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The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.

Autumn/Winter 2011 - The Season That Was

John Galliano | Source: The Creator Blog
By
  • Imran Amed

John Galliano | Source: The Creator Blog

PARIS, France – The process of writing this season's wrap-up left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. Looking back, several of the most salient themes from this round of fashion weeks involve unsavoury behaviour, gossip and highly unprofessional comments from some of the industry's most important figures.

Whether it was John Galliano's inexcusable anti-Semitic rant captured on video for the whole world to watch, the scrum of increasingly aggressive street style photographers hunting editors down like game before the shows, or the distasteful comments made by Patrick Thomas, chief executive of Hermès, regarding the stake built up in its business by LVMH, it seemed everywhere you looked this fashion week members of the industry were behaving badly.

With all the whispering, gossiping and backbiting going on, it’s surprising that anyone even noticed the clothes. So, let’s start with the clothes then!

1. OUTERWEAR EVERYWHERE AND A FEW FASHION PRINTS

Outerwear was everywhere this season, reflecting a growing understanding amongst designers that coats, jackets, parkas and ponchos get lots of wear and are the first statement of individual style, and therefore deliver a big bang for the consumer buck. Joseph Altuzarra, Alexander Wang, and Burberry's Christopher Bailey were amongst the designers at the vanguard of this outerwear moment.

Thakoon showed one of the best collections of the season in a gilded hall at New York's Plaza Hotel, with stunning contrasts of mismatched prints inspired by Masai tribes. It felt like we were in Paris, which I guess was the point as the collection also looked to French aristocracy for visual cues. The offsite location stood out from the increasingly chaotic spaces at Lincoln Center and Milk Studios. Ambience and atmosphere count for a lot when you're trying to create a mood and put on a real show. Bravo Mr. Panichgul.

Rodarte and Proenza Schouler also delivered stellar collections, demonstrating the continued evolution of their own special design signatures. Proenza Schouler's Navajo knits and prints were a knock-out, while Rodarte showed their second consecutive highly creative collection which one could actually envision hanging on a retail rail – and selling.

Although there were some great fashion moments in London, overall, the week was not as strong as usual. One notable exception was Mary Katrantzou, whose signature digital prints delivered massive runway impact in a tightly focused collection that for the first time expanded to new categories like knitwear, a smart way to expand her offering beyond dresses.

Jonathan Saunders' collection of colour-blocking (and the surprise introduction of menswear!) proved he is definitely now back on firm footing in London after a hiccup during the seasons he spent in New York. And, Giles Deacon put out a focused fetishist collection that showed his more serious, sombre side. Indeed, for many an editor, his was the best show of London Fashion Week, and that hasn't been something we've heard for awhile.

Ann Demeulemeester's show in Paris was a beautiful vision of primal female warriors. Lanvin was gorgeous, as usual. Céline showed off the on-going evolution of Phoebe Philo's "new minimalism," with a more graphic and colourful show. And Rick Owens brought a kind of couture quality to his singular dark aesthetic of carefully constructed clothes.

2. THINK BEFORE WE TWEET

It seemed like just another fashion month, and then, with the high-profile meltdown of John Galliano, everything changed in a matter of hours. Soon, the fashion gossip mill was in a frenzy, turbocharged by Twitter which made the whole situation more ugly as the days went by and speculation about Galliano's successor intensified after he was first suspended, and ultimately dismissed by LVMH.

A tweet by Derek Blasberg from backstage at the Katy Perry concert in Paris, citing an anonymous source which 'confirmed' the widespread rumour that Riccardo Tisci would be named Galliano's successor set off further speculation on websites and blogs, who sometimes took Mr. Blasberg's comments as though they had come straight from an official Dior press release. I found at least one website that took the Tisci rumour and reported it as fact, without any mention of the source at all.

