These days we all hold certain truths to be self-evident: 1) that the Chinese market, while slowing, is still expected to be the biggest fashion market in the world; 2) that the Chinese are attracted to the idea of European heritage and skills; 3) that there is an increasing drive in China to support home-grown design (or to create it); 4) that the Europeans are trying to figure out how to exploit all those two realities to their own profit. Hence, for example, Kering’s purchase last year of Qeelin, the Chinese jewellery brand, and hence Iceberg’s decision to partner with Chinese video artist Yi Zhou for a capsule collection of menswear, womenswear, and accessories, to be launched next Christmas. What’s interesting about both these choices is they are focused much more on East than West. Fair enough: you go where the money is. And with the Iceberg case we reach example number 2 of this approach, thus bringing us ever-closer to critical mass for a trend.
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Stuart McCullough, the CEO of Woolmark, wants to relaunch wool as a brand. A luxury brand. Woolmark, of course, is already a logo, and there are unquestionably luxury fibres (see cashmere, vicuna, silk), but to turn a fibre itself into a brand seems like – well, a challenge. Isn’t it a material? Can materials be brands? Is this the ultimate example of the contemporary belief that everything, but everything – people, dogs, washing machines – can be a brand? Maybe. But the does have two recent developments going for him. Read more

I was struck this week by a report from Havas Media on the world’s most “meaningful” brands – struck by the fact there was but ONE luxury brand in the top 20 (L’Oreal), and by the fact that this all was revealed only a day after I returned from the FT’s luxury conference in Vienna, which had culminated in a panel of luxury CEOs all discussing the need to connect meaning to their brands, and how they are going about it (education, sustainable supply chains, philanthropy), and only a few days after Gucci held its Chime for Change concert in London, which raised over GBP4 million for women’s causes around the world. It’s hard not to think that whatever luxury thinks they are doing, it’s not getting through broadly enough. Read more

Interesting move on the part of incoming Hermès CEO/family member Axel Dumas to start off his leadership with an aggressive anti-LVMH statement. Presumably the idea was to do two things in one fell swoop: herald a new sheriff in town and demonstrate his toughness (despite his relative youth, at almost-43). I wonder, though, if it’s also doing a third, perhaps less intentional – or at least, less obvious: giving Hermès , aka the ultimate in classic luxury, some street-fighter edge. And if so, is it actually good for the company’s image, or a mistake? Read more

The WPP/BrandZ Top 100 Global Brands ranking is out today – OMG! OMG! – and, as usual (for me, anyway) what ISN’T on it, when it comes to fashion and luxury, is more interesting than what makes the grade.

Of course, that isn’t hard to parse, since only FOUR (yes, more capital letters, but this is big) traditional luxury brands do make the grade. And yes, you can argue that Apple (#1) and BMW (#24) are luxury brands, but let’s stick to the generally accepted silk/apparel/leathergoods/watch & jewellery categories, for clarity’s sake.

And in those categories, we have: Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci and Prada. That’s it.

Yup: no Burberry. No Ralph Lauren. No Cartier. No Armani. No Fendi or Celine. No Bottega Veneta or Balenciaga. No Michael Kors. Uh oh. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Read more

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?

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Forget art collaborations – they’re so yesterday. Mobile phones, ditto. These days, it seems, the must-have accessory for a luxury brand (not, note, a luxury consumer) is a gig creating costumes for the ballet. It’s the newest stamp of high-art approval. The latest to join the club: Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci. So what does it mean? Read more

PPR-about-to-be-Kering is on something of another spending spree. In the last two days they have announced two (count ‘em) acquisitions in Italy: the jewellery brand Pomellato, and the porcelain house Richard Ginori. The first buy is getting the most press, but it’s the second that really interests me. See, it wasn’t officially bought by Kering, but by Gucci (though this could be semantics, since Kering owns Gucci), and the purchase is being spun as the rescue of an important “Made in Italy” brand. Add that to two other Gucci intiatives, and it seems an image change is in the works, and no one has really noticed. Read more

No, this is not about Michelle Obama’s Get Fit campaign. The issue of size – of one’s body, as measured by the clothes one wears – has always been a touchy matter, not because of national epidemics of obesity, but because of our global individual body dysmorphia. Fashion has been an enabler of this all, not in the way you might think – not because of skinny models, or the deification of youth, for example, though it is certainly a factor in both – but because of its collusion in a less-discussed but equally problematic issue: the total elasticity of size. For fashion, size has become a tool of perception and subconscious seduction – oooh, look, this brand thinks I am so slim! I love it! – as opposed to reality. Except now one company, Alvanon, wants to change all that. And I wonder: Do we really want to know the truth? Read more

LVMH, the largest luxury group in the world by an exponential margin, has a dumb blonde problem: it seems to be the winner in the sector, so it gets attacked and mocked most of all. For a long time, the Group’s reaction to the situation was frustration, retreat, and confusion (or sulking, depending on how you want to spin it). This week, however, they have gone on what appears to be something of a charm offensive.
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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.

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Tomorrow French luxury and sports lifestyle Group PPR will announce it has a new name. Earlier this week, journalists received a mysterious evite to a meeting in Paris Friday to unveil the “new” PPR, one which has finally shed its old retail/catalogue arms, FNAC, Conforma and Redcats, to become a pure two-sector player. According to an insider, this unveiling is, in fact, the unveiling of the fact it is no longer called PPR. So far the Group has refused to divulge its new title, though it has registered at least two alternatives. Let’s see if they are any good.

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Are semi-obscure male celebrities the most effective way to sell men’s scents? I have to assume the answer to this question is yes, because otherwise why would brands spend what must be a significant amount of money signing up so-so male celebrities to front their cologne campaigns? (Celebrities do not come cheap these days, as sic Lisa Jacobson at United Talent Agency. They all see “ambassador” roles as a prime source of secondary income).

After all, news comes today that Australian actors Eric Bana, left, and Simon Baker, below are fronting, respectively, the new Bulgari and Givenchy men’s scent campaigns. Recognise them? 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

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

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

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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

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.

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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. Read more