Forget “who to watch,” or “what shows to watch” – when it comes to New York Fashion Week, “what to watch” is far more exciting. And by what to watch”, I do not mean what digital video channel, though they are unquestionably proliferating, but rather what issues will be revealed during the next round of shows, which start – ahem – tomorrow. I guess a more colloquial way of putting it would be “what to watch for”. And when it comes to “what to watch for”, I have four main areas of focus. Read more

I’m amazed that fashion, which loves to complain about fashion weeks (which start this week!), has thus far said almost nothing about changes to the New York and Paris schedules. Maybe everyone is simply in end-of-summer re-entry shock and hasn’t had time to focus? Whatever the case, and despite the constant rumblings about the need to condense the season, truth is this time around New York and Paris have pulled a fast one that should extend their “weeks” by another day. Which may not seem like a big deal, until you start adding up the costs. Read more

How much does Lady Gaga really matter, in a quantifiable way, to fashion? — this is what I want to know. I mean, the Gaga juggernaut has been in full flow this week in the run-up to the Spring/Summer collections, which begin in NY next week; practically every day a new email lands in my in-box with a designer or brand touting the pop singer’s appearance in their wares. Presumably, they think she’s a marketing dream – hence the news – but I wonder: given her brand profligacy, does this actually work to promote any name other than her own?  Read more

Fashion month is fast approaching – the NY shows start (gulp) on Sept 5, which means it’s also time for the now-standard action piece about why there are no black models on the runway. This season’s call to action comes from the New York Times, though there have been similar pieces over the years, from various different outlets including Vogue. Here’s my question, though: if we are really going to look at this issue in a serious way, and we should, no question, why stick to the runway? For truth is, rack my brain though I do, I can’t think of any luxury CEOs, at least of the mega-brands, who aren’t white. Or designers at the head of mega-brands, for that matter. We’re focusing on the wrong place. Read more

As fashion weeks proliferate around the world (I blame IMG, which alone owns 14 different fashion weeks from Milan to Mumbai), and it gets harder and harder to get excited about them or even remember why we should care, I have been struck by the way, of all the fashion weeks not on the original NY-London-Milan-Paris calendar, Copenhagen Fashion Week alone has both understood and attempted to solve the problem. They’ve made a big bet on an identity differentiator that – and this is key – actually doesn’t have anything to do with design. Think that’s ridiculous? it’s actually very clever.

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If ever there was an event that highlighted the complicated politics of fashion nationality in a global world, it was something that happened last night. Specifically, there was a big party in Medellin attended by the mayor, his wife, the First Lady of Colombia, and other assorted luminaries in honour of designer Haider Ackermann, who held a retrospective catwalk show to mark 25th anniversary of inexModa, Colombia’s fashion and textile industry showcase, and who was given the keys to the city. Now, Mr Ackermann was born in Colombia, but adopted as a baby by a French couple who raised him all over the world, but mostly in the Netherlands,trained in Antwerp, and has based his brand in Paris where he shows. Which makes him…what exactly?

Apparently a potential pawn in the fashion game of a number of countries.

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Oooh, the trash talk out of Milan. Having finally woken up to the fact that London Fashion Week is getting buzzier, and that such a development could be a threat to Milan, its collections, and the related economic windfall that comes to a city during showtime, Milanese designers are joining forces to defend their territory – but the infighting has already begun. The gossip and name-calling is fun to watch, but behind it is a real issue currently afflicting every fashion week: the tension between national industry interest and a brand’s self-interest. Read more

Yesterday Kering, the group-formerly-known-as-PPR, announced their Q1 results, and, as with rival LVMH, they were a little…slimmer than usual: up only 3.1% on a comparable basis and 1.0% on first-quarter 2012 (the luxury was up 6.4%, but the sports lifestyle side was struggling). To paraphrase the reaction: shock, horror, luxury slowdown! Except for one thing: the bright spot in the presentation was YSL. This is, of course, the first test of new creative director Hedi Slimane, and despite a large amount of angst surrounding his debut, at least on the part of the industry, he seems to have passed it pretty well. So how did everyone (except the guys who hired him) get it so wrong?  Read more

Diego Della Valle has thrown yet another cook into the Schiaparelli mix: after announcing Farida Khelfa as the “face” of the brand and Vincent Darre as the decorator of the Maison, today he has revealed that Christian Lacroix will create a one-off couture collection, to be unveiled in July, that will be an “homage” to the late designer. That’s a lot of opinions and aesthetics under one roof. But there’s more (and there will be more)! Read more

The finalists and honorees of the CFDA awards are out, and it’s a surprising list. Actually, that’s not true: it’s a totally predictable list, but it’s also an instructive one. It both shows how meaningless it is to define an “American” designer in a world where Americans design for foreign houses, and foreigners show in America, and how, despite the fact that the fashion schedule gets ever-more crowded, there still seems an extraordinarily thin layer of internationally recognised talent. Which points up yet another truth: there is a major flaw in the time logic of the awards system itself.
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People in Paris are still arguing about Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent show, and whether it showed shocking disrespect for history or was a kind of fun wake-up call.

You can find out where I fall in my review, but in the meantime, I thought I’d pass on this picture, left, that a friend sent from a book on Mr Saint Laurent.

It’s from 1965, when the designer opened YSL Rive Gauche to sell ready-to-wear and said “boo!” to the couture system. The picture above right is Hedi Slimane’s collection. Can you really argue these things are unconnected? Read more

We used to do a column on the Style pages devoted to what we called “incredibly obvious innovations”: fashion developments that seemed so “Duh!” when you saw them it was almost unbelievable no one had thought of them before.

For example, straps on the outside of a tote to hold an umbrella so it doesn’t soak everything inside the bag. Or a light on the interior of a purse, so you can actually see what’s inside without having to take everything out first. Well, I have a new candidate, straight from Paris Fashion Week: Neil Barrett’s internal coat strap. 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

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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

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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

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

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

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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. Read more

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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! Read more