Collaboration

Bullseye: Victoria Beckham’s On-Point Collaborations

unnamed-2.jpgBeckham has chosen two perfect collaborators for her expanding empire.

Last month, Victoria Beckham announced a partnership with Target on a limited-edition capsule collection. Composed of apparel and accessories for women and children, the collection will debut in April 2017, and is a brilliant move on behalf of Ms. Beckham, who also has a newly-minted cosmetics deal with Estée Lauder. These selective, on-brand collaborations will set Beckham up for long-term success, and simultaneously lend the ventures more credibility than if she were to launch additional sub-labels under her own brand – if she’s able to keep them both accessible to an entry-level buyer.

 

The Beckham-Target union is fantastic for both entities. It’s such a good fit for both brands, and it’s certainly the most exciting PR either party has received lately. Beckham has been struggling with her eponymous business in the last couple of years, due to a lack of standout pieces and a general consumer unwillingness to pay ultra-high prices, and needs a new product and price point without diluting her label. Enter Target.

 

Target, the upscale yet ultra-accessible American retailer, is the perfect place for Beckham to launch her latest venture. They have a history of successful high-fashion design collaborations – Proenza Schouler (2007), Rodarte (2009, from which I still wear a dress), Missoni (2011, which famously crashed their site), Jason Wu (2012), Phillip Lim (2013), Peter Pilotto (2014), and Altazurra (2014) – and have a great formula for creating an absolutely vicious feeding frenzy around the limited-edition capsule collections.

Target’s latest designer collaborations, with Lily Pulitzer (2015) and Marimekko (2016), especially, were met with a collective huh? and sluggish sales – honestly, who thought Lily Pulitzer was a good idea? – but Beckham’s line, which will be composed of apparel and accessories for women and children, will be explosive both because of the content and its famous designer.

 

Beckham is aspirational – wife, mother, multi-hyphenate career woman, cultural icon– and makes clothes that both fashion and non-fashion women alike will want to wear: flattering, simply-cut dresses, pencil skirts, structured bags, and classic, oversized sunglasses. She is also a hands-on mum to four very cute kids with her handsome, superstar husband, making her an ideal candidate to design functional yet stylish childrenswear (anyone who birthed Romeo, my much-documented favorite child in all of Hollywood, and the very cute and precocious Harper, I trust completely with all aspects of child rearing.)

 

Partnering with Target for a lower-priced line, and especially for childrenswear, is a better course of action than trying to incorporate them into her label, which already has a lower (ha) price sub-label, Victoria Victoria Beckham. They will be much more accessible to American shoppers that way, and won’t be siloed only among the fashion crowd, in the way that Stella McCartney’s childrenswear is. And an in-house sub-label at fast-fashion prices would hurt her overall brand if not distributed in collaboration with a reputable yet accessible third party like Target.

 

 

So good and accessible in fact, is Beckham’s simple, fashion-forward aesthetic and so aspirational is her lifestyle to women, especially mothers, that I think the she could be hugely successful in a long-term partnership with Target, à la Isaac Mizrahi. She is more suited to this kind of partnership than any other Target collaborator because of her mainstream celebrity, unlike Pilotto or Altazurra, who would only be recognizable to the fashion set. I wouldn’t imagine that this kind of high-low partnership with would threaten to dilute Beckham’s high-end line because of the difference in price and quality – women buying thousand-pound Victoria Beckham pieces aren’t going to stop buying those pieces because plebs can now get items by the same designer in Target; the two ventures are very different animals for two very different audiences.

 

Beckham’s partnership with Estée Lauder is also a mutually beneficial endeavor. As the most established cosmetics brand, working with Estée Lauder automatically legitimizes the quality of Beckham’s product, a range of pretty pinks, soft browns, and classic reds for eyes, lips, and cheeks, which can be bought individually, or in London, Paris, and New York-themed kits – a marketing venture to which I am extremely susceptible. The Beckham factor brings some contemporary glamour and pop cultural relevance to Estée Lauder, which, while being the gold standard for good quality cosmetics, can read a bit old-fashioned, especially to the younger set who prefer the likes of slick Milk Makeup and other cult-y labels.

