Luxury & the Internet: Milano Fashion Global Summit 2009

25 11 2009

Last night I had a brief moment to slip out of the office and into the Milano Fashion Global Summit in the center of Milan, where the industry leaders of Italy were gathered to talk about “Who Will Survive” the Global Financial Crisis, and more importantly, how.  Of course, with most speakers getting between 5-10 minutes on the floor, it goes without saying that there was not much depth (or height, in this case?) to the Summit.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get away in time to hear Matteo Marzotto speak about his plans for reviving the Vionnet brand, but I was able to make it there towards the end of the day, when one of my favorite topics was being highlighted: Web & Mobile Luxury. However, upon arriving at the venue, I was disappointed to find that the presentation was entitled: “Is Luxury Compatible with the Internet?”

Seriously?! …After writing about this for more than a year, and studying and working in the field for longer, I sometimes can’t believe that we are still hearing this question asked among those considered to be the industry elite.

But I digress.

The presentation was delivered by Jacques-Antoine Granjon, French CEO of vente-privee.com, a members-only online retailer of some 850 brands, typically selling end-of season products through 3-day flash sales. It’s kind of like the European version of Gilt Groupe, with what appears to be a much smaller selection of merchandise and fewer high-profile brands.

The presentation was brief, but in his defense, with only 8 minutes to deliver a message to convince business leaders that luxury and the internet do belong together, he made an entertaining synopsis.

Without further ado….

My Brief Notes on the… Brief Presentation

Following are the notes I took from the presentation. I tried to keep it as verbatim as possible, so read this with a French accent. To begin to illustrate his point, Granjon started with an analogy to online luxury…

Question: What is the most exclusive toy in the world of luxury today?

Answer: The Luxury Jet

  • It saves time & offers control (controlling the when & where in life = freedom)
  • It provides the best service (with highly skilled staff, pilots, maintenance & 1-to-1 travel care)
  • It offers the utmost in innovation & know-how (provided through superior R&D, highest quality materials, technology & design)
  • It is exclusive (traveling alone, in privacy = power)
  • It provides the dream (exploration, imagination)

These five points represent the luxury codes, which the internet can provide for brands. BUT, these codes are not enough for luxury online. There are several more points:

  1. The internet is not just a new format of boutique. It requires a new distribution strategy.
  2. It accelerates growth and visibility of brands everywhere around the world, but only if controlled.
  3. There can be no mistakes, because the internet is permanent, and it takes time to build a presence.
  4. The internet is a world that requires new skills and entrepreneurial determination. In addition to the luxury codes mentioned above, in order to be successful on the internet, luxury brands need the following:
  • Tech skills: must evolve as quickly as they emerge
  • Digital factory: create graphics, coding, etc
  • B2C distribution centers
  • Award-winning customer relationship services
  • Knowledge of online marketing

I see your point, but…

For those of you out there who are, like me, thinking, “That’s IT?” after reading this… yes, that’s it.

They still don’t get it. While it may seem obvious if not insufficient to those of us who eat, sleep and breathe this stuff, I have personally met CEOs and marketing managers of major luxury brands within the last year who are reluctant to start developing a branded web-presence because they fear losing control of the brand image. On the other hand, I have also met online wizards who are eager to take advantage of this lack of luxury presence online, but fail to realize that they need savvy logistics and distribution systems as well as a killer CRM program before even contemplating the notion of luxury e-commerce.

But, back to that presentation. There are two primary associations to luxury that are critical, and are blatantly missing here. When a branded online environment is created, they should definitely be addressed.

The first, and perhaps the most important of all luxury codes is connectivity (this can mean a lot of things, among them the connection a customer feels to what a brand represents, like American Aristocracy with Ralph Lauren, or to a brand’s history of jaw-dropping elegance and sex, which is what a customer is buying in a modern Vionnet dress). Some people will call this “history,” but I think it’s also important to indicate that the luxury customer is  buying into a community, connecting that history with their own.

Most luxury brands have a profound history, and if they don’t start with one, it’s often fabricated, as was the case with the Tod’s brand under Diego Della Valle’s brilliant marketing strategy (he had shoes from the new Tod’s brand superimposed on famous images of Audrey Hepburn and other classic icons). Just as the luxury jet connects us either to a location from our past, or to an exciting future, so does the luxury brand. There is a story behind it- something both intimately familiar and excitingly new. The internet is the perfect vehicle to convey that history, to tell the story about how a particular brand developed and why that brand is loved, and to build a connected community of “lovers” around it, like a family that shares the same values.

