Luxury & Fashion Biz News: Hurricane marketing mistakes, Rugby Ralph Lauren fails, and Journey’s cool again (yeah, that Journey)

Forbes has a nicely readable article about what The Gap is trying to do to keep itself relevant as a brand in the highly competitive “affordable fashion” market — the Forbes writer interviews the new global marketing officer, Seth Farbman, who makes this statement early on in the interview: “So, the number 39 is what? The average age of our customer. A 39-year-old customer, while still valuable, was not going to deliver the growth we needed to meet all of our objectives.”

*NOTE: Quote taken from the article, Minding ‘The Gap’: How the Retail Giant Is Transforming Itself

Wait, what? The average age of a Gap customer is 39?!! No wonder they’ve been floundering lately (see: Gap to close about 200 stores in N. America as it expands overseas) — that’s not the age group that plunks down scads of disposable cash in exchange for lots of disposable, ever-changing seasonal trends. It’s more a family oriented customer who’s shopping for basics that will last longer, are made of better material and will exhibit a bit more contemporary flair than what they’ll find at discount shops, outlets and big box stores.

The downsizing of their steady and consistently exploitable youth business may help to explain why brands like American Apparel and Gap both employed the questionable tactic of using Hurricane Sandy as an online sales tool. This didn’t go over very well with their audience, to say the least (anyone remember Kenneth Cole’s Cairo fail?), and Gap found it necessary to quickly apologise via Twitter:

I think they must have deleted the original offending tweet from their Twitter feed, as I couldn’t find it when I went looking.

For their part, American Apparel had to soothe some ruffled feathers over at American Apparel Responds To Backlash Over Sandy Sale“Retail stores are the lifeline of a brand like ours, so when they are closed, we need to come up with ways to make up for that lost revenue. People forget how expensive it is to run a Made in USA brand like American Apparel, and if we made a mistake here it came from the good place of trying to keep the machine going–for the sake of our employees and stakeholders,” a spokesman stated in an email.

Fair enough.

*Added Insanity: The Jonathan Adler and Urban Outfitters brands also tried to capitalise on the natural disaster about to hit the East Coast of the US. Both brands found it necessary to issue apologies to their customer base once the severity of the storm became more apparent.

The moral of the story? Maybe it’s best to back away from hitching a ride on trending catastrophic events as your retail company’s next marketing push.

*RELEVANT BUT ONLY MILDLY RELATED: The Ralph Lauren company announced today that they’ll be phasing out their Rugby Ralph Lauren diffusion brand, aimed at the Ivy-style wannabe demographic (or, as GQ describes it — “a great resource for affordable American sportswear“):

As well as shutting down its Rugby website, the Ralph Lauren company will close all fourteen of its Rugby retail locations in 2013 in order to focus attention on its other merchandise. The announced closure of Ralph Lauren Rugby follows the decision earlier this year to discontinue a five year a branding partnership with JCPenney, and likely has a lot to do with falling revenues for the brand overall.

Rugby Ralph Lauren — an amalgamation of punk and prep that didn’t quite gel

Noah Johnson at the Four Pins site isn’t all that sad to see the Rugby brand go: “Why did Rugby ever even exist in the first place? What was the point? Was it just so the Abercrombie customer had a stepping stone brand between his cut-off cargo shorts, logo hoodies phase and Theory suit phase? I’m just trying to imaging the particular situation of the market that called for shoddy, alt-trad wardrobe essentials as illustrious as skull and bones critter pants, wide wale corduroy suits and patchwork madras briefs.”


The Rugby brand was meant to appeal to a 15-25 year old demographic (see: Undergrads With Pirate Leanings), but may have been more expensive than that market could bear in today’s economic climate. And it’s important to keep in mind that brand extensions like Rugby RL aren’t taken lightly — brand extensions are incredibly expensive to develop and launch (not even including the stand-alone boutiques). That Ralph Lauren is throwing in the towel on its Rugby label is a big statement.

*In other related news: British youth retailer Jack Wills (who successfully appeal to the same 15-25 year old group that turned up their noses at Rugby Ralph Lauren) announced that they’ll be shutting down their sister brand, Aubin & Wills, after just four years (Aubin & Wills was created to retain the 25-40 year old consumer that had outgrown the Jack Wills teen/young adult vibe).

