Thursday, 30 July 2009

Daily Candy gets even sweeter

So Fashionista headed to the very glamourous location of the Swarovski Crystallized Lounge, opposite one of Fashionista's meccas, Liberty. On the menu was an interview with the equally glamourous Daily Candy London editor, Malika Dalamal who was questioned by FBC co-founder & co-chairman, Alison Whelan (also very glamourous!) about the rise of Daily Candy ("DC") and its plans for the future.
Interestingly, DC began on the back of founder Dany Levy's frustrations with the long lead times required to get content into magazines and so started by sending lifestyle focused emails to friends and family in New York back in 2000. By the end of that first week, she had a following of around 7,000 people!

Reportedly sold to Bob Pittman's Pilot Group Ventures for around $3 million in 2003, and then to Comcast for $125 million in August 2008 - its rise in popularity has been truly astounding. The London edition now has around 100,000 subscribers and, according to Malika, the typical subscriber is the 29 year old (mostly female) "who loves her city and wants to engage in it." She also wants to know the latest places to eat or the hippest brands to wear and DC seeks to provide some of these answers.

In terms of getting a mention in DC, it's not an easy job (only 5-10% of those who make contact ever get featured) but provided DC have an exclusive angle and the product/story is clever, smart and relevant whilst not being too expensive - you may have a shot of getting a mention. It seems that getting a mention on DC should be on every fashionistas "to do" list as products that are featured in DC seem to have a knack of selling out. Malika quotes a story about Rebecca Minkoff's decision to stop designing clothing and concentrate solely on bags after DC did a feature on her bags and they ended up selling out - everywhere! That's quite a marketing tool for the up and coming designer.

Fashionista already looks forward to her daily dose of DC, so with DC looking to change its current format of posting old "candies" in favour of a destination "City Guide" website offering the savvy gal tips on whats hot in the city of London and providing more temptation in the form of events, discounts and sample sales to keep the DC gal hooked - it looks like Fashionista won't be kicking her love of sweets anytime soon! Watch the space too for a kids site, dedicated wedding site and more video content:

Everyday should be a DC day!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Coco Before Chanel: (Not-So)-Subliminal Advertising

During a recent trip to the cinema, Fashionista was mesmerised by the trailer for "Coco Before Chanel", released on Friday. A true "rags to riches" story, full of ambition, drive and vision, it tells the tale of Coco Chanel in her early days, showing the beginnings of what would later become one of the world's most iconic brands.

What phenomenal advertising for Chanel, which has supported this film. Not only does Audrey Tautou (of "Amelie" and "The Da Vinci Code" fame) play Coco Chanel, she also stars in Chanel's No.5 advertising campaign. The same is true for Anna Mouglalis, who plays the same role in another (not yet released) "Chanel" film - "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky", and which is also backed by the fashion house. It seems as though Chanel is the fashion brand du-jour, attracting unprecedented attention from the film industry for arguably the first time in the brand's long history.

The benefit of such projects? Drawing in new customers and creating or reinforcing loyal supporters. Everyone loves a good story. Sob stories win our hearts. Stories of triumph make us feel that we too can reach the stars. The empathy and understanding that comes from reading a biography or watching a biopic can turn a brand from "just another luxury store" to something far more familiar, appreciated; something that the consumer will be happy to buy into and share. The films will effectively provide hours of advertisement for the brand. At a time when the fashion glossies are weighing less and less with each monthly installment as a result of dwindling advertising subscriptions, alternative advertising means must surely be welcome, if not actively sought out.

The benefits to the brand of backing such projects are clear, and rest largely on setting the right tone; showcasing the best of the brand; and ensuring a faithful portrayal of the brand's heritage. The cross-over use of Tautou and Mouglalis for both films and for Chanel advertising is clever. Recognition of both actresses in the adverts will remind audiences of their experience of the brand through the films.

So here is Fashionista's prediction. Coco Before Chanel will be a huge hit. Sales at Chanel - even if only in the immediate future - will rise as a result. Cinema goers who may never have stepped inside a Chanel boutique may feel drawn to owning their little piece of Chanel - even if it is only an iconic red lipstick.

