Monthly Archives: February 2013

It was clean, it was exact, it didn’t rock the boat (or the brand). It was, as the French say, pas mal.

Almost entirely in black and white, Alexander Wang’s first Balenciaga show nodded to the house’s architectural past. Building from a base of a flat suede boot/legging, he layered on skinny black trousers, high-waisted skirts cut in a curve on the hem and waist to dip in back and rise in front. There were white shirts that mixed cotton piqué with a nubbly cloqué added under or over in origami-folds; neat dresses in a marbelised print realised in appliqués on organza; intarsia furs; a cracked painted leather polo neck and matching skirt; and suede trousers flashing bits of flesh between the cracks.

As an interpretation of the now-abstract idea of Balenciaga, it looked exactly like what to expect if one imagined the archives and what a young designer would make of them, which will probably be gratifying from a consumer perspective: not too challenging, but elegant enough, the clothes suggested the past without confronting it. It’s nice to be proved correct when you enter a store (or pick a designer). And they will probably attract Mr Wang’s band of cool, growing-up, society girls – even, possibly, their mothers. Read more

Helen Hunt wearing an H&M gown on the red carpet at the Oscars on Sunday

On Wednesday H&M is having its first-ever Paris fashion show – in the Musée Rodin, the haute art ex-venue of Tom Ford’s Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano’s Christian Dior. Coming on the back of Sunday’s Oscar moment, when best supporting actress nominee Helen Hunt wore H&M on the red carpet, it seems to indicate more upmarket ambitions for the brand. So, is this a sign of the times or a sign of the decline of western fashion civilisation? Maybe a bit of both.

(Note: it doesn’t seem to be the unveiling of the group’s new, higher-priced brand collection & Other Stories – it’s H&M itself. So it’s not a move to elevate a line to, say, the Martin Sitbon level.)

On one level, it sounds silly. The whole point of great high street brands such as H&M is that it so quickly, effectively and economically translates high-fashion trends for the rest of the world without the frills, hoo-ha and elitism associated with the whole show system, its seating ranks, invitations and exclusionary velvet ropes. It led the revolution to democratise style, and its consumers love it for it. Read more

Marni's sunglasses with “excavated details”. Getty Images

Today is travel day as the fashion flock heads to Paris. Looking back over the past week in Italy, I was struck by the fact that of all the trends to come out of Milan – fur, leather, dominatrix gear, (I’m not kidding about this last one) – the biggest one is the sudden trumpeting, by pretty much every brand, of “Made in Italy”.

From Dolce & Gabbana and their mosaic dresses to Fendi’s extraordinary fur melange, it was artisanship all the way. You just need to read the show notes, supposedly to help journalists understand what a collection is about, but in reality mostly serve as pre-show entertainment.

Take Marni, for example, “the colour palette is severe, with turbulent peaks”; sunglasses have “excavated details”. Or from Armani: “calculated eccentricity shines through in berets featuring special workmanship in woven velvet, their spherical forma adorning the head.” I’ll be tweeting the best ones, so follow us on @FTLuxury360 for some real prose treats. Read more

Forget clothes; the red carpet is all about the jewellery now. Would be that of an after-awards morning my in-box would be full of who-wore-what emails. Not any more! Now it’s jewels, all the way down (or pretty much). Yet I can’t help feeling that there’s a difference between fine jewellery and clothes, even really expensive clothes, and the “if-it-worked-for-fashion-it-will-work-for-gems” theory is wrong.  Read more

If anyone wants to know the difference between Milan and New York fashion, the two cities that are most often seem as similar in their focus on the commercial as opposed to the insanely creative/conceptual, simply consider two recent pieces of news from over the pond: first, in her official term 2 Flotus portrait, Mrs O is wearing Reed Krakoff; second, the CFDA has hired Boston Consulting Group to help them determine their goals for the next five years. Fashion-as-business! It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

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Maxime Simoens' couture collection. Getty Images

It seems LVMH has taken a new approach to its investment in young fashion brands having made a minority investment in 29-year-old French couturier Maxime Simoens. The company has snapped up between a 20-30 per cent stake in the business, according to an LVMH spokesperson. This means Mr Simoens will not officially become part of LVMH (not yet, anyway), but that the group will act as advisers on the growth of the brand – in particular, Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano, who was the driving force behind the investment. Dior, as the group likes to point out, is the main holding company of LVMH.

Mr Simoens had been rumoured as a candidate for the Dior artistic director job, and though that went to Raf Simons, Mr Toledano and Dior deputy managing director Delphine Arnault were impressed. Their first move now: helping Mr Simoens hold his debut ready-to-wear show on March 3 (he already does couture, which may seem odd, but it does not require the same up-front funding for wholesale orders as RTW). Read more

Alessandra Facchinetti to creatively lead Diego Della Valle's brand. Getty Images

And so Milan fashion week starts off with a bang: Diego Della Valle, chairman of Tod’s, has announced he has a new creative director for his brand – Alessandra Facchinetti. She will be responsible for all the womenswear products, from shoes and bags to apparel, as well as the ad campaigns, and, perhaps most importantly, being the female “face” of the brand. She may also launch the brand into homewares.

