Burberry

State of the Art: Burberry’s Post-Brexit Guild-ed Age

burberry-fw16Is Burberry making a conservative political statement with its latest campaign?

Fall collections (spring collections? What are we calling them now? In any case: clothes shown in September) are always a bit more academic than their spring counterparts. Labels love to embrace the the back-to-school conceit: warm layers, crisp fall days of paging through course descriptions, and cozy autumn nights spent pouring over books in a university library in front of a roaring fire with the brilliant but troubled heir to England’s most storied dukedom.

Oh, just me?

Anyway, this year’s back-to-school fashion has pulled at interesting art-historical and art-philosophical threads, spawning interesting conversations about fashion as art, art in advertising, and artistic quotations — or appropriations — in apparel. This will be the first post in a three-part series unpacking these conversations, and what they mean for luxury strategy in a time of great industry upheaval. Take notes!

Burberry & The Makers

burberry-fall-2016-ad-campaign-the-impression-02

No, not a tribute band to the criminally underrated Reverend and the Makers, but the overarching theme of Burberry’s Fall 2016 strategy.

Following the Romantic, ruff-tastic September runway show, the label put on a pop-up exhibition in London called Maker’s House, where visitors could explore activities corresponding to crafts involved in the process of creating a Burberry garment or accessory, such as embroidery, engraving, and metalworking; or chat with a Burberry archivist about the brand’s history of craftsmanship (archivists: CALL ME). Guests could also interact with other artistic activities either tangentially connected with or theoretically adjacent to fashion, including drama, bookbinding, portrait painting, screenprinting, and calligraphy. I separate the categories here, but they were all presented side-by-side in a holistic way, treating all of the arts categories as relevant to the fashion-making process, but with a heavy emphasis on “making,” particularly of a physical product with one’s hands.

The subsequent ad campaign, a huge step up from last season’s tween-ish, Snappchatty-misstep, similarly reflects the process of creating heritage fashion, featuring either a sketch of the accessory or outfit, or an image of a craftsman opposite the finished product.

Burberry’s Maker’s House, while feeling a little too earnest for my taste and too ready to deploy my least favorite word, artisan, is both a safe yet unadventurous strategy for a post-Brexit Burberry, and an interesting plot point on the fashion-as-art chart.

Maker’s House exhibition explicitly situates fashion, specifically its technical side, squarely within the fine arts spectrum, almost like a guild-ish, specialty trade very specific to Britain. This is a great way to sell products to a discerning audience that values craftsmanship, but of all the rich and romantic cultural and historical connotations of Britishness, craftsmanship is not an especially glamorous tack to take. In fact, it’s the kind of traditionalism embodied by the Leave vote.

Now, I wouldn’t be so indelicate as to implicate anyone in the fashion community as being anything but the most ardent Remainers, but strategically, Maker’s House, despite its celebrity visitors and fun PR opportunity, is a very conservative concept. With this exhibition, Burberry has aligned its luxury fashion production with humble tradesmen, celebrating tradition, individualism, and manus over machina as their definition of Britishness post-Brexit. I would have expected a more cosmopolitan response from Christopher Bailey, something like a YBA collaboration, a campaign starring Zadie Smith and Zayn instead of Edie Campbell, AGAIN, or a zeitgeist-y celebration of Cool Brittania, with the Moss, Gallagher, Beckham, and Law kids as a response to what Britishness means now, and not, as one reader has put it, a return to the Shire. I think Maker’s House should have been more of a celebration of fashion as a visual, experiential, and performative art, and slotted fashion alongside the more analogous (and glamorous) British traditions of music, painting, literature, and drama, rather than a manual craft. But then again, this might be a London or England-centric point of view. However, I think it’s essential for Burberry to keep its cool edge, and not fall into a Mulberry slump, or worse, become a leather-goods-only bore or a suburban joke. Coach, I’m looking at you. Don’t you. Even. Think. About. It.

The weak pound might actually give Burberry some room to play and embrace a more cosmopolitan narrative of Britishness in upcoming seasons. Although their shares are down and the luxury market is having a difficult year, Burberry has been doing relatively well in the home market, thanks to tourists flocking in to shop. Not well enough to counteract the overall luxury slump, since 85% of their sales are made outside of Britain, but much better than expected.

