Month: April 2016

Hediproof: Safeguarding Against the Slimane-Effect at Luxury Houses

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At the close of 2015, Bridget Foley of WWD made the argument that the era of the designer as the deity is over — houses and execs have regained the upper hand in the power struggle between the suits and the creatives, as demonstrated by the oustings at Donna Karan and Lanvin.

This most recent round of musical chairs, however, indicates quite the opposite: designers really hold the cards, and too many of them – to devastating effect when he or she exits a company after a short period of time.

Hedi Slimane’s departure from Saint Laurent after a blip of a tenure is deeply troubling, much more so than those of Raf Simons and Alexander Wang. Slimane has, per his exit statement, executed a “complete repositioning of the brand” in his own skinny, kohl-rimmed aesthetic, changed the brand’s name, and relocated it to Los Angeles, only to abandon it in a matter of four years.

It doesn’t matter if you like Slimane (I don’t), his aesthetic vision (I don’t), or even think he is the “Steve Jobs of Fashion,” as Umair Haque at Harvard Business Review apparently does (don’t make me laugh). This move is cavalier and shockingly irresponsible, both on the part of Kering and Slimane. If a designer is given a historically and culturally storied label carte blanche and carries out sweeping, extensive changes, he or she has an obligation to the brand for an extended period of time – think Ricardo Tisci, who has been at Givenchy for a decade – or the label has the responsibility to placate the designer until the new branding can take root. The brand must come first, otherwise, brand identity will plummet into flux, and the label’s cultural coding will become murky. This is sad to see happen in the case of Yves Saint Laurent, but is truly scary if designers at other labels continue this precedent of micro-tenures. What will be left of these brands, many of which have been carefully crafted over the course of decades, if creative control is changing hands more frequently than presidential elections are held?

Houses need to figure out a way to retain control of their brands’ core identity over every other aspect of their company, including media popularity and short-term financial success, like the kind that Slimane brought to Saint Laurent, because this is where the company’s value lies. This might be done contractually, though, as Vanessa Friedman points out, the average designer contract is three years, and many designers would be happy to sign skimpy one-year contracts. But with longer contracts come must more creative freedoms, which might land a label between a rock and the current YSL place. I don’t have a good answer to this, and by all means, let me know if you do, but this should be of paramount importance moving forward for all new hires at luxury houses – Kering better have Anthony Vaccarello locked in for a decade.

The other component of maintaining brand identity long-term is considering how to deal with a designer’s short legacy at a house, especially in today’s media climate. When Alexander McQueen left Givenchy in 2001 after five years and just-okay designs, it was not cause for DEFCON-one media strategy, because there was no social media to contend with. McQueen for Givenchy is now thought of with benign positivity because it was only documented in traditional media. Saint Laurent has boldly chosen to completely wipe their Instagram account (their only post is a photo of Vaccarello announcing his appointment) despite Slimane’s popularity on the platform. This is absolutely the right move – trying to situate the very-different Slimane era within the larger 55-year brand history is not worth the hassle. Slimane will be the one remembered in that partnership, not the house, and they are better off starting from scratch and regrouping under a new leader.

It’s clear from Hedi Slimane’s feckless despotism that designers still hold the power in their relationships with luxury houses, and that houses need to implement safeguards for their brands, whether that means more creative contracts, media contingency plans, or both. I’m looking forward to seeing what Anthony Vaccarello will do, but I swear, if Hedi goes to Chanel, I will become a lawyer with the sole purpose of blocking him from coming in like another wrecking ball.

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A Tale of Two Fragrances, or Burberry’s Continued Asininity and Jo Malone’s Quiet Success

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British brands Burberry and Jo Malone have each come out with a new fragrance campaign in the last week —Burberry’s for a new product, Mr. Burberry fragrance for men; and Jo Malone’s for a new concept: combining two existing scents into a personalized fragrance. Burberry should have aced the campaign, a short film directed by Academy Award winner and overall cool-coded Steve McQueen, but came up short; while Jo Malone, a label that rarely advertises, perfectly executed a simple visual campaign that capitalizes on the trend of personalization —ironically, a trend on which Burberry was on the forefront about two years ago, with their monogrammed ponchos and My Burberry fragrances.
 

