Monday, 21 December 2009

Time to go Christmas shopping.

Fashionista has been putting off doing her Christmas shopping in the hope that, like last year, the sales will start this week. But now the time has come and it is time for Fashionista to head to the stores.

So as she heads off in search of bargains and those absolute "must have" items for this week's parties, Fashionista wishes her readers a happy and relaxing holiday and a healthy and fashionable 2010. Fashionista will be back soon . . . . and so will Modeliste . . . .

Friday, 18 December 2009

A new dictionary for green fashion?

Last week, Fashionista reported on fashion events in Copenhagen, including a Fashion Summit organised by NICE (the Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical). This summit has now been branded by Ecotextile News as "one of the largest ever sustainability summits for the apparel industry".

Fashionista has been on the lookout for NICE's 10-year plan and Code of Conduct, both of which are now published on the internet: The 10-year action plan with the short and snappy title 'THIS IS NICE' lists both short-term and long-term goals in 5 areas of key importance, water, CO2 emissions, waste, chemicals and labour & ethics. The Code of Conduct , which sets out guidelines, is fittingly entitled "HOW TO BE NICE".

One of the many distinguished speakers at the Summit was FT's Fashion editor Vanessa Friedman. She raised a question which Fashionista has been pondering for a while: what exactly is sustainable fashion? Is Fashionista acting sustainably if she buys organic or fair trade clothes and what exactly are "ethical" clothes? Everybody seems to have a different understanding of these terms, and Vanessa Friedman rightly said it is time for a lexicon of sustainable fashion with simple, short, clear and immediately understandable definitions.

Fashionista would love to see those terms on labels so that she no longer has to spend her time researching a brand that claims to be ethical, green, organic, . . . at home online before facing the tricky question as to whether it is more 'green' to order the item of desire online or to check for its availability in a shop close by. Fashionista likes Vanessa Friedman's idea of having terms which are immediately understandable across the world, equivalent to the word 'hybrid' for cars.

Vanessa Friedman's advice is: “Reduce your verbiage, reuse the words again and again in the same way, and recycle terms from other industries, so that ’sustainable,’ when it comes to fashion, refers to production; ‘ethical,” to employment; ‘green’ to buildings; ‘organic’ to soil; [...] but be clear in what you’re saying and what it means.”

Fashionista agrees but wonders - will 'organic' still refer to soil if it describes a characteristic e.g. of sheep's wool? Fashionista is looking forward to a clarification of terms used to describe 'sustainable', 'green', 'ethical', 'organic', etc. fashion. In the meantime, she has added Kate Fletscher's Sustainable Fashion and Textiles to her reading list. Fashionista is intrigued as to what the publishers mean when they say that the book also "draws on ideas of [...] slow fashion".

Thursday, 17 December 2009

"Does my Butt look funny in this ...?"

It's not just fashion that enables people to express themselves in an individual manner -- humour can achieve the same result. Both are subjective, Fashionista notes, which is why some people really appreciate her latest make-over while others are just plain wrong. So far as humour is concerned, though, delicate sensitivities can be offended -- as the sad little saga of The North Face shows.

The North Face, Fashionista reads, has filed suit in a US court, accusing a teenager of piracy for selling a line of clothing under the brand name The South Butt. This isn't piracy, says the lad, it's satire. According to BrandChannel,
"Many of the world's most prominent brands are satirized in similar fashion on a regular basis, often by substituting irreverent language within the brand's trademark colors and logos. ...
Legal or not, the question remains, does being mocked really hurt a brand? Clearly not all cases are the same. ...

In most cases, these parodies are harmless. The Coca-Cola and McDonald's brands are certainly not losing business over their respective (many) satires. The North Face case, however, may be different as the brand is not a global heavyweight. But the brand does have every right to protect itself.
Now The North Face needs to determine exactly what is, and isn't, a threat to its brand. Otherwise it may end up being the butt of South Butt's joke".
Fashionista wonders whether it isn't the fact that The North Face takes its image so seriously that makes it so ripe for parody; perhaps if it appeared to appreciate the joke its appeal as a target for parody would diminish. Maybe, says Modeliste, but isn't it the fact that The North Face takes itself, its products and its image so seriously the thing that makes it most appealing to its most enthusiastic customers?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Keeping in credit

Fashionista's credit card has been used more frequently than usual over this season of goodwill. Whether on the internet or in shops, Fashionista likes to assume that her card details are safe and will not be misused by any techno grinches lurking in the payment processing shadows.
However, having been chatting to her friends at Datonomy, she was shocked to hear of some of the dangers that can greet the unwary internet shopper. For instance, last year the United States had a payment processor breach that the Washington Post described as "[possibly] the largest ever", with reportedly over 130 million credit and debit card details stolen.

It seems that retailers can be a particular target for computer hackers due to the sensitive customer information they carry. Retailers generally retain card information if they later need to refund a transaction, but they may hold a variety of additional items of personal customer information if, for example, the customer has signed up to a mailing list to see all the shiny new products or has a store card for bonus points, airmiles or whatever. Not only is losing lots of customer information incredibly embarrassing for retailers, but it may lead to legal claims, particularly if proper compliance procedures were not followed, and may even harm their share price.

