LONDON, United Kingdom – As four weeks of fashion shows came to a close last week in Paris, it was hard to believe it had only been a month since the start of a fashion week season that had many designers, editors and buyers holding their breath. Thankfully, optimism reigned supreme as the industry finally got its groove back.
But even before the regular jam-packed four week fashion marathon was Fashion’s Night Out — possibly the biggest global fashion extravaganza ever. This was followed by a month full of magazine and book launches, the U.S. Coco Avant Chanel film premiere, and the debut of perhaps the most anticipated high street fashion line ever, J+ by Jil Sander for Uniqlo. The fashion pack is understandably exhausted.
Lucky for you, we at the BoF have been scouring the shows, talking to CEOs, observing the front rows and getting the skinny on all the important news and market trends over the past month. So, in what has now become a seasonal tradition, here is our take on Spring/Summer 2010, the season that was.
1. THE BURGEONING BLOGGERATI
It’s already been discussed at length here on BoF and elsewhere, but worth mentioning again. Independent media mavens – aka bloggers – were treated to top-flight access at shows in all of the fashion capitals. Tavi, the thirteen year-old Chicagoan and front page star of POP magazine, was in the front row at show after show in New York, joined by a gaggle of other girls with successful fashion blogs. In Milan, bloggers like Bryanboy were given front row seats at D&G, where live blogging stations were installed at their seats.
But it’s the fashion photobloggers that emerged as the real bloggerati royalty. Tommy Ton (recently featured on BoF) was named the new streetstyle photographer for Style.com. Sonny van de Velde feted his exhibit of backstage fashion photos at the Tribeca Grand. And the original superblogger, Scott Schuman, had parties in multiple cities to celebrate the launch of his new book, aptly entitled The Sartorialist. At Liberty in London, a queue of hundreds dressed in their spiffiest duds, snaked around the basement floor of the venerable department store for a few moments with fashion’s ultimate superblogger.
But for how long? Bryanboy was circumspect about all the newfound attention fixated on fashion bloggers. “I wonder if it’s just the latest trend,” he said to me outside Milk Studios in New York. “Will they get tired of us in a few seasons and move onto the next big thing?” It remains to be seen, but for now, the bloggers have arrived in full effect.
2. CONTEMPORARY CRAZE
As one designer put it to me, “Everyone is asking for better quality, better design, and lower prices.” A seemingly impossible feat. But a quick visit to meet with Stella Ishii at The News showroom in SoHo confirmed that many young designers are turning to the still hot Contemporary sector to try and meet these expectations.
Doo-Ri Chung’s Under-Ligne, Richard Chai’s LOVE, T by Alexander Wang, Rad by Rad Hourani, and others are now offering their design DNA at accessible price points.
But will these small businesses be able to meet the operational demands of the Contemporary segment? With multiple deliveries per season and buyers’ expectations to reorder best sellers, this market segment requires operational finesse and active relationship management, something young designer businesses are not known for.
For a best-in-class case study, would-be Contemporary players should talk to Wen Zhou and Phillip Lim, whose business is turning over more than $50m annually and was profitable from year one.
3. THE MARRIAGE OF SPORT AND FASHION
A funny thing happens during the Spring collections in New York in September. The U.S. Open is held around the same time as fashion week, so a weary fashionista can catch the men’s final in between shows for a bit of a break from the fashion hullabaloo. This year, after a brilliant Patrik Ervell show, followed rapidly thereafter by a beautiful Sophie Theallet show, I caught the U.S. Open men’s final and watched a young Argentinian beat the long-time incumbent, Roger Federer.
Sometimes you’ll even see Mr. Federer at a show in New York, sitting next to Anna Wintour, his number one fan. Not this year, however. Instead, Federer showed up in Milan to attend the Armani show with Ms. Wintour two weeks later.
Sports stars also appeared on the New York fashion runway itself. As if to further cement the relationship between Zinedine Zidane and Adidas, the French soccer star made a front-row appearance at the Y-3 show in some stylish red shoes and afterwards, proceeded to take penalty shots with Yohji Yamamoto, with a paparazzo playing goalie.
It left a smile on everybody’s face.
Towards the end of Paris Fashion Week, I spotted Christian Lacroix with a noticeable spring in his step, as he bounded towards his waiting car. A few days later, a rumoured investment from an Emirati sheikh was confirmed by Lacroix, guaranteeing, at least for now, the future of the company he has built since 1987.
Yohji Yamamoto also found a white knight to call his own. Simultaneously while announcing that his company had filed for bankruptcy protection, officials at Yohji Yamamoto in Japan confirmed that Integral Capital stepped in to help the widely-respected designer make it through slumping sales in its home market. But investment does not come for free. Yamamoto is now a minority shareholder in his business.
And finally, the Italian press was rife with rumours that another white knight, this time in the form of Indian steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, would come in to save another troubled fashion business, Gianfranco Ferre. This has yet to be confirmed. But as they say, two times is a coincidence, three times is a trend. Stay tuned.
5. FASHION FILM’S FIRST STAR
Fashion films made multiple appearances during the Spring/Summer 2010 collections. Gareth Pugh’s four-sided film cube installation in New York gave away little of the grey-hued modern luxe collection he showed in Paris, but it was a clear demonstration of the vibrancy of technological creativity erupting in London’s East End, changing the face of fashion communication forever.
The undoubted fashion event of the season saw Alexander McQueen blow everyone away with a spectacle that combined fashion, film and music, disseminated widely and rapidly across the Internet, crashing the SHOWStudio site which streamed McQueen’s show live from Paris. Louis Vuitton and Burberry also streamed their shows, but on the more mass market Facebook site.