 

The price point on VB x Estée Lauder, however, is shockingly high – I imagined it would be in the YSL-Dior-Dolce & Gabbana price arena, but it’s closer to altitudinous Tom Ford level. The offerings are pretty and wearable, but not, I think, worth $95 for an eyeshadow palette. The prices won’t be a deterrent for women already splashing out on Beckham’s high-end clothing, but for most women, and young women especially, whose entry point to a luxury brand begins in cosmetics, it’s too dear. While this Estée partnership is brilliant in theory, I think the execution was too ambitions, and not inclusive enough for the millennial and young Gen-X audience.

 

Victoria Beckham is on the perfect track to expand her empire through partnerships with esteemed, established brands that will allow her to capitalize on her celebrity and aspirational lifestyle and validate her ventures into new categories. I can see both collaborations extending into the long-term, if she re-thinks the pricing structure for VB x Estée Lauder. As it stands, it’s a little too Posh for a sizeable and lucrative section of her audience.

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The Dos and Don’ts of Branding with a Deceased Celebrity

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The recently-launched Natalie Wood fragrance

 

Celebrity fragrances are an incredibly weird concept in the first place. Of all the things for a famous person to sell to fans, why  a fragrance? Everyone can wear a t-shirt or use accessories like a phone case or a wristband, but scent preferences are extremely personal – not everyone is going to like the scent you’re shilling.

I suppose it’s a more upmarket, “sophisticated” product, and even intimate way for plebs, especially young ones, to connect to their favorite celebrity. I get it for pop stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Satan, and One Direction*, who have very specific personal brands and hoards of young followers who want a piece of their favorite singer (*might I request a 1D fragrance this upcoming holiday season?). But why do B-ish list actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Hallie Berry have fragrances? My research even confirms that Bruce Willis has a fragrance. These actors probably have a handful of super fans, but besides those weirdos, who buys these fragrances? It is so comically weird and superbly absurd it truly puts me at a loss for words.

So imagine my out of body disbelief when I discovered this week that Natalie Wood’s daughter is launching a fragrance inspired by the late actress.

Sure, I like Natalie Wood as a consumer of mid-century Hollywood glamour and as someone unhealthily interested in true crime. I don’t however, think of her as a beauty or cosmetics icon, but maybe could be persuaded to make that leap with a strategically-marketed product. But that’s not the case with her fragrance, and there’s a larger problem at hand: she’s, well, dead, and under suspicious circumstances. I don’t want something as intimate and personal as a perfume to be a blend of a watery grave with hints of Christopher Walken, and framed by some rich top notes of Du Maurier. And it’s not as if Wood lovingly created the fragrance herself whilst alive – it’s simply “inspired” by her favorite fragrance with her name and image licensed to it. It’s supposed to be glamorous and slightly maudlin and the next White Diamonds, but I just find it creepy and inauthentic. Let’s take it a step further: would you buy a Sharon Tate brand fragrance? I didn’t think so – the negative connotations are too strong.

Now, if Luca Dotti licensed his mother, Audrey Hepburn’s, image to a fragrance, it would be less odd because Hepburn was more of a mainstream celebrity upon whom so much aspirational projection is made, and whose death was only the most minor footnote to her legacy. It would still seem a little garish and profit-driven, but not cloaked in the macabre. Dotti, smartly, has released a cookbook of Hepburn’s favorite recipes and a photography book of rare photos of his mother during the years she lived in Rome, both of which, incidentally, are on my Amazon wish list. This is the way to honor a deceased celebrity parent – it is tasteful, personal, and restrained. Wagner girls, take note.

But there are other ways to successfully market a deceased celebrity – even one who met an untimely end – without any elements of eeriness.

