Luxury & Fashion Biz News: The new Haute Couture, Coach tries to reinvent itself, and Azzedine Alaïa signs a fragrance deal

The spring haute couture shows just wrapped up in Paris, and the big fashion-press buzz was all about Raf Simons’ second haute couture outing under the Christian Dior label — that instead of taking the usual path of showing something wildly different from his last collection, he instead built on previous themes in what seems an attempt at establishing a modern code for the house of Dior to follow.

Christian Dior haute couture Spring 2013 — the garden of renewal

Dior is LVMH’s biggest fashion label, but its retail vision and marketing image became increasingly unfocused over the past decade as the brand’s executives chased clients and profits in emerging markets. Now, there seems to be a pause, regroup and reset mentality as Simons strips away the dramatic overkill of the Galliano years to reveal a much more modern and simplified plan for the future.

*NOTE: Dior CEO Sidney Toledano remarked that Dior’s haute couture division was presently flooded with more orders than it could handle, with Simons’ designs reeling in an internationally broader and younger client base due to its contemporary spirit and relative ease of wear compared to past collections.

*Other Dior News: Raf Simons will be designing wardrobes for the upcoming movie, The Body Artist. Sigourney Weaver and Isabelle Huppert are the film’s leads, and both actresses sat front row at the Dior haute couture event in one of those now common quid-pro-quo Hollywood + Fashion Industry arrangements.

Valentino was also another fashion-press favourite — another garden theme, but focusing on imitating the carved and curving particulars of Italian stone and iron work rather than the more organic lines of flowers and hedges:

Valentino haute couture Spring 2013

Personal Delight: I kind of dig the irreverent attitude that Maison Martin Margiela injected into the Paris scene — instead of it being all about red-carpet glamour and feminine flowers, the Margiela staff scoured vintage and thrift shops for old 1920s-era dresses, then restored and reworked the fabrics into new forms and functions.

Maison Martin Margiela haute couture Spring 2013

The show’s soundtrack may be less than soothing (to put it mildly), but it does underscore the notion that the items on display are about as punk-rock as haute couture is going to get, with the three candy-wrapper dresses at the end turning the notion of hundreds of hours of hand-beading on its head.

*Speaking of fashion shows: The Financial Times published an article that notes how some brands are either scaling back on fashion show presentations or avoiding the official fashion week runways altogether: “Could it be that both the corporate and creative sides of the business are beginning to think shows may not be the crucial component of a business they have been previously considered? . . . They seem to be thinking that, whether due to a brand’s fame, its social media, its ability to attract celebs or editorial, and the constant need to create new product drops and stories and stuff, they have enough of a presence sans show to keep business ticking along nicely without it.”

Another recent article from the Wall Street Journal addresses this same subject, interviewing several designers who choose to sidestep New York Fashion Week in order to show their collections in less expensive cities or on dates that aren’t so hectic for the journalists and buyers they’re looking to entice (see: Why Some Labels Will Sidestep Fashion Week).

In the great reinvention game, Coach has decided it wants to join the ranks of Lifestyle Brands like Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, etc., offering not just handbags and briefcases, but a full product range of clothing, shoes, jewellery, accessories, watches, perfumes, household goods and more: “Known best for its handbags, Coach will first grow its footwear line — before women’s apparel, jewellery and watches become a focus in the latter part of the year. The new direction aims to change customers’ perception of the label from one that is ‘functional’ to one that inspires a more ’emotional’ response.”

A 3-minute holiday lifestyle ad from Coach – but what are they selling?

Which is all well and good, but industry analysts are busy sticking needles in Coach’s fantasy balloon by reminding executives that successful lifestyle branding requires a charismatic central figure, a personality that resonates — Michael Kors, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and so on.

Each one of these figures represents an advertising-friendly identity that is shellacked, packaged and spun out into the world. Coach doesn’t have that kind of charismatic founding figure, and there are whispers that without such a him/her, Coach will have an extremely difficult time trying to pitch a lifestyle. Because . . . what is that lifestyle, exactly? Who does it reflect?