The Paris collections closed with the A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival, presented by Diane Pernet, with a jury chaired by Rick Owens. Amongst the honorees was Ruth Hogben, Gareth Pugh’s longtime film collaborator. I caught up with Ruth outside the SHOWStudio Fashion Revolution launch in London, where she told me a bit about her burgeoning client list including Topshop and others.
It looks like Ms. Hogben has become the go-to girl for fashion films. And, if this season was any indication, her talent will be in high demand for some time yet. She is certainly fashion film’s first bonafide star.
6. BEING TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL ISN’T COOL
This New York Fashion Week felt different. Julie Gilhart summed up the mood: “Being too cool for school isn’t cool,” she told me over tea.
Although the schedule was absolutely packed, the overall mood was definitely more low key. Indeed, at Mary Ping’s intimate event entitled “Slow and Steady Wins the Race,” the emphasis was on bringing together a creative community to celebrate “slow fashion” in a thoughtful, considered way. In comparison, the super high-octane shows and presentations, chock-full with celebrities and paparazzi, felt a bit out of tune with the times.
In the evenings, a torrent of small dinners were organised. These turned out to be the best way to really get to know new people. For example, at Nadja Swarovski’s dinner in honour of Atelier Swarovski’s jewelry line designed by Zaha Hadid, I met former Louis Vuitton shoe designer Michael Lewis, whose fledgling eponymous business is making waves. Great dinner companions magically make fashion week stress disappear at the end of a long day.
7. NEW VENUES DEBUT
It was “all change” at London Fashion Week, which debuted its brilliant new location at Somerset House, creating a real buzz and community around fashion week events that was never possible at the Natural History Museum or Battersea, LFW’s previous homes.
Between shows and presentations that made full use of the historic building, including a subterranean Fashion East show, bloggers and curious onlookers mixed with models and media hordes looking to capture the odd celebrity. Only one complaint: why erect a big, black tent in the middle of the courtyard when everything else is such a beautiful off-white?
In New York, there was also a new venue on the scene. I spent more time at Milk Studios than at any of the other longstanding show locations. The energy created by bringing the city’s hottest young designers – Proenza Schouler and Joseph Altuzarra among them – into one space, day after day, made this the hottest venue in town.
At a dinner celebrating Gareth Pugh’s film installation in the Studios’ loading docks, Estee Lauder’s John Dempsey, who sponsored the space through the company’s MAC make-up brand, said he was very pleased with the results. Looks like there will be more from MAC at Milk Studios in seasons to come.
8. COSTUME JEWELRY JUNKET
Of course, there is much fashion attention placed on designer shoes these days, but many smart fashion businesses are also focusing on costume jewellery, designed to add pizazz to fashion basics.
The true master of this growing segment is Alber Elbaz, whose stunning Lanvin show left editors with a high that lasted well beyond fashion week. Most of all, everyone seems to want Elbaz’s colourful, intricate jewelry. Colorful and covetable jewellery concoctions also appeared at Dries van Noten.
Another favourite was an ultracool Donna Karan necklace in plated gold, incorporating larger-than-life sabre tooth shaped pendants balanced against layer upon layer of fine gold chains.
The costume jewellery trend may just be taking off, but if the “must have-it” urges of editors are anything to go by, it is here to stay.
9. SIZE WARS
Somewhat predictably, the size wars erupted again this season, but this time for different reasons.
When Mark Fast decided to send plus-sized models down his runway, a scandal erupted when Fast’s erstwhile stylist, Erika Kurihara, was asked to leave. Since then, the whole thing has turned into a ‘He said, she said’ debacle, with Fast claiming that Kurihara would not work with the size 14 models and Kurihara saying that she simply did not think they were professional enough. Either way, the scandal raised Fast’s profile immeasurably, with major news outlets including CNN and the BBC covering the story.
For Ralph Lauren, the news was not so good. When an almost alien-like Photoshopped image of a model sporting the American designer’s Blue Label collection was posted on the internet, a firestorm of criticism forced the company to acknowledge that it had erred in its judgment, even after attempting to quash the publishing of the photos which were spreading around the internet like wildfire.
Since then, a second Ralph Lauren image of a seemingly emaciated model has emerged. The designer’s reputation as the icon of American fashion has been tarnished. To wit, a Google search of ‘Ralph Lauren” and ‘Photoshop’ returns 344,000 results. What’s worse, a search of just “Ralph Lauren” now serves up at least three articles referencing the “Photoshop disaster” on the first page of results.
Brands beware: the Internet never forgets.
10. TWITTER FATIGUE
Last season, editors tweeted en masse from their front row seats, adding a new energy to the fashion week media buzz. But this time around, all the tweeting seemed a bit stale and repetitive. Over and over again, we read the same reports of celebrities in the front row (usually something to do with Rihanna or Lady Gaga) and hot parties and events. Next season, editors should look to find their own Twitter voice that attracts interest, as opposed to joining the repetitive chatter and noise.
Some sites, including Fashion Tweek and Style.com’s The Fashion Feed attempted to address this by creating a curated list of the best fashion twitterers. Unfortunately, it seems there are are so many tweets on a given day (and some prolific twitters whose sheer volume of tweets just drowns out everyone else) that even this kind of editing is not enough. Rather, we a partial to the approach of Refinery29’s Twitter Troll, which edits the most interesting tweets of the day the old fashion way: manual intervention.
But, by far the best addition to the fashion week Twitter frenzy was from the man himself, Alexander McQueen. His regular (but not overwhelming) 140 character reports from pre-show prep to the post-show aftermath gave fans a view into the mad creativity and sheer effort that goes into creating a McQueen show. We hope to hear directly from more designers in seasons to come. It’s a great way to bypass the media and PR babble and communicate directly with a brand’s biggest fans.
Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion