Month: May 2016

Celeb Spawn: The New Ultimate Aspiration?

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Last week’s Met Gala was swarming with ultra-young second-gen celebrities: Jaden and Willow Smith, (17 and 15, respectively), Hailey Baldwin (ugh; 19), Lily-Rose Depp (16), and Sofia Ritchie (16), just to name a few.

Fashion naturally idealizes and fetishizes youth, and young models are absolutely nothing new: Kate Moss was discovered at 14, and Brooke Shields was also 14 when she shot her infamous Calvin Klein ad. However, the young faces of campaigns today seem to be uniformly, and unprecedentedly, celebrity offspring. This is an easy move for labels to make, as these kids come pre-coded in pop culture, but are they accurately representing their audience’s aspirations? How much advertising power can a teenager with no résumé have? Fashion houses are betting on a lot, judging by the insanely long list of recent appointments.

Willow Smith has recently been named a Chanel ambassador, and Jaden fronted this season’s Louis Vuitton campaign; Kaia Gerber, 14, just landed her first Vogue Paris cover, alongside her mother, Cindy Crawford; Lily-Rose Depp has been a Chanel ambassador for over a year; Lourdes Leon, 19, is the face of Stella McCartney’s new fragrance “Pop;” Romeo Beckham, 13, has modeled in several Burberry campaigns and his brother Brooklyn, 17, has shot them. Sophia Ritchie, Iris Law, 15, and Anaïs Gallagher, 16, and Lottie Moss, 18 are all modeling, the latter to more legitimate success than the others. These teens have nothing aspirational to their resumes like work or personal style, and some of them are only somewhat modelesque in their looks. Their aspirational coding comes exclusively from their last names, which is irritating but not illegitimate: they are able to borrow and transmute codings from their parents, and, since they are so young, fashion labels are able to mold them to fit the labels’ needs. The Beckham boys, for example, have their parents’ pop cultural relevancy and ties to 2000s British nostalgia, while Lily-Rose Depp (and probably soon Jack) can borrow from her parents’ sensibilities for French cool and American eccentricity. It’s easy. Their codes are already in place.

The highest aspiration, then, according to fashion advertisers, is neither youth nor beauty; it is cool parentage, and a built-in cultural coding. Using these kids in ads is both lazy and genius. Celebrity children appeal to several audiences: the older guard who are fans of the parents (although, is anyone actually a fan Will and Jada?), teenagers who follow the kids on social media, and millennials in between who have seen both generations in the tabloids. Situating celebrity heritage as the highest aspiration is also deeply, maniacally brilliant on behalf of brands – you can change your makeup and your clothes, but you can’t change who your parents are. This equals perpetual, unacheivable striving on behalf of their customers trying to actualize the brand’s values. Evil and elegant.

It’s important for old, storied fashion houses to stay relevant, so choosing young faces with social media presences to represent their brands isn’t surprising. But the audience to whom these young celebrity kids most appeal, 13 to 16 year olds, have zero purchasing power. Even if they did, would they buy Chanel products because Willow Smith is the face of the company? My guess is a laughable no – Karl and Teen Vogue are trying overly hard to make Willow happen. Perhaps these labels are playing the very long game? Courting ultra-young teens for a period of 10-15 years by pretending to understand their dreams and aspirations until this group does have spending power to use on these labels? If so, this is also wicked and exploitative and brilliant and I love it. My guess, however, is that it’s just a ploy for immediate relevancy with the social media set, and an opportunity to create cheap, easily disseminated assets.

Using these second-generation celebrities in ads makes total sense for labels – they’re prepackaged, recognizable to multiple audiences, and create media buzz. But I don’t think any of these kids are particularly compelling, with the exception of Romeo Beckham, who has charisma for miles. I think fashion houses would be better off scouting new, cool, young talent – look at Lucky Blue Smith and family! They are so much cooler than the other Smith siblings, and better um, adjusted. Using genetics as the highest aspiration, although brilliant marketing, is also slightly unsettling. If labels are going to use nepotism cases in advertising, they ought to wait until the kids are older teenagers and have something to their résumés, both to send a better message to their younger audiences, and to avoid a slight Eugenics-y undertone.

