. The renewed emphasis on China is a strategy that appears to be working for Mr. le Masne de Chermont (an executive with Richemont): Shanghai Tang now has more than 50 shops globally, and has plans to expand further into China.”

Below is a Shanghai Tang menswear show from April of 2011 — it’s contemporary and seemingly quite Western while incorporating slimmer cuts, some bold colour choices and stylistic flourishes that recall hints of Maoist China workwear (as worn by a distinctly non-peasant class):

Shanghai Tang Menswear Fall/Winter 2011

*A Cautionary Tale: Abercrombie & Fitch announced a significant profit spike of 40% compared to last year and investors got all excited, but it’s important to keep in mind that US sales are flat for A&F, and for stores that have been open a year or longer (which is the key portion of any earnings report), sales were down: “Quarterly same-store sales fell 3% year over year, with the largest percentage drop, at 4%, to $440 million, at Abercrombie & Fitch stores. There was a 3% decline at the “abercrombie kids” concept, which is small at about $100 million in sales. Same-store figures at Hollister (A&F’s surfer-dude lifestyle brand) fell 1% to $602.5 million.”

A rash of new store openings in the international market accounted for Abercrombie & Fitch’s impressive numbers this past quarter, but that’s not a guarantee that those same stores will be able to hold on to their new customers once the novelty of shopping at a local A&F has faded, especially with headlines like these: Dutch economy shrinks sharply in third quarter and Anti-Austerity Protests Spark Violence in European Countries and Japan May Already Be in Recession

The numbers aren’t always what they’re hyped up to be

It’s kind of sounding like 2008 and the Credit Crunch all over again, isn’t it.

But just to get you in the spirit: Economists, retailers cautiously optimistic about 2012 holiday retail season“More than half, or 51.8 percent of Americans say they will shop online for gifts and other items this holiday season, up from 46.7 percent last year. The average shopper will complete about 38.8 percent of their shopping on retailers’ and other companies’ websites, another survey high.”

So you can probably do a lot more gift-purchasing from the comfort of your own home. Kiss those long Black Friday shopping lines goodbye (see: Black Friday becomes Black Thursday as retailers expand holiday pie).

I don’t know about you, but I was always too distracted by all the salty turkey, buttered bread and creamy mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving to even *think* about leaving the house to go shopping.

*News you didn’t need to know: A.) And Now, a Masturbation Ad From Marc Jacobs and B.) Donald Trump perfume is never going away . . . ever!

*News you just might need to know: A.) Deodorant Candy Makes People Smell Rosy and B.) Victoria’s Secret Apologises to Native Americans . . . for some kind of feathered headdress turquoise bikini thing.

Corporations apologise at the drop of a hat anymore. H*ll, Cher hasn’t even apologised for Half Breed yet, and that was almost forty years ago.

*Latest Breaking News: Scottish designer Christopher Kane is strongly rumoured to replace the recently exited Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga. Kane presently designs for his own label, as well as Versace’s diffusion collection, Versus for Versace.

You can see from Kane’s Spring 2013 collection (in the video clip below) why a brand like Balenciaga — with its contemporary focus on experimental, highly structured design — might consider him a good fit for their newly vacant head designer position:

Christopher Kane Spring 2013

Says Fashionista: “Kane seemed like the best and most logical choice. He’s the designer to watch out of London, constantly putting out fresh, directional critically acclaimed collections, (and) he’s proven that he can balance designing his own line along with designing Versus at Versace — a more commercial, corporate environment.”

Generally, in the instance of a designer with his own already established label (like Christopher Kane, but also like Marc Jacobs, Raf Simons, Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano), the interested luxury conglomerate — in this case, PPR — will take a major investment position in the designer’s namesake brand as additional enticement to get the talent on board.

So if Kane takes the Balenciaga job, he’ll likely be designing for both Balenciaga and Christopher Kane. Versus for Versace will undoubtedly be in the market for a new designer.

*NOTE: Both Balenciaga and Christopher Kane are making statements that Kane’s appointment at Balenciaga is not yet a done deal: “French ELLE is reporting that Kane is not yet Ghesquière’s official replacement, but he has not been knocked off of the house’s short list of contenders. PPR says that they will formally announce a new creative director in the next two to three weeks.”


