One of the more intriguing collaborations that has come my way has to be the Hermès/Comme des Garcons team-up. What, one thinks, do France’s most classic luxury brand and Japan’s most conceptual designer have in common? More than you might expect — and not just a thing for scarves, though that is what nominally brought them together.
The other day a man who had recently bought a famous fashion trademark, Mainbocher, with interesting plans for reinvention came to see me. It turns out he bought the marque from a man whose father had been very canny in snapping up these defunct-but-aromatic names, and still in the vault is Paul Poiret, among others. Which means that post-Worth and Vionnet and Schiaparelli, there are still a bunch of once-famous fashion houses that are potential relaunches. But should they be? Increasingly, I think that the old arguments in favour no longer hold true, largely because of the Brave New World of social media.
Diego Della Valle, the chairman of Tod’s, has been making a big ruckus lately about the need for Italian brands to protect Italian heritage – their own (ie their artisans and their skills) and their countries. First, he put his money where his mouth is, funding the restoration of the La Scala opera house to the tune of €2m and pledging to restore the Colosseum for €25m, and then he statred castigating his peers for not following his lead.
Well, now someone has. Yesterday Fendi announced it was going to single-handedly provide the funds to restore Rome’s famous fountains, starting with the Trevi fountain for €2m, and following with unspecified contributions for the nearby Le Quattro Fontane (the four fountains). Designers Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Fendi made the announcement in front of a sketch of the fountain (above). It’s even got a catchy logo: Fendi for Fountains, or FFF, a play on Fendi’s own double F. Chic, no? Fashion to the rescue – what governments cannot do, luxury can. Branded philanthropy.
Lloyd Blankfein. Getty Images
The new stubbly look of Goldman Sachs’ chief executive Lloyd Blankfein was the subject of much buzz at Davos last week. Sometimes you have to talk about something besides the Eurozone and exciting new tech breakthroughs, and in so doing, it caused endless irritation for the Goldman communications team – it didn’t see why everyone cared so much.
Do they really have to ask? Methinks that is a bit disengenuous. After all, Mr Blankfein’s new look was unveiled at: 1) the most public gathering of his peers all year, and one he was returning to for the first time in five years; and 2) bore a striking resemblance to the facial hair sported by that most considered and controlled of all aesthetic men, Tom Ford – the man who transformed the role of the designer into an executive position, and became a public figure in the process. Take a look at the pictures and tell me what you think.
One of the most surprising revelations to come from the FT’s recent mini Business of Luxury summit in NYC was the realisation that architect Peter Marino is busy creating a shadow art world in fashion under all our noses, and almost no one has put it together. At one point, about a decade ago, he noted, the grand pooh-bahs of luxury decided it was time to take things “to the next level” with their stores. And that next level was… art.
Consider: he says he has a deal with brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton that allows him to commission three to five pieces of new art from pretty much any artists he wants. And though he does recycle it from store to store on occasion, mostly this is new. So given that stores get refits every five to seven years – well, you do the maths. He says he has probably been responsible for commissioning about 200 or more works of art from artists including Vik Muniz, Jean-Michel Othoniel (that’s his glass swirl, above, in a Chanel boutique), Richard Prince, and others. That’s practically a museum in itself. You think it’s a coincidence that Louis Vuitton is opening its own art foundation in the Bois de Boulogne this year?
The continued preponderance of celebs at the couture show in Paris this week – Sigourney Weaver, Chloë Moretz, Jessica Alba, Rosamund Pike and Noomi Rapace, among others (left) at Dior; Hilary Swank and Uma Turman at Armani; Charlene, Princess of Monaco and Olivia Munn at Versace; Rita Ora at Chanel – has got me thinking about the expectation this has raised, and how that can backfire for a brand. And no, I’m not talking about the usual problem of celebs behaving badly.
I’m talking about the fact that these relationships have become so common and so public, that now when we see a star in pretty much anything branded, there is an assumption there’s a contractual relationship there. And a contractual relationship implies approbation and shared values. At our recent Business of Luxury conference in New York, Lisa Jacobson, head of branding for United Talent Agency, said there were “maybe” five celebs in Hollywood that didn’t want a relationship with a brand, and the endorsement contract had become a significant part of most stars’ income.
Ok, Prada is not participating in the couture shows this week, but it did send out this little sneak peek of the dresses the brand made for Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming and much-anticipated film The Great Gatsby. It seems for no immediately apparent reason – the film is not due to open until May, there’s no specific promotional activity happening now around it – until you start thinking about the fact that these sketches (left and below) are one-offs made for Carey Mulligan, who plays Daisy Buchanan, and certainly look as intricate and imaginative as most dresses come. Kind of like couture.
That green number is a “radzmire dress with bustier embroidered with pearls, stones and sequin fringes”; the first one below is a “multi-striped sequins dress with a plastic and trimmings embroidery at the bottom”. The one at the bottom is “orange organza dress enriched with plastic fish scale-like sequin embroidery”.
It’s couture week in Paris; but we’re a show down on the schedule: Givenchy, which under Riccardo Tisci has held an up-close-and-personal presentation of a handful of elaborate pieces, is taking time out to, well, ease up on the pressure. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Alexander McQueen will also not be holding a show in March during the autumn/winter shows, as its creative director, Sarah Burton, pictured left, will be on maternity leave.
Instead they will have a small presentation; a variation on the tactic Celine’s Phoebe Philo used when she was last pregnant. Her show fell in her third trimester and decided to eschew the stress of a full show for small talk-throughs with tiny groups.
Could it be that both the corporate and creative sides of the business are beginning to think shows may not be the crucial component of a business they have been previously considered? Holy hemlines, Batman!
By Vanessa Friedman
There are three big fashion events this week. It’s hard to know where a style-watcher should look: to Paris, where the couture shows kick off on Monday; to Washington, DC, where Barack Obama’s inaugural balls – 11 official dos and multiple more unofficial ones – also take place on Monday; or to Davos, where the suits’n’smarts shows begin on Wednesday: fur hats and rubber boots in the snow. Any of the three is bound to provide fodder for the fashion watcher, what with the tribal dressing that goes on, be it ever-more-towering stilettos at couture; navy suits in Switzerland; or tuxedos and sparkles at the Washington Convention Center.