Luxury & Fashion Biz News: Saint Laurent and Luxury’s New Youthquake
Remember when high-fashion designers were in a panic over how fast-fashion chain stores stole their ideas and put them on the racks faster and cheaper than the original designs could be produced?
For example, Anna Sui and Diane Von Furstenberg sued Forever 21 for copyright infringement, the Proenza Schouler design team got into a bit of a public spat with Target over a suspiciously similar handbag design, jewellery designer Stevie Koerner used Twitter to publicly shame Urban Outfitters for copycatting, and Tom Ford famously banned photographers (and most of the press) from several seasons of his shows as he vainly attempted to control brand messaging and prevent fast fashion knockoffs.
Said Ford, back in 2010: “The way the system works now, you see the clothes, within an hour they’re online, the world sees them. They don’t get to a store for six months. The next week, young celebrity girls are wearing them on red carpets. They’re in every magazine. The customer is bored with those clothes by the time they get to the store. They’re overexposed, you’re tired of them, they’ve lost their freshness . . . In addition, all of the fast-fashion companies that do a great job, by the way, knock everything off. So it’s everywhere all over the streets in three months and by the time you get it to the store, what’s the point?”
*NOTE: Fast forward to 2013 and Ford is back to showing on the public runways in London. Moral of the story — when you fight the internet, the internet always wins.
So if you can’t beat the copycats and ripoff artists, then maybe the next best thing is to turn the tables and play their own game? That would seem to be the message from newly installed Yves Saint Laurent designer Hedi Slimane as he debuted a Fall 2013 collection that was like a luxed-up greatest hits compilation from the racks of Topshop and Urban Outfitters.
Saint Laurent Fall 2013 — stealing from the high-street
The obvious retail-friendly collection caused a ruckus among fashion journalists in Paris (and committed fashion followers online) who aren’t accustomed to seeing a storied French luxury brand take its cues from the American street.
From The Daily Beast: “Although there was that grungy-vibe (flannel shirts and biker boots), it was girly, young even. There were peter pan collars, baby doll dresses, and hemlines reminiscent of Courtney Love – but, unfortunately, won’t be kind to anyone over the age of 30. It was cute, though, and easy to imagine babes like Erin Wasson and Sky Ferreira (who sat front row) making it their own. Less so the label’s long-time enthusiasts Catherine Deneuve and Betty Catroux.”
Which perfectly represents what seems to have been Slimane’s mandate from the start — to shake things up and bring a new, broader customer base to the ageing YSL brand. Luxury conglomerate PPR, which owns Saint Laurent, is busy expanding its operations in China, and while previous YSL designer Stefano Pilati’s collections were sophisticated and elegant in a modern Parisian sense, Slimane was brought on board to woo a younger (and increasingly wealthy) Chinese demographic that wants its plateful of cool cake frosted with lots of hot attitude.
From a 2012 article in The People’s Daily Online: “‘Young people will become the dominant luxury consumer group in China in the next three to five years,’ said Ouyang Kun, head of the WLA’S China office. More than half of Chinese luxury consumers earn around 10,000 yuan a month, and they are all between 25 and 28 years old. The lowest age of China’s mainstream luxury consumer group dropped from 35 years old in 2007 and to 25 years old in 2010.”
So, yeah, when you take into account that Mr. Slimane has been tasked with creating collections to appeal to 25 year olds in China (not to mention young Hollywood actresses and Hong Kong pop stars), then that seemingly head-scratcher of a Hot Topic meets Haute Couture lineup looks spot-on perfect (and the critics be damned).
*NOTE: With the kind of big money that’s now on the line for global luxury players, CEO’s like Francois-Henri Pinault (PPR) and Bernard Arnault (LVMH) are starting to play by 21st century Hollywood blockbuster rules instead of abiding by the old saws of traditional heritage-brand restraint — in other words, it doesn’t matter what the critics say if you can sell it (and a *lot* of it) to the people.
*RELATED: Chinese shoppers world’s top luxury goods spenders, while China luxury market cools to seven percent growth in 2012 — “25% of luxury purchases globally are now made by Chinese shoppers. While luxury spending in China experiences a slightly slower growth rate, it has grown by 37% abroad in 2012 . . . New consumers are defining luxury in China. Bain’s study shows that Chinese consumption is shifting from businessmen to younger shoppers and to ‘power women’ with their own spending power and a taste for edgier fashion content.”