  • FiveoaksBouquet

    Everyone is so up in arms about offending this culture and that culture and doesn’t want to hurt their feelings but will trample over retail workers forced to work on Thanksgiving to get a video game at Walmart.

    • You make a surpassingly good point.

      “Thou shalt not trample thy retail worker for a video game” is the great lost commandment. It would have revolutionised modern civilization.

  • Liz

    I like it I love it.
    Its edgy it’s different. It
    is bringing luxury to the masses, that’s so democratic. What? OK so this is Hollywood and everyone is
    inarticulate? Fashion as
    dance? The people speaking in this
    video did not believe a word they were saying … and they did not even rehearse
    their responses very long. That
    was too funny.

    Bangladesh where the oppressed become the oppressors,
    nausea. I say buy American, own
    less and buy organically grown natural materials. You will be more comfortable (I live in linen – yes there
    are many thicknesses and varieties) and feel good about what you are doing for
    other Americans.

    I remember when A&F was true blue and I will bet you
    anything that this was before you were born. I do not really remember when they made their big
    change. I hated every second of it
    but Mummy dressed us at BB and A&F like little boys.

    OK deal of the day … I went right for the “Masturbation Ad”
    knowing it would wake me up this Saturday morning but it was gone! Gone I tell you!

    Nathan, anyone ever do stand-up in your family? I found this article to be filled with
    marvelous humor trickling down from each article all over my computer
    screen. Then you would finish up
    by asking: “Are these people really taking themselves so seriously?” I loved it!

    So will you secretly celebrate Thanksgiving and then give us
    marvelous photos and recipes in an upcoming issue? If you do celebrate – Happy Thanksgiving. I am sort of into the idea of making my
    own condiments, turkey jerky etc.
    Have you ever done Diana Henry’s cookbooks? I just purchased Salt, Sugar and Smoke. It is a beautiful book that you might
    like and by the way I went on to get Nigel Slater’s Ripe. Thanks again for introducing me to him.

    • Crappity crap! I entered the Jacobs ad link incorrectly before. It’s fixed now, but it does somewhat deflate the punchline when the link is broken.

      I watched that H&M video with my jaw on the floor. Every single one of those models and celebrities was paid to be there — if they posed in front of the official backdrop for the cameras and answered press questions, then they were getting a paycheck. Yet they couldn’t be bothered to string two coherent sentences together about the house of Margiela, or how this MM collaboration with H&M might make sense.

      Never have so many people worked so little for so much ado.

      And if I never hear the phrase “democratization of fashion” again, I could die a happy man.

      I don’t have any recollection of the original Abercrombie & Fitch that went out of business in 1977. Another company picked them up and they went mail-order after that, until the late 1980’s when they were bought out by The Limited corporation and transformed into the soft-core skinfest they are now.

      But I’m getting a kick out of the image of a younger you squirming in your Brooks Brothers and A&F apparel. She must have been a very practical mother — but even then, I think boys clothes were less expensive than clothing for girls, and generally made with more durability in mind.

      I usually outgrew before I outwore my clothing when I was a kid — the fabrics and stiching were all really tough. I do remember, however, wearing out the soles of school shoes and blowing out the seams of those canvas and rubber Keds. When our teachers let us out for recess, we seriously blew off steam.

      Our Thanksgiving plans haven’t been set, but it’ll probably be some kind of home-cooked feast. Though I have to admit that I haven’t thought much about it, as it’s not a holiday that’s on the radar here in NZ. And the weather is all upside down, so just when I’m accustomed to pumpkins flourishing, I’m getting fresh strawberries and blueberries and gorgeous herbs and vegetables.

      I’m not complaining, mind you! But I start to forget that Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. It feels more like the Fourth of July.

      Thanks for the heads up on the Diana Henry book. I like what I’m seeing online, and I’ll have to drop by my local bookstore to see if they have a copy that I can flip through.

      The Nigel Slater books are great (I’m happy to hear that you like them! I picked up his latest Kitchen Diaries, which is good, but not as easy to use as his Ripe and Tender volumes), and I’m also having a really good time with Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall’s oeuvre. I’ve also found Heston Blumenthal’s “At Home” book a real joy to cook out of.