Aubin & Wills — another English Country Estate brand bites the dust

The Financial Times reports that brand/store closures like Rugby and Aubin & Wills are just part of a larger picture of fast-fashion and high-street chains buckling under continued economic pressures (see: Jack Wills ditches its sister brand and High St hit by rise in retailer closures).

Hey, maybe this is supposed to make us all feel better? Rock-n-roll inspired denim brand R13 commissioned famed rock album-cover and tour-poster artist Jim Welch to design a line of Journey inspired t-shirts.

From WWD: “New York-based denim and clothing brand R13 is giving Eighties rock band Journey a resurgence on a new line of T-shirts . . . After some research, the team got in touch with Jim Welch — Journey’s former art director, responsible for a generous lot of the band’s cover album art and merchandise during its heyday — and worked with him for three months via e-mail to get the graphics right.”

Ah, Journey. Good times.

“Worlds apart hearts broken in two . . . two . . . two!”

Bad news: the t-shirts are only for women, there will only be two of them (“two . . . two . . . two!”) and prices will be $195 to $245. Though I guess you could just go to Amazon and pick up a Journey t-shirt for about $15, instead . . . ?

In an interview with UK media source The Gaurdian, ostensibly about Antoine Arnault’s takeover and management of the newly expanded Berluti brand, Arnault made an off-hand comment about the difficulty of dealing with designers who act more like prima donnas than business employees — John Galliano’s name came up, of course.

From Antoine Arnault: prince of luxury“I’m sorry, but designers are not artists. They may have the talent of one, but if they want to work in that way they should paint or sculpt. Here they’re working in business and they need a brief. That’s what my father (LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault) does so well. I’ve witnessed him do it countless times and I’m really inspired by that. You know, towards the end, my father just couldn’t talk to John Galliano at all, it was impossible — he wouldn’t listen to anything. At that point, it crashes.”

The quote immediately launched itself across a thousand fashion blogs.

*SPEAKING OF THOUSANDS: Parodies of Brad Pitt’s head-scratcher of an ad for Chanel No. 5 are *everywhere*, and some analysts are saying that this is good for Chanel, that even the negative attention is better than no attention at all in an ever-crowded marketplace.

“Chanel has been around for a long time,” said branding expert and Global Icons founder Jeff Lotman. “It’s timeless, it’s classy, it’s beautiful and it would take a lot for the brand to be severely tarnished. Maybe the ad doesn’t strike the right note, but breaking through the clutter and being talked about is what really matters . . . The parodies give the brand public attention, which is everything you could really want as a company.”

Which immediately made me think of this:

Chanel No. 5 — “I meant to do that!”

It’ll be interesting to see what the long-term effects are, after the chatter has died down and the sales numbers trickle in; unfortunately, the Chanel company is privately held and doesn’t have an obligation to make its sales numbers public.

But if the Chanel brand can soldier on past revelations that its founder was a Nazi agent, it’ll probably weather the likes of Brad Pitt just fine.


  • Aubin & Wills is (was, I guess now) a cute, preppy line that strikes me as a British take on J. Crew, but this being expensive UK, at 3 times the price. Speaking of which, J. Crew is about to open a flagship store in London, which I imagine will offer J. Crew staples at 3 times the US prices. I do love J. Crew, and as an American in London, I’m sad that it won’t be my style secret any more – just the way Coach was before it launched in the UK in recent years.

    Now I’m holding onto Dooney and Burke as my US preppy style secret. Up till now, I’ve only seen D&B items cropping up in the vintage section at Urban Outfitters at Oxford Circus.

    • The prices for Aubin & Wills did seem to be a bit high for what it was. I read a couple of comments that seemed to indicate that the pricing was what finally did it in — the consumer audience simply wasn’t there to support it.

      I also think the affordability of globally expanding brands like JCrew and Gap — that both produce excellent basics — is what’s killing the higher-priced niche entries like Rugby Ralph Lauren and Aubin & Wills. If you want contemporary prep, it’s certainly not necessary to spend a fortune on it.

      And I have to admit to being surprised that Dooney & Bourke managed to hold on throughout the economic contraction. I thought they might have overexpanded during the boom days, and maybe even ruined their brand by trying to appeal to the teen market with spokesmodels like Hayden Panettiere, but once the tide started to turn, they quickly changed course and got back to basics.

      But I’m not certain I see any kind of rapid global expansion in the cards for them. They got burned on that once — I doubt they’ll try it again so soon.