You see? It’s all about the edgy. Expect to see more collections like Hedi Slimane’s for Saint Laurent should the new Youthquake styles prove to be a hit with Chinese shoppers.
*BONUS POINT DISCUSSION: For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at the last collection that Stefano Pilati created for YSL before he was replaced by Hedi Slimane:
YSL Fall 2012 — Stefano Pilati’s final, sombre show for YSL
The difference of vision between the two designers couldn’t be more stark. While there are still internet voices bemoaning the loss of Pilati’s adult sensuality, the Saint Laurent label has utterly reinvented itself for a brand new (and much younger) consumer base, and it’s not looking back.
*Speaking of reinvention: The merry-go-round of designers at the struggling Ungaro label is still in full swing, and the first collection from newly installed Italian designer Fausto Puglisi debuted in Paris this past week to moderate praise.
Ungaro Fall 2013 — graphics and dots and furs
From fashion critic Cathy Horyn: “The world probably doesn’t need trousers with legs in contrasting fabrics, but the clothes had a nice balance of conservative cutting and leopard-print swagger. Judging by the collection, Mr. Puglisi takes an honest approach to his design. Some of the high notes were blazers with print blouses and full-cut trousers, and a cute glen-plaid wool mini tossed with a fur coat.”
Puglisi’s 70s & 80s influenced collection won’t damage the label like the brief but disastrous dalliance with Lindsay Lohan did, but it’s also unlikely to win over a significant number of new converts when it’s competing in the same conceptual and price ranges as much more famous brands like Dior, Marc Jacobs and Prada.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Looked at individually, a lot of these Fashion Week collections (like the latest Ungaro) are attractive and engaging enough, but take a few steps back and suddenly you remember that there are hundreds of high-end design houses scrambling for a piece of the pie.
A brand has to seriously slug it out of the park anymore just to get heard, and while interesting in parts, I don’t think anyone could reasonably accuse Puglisi’s Fall 2013 Ungaro collection of resembling a home run. As American designer Narciso Rodriguez said in a statement to Style.com, “There’s so much *fashion* in the world, you really need to create things that are very special.”
*Speaking of Special: Raf Simons’ second Ready to Wear collection (Andy Warhol infused, no less) for the House of Dior was widely hailed as a success for how it softened and reshaped the previously frozen-in-time Dior codes for a new audience.
Christian Dior Fall 2013 — a diet of houndstooth never looked so tasty
Only six months ago, Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane were portrayed by the press as designer rivals when they debuted their first Ready to Wear collections for their respective houses, but it’s now apparent that this “rivalry” was just a bunch of media hype as there hasn’t been the slightest attempt by either designer to occupy the same space or encroach on one another’s customer base.
*NOTE: They’re both skewing younger than their previous incarnations, for sure, but Dior is sweetly conservative about it while Saint Laurent plays the paradigm-shifting rebel-yell card (Simons is doing his own rebel yell . . . it’s just a lot quieter, and will take years before it fully makes itself heard).
Who would have thought that two global French fashion houses could spin in such completely different circles and survive to tell the tale? Or, maybe, that’s precisely *how* they survive to tell the tale.
UPDATE: It’s not insignificant that YSL has its own lucrative beauty line, with an extensive cosmetics and perfume catalog. Both Chanel and Dior are beauty powerhouses, with global sales of their makeup and perfumes funding/supporting their ready to wear and haute couture presentations. And Brit powerhouse Burberry recently waded into the beauty waters in a big way, which undoubtedly impacted the fortunes of YSL, especially in a sluggish market.
Anyone wondering what consumer in her right mind would buy a Topshop looking dress at luxury level prices needs to keep in mind that Hedi Slimane’s reinvention of the Saint Laurent branding isn’t about the clothes, it’s about the whole vibe — because the vibe is what will hopefully push millions of consumers in emerging markets to fall in love with Saint Laurent’s edgy, punkish attitude and so purchase the brand’s much more affordable (and exceptionally high profit margin) makeup, nail polish and perfume.
From an article in the Telegraph UK about Haute Couture as a loss-leader: “The big idea being the one known in the trade as ‘name association’. Haute couture outfits may be unaffordable, even unwearable, but the whiff of glamour and exclusivity is hard to resist. The time-starved modern woman who doesn’t make enough in a year to afford a single piece of couture can still buy a share of the dream for the price of a Chanel lipstick or a Givenchy scarf.”
Swap out “haute couture” for “Heid Slimane’s Saint Laurent Ready to Wear” and you get the picture.