From the article, Coach Lacking Brand Personality Seen as Hindering Growth: “What does Coach stand for? Asked the question by analysts, CEO Frankfort said the bag maker is ‘loved and trusted,’ its products seen as well-made and durable. He described ‘the Coach woman’ as intelligent and self-assured. ‘She is looking for product not to overwhelm her but to complement her lifestyle.’ For (analyst Corinna) Freedman, the description verged on generic.”

Coach’s lifestyle branding approach comes hot on the heels of its disappointing holiday sales, which saw brands like Michael Kors and Kate Spade take some serious bites out of what was once the reliable Coach customer base: “CEO Lew Frankfort cited increased competition in the women’s handbag market as a reason for the poor holiday quarter . . . China was the lone bright spot for Coach. Total sales soared 40% in the world’s most populous country and same-store sales rose at double-digit rates.”

Coach’s success in China may be partly due to the recent resurrection of the brand’s men’s department, as men account for about 55% of China’s luxury goods market, while the global average is about 40% outside of China (see: China’s metrosexual men revive luxury shopping).

Coach has announced that they expect 2013 sales of mens goods to increase by 50% over 2012.

*UPDATE: In the WWD article, BBDO Conference Offers Insights to China’s Luxury Market, author Alex Wynne notes that China’s above-average male consumer base is a result of the country’s one-child policy — “BBDO China director of strategic planning Hans Lopez-Vito noted that China’s one-child policy now means there are more men than women in the country, putting increasing pressure on middle class men to show their success through ownership of luxury goods in order to attract women.”

*Wait — did someone mention Kate Spade?: The Kate Spade brand is owned by the former Liz Claiborne company (now called Fifth & Pacific), and is proving to be an unexpected hit with rapid growth rates and an enthusiastic consumer base (see: Is kate spade the Next Michael Kors?).

Scenes from the whimsical, girly, gorgeous, flirty Kate Spade life

Fifth & Pacific also owns Lucky Brand and the formerly white-hot Juicy Couture brand, which has since fallen out of favour. The latest earning reports show that Juicy Couture boutiques posted a 2% drop in same-store sales, while Lucky posted a 3% increase and Kate Spade blew things out of the water with a 27% jump in sales: “Known for its leather handbags that can costs hundreds of dollars, kate spade has become the growth driver for Fifth & Pacific while the company has struggled to reignite sales at Juicy Couture, once known for its velour track suits with an urban look.”

*NOTE: There are perils in the Lifestyle Branding world, too. Juicy Couture had a very distinct lifestyle image consisting of youthful jewellery, pink velour tracksuits and casual-slouchy handbags, but the brand neglected to adapt fast enough to less frothy post-recession consumer tastes and quickly fell from its In-Style pedestal to Way Way Out land. Even supermodel ad campaigns and up-and-coming designer collaborations haven’t been enough to stem the bleeding.

*Speaking of bleeding: How much?! The rise of the £6k dress“Of course, designer clothing has always been expensive. But the profusion of newly made millionaires in developing economies has meant that, despite what Western markets see as straitened times, luxury labels still have a customer base for even the most exclusive of garments and, for that matter, price tags . . . ‘It isn’t necessarily about being ‘showy’,’ Avril Mair adds, ‘though that’s inevitably what some customers want. If you remember that a Chanel suit can cost £5k, it’s a similar investment. You’re going to have it for ever.'”

But “not necessarily about being showy” doesn’t mean that there isn’t somebody out there who craves a gold python trench coat.


A.) Dolce & Gabbana launch a baby perfume. No, not a perfume that smells like a clean, fresh baby, but a designer perfume you’re meant to spray on your clean, fresh baby — “The designer brand claims the scent is a ‘symbol of pureness’ that captures the ‘innocence of childhood . . . the softness of baby skin, the freshness of baby breath, a mother’s sweet hug, the first smile … and other tender moments have been the source of inspiration.’ A 50ml bottle will set punters back £28 and smells of citrus, melon and honey.”

