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.

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H&M and Iran on Twitter

18 06 2009

The power of social media is strong!

Today I was making my way home through Milanese streets crowded with demonstrators protesting on behalf of Iran. Understanding how Twitter was quite instrumental in the organization and publicity of these demonstrations worldwide, I was not surprised to find a large number of Tweets in my feed referring to the Iranian election. However, what was surprising was the comparable balance of tweets focused between the Iran Election and the newly announced co-project between Jimmy Choo  and H&M. After reading Mashable’s blog post on the intense use of Twitter surrounding the Iran elections, I decided to do a quick comparison of my own, using Twist.

It turns out that the Iran election received a whopping 222,000 tweets in it’s top hour on Tuesday, comprising 2% of all Twitter traffic that day!  Perhaps even more surprising is the fact the H&M received nearly half that on Wednesday (still “today” for some of you!), comprising 1% of the daily Twitter traffic.

Take from that what you will, but I’m impressed on both accounts.

H&M twitter stats

iran election twitter stats

(Sorry about the low quality, but you can check H&M out here and the Iran election here.)





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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The Latest on Ethical Fashion

11 06 2009

I woke up this morning to find a report in WWD announcing that the US government is committing $60 million to combating exploitative child labor around the world.

Why a Complete Ban on Child Labor Won’t Work

child laborer in nigerHaving had the opportunity to attend several workshops, events and discussions on ethical fashion and child labor, I am aware of the sad fact that some children around the world must work in order to provide for their families, and an all-out ban on child labor is neither possible (first, labor inspectors have little power, and it is nearly impossible to verify the existence of child labor in many manufacturing/agricultural set-ups), nor is it completely beneficial to some of the most poverty-stricken communities.

For example, UNAIDS has estimated about 12 million children under 18 years of age have lost one or both parents as a result of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. When a child becomes the head of the household, they have little option but to seek employment. A ban on industries that employ children would do little more than make than make a dire situation worse for these young people.

However, improved inspection policies, enhanced education and services supporting the eradication of poverty can have the desired impact of eliminating exploitative child labor. If a child must seek employment, we can at least do everything possible to ensure safe working conditions, an education and basic health services.

Curing the Disease by Fighting the Causes

The good thing is that the Labor Department (working with the International Labor Organization -ILO) clearly understands that, and is creating programs that will provide education and vocational training opportunities to children and help parents find viable alternatives to child labor.

The ILO launched World Day Against Child Labor in 2002, and it has been held annually on June 12, marked throughout the week by special events worldwide. This year, the theme is “”Give Girls a Chance — End Child Labor.”

“Many challenges remain in the fight against child labor, but the department is committed to raising awareness, improving the quality of and access to education, and building the capacity of governments and civil society organizations to address the issues of children in need. This year’s World Day calls for us to focus our attention on the special circumstances and needs of girls who are being used as child laborers,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

From the Labor Department press statement:

According to ILO estimates, of the 218 million child laborers worldwide, 100 million are girls. More than half of those girls are exposed to hazardous work in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, mining, domestic services and commercial sexual exploitation. In many cases, work performed by girls is hidden from the public eye, leaving the girls vulnerable to physical danger and abuse.

Girls are often forced to carry a double burden by contributing significantly to their own households’ chores, including child care, as well as undertaking other employment outside of their homes.

More Info

education for girlsSince 1995, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) has funded approximately $720 million in anti-child labor programs and rescued more than 1.3 million children from exploitation. This year’s contribution of $60 million from the Labor Department is a great sign of commitment to changing working conditions for many of the world’s fashion and luxury employees at the bottom of the ladder- those working the mines, fiber farms, and textile mills of the developing world.

For a concise PDF summary of this year’s program on the Elimination of Child Labor, click on the image below:Girls & CL Report_Media Summary_En_WCMS





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…





Fashion as Art as Fashion

8 06 2009

Consuming Fashion...

Since I just did a business overview of Dolce & Gabbana, I was thinking about their controversial ad campaigns. There has been a lot written on the subject, from reports of bans to protests from anti-violence groups.

Most designers from Marc Jacobs to Armani have stated that fashion is not art. In fact, Marc Jacobs was quoted: “Fashion to me is not art because it is only valid if it is lived in and worn.” That’s all good and well in making the attempt to drive mass sales, although Marc’s own collaborations with artists such as Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince – or Armani’s recent museum-touring retrospective – might show that they actually do consider fashion to be art. When creativity meets commerce, does it matter if fashion is not hung on a wall for the occasional observation?

What is art, if not a subject for provocation and inspiration? And, while today’s fashion world may be led by the sales figures of merchandisers more than the creative impulses of artists and designers, there is still an underlying art form in fashion, which seeks to provoke and inspire. If the garments themselves cannot be considered “art” by our anti-commercial definitions, then surely fashion photography can (and should) fill in the gaps.

Fashion has a long relationship with photography. To quote from Cathy Horyn:

“If fashion shows are a way for a designer to think out loud, collaborations with a photographer can help spin those disparate ideas into a story. Both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein owe a debt to the visionary eye of Bruce Weber, who is really a storyteller. Gianni Versace frequently paid homage to Richard Avedon, whose pictures lent imaginative energy to Versace’s designs. And it seems doubtful that generations of women would have felt quite the same about Yves Saint Laurent’s pantsuits if Helmut Newton had not made them an object of sex and mystery.” ~from her article When Is a Fashion Ad Not a Fashion Ad?

juergen teller for marc jacobsMarc makes me think…

While Marc Jacobs’ ad campaign collaborations with Juergen Teller have inspired cult fans to look beyond the typical product-placements and see the Marc Jacobs world from the indie perspective he lives within, the Dolce & Gabbana ad campaigns create the very concept of provocation that the designers take inspiration from. Where it would be quite difficult to meet the sales figures necessary for a large luxury brand if each item alienated the mainstream through such provoking themes as date rape or warfare, the ad campaign can do just that.

dolce & gabbana ad campaigns

…But so does DG

Of course, I understand the opposing argument that these ads are no more than superficial charades imposed by the brands to maintain some street cred in the art world (and surely, to an extent they are), I also believe that it’s a very creative way for the designers to explore and explain their more provocative themes without hurting sales figures. The designer’s most die-hard fans typically “get it,” and those who don’t at least take on the aspirational values of someone who wants to get it. Even if the clothing isn’t particularly provocative or thought provoking, the ads can be, and that’s enough to ensure that a creative vision can be carried out while simultaneously creating the coveted word-of-mouth buzz around a brand.

Furthermore, isn’t this the perfect segue into using content to develop the online experience of a brand? I think so!

Required Reading: On Fashion, Photography & Art

Inside the Mania for Fashion as Art: How a Sedate Museum Ventured to Create a Home for a Sumptuous Costume Collection

TIME Magazine: Dialogue on art & fashion (“Art and fashion get along like the couples whom nobody expects to stay together.” Ha!)

It may be fashion, but is it art?

Striking Poses: Is fashion photography art?

‘Fashion is not art’ (Rei Kawakubo may say it, but she proves the opposite)

Dress Sense: Why fashion deserves its place in art museums (this is a good one!)

Is fashion a true art form? Acclaimed designer Zandra Rhodes and the director of the Design Museum, Alice Rawsthorn, go head to head

Is the future of art in their hands? (Designers take over our galleries and museums)

Fashion and Art Collide in Hong Kong

Fashion: A Presentation on Contemporary Concepts of Art and Expression (analysis of the 1967 Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin article: “Is Fashion an Art?”)