Finally, an unfortunate association to luxury that is certainly present with the private jet, and a term which occurred in my graduate research on the topic more than any of the other luxury codes, is waste or excess. Happily, the internet can help to eliminate waste in so many ways, from streamlining the supply chain on the back-end to providing the transparency that allows consumers to understand and choose what tradeoffs they are willing to make between such hot points as carbon footprints, “Made in…” issues, labor conditions, and production materials, versus price and quality.

Moving on to the other points of the presentation, I disagree with a couple of things:

  • His point: The internet accelerates growth and visibility of brands everywhere around the world, but only if controlled.
    • My point: The internet accelerates growth and visibility of brands everywhere around the world, regardless of whether or not the brand controls the message. It’s always better to establish your own online presence than to entrust it solely to outsiders and amateurs, who could accelerate brand growth and visibility in an entirely undesirable way.
  • His point: There can be no mistakes, because the internet is permanent, and it takes time to build a presence.
    • My point: No one is infallible. Tell a brand manager that she has to be perfect in every way on the internet, and she will never build a presence there. The beauty of the internet is that you can address mistakes right away: you apologize, publicly correct the situation, and in the process it’s likely that you actually increase your fan-base because people trust you.

So, for those of you out there who are fashion/web geeks like me, take heart: we’ve got a lot of fun work to do!

And, by the way, I noticed that the Vionnet site is not developed. If anyone knows Matteo Marzotto, let him know that I’d love to help!

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Fashion History: The American Way (Sportswear to Total Living)

21 06 2009

The American model for the fashion business began with sportswear, moved through licensing giants, and now includes the behemoth category “total living.”

American majors in fashion

Sportswear Roots

by Claire McCardell 1946, CORBISClaire McCardell was probably the most influential American designer to be associated with New York design through her simple collections of sportswear, adhering to a basic and unchanging set of stylistic and practical criteria. Beginning her collections in 1940 to her death in 1958, her designs stood as the antithesis to the Parisian New Look.

Other prominent sportswear designers to emerge around or after WW2 included Charles James (who was commercially unsuccessful in ready-to-wear, and later returned to couture), Mainbocher (who relocated from Paris to NY with a clean aesthetic style), and later Bill Blass, Betsey Johnson and Scaasi (who drew great inspiration from the NY lifestyle and culture).

rothkoWhile the Parisian couture movement after the war was aimed at recreating a national high art, NY couturiers were much more open and exposed to influences in commerce and pop culture. Many creative forms were evolving through the work of Pollock, Rothko, Warhol, Oldenburg and others, and American fashion designers’ receptiveness to these creative changes sustained their relevance. Furthermore, the ethnic/cultural melting pot of NYC called for a basic aesthetic that would suite everyone, leading to the American style of simplicity through clean lines, colors and patterns.

Casual, easy-to-wear (and maintain) items originally developed by McCardell paved the way for subsequent designers to rework the new classics, based on the cultural movements of the day. Think: Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Perry Ellis, and later Calvin Klein and Donna Karan.

Brands & American Culture

Basics = Glamor

American brands grew famous not only through ease-of-use, but by applying glamor to the basics. Calvin Klein was really the first to bring this strategy onto the international stage with cK Jeans.

Sex Sports Sells

American brands maintained a wholesome edge by applying sport motifs to marketing campaigns. Ralph Lauren is really the champion here (ha, champion), naming lines in his arsenal after waspy sports (polo, rugby, etc.).

No Logo???

American companies were first to mark-up and sell basics by brand name. While this began in the US, it is now a global trend. I’m looking at you, GAP.

The Challenge of Democratic Fashion

American designers have a tradition of taking inspiration from the streets and pop culture. A brand image based on a lifestyle within pop culture makes US brands highly appealing in the mass market, and allows for an easy shift from product specialization (dresses) through licensing of additional products (underwear, sunglasses, perfume) to a total-living product range (clothes, accessories, furniture, house paint). However, it also presents some limitations outside of the US market, namely in Europe.

There exists a problem of perception of US brands, making it difficult for them to gain market share in Europe.Picture 2

If a consumer thinks a country’s production system is geared towards the mass market, she will have problems associating that country’s products with high-end, exclusive quality. This perception is furthered when a brand enters a foreign market at the lowest price point.

