Friday, 27 November 2009

Scottish (as opposed to French) and Saunders

So Fashionista hotfooted it to the Swarovski Crystallised Lounge to listen to the rather luscious Jonathan Saunders being interviewed by editor Dolly Jones at the recent Fashion Business Club event.

The interview started with a discussion about the relationship between fashion designers and fashion journalists. Scottish-born Saunders, who seems to have a very positive relationship with the media (given that British Vogue featured one of his designs on the cover only a few months after his graduate show from Central Saint Martins) talked about the importance of being aware of the perception being created around his designs and understanding his customer. Although its a creative business, Saunders thought that designers still needed to be aware that they are selling a product to a customer (and clearly the media can influence this perception).

Fashionista's ears pricked up when Saunders revealed that he is launching his first transactional website in just two weeks' time and was interested to hear his thoughts on the internet in general i.e. "it gets rid of elitism and makes everything available to everyone". For young designers, Saunders thought that the internet provided an invaluable way to develop a business "without getting into masses of debt, like having a shop without the overheads" which enables designers to stay independent for longer without having to give away valuable shares in their business.

In terms of high street tie-ups, Saunders confirmed that he had never gotten the impression that it was a "dumbing down" thing and thought it was about making the product accessible.

Fashionista thought it was heartwarming to hear that there is no feeling of competition amongst Saunders and his fellow London designers and Saunders attributed this comaraderie to the fact that most are colleagues from Central Saint Martin days and the fact that all share the same passion for what they are doing and are sufficiently different to not feel like that are competing directly.

This left Fashionista feeling all warm and fuzzy - or perhaps that was down to the glasses of champagne afterwards?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Christmas blues . . . .

As Fashionista waited for the Christmas lights to be turned on in Bruton Street last night, she pondered on the gloomy news in The Times about the forecasts for Christmas retail sales. Flat or up or down 1% or 2% and this is supposed to be good news.

What is clear is that retailers - even in Bond Street where discreet notices inform would be customers that there is "20% off everything in store today only" - are trying to educate customers to buy now and not wait for last minute pre-Christmas sales or to expect deep discounting after Christmas. And retailers will be delighted to learn that research indicates that they will be competing for a share of reduced Christmas purses.

It's official - a recessionista Christmas will be "in" for Fashionista, Modeliste and all their friends.

Monday, 23 November 2009

No sweat?

"Do Sweatshop Scandals Really Damage Brands?" was the question asked by Laura Fitch on BrandChannel at the end of last week. She cites a five-part Global Post investigation which accuses a number of top brands of sourcing from exploitative factories in Asia, transgressing the norms of human rights which consuming countries hold dear and also breaching health and safety at work rules. But, as Laura wonders, do consumers even care? Her conclusion is a resounding "probably not".

Both consumers and brand owners tend to distance themselves from exploitation at production level. The former -- whose role as consumers is to consume -- may be motivated to join the occasion boycott or sign a petition or two, but their default position is somewhere among the clothes-racks, looking for that perfect fit. Brand owners point to the fact that their own corporate policies do not condone exploitation (it would be surprising if any did) and that far-off suppliers who systematically mistreat or abuse their employees are in breach of their policies. However, they observe that it is difficult for them to monitor and enforce industrial policies. Laura leaves readers to ponder on this: if sweatshop allegations are not enough to damage brands or decrease sales, what incentives do brands have to change conditions on factory floors?

Says Fashionista, history shows that the biggest impact on consumer purchasing patterns has been made by pressure groups who use a potent cocktail of high publicity, intimidation and the shame factor. This is why furs, once a staple for every caveman and later a to-die-for accessory, are now confined largely to the mothballed wardrobes of some vintage grannies and the props cupboards of theatrical companies. Paradoxically, one of the things that has fuelled the sweatshop culture has been our departure from hand-made, labour-intensive clothes made from natural substances (remember woolly knitted jumpers, anyone?) to the massive over-supply of cheap synthetics in an increasingly cut-throat market with wafer-thin profit margins.

Modeliste adds, I read all about sweatshop labour for leisurewear brands in Naomi Klein's book No Logo. It upset me so much that it was some months before I could bring myself to read another book ...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Modeliste . . . . .

. . . . is Fashionista's IT savvy little sister who will be following be updating (or should Fashionista say "tweeting"?) you on Fashionista's views via twitter. How cool is that? So check out modelisteatlaw at . . .

Fashion Summit

Fashionista has been a little quiet this week - but that is because she has been busy mingling with the Fashion elite this week at the Drapers/WGSN Fashion Summit 2009. Rather like a child in a sweetie shop, Fashionista found herself sitting amongst a dazzling array of Prada handbags and Miu Miu shoes listening to Fashion royalty such as Anne Tyrell, Betty Jackson and Lulu Guiness impart their words of wisdom to an awe-struck audience.

One of the most enthralling interviews was Paula Reed's interview with Diane Von Furstenberg and Harold Tillman during which DVF likened trading in the current climate to "surfing a tsunami" although given that DVF has had "a very good year" it seems that DVF might be just as good at surfing as she is at designing. As DVF put it she "had no idea that the stupid little [wrap] dress was going to pay for everything in her life".