But Mr. Galliano wasn't alone. Rumours about the futures of Stefano Pilati, Hannah McGibbon, and Christophe Decarnin dogged designers and lit up the internet throughout Paris Fashion Week, creating a virtual feeding frenzy of immense proportions. We were an industry feeding on ourselves.

So dear fellow members of the fashion Twitterati, let’s think before we tweet. Careers and businesses can be impacted by what may seem like an innocent bit of speculation on Twitter, but can quickly turn into boldfaced headlines on major fashion websites, a hugely destabilising force at the most critical moments during the fashion calendar. We are all still learning how to use this powerful tool responsibly.

3. STREETSTYLE PAPARAZZI

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/20330359[/vimeo]

Over the past few seasons, the number of photographers outside the shows has ballooned as interest in street style photography (and street style stardom) has soared. It's been an amazing phenomenon to observe as many previously behind-the-scenes women such as Yasmin Sewell, Caroline Issa and Taylor Tomasi now provide inspiration to hundreds of thousands of fashion lovers around the world, appearing in outfits that are often more interesting than what is on the runway.

But the rapid rise of street photography also has a darker side. The ‘bloggers walk’ in the Jardin des Tuileries, site of many major Paris shows, is now completely out of control. Indeed, it’s become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the aggressive paparazzi who stalk Hollywood celebrities outside bars and clubs and a few of the bad apples amongst the hordes of photographers that accost editors as they come in and out of shows.

Several street style bloggers told me confidentially that the competition is extremely fierce for getting the best photographs, which can then be sold on to global editions of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar each for as little as $200, but up to $1000 or more.

Word to the wise: if you build a relationship with the women you’d like to photograph, and treat them with a bit of respect, you’ll be much more likely to get a great shot where they look their best and aren’t running to avoid you. Chasing them around, getting in their way, and coaxing them to come out of their cars is a sure fire way of alienating the objects of your fancy.

The best streetstyle photographers are streetsmart and dashing figures who build passionate online followings for these fashion personalities through the power of their photos. They compose beautiful shots that are flattering to their subjects and still interesting enough to spark a conversation, reflected in the hundreds and hundreds of people who chime in to say what they think. And most of all, they are gentlemen (or gentlewomen.)

4. CONSUMER PARTICIPATION

New York Fashion Week | Source: Fabsugar

While there has been a general trend towards smaller shows and presentations, PR professionals tell me they have been dealing with unprecedented demand for seats, making allocations more and more difficult. At Céline, many senior editors from the UK were forced to stand and more than one front-row blogger complained to me about not having access to Givenchy or YSL.

But alongside the growing number of requests from traditional media, major retail outlets, boutiques, online retailers, bloggers, and social media managers, more and more consumers are no longer content to simply watch the livestream at home. They too want to attend the shows in person and be part of the action, a trend which was most apparent in New York.

For several seasons, American Express has been inviting its cardmembers to attend shows in its Skybox at the tents, but these attendees have been somewhat removed from view: observing as opposed to participating in the show environment.

In contrast, at the Jason Wu show, I was seated next to a section allocated to Nordstrom, which had chosen to give away most of its seats to top clients who had flown in specially for the event from across the country. Indeed, department store buyers told me the pressure to find seats for top consumers is "enormous." If a woman spends more than $1m in a store, she has come to expect VIP treatment.

The enthusiastic ladies at the Jason Wu show asked me questions about what I did and were eager to learn about the fashion personalities in the front row. It was a refreshing conversation with people who were truly curious about fashion as a culture. That the clothes on the runway weren’t available to buy for several months was apparently not a concern.

5. IMMEDIACY VS. EXCLUSIVITY

Moda Operandi screenshot | Source: Moda Operandi

Other businesses were attempting to satisfy growing consumer interest in fashion week through pre-orders. Burberry and Proenza Schouler have been offering direct buying from the runway for a few seasons now. But this time around, there was a lot of buzz about Moda Operandi, the new fashion e-commerce business founded by Lauren Santo Domingo and my friend and former McKinsey colleague Aslaug Magnusdottir.