Most high-end designers enter the market at the top level, and then trickle-down into the mass market. (Even Armani, who just added a couture line in 2006, began in high-end ready-to-wear.)

cK and some other US brands have entered the EU market at the most accessible lower levels (underwear), and then have problems moving into the upper end. Once you position yourself at the bottom of the market, it is very difficult to move up against market perception. It would be similar to the GAP opening a couture line in the eyes of the European market.

Change is Gonna Come

2009 CFDA Swarovski award nominees Clockwise from left: Tim Hamilton, Alejandro Ingelmo, Patrik Ervell,Albertus Q. Swanepoel, Thakoon Panichgul, Justin Giunta, Alexander Wang, Robert Geller, Jason Wu

Against this perception is the current economic crisis, which is leveling the playing field in production quality as European brands are increasingly forced to outsource into developing countries, making the “Made in the USA” mark gain relative global superiority. Also, younger American designers are becoming increasingly coveted around the world (Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, Thakoon, Philip Lim, Jason Wu, etc) by demonstrating modern global aesthetic relevance in combination with the US style that is down-to-earth and easy.

As the classic European brands look to shake the dust off by employing entertaining head-designers and pumping millions into blowout marketing campaigns, the American brands maintain relevancy by willingly passing the generational torch to young designers (bringing youthful vigor to the whole industry); paying attention to and anticipating market shifts; and by sticking to the tradition of ease and multi-cultural simplicity.





Topshop rides the Sartorialist wave, bringing integrated marketing to NYC

19 06 2009

vintage bike“What do bicycles, fashion, photography and the Internet have in common?” asks WWD.

To that, I would reply, “Me!”

Sadly, today’s WWD article is not referring to yours truly, but to the latest Topshop marketing campaign, which is so exciting and thoroughly integrated that I couldn’t NOT write something about it.

For one week starting tomorrow, New Yorkers can borrow one of 30 Topshop bicycles (for free) and cruise around the city to prescribed destinations. There will even be a bike valet outside the store to take care of customers’ own bikes as they shop.Topshop has been building up to this event for a couple of weeks, event featuring a style section on their website for “how to cycle in style.”

Topshop's latest style advisor article

topshop fashion mapEveryone who borrows a bike will receive a fashion map which will take them round a choice of three separate routes via Topshop’s favorite New York haunts. The route will include snacks at Tea & Sympathy, a visit to DIY- clothing emporium Home Ec from the owners of boutique clothing shop ‘Flirt’, and a trip to Pixie Market to browse the up-and-coming designer offerings. According to the press release, the map will also include a few hidden gems.

nicky digitalNow, lending out bicycles for a sort of indie fashion city-tour is a cool idea, but here’s what turns the PR event into a lasting marketing scheme: the shoppers and cyclists will be shooting pictures of each other, or will have their pics taken by a nightlife photographer (Nicky Digital) in the store. The goal is to have everyone create their own content to be posted on social networking sites Chictopia.com (an online community for fashion peeps), Flickr, and Topshop’s Facebook page. They’ll be encouraged to do this through an online competition, the winners of which will receive a bike of their own.

Followers of Topshop’s Twitter feed will get clues to a scavenger hunt inside the store, where hidden tickets will admit finders to a screening of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blowup” on June 26 at The Yard in Brooklyn, an outdoor party space that is also on the Topshop map.

This is also a pretty good way to encourage people to build a community around the brand, first by introducing people through a fun social activity, then by recording their interactions and activities, and creating continuity of the new community online through content and tagging… and with a follow-up event!

Sartorialist Bike shotWhile the green movement is certainly at play somewhere in the growth of bike popularity, I think another implied message here has something to do with the Sartorialist craze. Scott Schuman resides in New York, and is a big fan of shooting chick-on-a-bike shots, which his followers go wild for. Of course, most of the shots ares somewhere between fashion-forward and downright classy, and this is a good way for the Topshop brand to say, “Here you go ladies… go out and find the Sartorialist.”

It also serves to introduce the Topshop brand to New York (as if that were necessary) by featuring brand “complimentors” on the fashion map. By featuring cute little indie boutiques, cafes, and young designers, Topshop is implying that this is a community to which they belong. Whether we could actually consider the multi-national Topshop chain to be a part of this community in reality is debateable at best, but their core customers certainly affiliate with it.





Return to “Luxury”

17 06 2009

Throughout the past few years, many luxury companies have followed the model of growth that includes frantic brand-buying sprees and diversification into complementary categories such as interior design and technology.