And there's more! Tomorrow will witness the "Chanel Flash Mob" at St Pancras International Station in London - the first "flash mob" of its kind, where those with a love for the brand are encouraged to channel their inner Chanel for a meeting with fellow dedicated followers of fashion. Fashionista will be curious to see what effect the flash mob will have and whether this will serve to reinforce brand affinity and perhaps even create new fans?

Monday, 27 July 2009

JJB: the lowdown on the loan

Fashionista has been following the recent press coverage relating to Sir David Jones, current executive chairman of JJB Sports ("JJB"), and Mike Ashley, Sports Direct founder, with interest when it was revealed that Jones had taken a £1.5 million interest free personal loan from Ashley. The revelation of the existence and details of the loan has raised eyebrows across the industry as it raises questions of conflicts of interest because JJB and Sports Direct are competitors as well as Sports Direct also being a supplier of JJB. The controversy escalated further after Sir David and Ashley publicly clashed over whether or not the loan was made prior or subsequent to Sir David's appointment to the board of JJB, which is inherently important when considering conflicts of interest.

Further allegations regarding Chris Ronnie, the close personal friend of Ashley and suspended chief executive of JJB also emerged. Ronnie was dismissed from his post in March 2009 and The Times reported that Jones had meetings with Ronnie and Ashley to discuss Ronnie's severance settlement on two separate occasions after the loan had become overdue which could have created a conflict of interest in those negotiations.

The current law relating to directors duties is contained in the Companies Act 2006. A director of a company must "avoid a situation in which he has, or can have a direct or indirect interest that conflicts, or possibly may conflict, with the interests of the company." This duty is not infringed if the situation "cannot be reasonably regarded as likely to give rise to a conflict of interest" or if the matter has been authorised by the directors.

Additionally directors must declare their interests in proposed or existing transactions and arrangements with the company prior to that transaction or arrangement being entered into or "as soon as reasonably practicable". These duties apply equally to executive directors and non-executive directors.

Directors owe these duties to the company and as such only the company can enforce them, although in certain circumstances the shareholders can bring an action for breach of duty. In addition breach of certain of these duties is a criminal offence. Remedies for breaches of duty can include injunctions and damages and such breaches have also been held to be grounds for the termination of service contracts and for disqualification under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.

Sir David has claimed that he told all JJB board directors about the loan and that as a non-executive director he "could not and would not influence decisions so the commercial transactions that went on between JJB and Sports Direct were not anything to do with [his] involvement". JJB's lawyers have asserted that Sir David "was in no way compromised by his dealings with Mr Ashley and Mr Ronnie because of the existence of the business loan from Mr Ashley".
Whatever the truth, Sir David got a vote of confidence from shareholders' at JJB's AGM on Friday when 98% voted in favour of his re-election to the board. In the meantime, Fashionista is enjoying following the on-going saga.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Sunshine gives retail a boost, but will it last?

Everyone feels better when the sun shines and the good weather during June certainly seems to have brought the shoppers out onto the High Street. According to BRC/KPMG's London Retail Sales Monitor, like for like retail sales in London rose in June by 4.7%, with increased footfall in London over the same period last year. No doubt, many of these shoppers were tourists benefitting from the weak pound.

However, most pundits (just like the weathermen) aren't hopeful that the upturn will last. As the July weather turns to rain so does the prospects of a full recovery for the fashion retail sector. A survey reported in Drapers and Retail Week yesterday reported that most retailers were not anticipating a recovery until 2011.

Ever the optimist, Fashionista has her fingers crossed for a brighter outlook for the autumn even if that only applies to the weather...

Monday, 20 July 2009

Turning real women into goddesses for 15 years

It's July and Fashionista is in holiday mood, enjoying the long days, warm summer evenings, al fresco dining, and the height of "wedding season". What better time to wear a floaty flattering summer dress, and who better to design such a dress than Maria Grachvogel, who this year celebrates the 15th anniversary of her brand.