Fashionista strongly supports Datonomy's suggestion that regular IT testing is the key to surviving the winter season and remaining computer bug- and virus-free.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Fashionista heads to Copenhagen on a mission . . .

Much is happening in Copenhagen - but the excitement is not limited to politicians discussing climate change at the UN Climate Change Conference . Fashionista is also intrigued by the fashion scene there. Last week, green fashionistas attended 'Innovating Sustainable Fashion' organised by the Center for Responsible Design and Copenhagen Fashion Fairs. 19 collections made their way down the catwalk, competing for prizes in 'Design For Inclusion', 'Design Considering Use', and 'Design For Environment'. The winner was Sci-fi menswear designer Tobias Noe Harboe from the Danish Design School. His (design) story is a journey from the future backwards through time to the beginning of the industrial revolution to change the path of history towards a more sustainable direction.

And today the 'Fashion Summit' takes place at the Copenhagen Opera House. Organised by NICE, the summit is an educational project created for, and in collaboration with the Nordic fashion industry, its aim is to motivate and assist companies to integrate sustainability and social responsibility in their business practices. Fashionista is impressed to learn that the plan is for attendees to walk away with a 10-year action plan and a Nordic Code of Conduct for the Nordic fashion industry and hopes that plan and Code of Conduct will be published on the internet for all to see.

What is more the event has attracted a number of names from the big players in the fashion industry such as Laurent Claquin (PPR Group), Julie Gilhart (Barneys, New York), Ingrid Schullstroem (H&M), Christian Kemp-Griffin (Edun) and Vanessa Fridman (FT). And just to add to the fun the event includes a competition for 20 young Nordic designers to design two sustainable outfits, culminating in a runway show. Fashionista is hoping for a front row seat . . . .

Escada UK Rescued by Steely Determination

The fashion world (including Fashionista herself) now sleeps more easily knowing that the UK arm of luxury brand Escada has been rescued from the brink of extinction in a pre-pack administration.

Escada UK has been sold to the Mittal family (best known for their successes in the steel industry), who in November also rescued the German parent company, Escada AG, by snapping it up at auction.

Fashionista is delighted to hear that according to reports Megha Mittal, the daughter-in-law of steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, is optimistic as to Escada's future:
“Despite recent difficulties, Escada has the potential to re-define its place in the world of luxury brands and become synonymous with fine quality and elegance…"
The recent difficulties to which Megha alludes include the German arm of the brand filing for bankruptcy protection in August this year, and the UK arm making a loss for the past 3 years.

A-list fans of the brand (including, Fashionista is told, Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank), will of course, be thrilled, as will all 44 members of the Escada UK staff - they have had their jobs safeguarded in the deal. Those who may not be so pleased are the creditors – pre-packs have a notorious reputation for leaving them out in the cold. KPMG (Escada's administrators in the UK) were quick to deny this though, stating (according to Drapers) that, “Given the inseparable nature of Escada UK and Escada AG, the offer from Mittal Trust represented the best deal for creditors of Escada UK.”

Fashionista is now eagerly awaiting news on how Escada's CEO, Bruno Salzer (previously of Hugo Boss) and the Mittals intend to exploit what Megha Mittal believes is Escada's potential. Watch this space…

What will the Chancellor have in store...?

Fashionista has recently been reading a lot of discussion in the run up to the Chancellor's pre-Budget Report, and some of this discussion has been slightly disconcerting...

How will the PBR affect the fashion industry she wonders? Will retailers have to cope with a decrease in consumer spending due to an increase in the rate of VAT over and above that currently proposed for the end of the year? Will the owners and investors in fashion businesses be hit with a higher rate of capital gains tax? And, as many people suspect, will those high-earners in certain unnamed industries (dare Fashionista say the word?) be hit with a tax on bonuses, and will this in turn lead to a decrease in spending on luxury items?

Fashionista may not know the answers to these questions now, but she knows where she will be able to find the most up to date information on the PBR and its effects - the Olswang Budget Blog, where Olswang's tax group will be reporting on the PBR and providing their comments on what the Chancellor has up his fiscal sleeves.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The place to be seen

So it seems the latest fashion trend is not an "it" item but an "it" continent. Fashionista has been hearing of more and more retailers continuing their expansions into Asia.

On 3 November 2009, Drapers reported that Lulu Guiness had formed a 50:50 joint venture with First Eastern to expand the brand into Asia and on 27 November 2009, Retail Week announced that Cath Kidston had begun the search for an investment partner with local expertise as it too ramps up its international presence. Louis Vuitton has also been getting in on the act with reports in Drapers on 4 December 2009 of the opening in Macau's One Central retail and residential development as part of its planned expansion and Drapers reported that Debenhams is to open its first store in Vietnam as part of its expansion plans.

Fashionista hopes that these retailers are getting good advice as it can be difficult getting to grips with the local requirements of a new country. In most parts of Asia, like many other countries, the only way to set up a business is to find a local partner and set up business as a joint venture. Clearly, finding the right partner is key as there will be a number of areas in which you will have to depend upon your partner and, as in all relationships, trust therefore plays a vital role.

