Luxury Outlook | Finding meaning in design

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…

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Luxury Outlook | Grim and grimmer

LONDON, United Kingdom - In recent conversations with global luxury business leaders and American fashion entrepreneurs, young designer brands and fashion executives in the UK's high-street behemoths, the mood has been decidedly downbeat, with rapidly decreasing sales leading to increasingly desperate sale signs. Hiring freezes and spending cutbacks are in place almost across the board.  Emerging fashion businesses I have spoken to are reporting significant decreases in orders for Spring/Summer 2009. Orders are being cut back or canceled altogether and there are reports of fabric mills in Italy and manufacturers in China facing dire straits as the brakes are put on consumer spending around the world.  The sudden freeze in spending is a reaction to dramatic drops in the value…

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Valentino | The saga continues

ROME, Italy - By now, most everyone in the fashion universe has heard that Alessandra Facchinetti has been ceremoniously removed from her post as Creative Director of Valentino. Some fashion critics, Suzy Menkes included, have spoken against the designer's dismissal, pointing to early successes in her first outings over the past couple of seasons, where she availed herself of Valentino's formidable atelier. But the story doesn't end there. A report in WWD said that Facchinetti's ousting was not due to poor collections, but rather to a difficult and long creative process, and an inability to build a cohesive team around her. And, perhaps therein lies the point. Designers are no longer able to operate in a vacuum, in studios which…

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Luxury Outlook | Survival of the fittest

PARIS, France - Even as America teeters on the brink of economic armageddon, fashion week has continued on in full force here in Paris. But, between all the comings and goings, the drama and parties, many designers, buyers and editors have had their eyes and ears tuned into what is going on Stateside, trying to make sense of the ever-changing news. So what should luxury retailers and brands do in troubled times like this? The days of unfettered consumption are over. Multi-thousand dollar canvas bags and poorly made clothes with staggering prices which are designed to last only one season will be a tough sell. More than ever, for consumers, every purchase now will involve the price/quality calculation that constitutes value. Consumers…

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The Swiss Textiles Award | Fashion’s crystal ball

ZURICH, Switzerland - The Swiss Textiles Award is not the richest fashion design prize available -- the 300,000 euro prize from Mango takes that category. But, over the past 5 years it has emerged as perhaps the most influential award of its kind, and the only one to operate with a global remit. In 2003, a little-known Belgian designer named Raf Simons won the prize and went on to wow fashion critics, who were now playing close attention to his work. Cathy Horyn had this to say of his Simons' men's 2005 Spring/Summer collection, shown in Paris in July 2004: What Mr. Simons did in an instant was to render the day, and most of the previous one of the…

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The Gap and Zara | A tale of two brands

So it's official. As of the first quarter of 2008, Inditex, the phenomenally successful Spanish fast-fashion conglomerate and parent company of Zara, has officially overtaken The Gap to become the world's biggest fashion retailer. In the meantime, the once venerable Gap is still tweaking its product around the edges, struggling to find a formula that works. Zara stores have been popping up on high streets and in malls around the world, registering  a whopping €6.3b in sales in 2007, making it larger than Louis Vuitton. Perhaps more surprisingly, the performance of Inditex's smaller brands like Bershka and Massimo Dutti has also been strong, registering revenues of €925m and €696m respectively, in 2007, making Bershka's business larger than that of Christian…

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Everybody’s talking about | Women in the middle

NEW YORK, United States and LONDON, United Kingdom - Some say that during a downturn, there is a flight to the high-end: buy fewer of the more expensive pieces that will stand the test of time and do away with impulse fashion purchases. There is also a rush to discounters: buy the same quantity of goods, but at lower prices which enables consumers to keep the newness factor, albeit at inferior levels of quality. Therefore, it is said, the middle market suffers. Whatever is the conventional wisdom, if recent moves by some of the industry's most successful fashion executives are any indication, there is a significant opportunity to be captured in the middle market, which has lagged in recent years.…

