New York Fashion Week | Iqons, Rodnik and a Manifesto for change

Rodnik_at_iqons

On Sunday night, Rodnik and Iqons teamed up for a buzzing party in New York to celebrate the launch of the first ever Iqons magazine and Rich and Phil’€™s continued creative collaboration in music and fashion. Even the big guns from Vogue (Andre Leon Talley) and the New York Times (Cathy Horyn) were squeezed into the tiny cabaret space at The Box to catch the latest installment of the Rich and Phil show, which included a capsule of looks from their A/W collection to be shown in its entirety during London Fashion Week.

It’s a good thing that Rich and Phil made the trans-Atlantic trip, because Sarah Mower reported in The Observer on Sunday that that after the global stock markets sank in January, the British Fashion Council began to receive calls from American buyers canceling their trips to London.  Is last season’s rebound of London Fashion Week under threat?

Rodnik_aw_2008 Not according to Sarah Mower. She says that there is growing interest in designers like Christopher Kane, Marios Schwab and Roksanda Ilincic, especially from fashion’s emerging markets, where the economic meltdown has yet to rear its ugly head.

Yet, while London’s designer set has certainly captivated international interest, some of them are still notorious for late deliveries and poor quality and other structural business problems that make it tough for retailers to rely on them. We published an article in the Iqons magazine on this very topic, suggesting that each constituency in the fashion eco-system has a role to play in ensuring that this latest buzz around young designer fashion doesn’t flame out. The entire article is reprinted below.

Manifesto_for_change Fashion’€™s next generation: A Manifesto for Change

By Imran Amed

Each year, I give a talk at London’s Central St Martins College of Art and Design on The Business of Fashion, taking some of the school’s high potential students through the thought process of what to do once they graduate.

Over the years, Central St Martins has seen designers-cum-showmen like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen walk its hallowed halls and then go on to fame and fortune, largely on the basis of their creative talent. Back in the day, business considerations were of secondary importance to young designers like these, and Galliano, for example, could go bankrupt more than once and still rise from the fiscal dead.

An industry in flux…

Things have changed immeasurably since then: powerful luxury groups have emerged, the high-street has borrowed from the high-end by injecting a design quotient into its product, and the fashion industry has gone truly global.

This in turn has attracted unprecedented attention, not all of it healthy, from outside the industry.  There are now crooks disguised as investors, publicity stunts disguised as design competitions, and counterfeiters disguised as manufacturing partners.

More than ever before, fashion is a business, requiring personal judgment, significant financial resources and business acumen. These are lessons that Galliano and McQueen have come to learn over the years, and now even they must operate within the parameters of an industry that is in constant flux.

…but also stuck in old habits

Nonetheless, much of the fashion industry’€™s habits haven’€™t changed at all. We continue to hype young designers as the next big thing, based solely on their creative potential, while paying scant attention to whether they have the underlying discipline, funding, and infrastructure required to deliver on their runway promises.

Pages and pages of press and web ink are spent profiling young talents whose businesses may be messy, even if their creative concoctions are dazzling. For some of the industry’€™s hottest new names, it is not uncommon to be scrounging for cash in order to have their collections produced, to deliver product when the season is half over, and to live from season to season based on the patronage of fashion councils and industry sponsors who are desperate to keep these young talents afloat, for fear of losing the ingenuity that keeps fashion week interesting.

A world of opportunity

Thankfully, beyond all this doom and gloom, there is also some good news for young designers. The power of creatives to really set a fashion business apart is growing. Failed efforts by major fashion houses to use anonymous design teams hidden behind big brands have only served to highlight the importance of a unified creative vision. Creative talents like Tomas Meier at Bottega Veneta, Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme, and Tom Ford at Gucci have demonstrated what this kind of creative focus can do for a staid old brand

What’s more, as consumers tire of the ubiquity of the global brands, there is increasing demand for something truly special and exclusive; something that nascent independent fashion businesses can deliver in spades. Young fashion talent is uniquely positioned to be at the vanguard of this emerging market niche.

Limited professional support

However, unlike other creative fields such as music and film, there is limited professional support to help guide the careers of young fashion creatives. A young musician can turn to their manager and a young actor can turn to their agent, but more often than not, young designers find they have no one to turn to.

For a time, this was okay. When an issue or decision came up, designers would chat with a friend or family member who could act as a sounding board. But fashion is no longer a cottage industry. There is significant value at stake, particularly when dealing with large luxury conglomerates or private equity investors.

A poorly advised designer can end up leaving millions of dollars on the table by accepting deal terms that don’t fairly value their creative contributions. At the other extreme, young designers may make unrealistic demands at a time when major industry players are loath to sign bad deals, having learned from past mistakes. What good is a tough negotiator if they don’€™t help you get the deal you want?

Time for change

It is time for the industry as a whole to take responsibility for nurturing the next generation of young designers. Each constituency in the fashion eco-system has a critical role to play.

Fashion schools should better prepare designers for the reality of our rapidly changing industry. While creative and technical skills are a crucial part of a fashion education, so too are the fundamentals of managing a career and building a business. Accounting and cash flow analysis can be left to others, but practical training, which equips designers with the skills to make the right choices, is essential.

For their part, fashion councils should focus even more on connecting young designers with the business support they sorely need. The practice of awarding designers with cash may unintentionally create a dependency on (and expectation of) free money. Financial resources are essential, but they are much more powerful when combined with training on how to put that money to good use. Money will only last a season or two, but skills and training will last throughout their careers. Initiatives like the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and Fashion Fringe are a step in the right direction, but these could have even greater impact by supporting an even wider group of designers, rather than favouring a chosen few.

Finally, young designers need to take greater ownership of their careers by actively seeking to shore up the areas where they have less expertise, ensuring that their interests are adequately defended while also keeping issues of ego and hubris in check. They should seek out mentors, business partners and appropriate professional support to help them in this regard. This may mean sharing some of the upside from their work, but it will ensure that there is indeed any upside at all.

If we want to discover the next McQueen and Galliano, then we must also ensure that we give them the tools to harness their creativity in a way that reflects the tough reality of the business. We have no other choice.

Imran Amed is a professional advisor to the fashion industry and the Editor of the Business of Fashion at www.businessoffashion.net.

The Business of Fashion

© 2008 Copyright Imran Amed – The Business of Fashion

 

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1 comment

  1. This is an excellent article and perfect timing as I’ve just finished reading “The End of Fashion” by Teri Agins, a veteran WallStreet Journalist. Had I not read this book, I wouldn’t have understood a word you said in your article! It really is an eye opener when fashion is no longer focused on fashion itself but as a business. Too many inspired fashion designers go into the business without having the proper tools to build and maintain a good business model. As talented as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen are, the question at the end of the day is: are they making any money? Beyond the theatrical fashion shows, I haven’t heard a blip about McQueen’s labels. I think fashion brands should also think twice about going public with their IPOs, especially with a slowing economy, it could make or break a company in mere months. Teri Agins’ book illustrated in detail about Donna Karan’s disastrous fling with WallStreet, a lesson anyone should learn from.