Luxury Outlook | Finding meaning in design

Stella McCartney Spring Summer 2009

Back in September, The Business of Fashion caught up with noted futurist Faith Popcorn to talk to her about “recession culture,” and how this changes the way consumers scrutinise spending decisions. It seems like a quaint discussion now (because of my questions, not Ms. Popcorn’s answers) because our interview took place back when consumers in the U.S. were still spending.

Boy have things changed since then. By the middle of October, Eric Wilson of the New York Times reported of worried U.S. consumers walking into department stores and retailers, shopping bags in hand, returning entire bags of merchandise which had been previously purchased. What’s more, he went on to report of dramatic drops in sales at major luxury departments stores in September, including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom — and this was even before the astonishing market meltdown in October.

Perhaps my question should have been: “What kind of fashion will inspire them to re-open their wallets?”

Last week, Ms. Popcorn was interviewed in WWD:

“[Consumers] have to find a new benefit in clothing, besides being warm and protected of cover. I think the benefit will be how it makes you live your life better. We talk about goodness. Is this piece of clothing made from a good company? Is it made in a good way? Is it sold in an empathetic way? Does it improve your chances of doing well in the world?

What a company stands for is going to be almost more important than what the line of clothing is. Who am I buying from? Who’s the chairman? Who’s the designer? What kind of life does that person lead?

I want that corporate logo stripped back; I want to know what I’m getting. It’s going to be much more raw and much more personal.”

I would add that these kinds of brands still need to be relevant from a fashion perspective. They need to focus on celebrating and pushing design and culture and telling meaningful stories beyond their ethics, which are a bonus, after the consumer has already been drawn in by a great product.

Stella McCartney is an excellent example of this. Notice how’s Nicole Phelps doesn’t mention ethics once in her review of McCartney’s Spring/Summer 2009 collection? Rather than allowing herself to be exclusively defined by ethics, she grounds that with great clothes that women want to wear.

Photo, Stella McCartney Spring/Summer 2009, courtesy of

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  1. I know for myself, I only buy things I absolutely love and can see myself wearing over and over. Knowing the brand and the people and practices behind it, definitely increases the intrigue if they’re doing things that I respect and admire. Based on aesthetics, I look for unique details and quality.

  2. How about supporting American made?

    t from Toronto, ON, Canada
  3. I have to wonder about Faith Popcorn- a futurist who says women were “on vacation” in the 1950s? That’s more like a nostalgist, or an unrealist. I think this interview is proof that in uncertain times people will trust even the least reliable of authorities, as if sacrificing a chicken to the gods for reassurance. But I don’t think she’s saying anything new and this “futurism” biznatch does not impress me.

    Anjo from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  4. Why is it taking so long to post the next step to “Setting up a fashion business?”

    Justin FitzPatrick from Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy
  5. As a designer I myself focus on items that are practical and wearable in all settings. I find that consumers are more likely to buy an item if they are able to pair it with anything and dress it up or down. The brand name is just a plus. If an item can transform for any occasion or any setting, in my opinion that makes an item an excellent buy, no matter the price.

    Courtney J from Atlanta, GA, United States