A double down on their uniquely British identity post-Brexit was exactly the right tactic for Burberry to take in this first season after the political shake-up, but they chose the wrong strand of British creative arts to celebrate and with which to associate the brand – the technical crafts rather than the visual arts. With all the romantic, rich cultural and historical cache from which to draw surrounding what it means to be British today, Burberry played it too safe in placing their craftsmanship heritage above a more interesting and consumer-friendly facets of the brand, like their long investigation of British rock & roll, celebrity ambassador opportunities, and, simply, really interesting, fashion-forward pieces that could make a killing if they hit Instagram Gucci-style.

I’m hoping Burberry changes direction for their always-great holiday campaign, where they can really have fun and hit heavy with star power. All I am saying is that it BETTER star Millie Bobby Brown, Tracy Emin, and Harry Styles or I’m going to have to up my dosage of antidepressants.

 

 

Advertisements

Celeb Spawn: The New Ultimate Aspiration?

Smiths.jpg

 

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!!!!

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

B3-Sampling-image-main.jpeg
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?

Kbjh8EDWy_O8.jpg

 

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.

Report Card: S/S ’16 Ad Campaigns

The new ads are in, and the results are not great my friends. Brands and spokespeople were mismatched, art direction was lackluster, and ads had a somber quality to them, perhaps stemming from the recent upheaval in the industry and the hit that the luxury markets have taken in China. Let’s discuss.

Ruby Rose for Ralph Lauren Denim Supply

640_ruby_rose_hailey_baldwin_ralphlauren_010615.jpg

Oh. Oh dear. This keeps eliciting laughs from me. I know Ralph Lauren is under new management and in desperate need to project a younger, cooler image (may I remind you that Ralph Lauren is a major sponsor of Masterpiece Theatre). It’s like they watched The Grapes of Wrath  on a TV with poorly-operating antennae, put on a blindfold, and threw a dart at a young celebrity that codes for cool and edgy. This is a tragic mismatch, and the result is schadenfreudeish. The corresponding video is even worse, bringing this depression-era Madewell shopping spree to life — the only redeeming quality of the digital component is the presence of a hedgehog.

Who would be a better face of Ralph Lauren (providing there’s better art direction)? It’s tough to say, seeing how this big brand has become amorphous and bloated by offshoot lines in the past ten years. I would go for an all-American face, like none other than Lauren Bush Lauren. She’s close to the brand, yes, but she’s an accomplished social entrepreneur with ties to two American dynasties — and Ralph Lauren is all about living the American dream. And if Tom Ford can star in his own campaigns, LBL can advertise for her in-laws.

Grade: D

 

Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell for Balmain

dynamic_resize.jpeg

This is great. It’s all the glamour and drama associated with Balmain, but without the off-putting high-maintenance flashiness. The black and white is subdued, and a nice departure from the garish colors that we’ve seen from Balmain recently, but there’s so much movement that it’s still electric — Cindy’s face and body is exquisite here.

Choosing the original Supers to font this campaign was a great move, because it capitalizes on 90’s nostalgia, and restores some sophistication to the brand after last season’s Jenner sisters ad. It’s also nice in conversation with the Balmain x H&M campaign, which featured the “Supers” of today, Gigi, Kendall, and Jourdan, whose looks mirror those of Claudia, Cindy, and Naomi.

Grade: A-

 

Assorted Teens for Burberry 

burberry-1.jpg

Burberry is catering to a younger crowd with this campaign, with its choice of up-and-coming young models like Ruth and May Bell and Dylan Brosnan, its debut of Snapchat (why?), and the grittier aesthetic portrayed here with a Juergen-y high-exposure flash. This makes sense, given that Burberry’s sales were down the last quarter, and Christopher Bailey has been under pressure to prove himself as CEO. Digital innovation under his guidance got the brand to where it is today, so it’s natural that he would double down on this strategy when he’s feeling the heat.

I’m not sure this is the right tack, however. It’s incredibly alienating to more sophisticated buyers and cheapens the brand’s heritage history by making it seem young and ephemeral. Although it’s important to stay relevant to a younger demographic, teenagers aren’t the group with the purchasing power Burberry needs. They need to keep their messaging consistent with what they did in their holiday campaign, and sell aspirational, inclusive, glamorous, British sophistication, which is what they do best.

Grade: C-

 

Zoë Kravitz and Anna Ewers for Balenciaga

balenciaga-zoe-kravitz.0.jpg

Finally! Someone took my advice and put Zoë Kravitz, intriguing chameleon of cool pedigree, in an ad campaign. I love the sleepy, romantic panned out shot of the two women, but the close-up shots are empty, uninteresting, and tell me nothing about the brand.