If my eyes could roll any harder, they’d be halfway out the door by now.

B.) In less giggle-inducing fragrance news, the famously outspoken, oh so non-mainstream fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa has joined the ranks of industry veterans signing beauty and perfume deals: “The Tunisian fashion designer is venturing into the beauty industry after agreeing to work with Beauté Prestige International. This has been an unexpected move for Azzedine, but he follows in the footsteps of several other designers in expanding his empire with the company. Narciso Rodriguez, Issey Miyake, Elie Saab and Jean Paul Gaultier have also released designer fragrances with Beauté Prestige International.”

Despite Anna Wintour refusing to feature his work in Vogue and banning her staff from attending Alaïa shows, Alaïa has retained the respect of his peers and the affection of fashion followers and couture customers. See the video clip below from a museum exhibition of the designer’s oeuvre:

Azzedine Alaïa exhibits his designs in the Netherlands

Anna Wintour’s loss, obviously.

C.) Justin Timberlake sports head to toe Tom Ford in his new music video:

Suit and Tie — Tom Ford style

Since when did pop-stars start dressing so well? I remember when even the most famous of them dressed like this. Or this.

So do you think Tom Ford paid to have Timberlake and company wear his clothes? Or do you think they begged him to let them? The relationship between celebrity and designer is so topsy-turvy sometimes, especially when it comes to Tom Ford.

D.) Remember when Hermes sued LVMH for what they claimed was a sneaky, underhanded way of Bernard Arnault snapping up a bunch of Hermes stock?

Well, that case is still winding its way through the French legal system, and there was a recent indication that things may not end in Mr. Arnault’s favour: “Autorite des Marches Financiers President Gerard Rameix said a decision could be issued in a case over LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s stake in Hermes International by the summer. Rameix said in a speech in Paris that recommendations have been sent to the sanctions committee. In October, Rameix said the AMF informed LVMH that its board will recommend its sanctions committee fine the world’s largest maker of luxury goods. A hearing may take place in early 2013, he said at the time.”

Bernard Arnault has been taking a heck of a drubbing in French opinion lately, so I share the suspicion that Hermes might very well prevail.

E.) As good a sign as any that your luxury brand is way over-exposed: 83 New Yorkers have named their dogs Gucci“Also from the fashion category, 39 have named their dogs “Dolce,” 44 “Chanel” and 18 “Fendi.” These are really fancy names for animals that like to claim their possessions by peeing on them.”


  • Little Red

    I’m also old enough to remember when pop stars rebelled against the establishment by wearing crazy get-ups. Personally, I was drooling all over that JT video about his upcoming album. His suits were gorgeous. I don’t know if TF paid/begged JT to wear his suits in the video but I know Timberlake also wore a Tom Ford tuxedo for his wedding last year. Now if more men would clean up their acts in real life.

    I’m really enjoying thinking about all those dogs with their fancy designer names peeing on the fancy designer bags their owners carry them around in. :)

    • Right, those suits *are* gorgeous, aren’t they?

      What’s funny about the Tom Ford connection is that every other menswear label would be banging down Timberlake’s door to get him to wear their clothes: Gucci, Prada, Armani, Cavalli, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana — I’m sure they would all pay handsomely for the pleasure of getting their suits on the likes of a Justin Timberlake.

      Yet it’s the small retail footprint, excessively exclusive Tom Ford that wins the game, and I think precisely because he’s so exclusive. You can pick up a Gucci suit anywhere you go. It’s much much harder to get your hands on a Tom Ford.

      Hey, how many people named their dogs Ford, do you think?

  • Little Red

    Kate Spade clothing is super cute with its colorful and feminine
    styles. I’m not surprised at all that it sells very well since I’ve
    been seriously tempted over the past few years but what I’ve seen in
    stores. I’ve managed to resist by throwing money at Erdem but I can
    feel my resolve crumbling thanks to the Mondrian-print sweater that’s
    out there.