From one fashion legend to another, Paula Reed interviewed the iconic Barbara Hulanicki, BIBA founder. Fashionista found it interesting that Barbara's view was that designers don't get enough instruction on the business side and this was an issue that was echoed over and over by many of the speakers.

Amongst the other highlights for Fashionista were:
* the "controversial" statement by Lyle and Scot managing director, Derrick Campbell, who claimed to have taken the decision to burn £1 million worth of overstock rather than see it discounted. A statement that clearly went down well with the subsequent panel of discounters, M and M direct, Cocosa and Vente-Privee!

* Paula Reed's interview with Joseph Velosa, CEO of Matthew Williamson, which touched on the positive aspects of a high street tie-up (a view not shared by all the guests). Joseph maintained that as long as you clearly identify the customer for each line then there is no detriment to the brand as a whole. A very topical discussion given the recent Jimmy Choo/H&M collaboration.

* Lauretta Roberts' interview with Joseph Wan (CEO of Harvey Nichols) and Touker Suleyman (owner of Ghost, Hawes & Curtis and Low Profile). Unfortunately, it seems that most people shared their view that next year will be even more challenging for retailers unless retailers can "adapt" and perhaps if they listen to Nick Robertson (CEO of ASOS) that on-line is the place to get growth at the moment.
So with worn-out heel tips and a severe case of fashion envy, Fashionista left the two day event feeling wiser and extremely interested to see if some of the predictions of those in the know come true over the next year. If they do, it sounds like everyone should hold on tightly to their Balenciaga as we might be in for a bumpy ride!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Porsche Cayman -v- Crocs Cayman

Today - given the deluge - Fashionista is minded to consider wearing a pair of Crocs shoes whilst carrying her coveted Jimmy Choo for H&M high heels in her bag. And such an event might well be headline news. Less welcome news for Crocs is the trader mark action brought by Porsche. Crocs' best selling model is known as "Cayman" and this is a trade mark widely registered by Porsche for, yes, cars but also shoes. Did Crocs not do a trade mark search? Now Fashionista has not herself seen any Porsche Cayman shoes but imagines that, if they exist , they will be stylish creations and quite unlike the Crocs offering. May be that's the heart of the problem . . . . . . . but with CAYMAN registered for footwear, Porsche won't have to worry about confusion and even if they have no footwear themselves, the registrations may not yet be open to non-use attacks. So yesterday may have been an unlucky Friday 13th for Crocs.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Unringing the belle: Skechers return to nursing

One great way to kick-start your recovery from recession if you've got a popular brand is to go for brand extension. Just like the Californian entrepreneur back in the 1970s who saw the potential of movie classic Jaws as a marketing icon for his Jaws Sandwich Bar ("If you liked the movie, you'll love the sandwich"), today's brand owners do much the same thing -- but usually rather more subtly, and with their own brand rather than someone else's. That's what footwear firm Skechers is doing, moving from the leisure-y market to the supply of funky-but-functional apparel for the nursing profession (for more, see Businesswire here):
"The SKECHERS collection will feature a younger, more flattering fit than traditional medical apparel. Through innovative silhouettes, prints and fabrications, the line will utilize ready-to-wear trends in basics like scrubs, pants, jackets and tees. Branded designer accents will include SKECHERS logo buttons, flag labels, jacquard ribbons, and zipper pulls. The SKECHERS medical apparel line will be available in a wide range of sizes".
This is not Skechers' first flirtation with the nursing industry, Fashionista recalls. If you go back five years, the brand was involved in a bit of a damage limitation exercise after its saucy "naughty nurse" advertising campaign attracted the wrath of Nursing Advocacy. The advertisement on the right, featuring Christina Aguilera, had to be pulled after Skechers conceded that it denigrated nurses. In a subsequent letter to the company following the decision to pull the advertisement, Nursing Advocacy wrote:
"Unfortunately, just ceasing publication of this ad cannot undo the damage already done, or "unring the bell." In our view, the ad has imprinted a negative image of nursing on those who saw it, potentially including health care decision-makers and career seekers, at a time of critical shortage. Persons who associate nursing with sex are unlikely to see it as worthy of being their career or of receiving significant public or private resources. They are unlikely to realize, for instance, that many thousands of nurses with doctoral-level education in nursing work on the cutting edge of health care research. Nor are they likely to realize that nurses save or improve countless lives every day through their difficult, highly-skilled work. It is imperative for global health that we not only halt this kind of damage to the nursing image, but also start reversing the damage by helping to create a more positive image".
But five years is a very, very long time in the marketplace ...

Monday, 9 November 2009

A garage sale, but not as we know it

What do you get when you cross charity conscious celebs and a car boot sale? The "Selfridges Really Really Great Garage Sale", of course. On Sunday 15 November, Yasmine Le Bon, Louise Redknapp, Trinny Woodall and Lisa B are hosting an upmarket garage sale in Selfridges car park, with 100% of the profits going to the charity Mothers4Children.