Its hardly surprising that when the economy at home becomes challenging that international expansion (particularly into emerging markets) becomes a key focus. Fashionista's bedtime has reading is the Global Retail Development Index 2009 which is published annually by ATKearney. and was interested to see that a number of the top 30 countries which should be "on the radar" of any retailer looking to expand internationally are Asian. This is supported by the International Monetary Fund which has forecast that Asian markets will see a modest recovery by 2010, boosted by stronger export demand and stimulus spending.

Of course, expansion into Asia is nothing new and over the last few years more and more retailers have been testing the waters - but given the recent spate of news items it looks like Asia is back in "vogue" again - much like those shoulder pads! And Modeliste is just itching to go an explore - complete with a designer backpack for all her trophy purchases . . . . . .

Monday, 7 December 2009

A site for sore Uggs?

It's so difficult to buy real fakes these days, if the Guardian's article, "Police shut 1,200 scam shopping websites", can be believed. The sites in question -- all 1,219 of them -- purported to sell items which included Ugg boots, Tiffany & Co jewellery and GHD hair straighteners.

Real or fake? Can you tell?

Actually, not all these sites sold fakes; some weren't selling anything at all. But what is worse, Fashionista wonders: paying your money and getting nothing in return or being caught by a truly discerning fashion maven while wearing a non-genuine garment.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Falic fantasy ends up in a French court room

Fashionista has just been reading, with a tinge of sadness, about the hard times that have led to this week's court appearance for Christian Lacroix, one of her favourite fantasy-designers, seeking approval from a French court for a restructuring plan that's predicted to put an end to that fashion house's haute couture and pret-a-porter clothing operations.

Once part of the French luxury group LVMH Mo√ęt Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Christian Lacroix was bought by the Falic family, owners of Duty Free Americas, a retailer with stores at US airports and border crossings. Whether it was because of the commercial downturn, the difficulties some consumers faced in appreciating its finer points or the shift from LVMH to Falic symbolism, recent times have seen a decline in its fortunes and the business was placed under creditor protection in early June.

Fashionista is not a person who believes that design and profitability have to march hand-in-hand, noting with admiration that Lacroix has never ever been troubled by the inconvenience of a profit in the 22 years since its foundation. The design house's creditors are however made of less stern stuff and expect payment for their goods and services.

The plan approved by the court involves closing down Lacroix’s haute couture and pret-a-porter activities, though the licensing contracts for accessories and perfume will be kept up and running, and retaining just 11 of the current complement of 120 employees. Fashionista says, this looks like a bit of a skeleton plan but, if it keeps the brand ethos of Lacroix alive, it'll be worth it. Little sister Modeliste is more downbeat as she reaches for her calculator: 120 minus 11 = 109 ... which might just be the number of freshly disgruntled consumers who will not be wearing Lacroix next year.

Oh to look old. What a difference a product-base makes.

Skincare brands fight for who can sell the most youth-inducing product. Their most expensive, often best selling, products are designed to make you look young. To convey this, the brands themselves want to look young; fresh; light. Anti-ageing serums. Light diffusing makeup. The aim is to reverse the effects of time.

Not so for some clothing brands it seems. They, on the other hand, want to look "old". Especially the newer brands. Fashionista has often wondered what random dates on t-shirts mean. For example, "Hollister 1922"? Well, in Hollister's case (Abercrombie & Fitch's sister-brand), it apparently means nothing. According to the BBC website, the Hollister brand was establish in 2000, and the brand's "history" of John Hollister senior - an adventurous traveller who set up the Hollister brand on his return to the US after a brief stint in the Dutch East Indies - is also fictional.

So why go to such extreme lengths? and what are the effects and implications of portraying a fake brand history as the truth? How much do consumers really care?

Fashionista suspects that this depends on who the consumers are. Does this come back to the issue of age? or does it come down to a price tag? do you have to pay for the truth?

A BBC article suggests that Hollister fans are unlikely to care, or they're not likely to feel misled or disgruntled by the falsification of facts. Fashionista wonders whether this is because Hollister products (at fairly standard high street prices) are aimed at a younger audience who may give more attention to the look of a brand rather than to what is behind it.

Compare this to how puchasers of high end luxury goods would feel if they were sold their (real not counterfeit) "It-bag" together with a fake story of brand conception and history? Fashionista suspects that this consumer would feel misled or disgruntled, and may abandon the brand. When a fashionista buys a luxury product, she is buying "into" that brand and what it represents. So, for her to then find out that what she has been sold is a lie, well doesn't that somehow tarnish what she has just bought into?

In terms of effects on the brand: new brands which suggest long-ago establishement are trying to create better images of themselves for consumers. Longevity, especially in the current economic climate, suggests an ability to withstand all sorts of problems, trials and tribulations. It suggest success. Beating the competition. Quality. Value. All attributes which older brands have spent many years (and resources) cultivating. Fashionistas often have their favourite brand and will continue to add to their collection out of loyalty for the brand. And so, the question for brands to consider is this: if the story customers are being sold is fake - even if the product is not - are those customers likely to come back for more?