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Breaking News | Qiu Hao wins Woolmark Prize

PARIS, France - Just a few weeks ago I met Qiu Hao in Shanghai I am thrilled to announce that tonight in Paris he has been awarded the Woolmark Prize, worth €100,000. The award is is famous for anointing both Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent in 1954 and this year it has been resurrected by Australian Wool Innovation, which recently acquired the Woolmark brand. Said Mr Craig Welsh, CEO of AWI, "We see the Woolmark Prize as an opportunity to support the future of design and at the same time, showcase to the world Australian Merino wool at its best and most innovative." For those of you who missed it, please check out our feature on Qiu Hao and his…

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Qiu Hao and Helen Lee | Diversity in design, comrades in commerce

SHANGHAI, China - While most Chinese are still focused on buying into the prestige and status of international luxury brands, there are emerging local alternatives for those who want something more individual. Bubbling design and fashion scenes in and around Shanghai’s Taikang Lu and JinXian Lu offer a little bit of niche, homespun design to offset the ubiquity, even in China, of Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. In the new Shanghai, emerging fashion designers seek inspiration from home or abroad, create garments that range from the culturally literal to the conceptually commercial, and target mass and class and everything in between. All the same, they share the same business challenges as their counterparts in other established and emerging design centres, from…

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Everybody’s talking about | Fashion copycats

At what point does referencing and inspiration turn into blatant copying? It's a question that is increasingly on the minds of designers -- particularly young designers and small brands -- who don't have the legal muscle (read: cold hard cash) and time to defend the integrity of their designs. In other creative disciplines like music, writing and visual art, it is much easier to defend copying. In fashion, referencing, inspiration, and trends form the backbone of our industry (just check out this long list of adventures in fashion copyright). So, where do we draw the line? Case 1:  Steve MaddenSometimes it's quite straightforward to see what is going on.  A post on Manolo's shoe blog alerted us to this blatant…

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Breaking News | Gucci sales growth disappoints

News flashes have been coming in today from investment analysts covering PPR, which reported its 1Q08 results earlier today. The news is not good for the Gucci brand, but Bottega Veneta has managed to beat market expectations, even in this downbeat economic environment. Gucci sales only increased by 2.4% to €513m, versus market expectations in the neighbourhood of 7% growth. As a result, some analysts are considering posting downgrades to their ratings on the PPR stock. Given it's self-stated positioning as an 'Aspirational luxury' brand, it may not seem surprising that Gucci would be one of the first brands to show signs of the economic slowdown. But that's not the whole story. Interestingly, the slowdown in sales growth is not…

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The Business of Fashion | Talks to Vogue Korea

It's turning out to be fashion magazine week on the Business of Fashion. A couple of months ago, Dominic Sohn, a newly appointed Fashion Editor at Vogue Korea, contacted me to get some thoughts on the revolving doors for designers at major fashion houses. This was before Lars Nilsson was turfed from Gianfranco Ferre (just days before his first runway show) only to be replaced by Tomasso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi of 6267 and before Paulo Melim Andersson was sent packing after three seasons at Chloe, making way for Hannah MacGibbon. Dominic's questions were timely indeed. Excerpts from the interview have just been published in an article in the May 2008 edition of Vogue Korea, along with the reflections of…

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Fashion Magazines | Balancing advertising and editorial

The other day I nipped out to grab a coffee in London's Hanover Square. As I was waiting, who should walk in but Alexandra Shulman, the Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue. There was no entourage or chauffeur or huge sunglasses. Rather, she very normally ordered her skinny cappuccino (without assistance and without attitude) and waited like the rest of us to be served. It got me to thinking that (thankfully) some people in the fashion industry are completely normal (despite the caricatures that may be painted of them in the Press), and it also got me thinking about the business of magazines -- fashion magazines in particular. It turns out Ms. Shulman has been quite the business woman during her respected…

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