This is not a great way for Alexander Wang to end his short legacy at Balenciaga — this looks hastily done and doesn’t come across as a thoughtful farewell. If he were going to cop out, he ought to have shot Kravitz holding the Le Dix bag and called it a day. (Does anyone know if the label will continue to make these post-Wang? If not, I’ll need to acquire a loan immediately.)

Grade: C-

 

 

 

Label Consolidation and British Stars on Trampolines: This Week In Burberry News

Last week, Burberry announced their decision to roll up all of their lines – Brit, London, and Prorsum – into one label. Henceforth, everything will be known as simply “Burberry.”

This decision follows similar moves other luxury labels have recently made to get rid of their “junior” lines: D&G and Marc by Marc Jacobs have both became defunct in the last year. Burberry’s consolidation is much more akin to Victoria Beckham’s swallowing up the lower-priced Victoria, Victoria Beckham (although London couldn’t exactly be seen as a junior line, pricewise).

Does this make sense from a business perspective? I suppose. To the untrained shopper, the different labels might be confusing. But I think Christopher Bailey ought to have cut out London, and kept Brit and Prorsum as bookending collections – but perhaps this is my own sentimentality talking.

When I was first discovering fashion, Burberry was the brand I deeply identified with, soul-loved. I obsessed over it; the black and white ads covered my walls (and still do in my childhood bedroom); I finally felt like a world understood me and my interests and tastes and aesthetics. I would look at the Brit line on Nordstrom.com and think that one day I might be able to afford a piece. I contented myself with the fragrances (this was a pre-Burberry Cosmetics era – imagine!) and then one day, at sixteen, I garnered the nerve to go into a Burberry store with my mother. There was a black eyelet cotton Brit dress on sale. We bought it. It was an important psychological shift for me – I finally owned a piece of the world I wanted to live in. I was me. And I would go on to make wonderful memories whist wearing that dress, and it’s something I will keep forever. Brit’s differentiation from the other Burberry price points made that possible.

Besides my maudlin affection for the Brit line, Bailey should keep it because it’s so distinctive from the runway collections. Brit is made up of classic pieces, like sweaters and polos, starting at about $300, and usually incorporate the house’s logoistic check pattern. It’s a starter line that’s clearly identifiable as Burberry for those who don’t have the budget to afford the higher-priced London line, or a penchant for a pastel trench coat from the Prorsum collection. Without the identifying nomenclature, I feel like Burberry’s enormous inventory will be difficult to navigate, and perhaps turn away new-to-fashion buyers, who only see thousand-pound dresses and leave, unaware that they can afford something less pricey.

And as for Prorsum – Latin for ‘forward’ – that designated the high-fashion runway collections, well that’s a shame to lose. It’s a word that evokes the Burberry knight, and Burberry’s unique ability to move forward stylistically while still remaining a heritage brand. Not to mention its erudition factor – it also brings to mind a romantic vision of Oxford and Cambridge. Something like this, which, coincidentally, is the aforementioned wall décor:

2006-1.jpg~original

I’m sure Bailey has good reason for the roll up – I trust him and his vision for the brand, even though I wish he wouldn’t make this particular move. So who’s next to streamline their label? Kors won’t – yet. There’s too much of a price gap between Michael, Michael Kors and the Michael Kors Collection, and besides, he should want to keep the two separate to placate both the label-toting suburbanites loonies with brand ownership, and the starlets he dresses on the red carpet with a non-embarrassing connotation. Armani won’t yet either. There will always be a Eurotrash market for Armani Exchange on one hand, and a market for sophisticated actors to wear his suits on the red carpet on the other. How are these label stratifications even part of the same brand? They are so antithetical – not at all like Burberry’s or even Marc Jacobs’ lower-priced lines, which simply reflect(ed) the larger brand at a lower price point. I suppose a powerful name can code for a lot of different things to different audiences – but I’m not sure that’s a compliment to Mr. Kors or Mr. Armani.

Burberry also debuted its holiday video advert last week. No luxury label does holiday marketing quite like Burberry, and the label delivered once again, with a star-studded tribute to Billy Elliot, with appearances by Romeo Beckham, Elton John, Julie Walters, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, George Ezra, Naomi Campbell, Michelle Dockery, and James Cordon, just to name a few. That’s what’s so special about Burberry – all of these faces perfectly fit the label. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, black or white, 13 (Beckham) or 68 (Sir Elton), Burberry is for everyone. They consistently strike a unique pitch of inclusiveness, while still maintaining luxury, aspirational status. Perhaps that’s the heritage factor, but I’d chalk it up to a special British alchemy.