Mothers4Children supports charitable organisations that have developed successful programs and services that benefit children in need, providing practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children and young people. The charity's mission is to better the lives of all children, "because ALL children deserve love and a great start in life".

The hostesses (who are also the charity's patrons) hope to raise funds for Mothers4Children by selling coveted items owned by their celebrity friends, whose help they have enlisted to man the stalls. Fashionista Elizabeth Hurley will be one of the 45 stallholders, together with David Walliams and Natalie Imbruglia, who will be selling donated possessions for the greater good.

Fashionista is, of course, familiar with the notion of celebrity endorsement. But this is en masse and, effectively, a garage sale. It is less polished, more authentic.

A clever marketing and fundraising strategy: the celebrity mingling with the ordinary person; luxury labels at (luxury) garage sale prices. Celebrity sales and auctions usually take place behind closed doors at exclusive events. It is rare for celebrity charity events to be open to the public at large. But the Selfridges Really Really Great Garage Sale breaks away from the mould. It promises high-price glamour on a recessionista's budget, and with the added warm glow of being charitable to boot. Recycling and fundraising all rolled into one. A great move for Selfridges too. The sale might attract new customers in store, as well as sending out the message that Selfridges supports charitable organisations and events - a theme which is attracting increasing media attention in a bid to give back and go green.

Fashionista suspects that people will flock to the first floor of the car park, eager to part with the £5 entrance fee, if only to catch a glimpse into the lives of the celebrities and their wares. With items such as a Prada dress from Jemima Khan and Balenciaga boots from Gwyneth Paltrow, Fashionista suspects* that she won't need to step foot within Selfridges' doors on Sunday to experience the glamour of the brands normally only available inside.

(* - of course, this is only a suspicion; Selfridges' lure is likely to be too great for Fashionista to avoid...).

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Nintendo: playing the fashion game

Fashionista has always been content to spectate computer games. This is not through her disdain for the pastime; it is more of a prudent precaution against the risk of collateral damage to her immaculately manicured fingernails. She has however taken due note of Nintendo's latest idea: that company, which she associates with the innocent pleasures of her youth, has reportedly launched Style Savvy, a computer game that allows players to assume the mantle of a clothing boutique owner, managing everything from customer questions to budget and inventory. According to the US executive V-P for Sales & Marketing.
"The game includes more than 10,000 clothing items, shoes and accessories, which invite endless creative possibilities."
Not really, Fashionista thinks. with only 16 in-game designer labels to choose from, she imagines that most of the time between recharging the battery will be taken up in agonising which of the select 16 comes closest to her mood of the moment. Presumably, though, there's a business angle here: the owners of the 16 labels will surely be paying handsomely for the privilege of their inclusion -- and even more handsomely for the privilege of excluding some of their most bitter rivals.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Bankable band: is the check in the post?

It isn't to everyone's taste, but rock group King of Leon's clothing -- like its music -- attracts a loyal and enthusiastic following. According to XFM the band is collborating with French fashion designers Surface To Air to produce a collection of jackets, jeans, shirts and accessories which resonate with the group's sartorial preferences and cultural ethos. The collection is soon to be launched in Denmark and you can get more information from the Paris Texas blog if you so desire.

Not that she would ever be judgmental about anything as personal and as subjective as fashion, Fashionista can't help wondering whether this is really a cleverly-crafted bit of band promotion masquerading as a fashion launch. To put it another way, she asks two questions: (i) would King of Leon's fans buy the clothing if it were completely unconnected with the band and (ii) would those fans buy any other items of apparel and accessories that were associated with the name of the group even if they looked quite unlike those of Surface to Air? If the answers are 'yes' and 'yes' respectively, Fashionista will volunteer to help the band carry its money to the bank ...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

New Model Army of Avon Ladies prepares to invade Latin America

A little feature in Brand Channel has caught Fashionista's eye all about Avon, that curiously invasive yet thoroughly personal brand, now over 120 years old, which became so deeply etched in Western culture that millions of consumers who have never experienced Avon's products know all about "Avon calling" and the Avon Ladies.

After seeing its sales take a bit of a battering in North America and China, Avon has been refocusing on sales to the cash-strapped by (i) promoting lower-priced products, and (ii) heavily targeting Latin America, where, the company says, people spend a high proportion of their income on beauty products.

Bucking recent market trends towards spending vast sums on online advertising, Avon says it is to hire more sales reps, even while cutting 1,200 other jobs over the next four years. Says the article in BrandChannel, "It sounds like a plan that puts the focus on one-on-one customer interaction, which was what built the brand, rather than a broader blanketing of media messages".

Indeed, says Fashionista, one-on-one is more than just a labour-intensive way of buying of customers. If you have Avon ladies who demonstrate that they love their product and love their customer contact, what you have is a first-class relationship. You might buy your Coca-Cola because you love the product, but that's an impersonal, unrequited love. With the Avon ladies, if you let them into your shopping life, you've got a two-way relationship -- and it's much harder to break. No-one sheds a tear if you stop buying that Coke, but if you stop buying Avon you can visualise exactly whose heart you're breaking.