Homewares? A female face? Wow! It’s a new stage. “Why not?” asked Mr Della Valle. “It’s part of lifestyle.” Read more

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It was interesting to note that in their latest issue of High Net Worth, the folks at Ledbury Research included snapshots of what they call “over-looked markets”: ie, markets that could provide luxury brands with potential windfalls if only they were smart enough to exploit them.

And what are these possible profit centres? Canada and Australia.

In the latter, the population of ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) – people with more than $30m – grew by 6.7 per cent in 2012 to 3,350 and “their combined wealth rose 5.1 per cent to $410bn”. While in the former there are 4,660 UHNWIs, 44 per cent of which live in Ontario. So why this sudden boom in millionaires? Well, it’s commodities: oil, gas and mining. These countries are rich in them, and even tertiary industries (banking) are benefiting. Read more

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In a few hours (4pm UK time) Burberry will take to the runway at London Fashion Week (that’s chief creative officer Christopher Bailey with Samantha Cameron at the opening reception for LFW, left), and viewers will take to their smart phones not just to watch the show, which is being streamed on pretty much every part of social media you can imagine, but to order coats and bags… with their names on them! They will arrive on their doorstep in nine weeks, which is much earlier than in stores. Not only that: they will also be able to access video of their product being made, just for them. The knees go weak.

Ok, so that sarcasm was maybe a bit uncalled for. On one level I think offering videos of the customised product is a very smart thing. It pulls customers into the process, which provides an increased sense of ownership and also underscores the hand-made side of things, partly justifying the price and categorisation of Burberry as a luxury brand. But on another, this feels a little smoke and mirrors to me. Read more

Over and over came the oversized overcoats: the giant menswear-inspired outerwear items. From grey flannel to navy wool, plaid to pea coat, the runways were covered – literally and metaphorically – by the sorts of toppers that can take a village (inside). It’s less a nod to the romance of filching a too-big item from the closet of a boyfriend or husband than a reflection of the current trend towards toughening up that has also spawned the return of the suit.

These coats cover a multitude of sins, creating their own psychological and physical comfort zone: just huddle, or cuddle, up inside. And while they also nod to ye olde vintage craze, and are smart enough not to advertise their haute origins, make no mistake: in fabric and expanse, they are the ultimate in insider luxe. Read more

Raf Simons for Christian Dior. Getty Images

Sometimes – often when a new designer takes the reins at a brand, thereby drawing attention to it – a style inexplicably takes off in a viral way, running rampant throughout the fashion world.

This happened after former YSL designer Stefano Pilati’s first collection for the house, when he introduced the high-waisted tulip skirt to widespread scepticism. By the next season, high-waisted tulip skirts were ubiquitous (remember that?), and judging by last week’s New York ready-to-wear shows, it seems like it is happening now with Christian Dior designer Raf Simons’s gown-over-cigarette-trousers style, introduced in his first couture show last July. Read more

British designer John Galliano

It’s been a big week for scandals; Europe’s horsemeat-in-the-beef-lasagna crisis, John Galliano’s appearance in New York in what some construed as faux-Hasidic garb, and CNN’s decision to run a piece comparing war photography and fashion photography. It’s hard to know where to start. Here are some thoughts – in no particular order.

1. Horsemeat: reading my colleague John Gapper’s column today about the supply chain issue being at the heart of the matter, it occurred to me that this bears a notable resemblance to the blood diamond scandals, which resulted in the Kimberley Process. Like the supermarkets that sold the adulterated meat, the jewellers that sold the sparkly end product had never really pushed themselves to know where it came from. When the truth was revealed, they were horrified and embarrassed. It had never occurred to them they needed to take ownership of the supply chain if they were responsible for the end product, and the experience changed luxury’s strategy completely. Read more

MIchelle Obama wears Jason Wu at the State of the Union Address. Getty Images

Shocking! Michelle Obama has worn the same designer at two major events in a row. At the inaugural ball she wore a Jason Wu gown as she did the first time round, which is shocking enough – the last first lady to wear the same designer to two inaugural balls was Nancy Reagan. Mrs O then wore Jason Wu again at the State of the Union last night.

The dress, with a black sleeveless top and sparkly bordeaux sequinned skirt, looks like a customised variation of a frock from Mr Wu’s pre-fall collection, which had a leather spaghetti strap top and the same body. That dress, of course, was shown last December, and will not be in stores until May/June, so Mrs O is getting it celebrity-early, an indication of just how unlike normal shopping her shopping is. I think sometimes we get carried away with the J Crew side of things, and forget that there’s a very not-like-everyone-else flip side to her wardrobe – good or bad, depending on your point of view. Read more

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Two interesting developments today: Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy has announced that Bulgari, less a chief executive since Michael Burke was moved to Louis Vuitton last December, finally has a new leader: Jean-Christophe Babin, who for the past 13 years has been CEO of LVMH’s watch brand Tag Heuer.