Based on the conversation among industry leaders that just closed in Monte Carlo at the Financial Times’ Business of Luxury Summit, that very trend is what will be avoided in the future, as luxury companies seek to preserve an image of quality in the eye of the consumer.

The Honeymoon is Over

honeymoon

During the boom years, many luxury companies ventured into secondary product and service endeavors spanning the range from cell phones to hotels, under the strategic principles that 1) these outshoots serve to further their brand image, 2) their reputation of quality could transcend from the product category they had built a name upon, and 3) that “everyone else was doing it” – they didn’t want to be left out of the game.

Pushing the Brand Image

building of armani hotel-dubaiThe idea that these complementary product categories could further the brand image began from the right perspective. After all, what better way to promote a fashion label’s home collection than to furnish an entire hotel under the brand name? When coupled with the managerial expertise of EMAAR Hotels & Resorts, the Armani brand has done just that. However, the brand image of Armani was established in sartorial minimalism and modernity, and while that can be reflected in some ways through the environmental design of a hotel, to convey the brand experience through hospitality is another matter. With tourism lagging in the economic crisis, it is doubtful that Mr. Armani wants the concept of minimalism conveyed through empty hotels.

The real problem emerges when the brand image is exposed to elements outside of the company’s core capabilities. Just as in licensing out fashion products for manufacture or sales to external parties, final control over the product and customer experience is lost. This poses a significant risk.

Transcending Quality

While the concept of co-branding is a nice way to give more consumers access to a brand they love, the benefits are often shortsighted. While the Total-Look trend died in developed markets in the 80s, co-branding projects served as a way to reignite the flame. Fashion companies went beyond the traditional accessories categories typically reserved for leather goods (shoes, bags, belts, etc) and began to venture into tech projects. Although this allowed several die-hard brand enthusiasts to more adequately encompass their life in a brand of choice, it also allowed some brand outsiders to have a “piece of the brand image” without the purchase of more traditional items.

lg prada phoneI have several points on this: for the fashion-cell phone explosion, brands from Prada to Dolce & Gabbana and Armani have played the game, coupling brand imaging in aesthetics with the technological capabilities of LG, Motorola or Samsung, respectively. However, the development process for the Prada cell phone was tedious and expansive, and Prada had to sacrifice some brand imaging points while LG had to sacrifice some cutting-edge technologies to bring the project to fruition. An equal compromise in aesthetic and technological appeal serves neither the fashion brand nor the technology company. The expertise of neither brand could be fully conveyed in the project, driving the perception of quality down. This is what happens when you venture too far from your core capabilities, without enough understanding of the new category.

hermes bugotti veyron-rbOn the other hand, Hermes worked on a limited-edition co-branding project with Bugatti to create the Bugatti Veyron Fbg par Hermes. While Bugatti pumped this high-performance dream car full of the best automotive technology on offer, Hermes stuck to their core capabilities in leather goods and sartorial excellence to outfit the vehicle in the finest interior upholstery and complementary accessories. The resulting product is a $1.5 million car that definitely will not be driven by every brand enthusiast, but it certainly represented the best of both brands! Furthermore, the project achieved greater market exposure for Hermes and Bugatti through a lot of positive press coverage in both the luxury, fashion, automotive and leisure categories.

Playing the Game

For years, the idea that luxury was an easy business to make money from prevailed. Companies entered the sector and shortened product cycles, product categories offered, store locations, and so on in an effort to milk the market for all it was worth. According to Bernard Arnault, “Some investors pushed by the frenzy of doing something were going to invest in almost everything. As luxury was perceived as an industry where you can make money easily, they were pushed to buy brands without knowing how to make them work.”

Tods-ss08.previewAs consumers were hungry for “more, more, more,” the luxury companies were all too happy to provide it, with little consideration for consequences beyond the immediate bottom line. Referring back to brand diversification, CEO and founder of Tod’s Spa Diego Della Valle noted, “Several times I had to fight for our vision against external pressures, which were demanding we did perfumes, or mobile phones. My answer was that it wasn’t our competency. If I want a mobile phone, I want to buy it from Nokia.”

H&MWith market pressures mounting, brands began to churn out an ever-increasing supply of product collections. The highest brands of luxury in fashion found themselves competing on the same playing field of “fast-fashion” powerhouses such as H&M and Zara. You might be thinking, “How did this NOT seem like a problem?!” However, as long as the money was rolling in, shareholders were happy and companies felt little incentive to buck the trend in strategy.

