What’s up with Oscar de la Renta? The man is creating news – and potential controversy – right and left. After paving the way for John Galliano’s return to fashion, a move that was both welcomed and castigated by the fashion set (depending on who you asked), today Mr de la Renta, America’s pre-eminent couturier of uptown society thanks to his way with a gown (see actress Jennifer Garner, pictured), announced he was creating a collection for The Outnet, Net-a-porter’s cut-price platform, that will be more “accessible” than his normal line. Effectively, he is remaking old patterns in old fabric and pricing down. The way the company puts it is, to paraphrase, along the lines of “taking out the originality mark-up”.
Actually, this is interesting for a more macro reason than linguistic gymnastics. Mr de la Renta’s move, combined with the recent launch by Barneys NY of its own stand-along cut-price web site, barneyswarehouse.com, to sell end-of-season merch, effectively creates a luxury strategy face-off over the issue of outlets: good or bad? Seems to me we are heading towards stilettos at dawn. Read more
The news that LA-based private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners may take a 25% stake in Topshop and Topman has the high street all aflutter, largely because of the billion plus valuations it puts on the brands. However, it makes sense for a lot of reasons, and provides some fun fodder for sepculation. Let’s plunge in! Read more
There was an interesting point that didn’t make it into the story today on J Crew’s. expansion into Asia (it was a little too colloquial) that I wanted to pass on. This is the first wholesale arrangement the brand has ever had, a fact I found surprising because when Mr Drexler and I had lunch last year, he told me one of the most important lessons he ever learned – and he learned it in his youth, when he worked at Bloomingdale’s, and then applied it to the Gap, with now-famous success –was that you need to control your brand, from image to product to pricing, which means no wholesale.
The amount of attention paid to the appointment of Dixon’s ceo, John Browett, as Apple’s new head of retail has been interesting. After all, how many times does the announcement of the guy running stores at even the biggest companies merit this many column inches? Put another way: I’ll give you a hundred bucks if you can tell me who runs retail for Louis Vuitton? Ferrari? Gucci? Nike? Tiffany? Actually, that was a joke, but you get the point.
The question of how to balance virtual stores with bricks and mortar stores is a thorny one, with various theories fighting for dominance. Some say it’s all going virtual and point to the search for value (see the FT today, and the report on shoppers deserting the High Street for home pages), while others say things need to be felt to be appreciated, and point to the recent Zappos debacle as something that will also drive people back into stores (see many luxury executives). The only thing that’s clear is the lack of consensus on best strategy going forward, something that was brought home to me pretty tangibly thanks to two recent bits of information I stumbled onto.
Today James Scully, J Crew’s CFO, to trumpets the beginning of the brand’s international roll out. It began two weeks ago in Toronto with the opening a stand-alone store in Canada, and the launch of Canadian e-tail. Mr Scully said the company was “really pleased with the results in customer feedback so far.” Interesting, that. As far as I knew – and I was in Canada, outside of Toronto, for the last two weeks — the story all over the Globe & Mail was of how irate J Crew’s loyal Canadian customers were because when the store opened prices were up to 50% higher than they were in NYC. Guess that’s feedback, of a kind.
Yesterday marked a sudden surge in spending — not just on stuff, but on companies. According to the investment bankers with their eye on the retail and fashion sector, Christmas itself has come early: J. Crew has been sold for billions to private equity! Gymboree has gone to Bain! Coty has bought Philosophy from the Carlyle Group! (Remember: three=trend.) Action! The engine has restarted! And so on.