Adored by fashionistas everywhere (of both the "celebrity" and the "fabulous in her own right" variety), Maria Grachvogel's designs - at once classic but original - are sure to stand the test of time. The brand was established in 1994, and since its first showing at London Fashion Week in 1995, has gone from strength to strength.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary, Maria Grachvogel is launching a limited edition collection called 15 Pieces in November, signed and sold with a certificate of validation, based on Maria's favourite pieces from the last 15 years. Readers will know that Fashionista has gone green and applauds fashion houses and designers who care for the environment and who give something back. Fashionista was delighted to hear that Maria Grachvogel falls firmly in this camp, and that a proportion of the sale profits from each 15th Anniversary Collection piece will be donated to ActionAid to support women in Kenya - a project Maria has dedicated much time and energy to support. Maria has separately designed a t-shirt for PoverTee Day to further support ActionAid, adapting a print from the new season's collection: so not only is it spot-on-trend, but it is for a good cause - what better reason to shop? Fashionista also has inside word that 15 Pieces will be modelled by high profile celebrities, photographed by high profile photographers...but that's all she can say for now!

For the Fashionista-at-Law Birthday Q&A, Fashionista was lucky enough to speak with Catherine Thomas, Commercial Director at Maria Grachvogel, who explained:

(1) What is the MARIA GRACHVOGEL brand?

Maria Grachvogel is synonymous with creative luxury. Her hand printed fabrics and elegant tailoring, timeless daywear and couture collection flatter the female form using precision cutting and beautiful textures. Maria designs for real women, to make every woman feel like a goddess. From the cut of the fabric, to the way staff are trained to treat customers in store: the Maria Grachvogel brand is all about the goddess experience. The brand ethos: "turning real women into goddesses".

(2) Who is the MARIA GRACHVOGEL customer and how has she changed over the years?

She is every woman: young; old; local; international; celebrity; busy juggling families, businesses and hectic social lives. She is the lady looking for the perfect pair of trousers, dubbed the "Magic Pants", or a unique print or a personalised service which many luxury brands simply do not offer. What they all share is an appreciation of elegant timeless pieces that make a real difference to their wardrobe, and how they feel about themselves. How many stores can you go into and say "I would like that dress in a different colour please", or with sleeves, or a different length, and have it customised for you? Provided that Maria agrees and is happy to put her name to the customised design, she is happy to work with her customers to create their ideal outfit - approximately 50% of our business is for special orders.

(3) What inspires MARIA GRACHVOGEL - the designer and the brand?

To a large extent, her experiences. Maria uniquely hand paints a limited number of prints which she then translates onto garments - each size requiring a new print to ensure that it fits the garment perfectly. Maria created the beautiful Meteor print (shown above on the Meteor dress) after a holiday in Arizona, during which they spent a night in an observatory, looking up at the stars through a telescope and photographing what she saw. Maria then interpreted one of her photographs into a digital screen painting, and the Meteor print was born. It is experiences and influences such as this which make Maria's brand and designs so personal, distinctive and unique.

(4) What does the future hold for the brand?

We are very excited to be showing at New York Fashion Week later this year. This is a big development - and a natural progression - for the brand, and goes hand in hand with our launch in the US. We already have stores in Greece, Saudi Arabia, Italy and the UK, and are furthering our international presence by expanding into the Middle East due to demand from clients who want the goddess experience on their doorstop and not just in London.

New categories will include handbags and shoes, fragrances and gifts, lingerie and eyewear. We are also re-launching bridal wear, and the future is likely to see the creation of an online store - although this doesn't compare to the experience of coming in store and playing dress up with the clothes. The clothes are such beautiful creations, and the cut and feel is so wonderful. You can't recreate the enjoyment of trying on clothes and living the goddess experience without entering the store.

Fashionista wishes a very warm 15th birthday to the Maria Grachvogel brand - which is only 1 year older than Maria was when she took her first collection to London Fashion Week to show to journalists and designers. Bought in 2000, this particular Fashionista still has her stunning Maria Grachvogel taupe bias-cut dress, which is as current today as it was then and does exactly what it was intended to do. For the hours Fashionista is wearing her Maria Grachvogel dress, she certainly feels less "real woman" and much more of a "goddess"...

Friday, 17 July 2009

In with the old, in with the new?

Fashionista has been thinking about Jaeger's 125 ladieswear collection which features current designs heavily influenced by clothing from the brand's archives. The navy dress with white flower was based on a 1960s swimsuit featuring the same pattern. The success of the range has been such that Jaeger is now planning a seasonal capsule collection based on previous eras of fashion, drawing inspiration from its archives.