    • Kate Spade has a very distinct vibe, which I think runs in its favour. You know exactly what you’re getting when you walk through the door: well-selected colours, a cute retro design aesthetic, and prices that won’t leave you gasping for air. And when they have sales (which they do every season), their prices get even more attractive.

      And yeah, that Mondrian print sweater is adorable. I’d have to literally drag my friend Louise away from the shop window if she saw that.

      “I’ve managed to resist by throwing money at Erdem” — ha!

      Speaking of Louise, I snagged her an Erdem dress on deep sale last year, and she launched into paroxysms of delight over how perfectly it fit, the creative mix of colours, and how beautifully it was made, which makes me wonder why it’s not a more popular brand.

      Which reminds me, it’s been nice to see Erdem showing up at red carpet events lately. So much more interesting than the usual strapless, miles of pouffy silk dragging across the floor nonsense. Seriously, is this dragging skirt train thing ever going to go out of style? It’s the freaking 21st century, not Downton “I have servants to carry that so I don’t step all over myself” Abbey.

      All I can think when I see dresses like that is how many times those poor women get stepped on and/or tangled up in chair legs all night.

      I keep waiting to see a Raf Simons haute couture trouser suit make an awards-show appearance. Am I mad?

      • Little Red

        True KS prices won’t leave you gasping for air but given how quickly they start the discounting process there is never any reason to pay full price for their stuff no matter what.

        The only reason I can think, as to why we don’t see more Erdem dresses on the red carpet, is that it’s not obviously red carpet focused unlike say Marchesa/Oscar de la Renta/etc. No yards of satin/lace/beading/embroidery. Just really beautiful and unique prints.

        Jennifer Lawrence has been wearing Dior haute couture for the red carpet events lately. Apparently, she’s going to be the new face for their Miss Dior line of purses. Aren’t these dresses designed by Raf Simons?

        • Yes, the Dior haute couture dresses that have been showing up at the Golden Globes, BAFTAS, SAG Awards (and so on) are lovely. I think Marion Cotillard and Julianne Moore have also shown up in Dior couture during this latest round of award shows, but always the dresses and never the trouser suits (goshdarnit!).

          I’d love to see someone take a chance with one of those suits on the red carpet. They’re so slim and structured and cool. Yet it’s beaded satin lace embroidery strapless yards of silk train, instead.

          Julianne Moore even showed up at the SAG awards in a Chanel haute couture dress from the collection that only *just* debuted in Paris — I was, like, “Wow, that was blazing fast.” How did they even know it would fit?

          Did Lagerfeld have one made just for her in advance, or do you think she quick hopped a jet to Paris, got it fitted on the spot and then brought it back to the US in a box?

          I remember Demi Moore in biker shorts and some weird top for the Oscars in the 80s (or was it 90s?), and now actresses are strolling around in hot off the looms Parisian haute couture. When did that start to happen?

          But yes, I totally hear you on the Kate Spade speed-of-sale issue. I checked out their sale page just today after you mentioned the Mondrian print sweater and it was a nice selection of bags, dresses, skirts, coats and tops, so yeah, who in their right mind would shell out full price for the stuff?

          Well, unless it’s that sweater. Because lord knows it might sell out before it can go on sale. :)

          • Little Red

            Mid to late 90s when Uma wore her lilac Prada and Nicole wore that chartreuse Dior.

            Yes those Dior pantsuits are sharp but are a less obvious choice for the red carpet.

            I’ve always wondered about how actresses get the latest gowns that are quite obviously not off the rack. I assume their stylists start the whole process months in advance since the dates of the big awards shows are known ahead of time. Or maybe they do rush jobs for the actresses while making their paying customers wait.

            And I’m right there with Louise on Erdem. Within the last year and half, I’ve somehow managed to end up with four dresses, three skirts, and one cardigan. I’ve even got a Saved Search on eBay so that I can quickly scan to see what’s there and regularly troll for any new pieces.