The problem really emerged when the frantic consumer spending cycles ground to a halt after years of proliferation, luxury labels slashed their prices, and core customers were left wondering what they were paying for in the first place.

Saving the Marriage

couple

Just like any relationship on the rocks, luxury companies and their customers have to go back to their core values to re-build the bond that has been broken by years of inconsistency.

At the end of the day, a luxury company should represent solid quality and categorical leadership. The key words here are quality and leadership. When luxury brands diverge from their core capabilities where they exhibit the highest level of expertise, it is a letdown to all brand loyalists. When they chase the market instead of leading it, they let the brand down.

Many of the CEOs speaking at the Financial Times’ Business of Luxury Summit confirmed this attitude, including Berndt Hauptkorn, CEO if the privately held group Labelux. “During this period of growth, there were concepts that were superficial, that didn’t deliver in terms of product quality,” Hauptkorn said, arguing these brands won’t survive the economic downturn unscathed. “There will be a shakeout because there was overcapacity in the market. It will be a market with stronger brands and with a clearer message.”

Preserving Quality

italian footwear craftsmanThe industry has begun to realize that once the economy recovers, customers will place a particular emphasis on values like quality and craftsmanship, but also exclusivity, as well as commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Companies that have remained true to their capabilities and core message throughout the boom years have seen less damage and a faster rebound than others in the recession.

In an effort to protect the intrinsic value of luxury brands, companies and production regions are going back to their most valued resources in production to strengthen intrinsic values in quality. According to Imran Amed, editor of Luxury Society, “In the end, it is the enduring quality and craftsmanship that count the most because this goes right to the heart of the way luxury products are conceived and created. Combined with great design, service and innovation, craftsmanship is what enables us to deliver lasting products that resonate with a new consumer mindset fixated on value.”

While most luxury brands have cut back on retail space, collection sizes, and various departmental employees, for the luxury-savvy brands a focus remains on preserving the original craft of the brand. This includes the protection of craftsmen and artisans that produce their high-quality products, in addition to sustainable practices both environmental and strategic.

1854 louis-vuitton-luggageHaving been through several recessions since he began creating the world’s largest luxury group in 1985, Arnault stated that his key to success includes a solid long-term outlook: a generational business concept, not a 3-5 year plan. This allows a company to move forward with the big picture, and reduces the impulse to act on short-term trends in the market. “It is a natural tendency of companies during a crisis such as the one we are in to cut costs, drop prices, and stop expanding, because it has the most immediate impact on numbers,” he says. “But what we have learned in the many crises we have been through is that this is a mistake, especially when it comes to luxury.”

Mr. Arnault also believes the government investment, reactive companies and a refusal to change course in spite of the current market crisis will help companies and production regions to preserve their capabilities. However, while some long-term-minded companies such as Chanel, Bulgari and Hermès have taken affirmative steps to preserve the dwindling numbers of craftsmen that produce their goods, other companies have stood by while production has been outsourced to unskilled worker regions abroad in the effort to feed the speeding consumer cycles of the boom years. While this labor pool of skilled workers is all but lost in the UK, there are efforts to retain and nurture growth there as well as in France and Italy.

Follow the Leader

evolution

In addition to increasing fashion cycles to pander to the whims of a fast-fashion-oriented market, luxury companies have been tailoring their products and marketing campaigns to lure existing customers.

The very history of luxury illustrates the point that luxury brands and designers provide items for the customer, which are so exciting the customer hadn’t even thought of them. This is what originally made customers line up at the doors of the original artisans and designers- to see something new.

luxury strategyThe recent years of endless market research, managerial consensus and client-centric focus on demand has diluted the interesting aspects of luxury. According to Jean-Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien, authors of Luxury Strategy – Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands,  “Luxury brands today are the trailblazers of tomorrow’s taste. Once a consumer segment is identified it is too late to exploit it. …There is no surprise in existing demand. This is why all classic luxury… was created through emotional intuition.”

They go on to say, “As a cultural creator, luxury brands should set their own high standards. Listening to the consumer is the best route to a lack of differentiation, and failure to inspire the dream – the two levers of desire that are the only paths out of the recession in the luxury world.”

While that does not mean companies should ignore the customer altogether (of course not), it does basically state the obvious that luxury players must be leaders in quality and innovation at all times, without submitting to frivolous market demands that might inflate the bottom line temporarily, but in the long run will break the bank and eventually the brand.