Fashionista applauds this highly lucrative business plan which, if marketed correctly, could become a brand's identifying characteristic.

We've heard the message almost daily for longer than Fashionista can remember. We're in a recession. Fashion houses will need to cut costs as much as possible without losing the quality, design and craftsmanship for which they have become known and on which they crucially depend to maintain their reputation. It's not rocket science that designs which are a "tried and tested" success carry less risk than an entirely new design.

Another plus: re-using past designs shows that the brand's designs (and by inference, the brand) are iconic. They stand the test of time and transcend eras in the ever changing world of fashion. And what's more: revamping archived designs will attract those who may have bought the original design when it was first launched and who then drifted away from the brand, but nostalgia will now draw them back; it will attract those who loved the clothes of a particular era which may now be hard to find; and it will attract new customers who simply like the look of a design.

If it was iconic before, there's every chance it can be iconic again. Fashionista wonders what her readers think of the concept of revamping archived designs?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Acquascutum - an MBO explained

Fashionista has noted the recent events at Aquascutum with interest. It was reported back in October 2008 that chief executive Kim Winser, who was brought in by Japanese parent company Renown to revive the ailing Aquascutum brand in 2006, was preparing for a management buy-out. However, it was announced on 22 May 2009 that Winser had stepped down. According to Drapers sources close to Aquascutum, her shock exit is a result of Renown's rejection of her "generous" offer for the business.

Fashionista's private equity friends have explained that a management buy-out (MBO) is the acquisition of a company by the existing management team, usually supported by equity finance from a private equity provider and bank debt financing from financial institutions. A group of new companies is normally set up to acquire the target business. A simple structure will typically comprise of a top company (Newco), which will act as the investment vehicle, and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Newco (Newco 2), which will act as the purchasing and bank debt vehicle.

The private equity provider then makes an equity investment in Newco by typically subscribing for a combination of shares and loan stock. The management team will usually also subscribe for shares in Newco as an ongoing incentive and will be employees of Newco entering into new service contracts. The private equity provider will typically look to make an exit from the target and fully realise the return on its investment within three to seven years of the date of the investment.

MBOs are an essential feature of corporate transactions and there have been several high profile retail MBOs: for example the acquisition of Kurt Geiger in 2008 backed by Graphite Capital. This change of ownership was driven by the management's desire to aggressively expand the brand. Management themselves often initiate MBOs where they see an ideal investment opportunity to take the business forward. Winser was brought in to turn Aquascutum around and it is widely accepted that she had made significant progress. It was reported in December 2008 that the brand was on target to achieve profit by 2010, which could explain why Winser felt that this was the ideal time to make a bid.

MBOs are also a popular method for parent companies to divest of or restructure subsidiaries in a times of recession. A sale to the management team is an ideal way to achieve an exit as they understand the business and will usually be prepared to take on a larger degree of risk than other bidders. Renown purchased Aquascutum in 1990 for £113.2 million and in 2006 injected a further £40 million into the business in an attempt to rescue the brand. However, after a fourth consecutive loss in the year to the end of December 2007, Renown now appear keen to find an exit.

Renown has announced that its preferred bidder is Hong Kong based distributor YGM Trading, which distributes Aquascutum in Asia. However, although YGM issued a notice of intent to make an offer for Aquascutum at the beginning of June 2009, a bid is yet to materialise. Interest has reportedly been shown by both David Hewitt, former managing director of Daks, and Crombie chairman and chief executive Alan Lewis. Meanwhile Aquascutum's entire workforce has been put into consultation and its future remains in doubt so Fashionista will be watching this space with interest.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Never Knowingly Undersold

Breaking away from the recent spate of designers designing more accessible (read "cheaper") ranges for high street stores (think: Matthew Williamson and Jimmy Choo for H&M for example), John Lewis has just announced that it will launch a premium label own-brand collection in September. Rather than seeking to appeal to the masses, John Lewis are seeking to appeal to a smaller audience. An interesting strategy in the current economic climate. Surely brands want to maximise sales and make their products as accessible as possible, rather than narrowing the pool of potential customers?

