One of the more interesting developments this week has been the growing backlash against Monday’s Met Ball, below left, aka the Costume Institute Gala, aka the fashion party of the season. It’s one of the most talked-about, and blogged-about, events of the year, and yet Wednesday Gwyneth Paltrow was quoted by USA Today as saying she was “never going again,” that night I was at a dinner where a beauty mogul, who shall remain unnamed, announced he wasn’t going anymore, and yesterday the wife of a major brand CEO said the same. What’s going on?
I’ve been fascinated recently by the game of semantics being played between “showrooms” and “flagships” – and wondering whether the evolution of the second into the first is actually the future of commerce. Or put another way, the place e-commerce and bricks and mortar commerce merge.
Moda Operandi’s announcement this morning that it would be selling designer gowns seen on celebrities and society mavens direct from next week’s New York Met Ball has really lifted the veil on the extent of the commercialisation of the 21st century red carpet.
The three-year-old company, which made its name offering high fashion looks straight from the catwalk and has widely been touted as one of the few e-commerce start-ups with a real shot at competing with queen bee of the pack Net-a-Porter, first made waves earlier this year by announcing its sponsorship of the “Punk: Chaos to Couture” themed event.
Ever since its launch, Net-a-Porter has been the gold standard in e-tail: the high-end market leader, with a profit margin far ahead of the pack. And ever since then, entrepreneurs have been chasing its market share. Now Carmen Busquets, one of Net’s original investors (she is still a minority shareholder) thinks she’s found the answer: giftlab.com, a gifting site that provides a host of high-ish-end targeted alternatives to orchids and artisanal chocolate for events from weddings and baby showers to weekend visits. And she’s raised $5 million from US investors, including venture capital firm NEA, and a group of HNIs, to launch in America next September.
Today the third in a series of World Luxury Index BRIC reports from the Digital Luxury Group (and the Luxury Society) is released – after Russia and China, we have Brazil, and the “Top 50 Most Searched-For Brands”. Guess what? One of these things is not like the other ones! Though conventional luxury wisdom says emerging markets always look to the obvious, in-your-face icons of luxury first, Brazil seems the exception to the rule.
So stylist/creative director/friend of Gaga Nicola Formichetti is leaving Thierry Mugler after two years. This is one of those insider fashion stories that will barely register outside the glossy environs of the industry. So why do we care? Well, because his fame was partly the point: his famous friendships and access to celebrity; his hundreds of thousands of twitter followers; his ability to reach out via Facebook and livestream and so on and exploit new media to an old brand’s advantage. He is not a designer, after all, so putting him in charge of a design house was an experiment, much ballyhooed, in whether all that other stuff was actually more important in brand revival that ye traditional stuff.
There ain’t room for all of them in this here town. That, methinks, is what etailers are increasingly thinking. Hence, as small ventures stumble upon good ideas, the big players snatch em up, the better to dominate the space. Case in point: the announcement today that net-a-porter will start doing beauty.
After last week’s announcement that Conde Nast International had made a significant investment (for them) in Farfetch.com comes news that Advance Publications, ie the parent company of Conde Nast, just led the latest $20 million fundraising round for Renttherunway.com, the web site that allows consumers to rent a catwalk look for an event. The first move got a lot of play, and this one has been slightly quieter (another investor, Highland Capital, issued the release), but put them together and you get what looks like an interesting picture developing, no?
Yesterday Farfetch.com, the ecommerce site that acts like a portal between global consumers and global independent boutiques, both editing their offerings and connecting either side, announced $20m in new funding, largely from Condé Nast International. A few days before, Luxup, a UK-based ecommerce travel site that aimed to create a “club” of tourists eager for insider shopping experiences, ceased trading. When such things happen in parallel, it’s tempting to try to find lots of lessons in the news.
What are they?
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.