 Mr. Burberry is Burberry’s first fragrance aimed exclusively at men — their other fragrances, like London, Brit, and The Beat all have a men’s and women’s component. This is a a smart move considering the growing interest and media coverage of men’s fashion, especially among younger audiences. It’s interesting when a brand choose a prefix as a fragrance name since it indicates that wearers of this fragrance, more than any of the other fragrances by the label, epitomizes the brand values. Remember the Sofia Coppola-directed videos for Miss Dior? Now those were the days.

This new video ad expands on the new, grittier direction Burberry is trying to take in order to woo the snapchatting, Silmane-devoted crowd. This marketing strategy is ludicrous, as I’ve explained in an earlier post, but Christopher Bailey is sticking to his guns. Steve McQueen directs the video, which is a brilliant choice, because he’s both an ultra-cool and critically acclaimed Londoner; someone like Tom Hooper would have been iffy. As a result, the video, which depicts a couple in a Piccadilly Square hotel room (quelle touristy!), looks like Shame without the pleasant physical appearance of Michael Fassbender — long shots that go on to the point of awkwardness, and a slightly unappealing, realistic portrayal of everyday events. It’s supposed to be glamorous, and some people will find it so — online publications have hailed it as “steamy” — but it’s not Burberry’s signature strain of sophisticated and subtle British glamour.

And then there’s the sex. Burberry has historically been superb at implying intimacy and  eroticism without actually portraying it — think of the smolderingly mysterious Hugh Dancy and Kate Moss ad for Burberry London, the 2005 Kate Moss ads with handsome strangers in the background, and the playful chemistry between Cara Delevigne and Eddie Redmayne in the 2012 campaign. The Mr. Burberry video situates sex front and center, and portrays it without a hint of mystery. It’s rendered awkward and unappealing because of McQueen’s directing style and the film’s overall gritty-lite aesthetic (NB: the male model has a chest tattoo and a pinky ring). It’s an off-brand misstep that unfortunately defines the video, and if Bailey’s not careful, will start to define the brand identity. Maybe they should change the name from Mr. Burberry to Mr. Grimy Quasi Burberry Offshoot Sister Line for Youths who Like Jayden Smith.

What Bailey should have done is take advantage of a great impending pop-cultural moment and on-brand stars and hired Kenneth Branagh to direct Richard Madden and Lily James in a short film for the fragrance. Freakishly attractive Madden and James will star together this summer in Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet in London. What could be more British, cool, and weighty-yet-accessible than this duo, Branagh, and Shakespeare?

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Jo Malone, on the other hand, implements the classic tropes of the bad boy and the ménage-à-trois to explain their new fragrance personalization concept. Titled “Curious?,” the ads feature a perfectly polished Jo Malone girl flanked by her usual type, a handsome, tux-clad man on one side, and a shirtless, heavily-tattooed guy on the other. Cheeky, flirty, and visually engaging — I like that we don’t see the models’ eyes— the ad encourages customers to embrace both the classic and the edgy parts of their tastes to create a scent unique and meaningful to them. This ad is still on-brand for Jo Malone, but gives the label a younger feel, while still maintaining their sense of feminine, English reserve, Sex here is intimated, which actually gives the ad more narrative latitude — the viewer has to do the guesswork, which forces them to be more visually and intellectually engaged in the ad, especially compared to Mr. Burberry’s awkward voyeurism.

The lessons here? Sex sells, but it sells better when it isn’t completely laid out to the viewers; both Burberry and Jo Malone are trying to reach new audiences, but while Burberry is veering dangerously off-track with their new aesthetic implementations, Jo Malone is fleshing theirs out with bolder advertisements. A label must strike a happy medium between what its core identity and what will appeal to a targeted audience when trying something new —like Jo Malone does here —while guarding against pandering to that audience.

The other lesson is to hire Kenneth Branagh for anything and everything, but you already knew that.