Well, no, and Fashionista thinks it a savvy move. John Lewis is a high street favourite. According to the John Lewis Partnership website, "John Lewis has been recognised as top for customer service by the UK Customer Satisfaction Index" and, in January, was voted "Britain's favourite retailer 2008" (as part of a customer satisfaction index). Whilst this may all be true, Fashionista thinks the general perception is that John Lewis is the "sensible" department store. It doesn't quite have the glitz, the luxury, or the cutting edge fashion of Harrods, Harvey Nichols or Selfridges - but you know you are going to get good quality, good value goods if you walk into John Lewis. You also know you'll find most things you are looking for from their huge stock of more than 350,000 separate lines. Except, perhaps, that luxurious "a little bit special" evening dress, or impeccably tailored suit. Enter the new premium label.

John Lewis already draws in most people off the high street. So one of its aims for the new label must be to draw in the small handful of fashionistas who will shop in "The Big 3" or will more frequently be seen snaking in and out of stores on London's Bond Street or Sloane Street. Another aim must be to provide even more choice to the existing John Lewis customer, filling the only gap in its product range to avoid losing business to rival department stores. If this move works, John Lewis really could become a one stop shop for all shopping needs. But will customers go for it?

Fashionista will be interested to see whether this works. She thinks it is an ambitious move and queries: can the brand distance itself sufficiently from its current reputation (echoed in the strapline "never knowingly undersold") so that customers will want to spend money on a luxury piece branded "John Lewis"? Fashionista anticipates that it will take great products, the right price point, clever PR and marketing, and has her fingers crossed for this high street favourite.

The luxury lifestyle - is online the place to be?

Fashionista is, it goes without saying, a true devotee of online shopping - or should that be a dedicated follower of Net-A-Porter? But in the main luxury brands have been slow to embrace the wonders and the opportunities of the online space. Fashionista has often wondered why.

Luxury brands on-line was the subject of discussion earlier this week at the Internet Advertising Bureau. Fashionista learnt that 16% of the global population now has access to broadband and also represents 78% of global earnings. What is more 80% of high net worth individuals spend time on-line every day so surely the time must be right for luxury brands to embrace the opportunities offered by the internet?

Abby Carvosso, deputy MD of Grazia, Bauer is a passionate advocate of the benefits of being on-line having launched and nurtured Grazia Daily as a premium magazine online. Here are the 10 things she has learnt from this experience:
1. Be brave. To date luxury brands have been the slowest category to go on-line with only 1% of their media spend being spent online.

2. Understand your audience. Influence and involve them.

3. Premium audiences are online now. So be part of the conversation with them.

4. Deepen the consumer relationship with your brand. See what D&G have done with "Behind the Seams"

5. Give the consumer control. Don't be scared - allow consumers to become involved. Follow the example of Gucci and open a Facebook page for your brand - Gucci has over 400,000 followers on Facebook.

6. Test and learn. Don't be afraid to experiment. If it doesn't work, you can take it down!

7. Scale is not everything. Limited editions work well in the premium market - see 20ltd whose hand picked exclusive items appeal to the luxury consumer.

8. The experience and the service you provide must be the best. Here Net-A-Porter is the role model to emulate.

9. Don't miss the opportunity. If you are not there then someone else is and you will lose out.

10. Be the first to know. We are all intrinsically nosey - exploit this and use the online space to break news to your loyal customers first.
Fashionista is convinced. Are you?

Monday, 6 July 2009

A report from Milan - but not from the catwalk!

Fashionista's Italian sister has reported on the first Italian Luxury Summit which took place in Milan last Tuesday, 30 June. The summit was organised by ILSOLE24ORE, Italy's influential financial newspaper and was attended by representatives of many of the brand names on Fashionista's "must buy before I die" list. The discussion centred on the impact of the current economic climate on the spending patterns of the rich - and it seems that the new trend is to make lifestyle investment purchases rather than short term seasonal purchases.

This is the reason why brands like Hermès continue to do well according to Ms Di Carrobio, CEO of Hermès Italie. Classic items with a history built over generations are more "acceptable" than ephemeral vanity purchases. But also, it seems, the affluent fashionista is also looking for some additional form of justification or validation for her luxury purchase so it helps her to feel good about her shopping if her latest acquisition is also linked to something like green energy or the protection of the environment (or so said Sergio Loro Piano).