Their offering of high-profile flash sales of the latest runway collections from some of the industry's most celebrated designers certainly had people talking. Having coined the term "pretail," the Moda Operandi founders have also cleverly suggested that the insights gleaned from their sales will help brands to merchandise their stores and work with other wholesalers, knowing what styles are most popular based on real consumer data. And, because they take a 50 percent deposit on all purchases in advance, the business operates with a positive cash flow model similar to the one that made Michael Dell's company famously successful. In the approximately 6 months between payment and delivery, Moda Operandi can use the deposits paid by consumers to finance the working capital costs of running its business, and also giving a much-needed deposit to designers, who can also benefit from upfront cashflow to finance production.

But relying on this kind of financial model also creates other restrictions. When a consumer pays for things on Moda Operandi, they can never get their cash back. According to the terms and conditions, returns are only possible for apparel and footwear products, and even then, only for store credit. Everything else is not returnable. Some women I spoke to weren't deterred by this, and had already excitedly logged on to the website to shop, but others were bothered by having to take all the financial risk to buy clothes on Moda Operandi. Why not wait, they asked, for the clothes to arrive in store if they would have to wait 6 months for delivery anyway?

Meanwhile Tom Ford, in his usual contrarian approach, has defied the trend towards fashion immediacy and severely limited access to his collections, going so far as to having journalists sworn to secrecy and sign non-disclosure agreements about his presentation in London. Is Mr. Ford taking fashion a bit too seriously? Or, has he found a brilliant way to drum up even more interest in his clothes as they hit stores in a few months time by orchestrating a fashion media crescendo at the same time. Only time will tell.

One other website of note this season is my-wardrobe.com which has just had its first major facelift under former Grazia editor Fiona Mcintosh who joined as creative director in February. Naturally, there are flourishes of Grazia in the yellow highlighted design and snappy copy, a smart way to deliver on the company's new everyday luxury strategy, fueled by a recent £6m investment injection from Balderton Capital.

Grazia of course is one of the most powerful sales tools for women's fashion of the moment. Designers frequently tell me that if their designs are featured in Grazia, they sell out everywhere. As a weekly magazine featuring things that are in store now, I've always wondered why Bauer Media has not created an online version of its magazine to at least earn affiliate revenue for all the products it manages to sell, if not set up a full-fledged e-commerce site. It seems like a very big missed opportunity that my-wardrobe.com is now going after.

6. JUST NATALIE

Natalie Massenet and Jeremy Langmead | Source: Net a Porter

In an industry that has been named and shamed this season, there is at least one individual that is setting a good example.

Since our Fashion Pioneers interview last summer, Natalie Massenet has continued her ascent to the top of fashion's tech elite, not by acting like a grand poobah but by focusing on building her business. Whereas so many in our industry can get complacent or become tyrants (or both!) once they are firmly ensconced in the front row, Natalie is the kind of leader who cancels a trip to New York Fashion Week to hunker down with the Mr Porter team in the days leading up to its widely anticipated launch.

The results show in her team. When they are in public, they show a stylish united front and in private they don't backbite about each other. At work, they are professional and responsive, and show up when they say they will. If they are going to be late, they send an apology. They say thank you, and they care about the details too.

Net-a-Porter's success is often attributed to its high quality content. But as the company builds new businesses, it is the seamless back-end operations which pick, pack and ship hundreds of thousands of fashion products and deliver them to 170 countries around the world that make a big difference. This has enabled the company to quickly launch two new businesses – The Outnet and Mr Porter –  in less than 24 months.

The lynchpin for all of this is the positive role model and force for innovation that Natalie represents in our industry. It's no wonder that to many in the industry, she is now just 'Natalie' and that she has become a positive face for the fashion business to the rest of the business community and the wider world at a time when the industry has been tainted. Hers is an example we can all follow.

Imran Amed is founder and editor of The Business of Fashion

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