And Hermès, which has publicly battled LVMH over the latter’s purchase of Hermès shares, has released news that 2012 sales (annual results are officially due out next month) were so good – up 22.6 per cent – that they predict “for the full year, given the excellent performance in the fourth quarter, the operating margin is expected to be slightly above the all-time high achieved in 2011″. Read more

As show season kicked off I did an interview with Jason Wu – aka the man who made Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown… twice! – before his A/W show, and two things he said have stuck in my mind:

First, for him, the Flotus effect is felt more in publicity than an actual sales spike. In other words, since Mrs O wore his gowns, everyone now knows his name in a way they might not otherwise, but it hasn’t had much effect on the bottom line.

And second, he makes 90 per cent of his clothes not just in America, but in New York, right down the street from his atelier, not because of any political position (though it’s nice to get credit for that) but because his pieces require so much hand-work – he needs to be close by to supervise. Read more

Fashion month kicked off on Friday with the first full day of the New York womenswear shows, and there were some surprise attendees in the front row. Who were these lucky folks? Why you, dear reader. Or, to be accurate, people such as you: non-fashion professionals in the comfort of their own homes who got to see a variety of shows (and will get to see more) thanks to a move among some backroom players in the fashion world to provide digital access to the shows.

I am referring specifically to KCD and IMG. The former is one of the biggest press/event/show agencies in the fashion world, working with – at New York Fashion Week – Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang and Victoria Beckham, as well as, overseas, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy and so on.

Yes, it’s more Marc Jacobs news! The Jacobs show, aka the most-anticipated show of NY Fashion week due to the designer’s ability to turn on a dime season after season, has just emailed all of us fashion types to announce they are moving the show from Monday, the usual slot, to Thursday at 8pm due to “weather and production problems”.

Here are some excerpts: Read more

New York Fashion Week begins today, bringing with it the news that Occupy Wall Street is back and planning a protest. The instigator: Intern Labor Rights, an OWS spin off. The subject: unpaid interns. Seems magazines and fashion houses are exploiting them and not adhering to labour law. Seems the desire among youngsters to 1) raise their employment chances by getting useful experience in their chosen field; and 2) enter the seemingly glamorous world of fashion means there are more than enough kids willing to work for free.

Numerous tweeters have weighed in on the matter, most negatively, as has The Fashion Law Institute , which pointed out that OWS tried this before – a few lonely souls held a widely derided protest outside the Calvin Klein show last February – without much effect. Will this time around be any different?

Professor Susan Scafidi of Fashion Law said: “hard to tell,” but my guess is: “not much.”

Why? Primarily because I’m not sure Fashion Week is the most effective time for OWS to target the fashion industry. It might appear so at first – it’s when the world’s eyes are on the industry – but let’s think about it some more. Read more

Marc Jacobs. Getty images

The post I wrote about the fashionisation of life? Well, today comes the news that stubbly zeitgeist-channeller/designer Marc Jacobs is the 2013 creative director of Diet Coke. See what I mean?

Diet Coke’s gig is a year-long stint involving the redesign of some bottles and cans, and a commercial that seems to feature Jacobs mostly shirtless. Previously they worked with Karl Lagerfeld, who, post-2001-diet became famous for his love of Diet Coke (he drinks 10 cans a day), and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Marc says he drinks two to three cans a day, so the choice makes sense – though the Coke folks have missed the boat with buzzy new Dior designer Raf Simons, who told me he used to drink two big litre bottles of Coke Zero daily, but quit this January in fear of aspartame.

Anyway, the point is less that fashion has a thing for Diet Coke – what else would anyone expect, given the industry’s body image issues? – but rather that Coca Cola, the behemoth that is #3 on Forbes’ most powerful brands list, has sussed that having a fashion name design their bottles gives them a new reason to get consumers to buy. Read more

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The news today that Blackberry was teaming up with Mercedes for some F1 branding because, RIM’s chief marketing officer told the FT, both are “at the beginning of a journey to reclaim the top position”, is interesting. But it seems to me, if this brand really wants to catch up with its competitors, especially Apple, what it needs is a creative director: a design mind, and, potentially, a famous one at that. Marc Newson, anyone? That would be a game-changer.

Jony Ive is not exactly a secret weapon: we all know how important his aesthetic skills were to Steve Jobs’ crafting of Apple’s identity and success in convincing consumers that electronics are actually fashion/luxury items. I never fail to understand how another company has not seen this and one-upped them by officially appointing a designer of their own. Read more