However, it should also go without saying that in order to be a leader, luxury brands must appeal to new consumers in Gen X & Y as Baby Boomers retire. In order to do that, they must earn their trust through demonstrated quality, sustainability and a legitimate brand story.  And where will the new market hear that story? Online.

gen x online

More Info

Financial Times’ Business of Luxury Report 2009

http://www.ft.com/reports/business-luxury-2009

Luxury Society Issue 5: Return to the Craft

http://beta.luxurysociety.com/articles/a-return-to-craft

Luxury Execs Emphasize Exclusivity and New Focus

Luxury Execs Emphasize Exclusivity and New Focus – WWD.com

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Fashion History: The American System for Fashion

10 06 2009

Beginnings

Menswear

The American clothing industry was born in the early 1800s for menswear. Up until this point, menswear was produced by tailors, for those whom could afford it, or at home as womenswear would continue to be produced for at least another half-century.

sailors' slopsAround this time, tailoring businesses in the Northeast (NYC, Boston and Philly) began to produce and sell inexpensive ready-to-wear clothing to sailors on leave. These clothes were called slops, and were indicative of poverty or bad taste to the rest of society, but they provided a starting point from which the ready-to-wear market grew. The industry would further expand through the production of service and army uniforms.

In the early 1850s, a mass market of middle-class consumers emerged with industrialization. Brooks Brothers was among the first companies to serve this market, having begun in 1818 as a tailor-shop and growing to 75 tailors and 1,500 manufacturing employees by 1857.

strauss-levi-posterThe mid-19th century “gold rush” had an even greater effect on the US fashion system. Mr. Levi-Strauss realized that the gold prospectors would need tents, and ordered a special resilient fabric from France to serve this market demand. The fabric was called serge de Nîmes (serge, from the French city Nîmes), which we now know as denim. In addition to using this fabric for tents, Levi-Strauss recognized that it could easily be transformed into utilitarian work trousers. American jeans were thereby born, and the development of the US fashion manufacturing system was well underway.

Alongside the invention of the sewing machine for industrial use by Isaac Singer, the US manufacturing industry was fully supplied with a growing immigrant labor force. However, the real key to success in this mixture was the alignment of distribution with production. Department stores and specialty stores began to focus more retail space and marketing efforts towards clothing. This alignment allowed the US fashion industry to move beyond workwear and menswear through superior production methods integrated with distribution, and a strong market orientation.

Even today, the US model for the fashion business is centered around vertical chains (meaning that they produce what they sell, like the GAP), department stores (although they are growing weak in the current economy), and a continued solid market orientation.

Womenswear

postwar dollar princessMany early-American women made their own clothes at home or locally, as thrift was a strong post-colonial value along with the patriotic challenge to the dominance of English/European taste. However, in the time of prosperity following the Civil War there was borne an interest in Parisian couture, and many American-made items were viewed as unsophisticated. While some could afford imports from France, most were American copies inspired by French fashion, yet they carried French labels to reassure their clientele (much like Italian labels are often used in the Chinese market today for Chinese-produced goods). The shadowing of Parisian style would continue well into the 1900s, the market demand of which fueled the growth of the American fashion industry.

nyc life 19th centuryIn the late 19th century, the concentration of transportation systems, manufacturing facilities, immigrant workers and skilled tailors in New York allowed for the rapid development of a concentrated fashion production region. In fact, New York had already become the capitol of ready-to-wear production by 1900, but by 1925, 78% of the fashion produced in Manhattan was in womenswear! The isolation of Europe from the United States during WW1 allowed for the American style to flourish. By the interwar years, the increasing trade of US ready-to-wear and growing consumer confidence in the “correctness” of the American way of life worked to solidify confidence in the American style.

WW2 went further to isolate the Parisian fashion capitol from the rest of the world, accelerating the idea of American sportswear and encouraging the isolationist attitude of the fashionable American woman, who increasingly viewed European fashion with suspicion rather than envy. By the mid-20th century, New York had become the fashion focus of the American woman, and the starkly functional and smart product style would remain the legacy of US fashion.

New York: Fashion Capitol, USA

The story of the development of  NYC into one of the world’s leading fashion producers is pretty long and complex, so I’ve taken another tip from Dan Roam and sketched it out for the sake of brevity!

late 19th century nyc

Paving the way for a NY Fashion District: pre-existing commercial and manufacturing facilities, along with fashionable aspirations and a less conservative attitude than other US cities.