And another area of increased investment is in health and well being. (Fashionista is always up for a spa visit so this was definitely good news). Legal support in this growing area of luxury spending may move towards patents (for example, for new forms of cosmetics - suggested by a man who knows this area well, Mr Guillot-Boschetti, Lancome General Manager) or non-traditional trade marks (for example the sound of "silence" - a suggestion from Mr Agrati of Culti developers of a new "Day-SPA" concept).

Opinions on financial matters will always vary, but there was one thing that all the Summit attendees agreed on, namely the greatest luxury today is to have time to spend on yourself. So if patents are the new "must have" legal purchase, will the next step be for someone to file a patent containing the secret of how to manage life to achieve the perfect balance?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Celebrity fashion fame: more than 15 minutes?

Earlier this week, Justin Timberlake's fashion label "William Rast" made its London debut, with a pop-up shop in Selfridges. Rumour has it that Mr Timberlake took time out of his busy schedule to personally brief employees as to how his William Rast brand is to be worn and marketed.

Never before have we seen so many celebrities branching out into fashion - whether through brand collaborations (think: Kanye West designing trainers for Louis Vuitton and the news that Mr West is working for Gap to learn the ropes as an insider before branching out on his own); or as stand alone fashion brands (think: Nelly's "Apple Bottom Jeans" or P.Diddy's "Sean John"). It seems that celebrities are not content at being known for what they do. Is this part of today's cultural need to be loved by all, or is it savvy enterprise, maximising on a ready-made brand?

JT's news came hot on the heels of the news that Jennifer Lopez's "Sweetface" brand is to be shelved. Fashionista wonders whether it is harder or easier for celebrity fashion brands to survive?

It must be easier for celebrities to break into the fashion market than for the unknown "start from scratch" designer. The celebrity will have the PR and advertising crew; the financial muscle; the (helpful or not) media attention; the ready-made brand and a fan base ready to buy into any off-shoot product of their icon.

But it must also be easier to crash and burn. Not wanting to sound cynical, Fashionista can't help but ask: what happens when the celebrity "du jour" has had his or her 15 minutes of fame? Can what may at one minute be a highly covetable brand become un-cool the next? Fashionista would like to hear what her readers think of the merits or otherwise of celebrity brands. Can the celebrities compete with the serious players in the fashion market or will they be no more than temporary pop-up shops in an industry where the long-leased premises are those that go the distance?

Friday, 3 July 2009

Gathering of the clans

Fashionista has been on her travels - to Scotland. As she read The Edinburgh Evening News last week, Fashionista's eye was caught by an article about a very Scottish fashion item - tartan. Lord Jamie Sempill, vice-convener of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, has called for a "tartan trade mark" to prevent cut-price kilts being passed off as authentically Scottish, adding that the peddling of "budget kilts and knitwear" was a "disservice" to Scotland's international visitors. Added Lord Sempill:
"The point is to make it very clear that when you pick up a tartan scarf or other tartan product, that there is a legal requirement for it to state its country of origin.

Tartan is produced and woven around the world to a very high quality, but there is a difference between something that is produced in Scotland as opposed to something produced in Lahore.

I have no problem with the quality of some of these items necessarily, but I think we're doing a great disservice to international visitors who want to take home something genuinely Scottish but end up going away with something produced in China or India".
The proposed mark would not preclude budget kiltmakers such as The Gold Brothers, whose budget clothing stores dominate the Royal Mile, continuing to sell cheap internationally produced products -- so long as they made it clear that those products were made abroad. Gold Brothers partner responded that Galab Singh said all of his company's products already had the country of origin clearly marked on the label.

The Scottish Tartans Authority has already called on the European Parliament to extend its geographical protection scheme to include products other than food and drink, giving heavyweight legal protection to descriptions such as "Scottish tartan", "Scottish kilt" or "Highland kilt".

It's an exciting thought that the European Union's scheme for the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin might be extended to cover items of clothing. Lace from Bruges and Dutch wooden clogs are also possible contenders for protection. And here's some advice from Fashionista: when it's cold and windy, you can keep warm under your tartan kilt by donning some stylish Tyrolean lederhosen.