Me? I deeply, desperately want to be a part of the Lucky Blue Smith family and hourly sigh with relief that Will and Jada are not my parents. Also, if I were a Gallagher or a Law, I would have a deep Electra complex, so dodged a bullet there! I think brands might want to carefully consider the middle millennial band before slapping a teen with famous genes in an ad campaign – this is the audience with upcoming purchasing power who will be turned off by falsely precocious rich kids who know nothing about fashion or culture and are trying to capitalize on their parents’ social codings. There are exceptions, naturally, like Kendall Jenner and Georgia May Jagger, who have become extremely successful in their own right. But for the rest of them? Give me a break, and give me someone actually aspirational, in my own age bracket, like Alexa Chung or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, or in the next, like Isabella Rossellini (famous parents, extraordinary résumé), Linda Rodin, Charlotte Rampling, Grace Coddington, or Catherine Denuve – women I can actually look up to, and not teens I sneer at. Except for Romeo Beckham. I would literally buy anything he advertises.

 

Cool Teens Appreciation Gallery feat. Romeo!!! He is so impish and charming!!!!

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I’m Starting to Worry About Prada

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Prada is deeply fabulous. It’s certainly the most cerebral luxury label in existence; Miuccia is a great, eclectic thinker (the woman has a PhD and was once a communist and a mime) and has built an empire on making everything ugly suddenly and quietly fresh, chic, and sophisitcated. Think of the pop-cultural cache Prada has acquired: the devil doesn’t wear Chanel or Fendi or even Hermès – it’s unthinkable! – she could only wear Prada because she is sly and brainy and utterly wicked.

But Prada has coasted on this cultural awareness and positive name recognition for the last few years, and has made some strategic blunders because of it. The first misstep was to try to situate Prada as an Italian Hermès or Chanel, pushing the shoes and bag sales and downplaying the apparel, which is their biggest strength. This was an idiotic and, frankly, lazy move. The Galleria tote, while classic in shape, doesn’t have the historical ladylike appeal of a Lady Dior, the aesthetic perfection of a Kelly or Birkin, or even the modern cool of a Saint Laurent Sac De Jour or Balenciaga Le Dix. It should never have been a selling staple. Prada’s classic pumps are lovely, but a more flashy consumer is going to buy the Louboutins, the cooler consumer the Saint Laurents, and the more classic consumer the Manolos (though she would consider the Pradas).  These types of  items are pillars of the brand, certainly, but cannot prop up the label on their own.

The second disaster was to expand too rapidly, especially in Asia. Prada currently has over 600 stores across the globe (Chanel has 120, Hermès has 311) and has saturated the market. Whose idea was this? Have they never heard of exclusivity? What on earth?

Because of the strategy to become an luxury brand in the highest, almost unreachable echelon and, simultaneously, pulling a Coach circa-2005 move and flooding the market, Prada now finds themselves with plummeting share prices and quickly-dropping margins.

How can Prada fix this? Let me count the ways.

First, they need to shutter about half of their stores.This will be an embarrassing  admission of defeat, but it’s necessary to move forward. It just has to be done.

Secondly, they can shift some of their focus back to the incredible apparel that Miuccia creates season after season. It’s less accessible than a bag or a shoe, but will certainly appeal to some bands of buyers that are ignoring Prada for the visual confections coming out from Gucci or Dolce & Gabbana.

Next, they need a cult item. This is where the bags and shoes can come back in. Prada needs an equivalent to the Céline Phantom or Valentino Rockstud. Something that is coveted and receives blog attention, highly-priced but still accessible, and draws focus back to the label as a whole, which brings buyers back to the apparel as well as the accessories. They an also capitalize on 90s nostalgia, their heyday, when creating and advertising this item.

It would also be a great idea for Prada to move into cosmetics – they are the only major luxury brand (that doesn’t specialize in leather goods) to not have one. They need to situate a line in the price range of Chanel with the quirk of Marc Jacobs, or they could give sister brand Miu Miu a line,and have even more fun with it at a slightly lower price point. This will be a great way for everyone to get a piece of Prada without creating a state of emergency by overloading the market. And don’t forget the profits –  labels make serious cash on their cosmetic lines, which would help Prada offset the current slump.

Prada is too good, too unique, too culturally iconic to let dwindle into Coach-dom. They need to find a way to re-situate themselves, similar to how Gucci has done recently, and embrace their status as a quirky, large-but-not-behemoth luxury brand. Prada is so special, both in the fashion and larger cultural community that no one would want to be a Vuitton when they could be a Prada – and the brand would do well to remember that.

 

Gallery of vintage Prada glory below. Prada keeps an extensive archive of ads and shows here.