1900 nyc

Growing the NY ready-to-wear industry: huge immigrant labor pool & commercial demand

1920s nyc

Regional growth & womenswear localization: centralizing women’s fashion, outsourcing other production to suburbs

1940s-50s production shift

Challenging the leader: a second production region emerges around Hollywood, fueled by the film industry and a new wave of Eastern immigrants

1980s production shift

Challenging domestic production: companies begin widespread outsourcing of production to Taiwan and the Pacific

Why New York?

In spite of the 200+ years of clothing production evolution in the US, and several challenges posed by outsourcing for cheaper labor supplies, New York has remained the fashion capitol. How did it come to assume this position? Much like the fashion regions that would later develop around production in Italy, within New York an entire community of design, production, distribution, commerce and marketing existed (and much of it exists today). There are several groups that contributed to this phenomenon, among them:

nyc fashion system

While the sweatshops have luckily vanished from New York, they still remain the curse of the ready-to-wear industry, having simply been moved to developing countries. In fact, the compact total-system for fashion that is found in New York has led to the global trend in “fast fashion,” which demands cheap labor for rapid production and affordable prices. Put simply:

fast fashion created by the new york model

However, as “fast fashion” begins to slow down after years of increasing velocity (because, frankly, we are all getting sick of having our clothing be made obsolete as soon as we bring it home- where’s the real value?), consumers are seeking more ethical alternatives to sweatshop-produced goods.

As New York has been at the heart of this movement and has led the way in both fashion marketing and production systems (whether domestic or outsourced), it seems likely that the movement towards ethical fashion will be centered from the market-driven capitol of NYC.

American Fashion Values

These same “values” and themes remain common to the American fashion system:

  • Comfortability/Casual
  • Sportswear & Jeans
  • Practicality/Utility
  • Sophisticated-Preppy
  • Value for Money
  • Clean Lines/Ethnically Neutral
  • Apply Glamor to Basics
  • Use Sport Motifs for Marketing

UPDATE!

Here is an incredible multimedia glimpse at the history of 20th Century American Fashion History from FIT.

 

Sources include: personal notes, Fashion, by Christopher Breward & Strategic Management in the Fashion Companies, by S. Saviolo & S. Testa





The History of Fashion Diffusion in Pictures

9 06 2009

In the spirit of Dan Roam’s book, The Back of the Napkin, which Guy Kawasaki and I have been tweeting about today, I decided to see if I could put into pictures what I’ve been describing in this blog. Turns out, it’s pretty fast and I had more fun with markers than I’ve had since I was little! So here’s my first attempt (thanks Dan and Guy!):

Fashion Cycles

Fashion cycles can be long (for classics) or quite short (for fads). Most items that are introduced into the fashion world barely register as a blip. If an “opinion leader” picks up the look and it gains a steady following, a trend is born. It becomes a classic if it sticks around for a while without losing followers. If it never gains substantial momentum, we see a fad. (Yes, that is my Anna Wintour stick figure for the Opinion Leader.)

Fashion Cycles

Fashion Diffusion

Throughout the history of fashion, different Opinion Leaders have prevailed and the means of transmitting popular trends throughout culture have shifted accordingly.

History of Fashion Diffusion

Those trends that do register now have more followers worldwide than ever before, and that is due to the system of fashion diffusion. This mass following makes it difficult for the fashion system to keep up, when it has to both churn out new looks every 4-6 months and produce enough items to supply a global market.

The every-increasing speed of fashion diffusion has led some to question the future of the industry, and to question whether or not high-end fashion can be considered a part of the luxury industry today (as luxury is typically defined as something unique).

“It has reached a period where fashion moves so fast that it is detrimental to the fashion business – people not buying because they know in five minutes they’re not going to like it any more, because it won’t be new… It’s too fast. Either it’ll keep on getting faster, or we’ll get fed up and stop buying.” ~ Tom Ford in Pop Magazine, SS 2002

What Now?

We have to up our game and evolve the fashion business model again. New systems of diffusion have been transforming the fashion industry since its birth, and the digital revolution is no different.

I think this is actually a great opportunity to bring fashion back into an art form by using digital communications to bridge the gap that now exists between the designer and the consumer and by using the medium to demonstrate the more creative processes of the design houses, which are limited on the sales floor by mass market constraints. We’ve got a long way to go…





Dolce & Gabbana: The Business

8 06 2009

The Roots

1987_Scianna shot of Marpessa for DG

The Dolce & Gabbana style is inspired by Sicily, represented in a modern context with a hint of the past.

“We had a vision at the beginning, and we remain faithful to it. We believed in the strength of our message, even in periods when everything seemed to go against our beliefs. Our inspiration has always come from Italian culture and from Hollywood glamor. We also like playing with roles, with opposites, with masculine and feminine, black and white, sacred and profane.” ~Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana (SDA Bocconi)

In addition to their own personal backgrounds, the design team developed their brand within a niche opened up by the social climate of the late 80s and early 90s.

The Social Roots of Dolce & Gabbana

Style Codes

Dolce & Gabbana's Hollywood Inspiration

Every brand has its own stylistic codes (or should)… they distinguish the collections from others, and make each item identifiable with the brand. The following are DG’s key codes:

dolcegabbana metal corset jessica stam

hyper-femininity • glamor • youth • zebra & cheetah prints • flowers • black & white • gold • rosaries • corsets & bras • fetish •Mediterranean • Baroque • Neo-Realism • Hollywood • embroidery • black lace • coppole hats • opposites (high-low fabric mixes, gender-bending, love & violence, sex & religion, see & don’t see, old world & modern, etc)

Merchandising is fundamental to DG. Every single item under the brand’s name reflects the brand codes and the influence of the main collection.

From Maison to Vertically Integrated Company

The History

  • dolce (right) & gabbana (left)Domenico Dolce was born in Palermo in 1958; Stefano Gabbana was born in Milan in 1962
  • 1985: the Dolce & Gabbana brand debuts with their first show through Milano Collezioni in the New Talents section (now operated through Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana)
  • 1988: signs production agreement for ready-to-wear with the Dolce Saverio company, owned by Domenico Dolce’s family
  • 1990s: expansion through licensing
  • 1990: men’s collection is launched
  • 1994: a second line, D&G, is launched
  • 2000s: the company becomes vertically-integrated by acquiring their own production companies (including Dolce & Gabbana Industria in Legnano for clothes and Incisa Val D’Arno for shoes and leather accessories) and their own store network around the world through wholly-owned companies and subsidiaries
  • 2007: the company decides not to renew the license to produce the D&G line with Itierre, and has brings production in-house with the first line, Dolce & Gabbana. Remaining major licenses are with Procter & Gamble (fragrances), Luxottica (eyewear) and Binda (watches).

Growth Strategy

1987 – 1999: strong use of licensing to support brand growth

1999 – 2008: progressive in-house management of line extensions

Communications

dolce & gabbana delacroix-inspired ad, mixing sex & violence

The brand typically incorporates imagery from old Sicilian towns and street markets or images of dramatically staged human interaction, all with a mix of modernity and sensuality, and often provocation. The in-store environment supports the brand image through a mix of materials made to look both antique and modern-chic, romantic and sexy, with a strong element of Hollywood glamor.

dolce & gabbana 2009Dolce & Gabbana’s catwalk uses a stage set to reflect the theme of the clothes, and uses video feed, pictures, etc during the show to further convey the inspiration. This imagery is now being incorporated into the company’s media website in order to archive the collections and demonstrate the brand history and evolution. In fact, the company has put considerable effort into creating the brand environment online this year, both through the formulation of their online blogazine and e-commerce stores.

scarlett johansson for dolce & gabbana beautyCelebrity endorsement is important for the brand’s Hollywood appeal, through both public appearances and dedicated ad campaigns. In addition to young starlets, they use the best and most known photographers and models in their ads.

Gabbana partying

The two designers are also very social, and are often photographed mixing it up in some of Italy’s most glamorous night scenes. Not only does this allow for photo-ops in the world press, but it also serves to validify the brand, as if to say “We live the lifestyle that we are designing for.”

Ownership

The company is still fully owned by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, much like Armani and his company. While this freedom from the demands of shareholders seeking quarterly profits allows the designers creative discretion, it also provides them with the luxury of being able to strategically plan for the future. Also like Armani, the company which grew through licensing agreements still earns approximately 35-40% of total annual brand revenues through licensing revenues, although many of the licensees have been internally acquired.

However, the challenge of full ownership is that the company accepts full risk in the case that problems emerge. This is a big risk to take, but in the case of Dolce & Gabbana, it seems to be paying off… literally!

By the way, TIME has a great article on the designers and their company. It’s a couple of years old, but still a good read. Check it out!