MAC is launching a highly-anticipated limited edition Selena Quintanilla cosmetics line in October 2016, in collaboration with the late singer’s sister. Superstar Texan-born singer Quintanilla, as you will know, was murdered in 1995, but remains one of the foremost Latin music and beauty icons. People are going berserk over this cosmetics line and desperately trying to preorder any pieces they can, presaging what is sure to be a sell-out debut.

The Selena range, which is tightly comprised of three lipsticks, a handful of eye shadows, a liner, a mascara, and a blush-bronzer duo, isn’t weird at all. It’s an exciting, well-deserved mainstream celebration of her legacy. This is because of the authoritative partnership with MAC and the exclusive feel of the limited-edition run. Having an established beauty brand back a celebrity product gives the entire venture a feeling of expertise and legitimacy – it’s not just a famous name flapping in the breeze by itself. The presentation of the products also helps banish any feeling of creepiness. No soft-edged black and white photos here – the range is photographed and packaged in glorious technicolor with a slick logo and bright purple casings. It’s fun, youthful, and celebratory in a way that only makes a consumer think of the singer’s life and art, and not her tragic demise.

If the Natalie Wood perfume had been presented as a special collaboration with a cosmetics brand like Estée Lauder, it would loose all connotations of creepiness, and instead take on a must-have, glamorous quality (and likely be resold for three digit figures on Ebay.) The importance of a legitimating partnership with a global beauty brand is absolutely paramount to the success of such a product, and scarcity the best way to create a fan frenzy. Perhaps the Misses Aniston and Berry should note this in the event they try to launch follow-up fragrances. Mr. Willis, however, might want to just cease and desist.

Now that we know the rules, here are a few dream collaborations:
— Nars x Marlene Dietrich
— Nars x David Bowie
— Nars x Hitchcock Heroines
— Anistasia x Vivien Liegh
— Estée Lauder x Princess Diana
— Estée Lauder x Grace Kelly

Can Ubiquity Make a Brand Invisible?

michael-phelps-rio-olympics-gold-medal-1.jpgDo we even see the Nike logo anymore?

 

The USA Men’s Olympic Swim Team faced not one, but two scandales last week — the lesser-known and more interesting of which is that Michael Phelps, the superstar of Under Armor’s stable of representatives wore sweatpants featuring a very prominent swoosh on the cover of this month’s Sports Illustrated.

But did he even realize he was wearing it?

All members of Team USA are required to wear Nike gear when competing in the Olympics per the USOC, even if it conflicts with an athlete’s personal sponsorship. This is a tricky branding situation for which I can’t think of another analogy — if a celebrity represents a designer label, she usually wears that label to events, but not necessarily in everyday life or in magazine editorials. This spawns its own interesting question: is an athlete obligated to wear his sponsor’s gear in an editorial, if other celebrities are not held to the same standard?

My answer to that question would be no, but in any case, Phelps is decidedly not in Olympic uniform in this photo. His clothes could be his own or chosen for him (unlikely; no self-respecting stylist would put him in that Zuck-ish polo), but regardless, did none of the individuals involved in this photoshoot —the athletes, stylists, photographer, editors, et all — even notice that he was donning a Nike swoosh? I think it was completely invisible to them, even to Phelps himself. This should be a smug moment of triumph for Nike, besting Under Armor, but instead it’s an indication of an issue in Nike’s brand recognition.

Nike is such a behemoth that it’s a synecdoche for all atheleticwear, in the vein of Spandex, Xerox, Kleenex, and, in Texas, Coke, standing in for all of their respective related or competitor’s products. It’s so big, in fact, that our brains barely process the logo anymore, like speed-reading through something you already know. I wouldn’t have even noticed that Phelps was wearing Nike pants in the photo had the fashion industry not started buzzing about it. But is that a good thing or a bad thing for Nike?

I think it’s both. It’s great to be the synecdoche because it’s a guarantee of popularity and quality. But a brand can become too big and lose its meaning  unless it’s kept ultra-current, which Nike is good at doing by offering enormous variety and customization options. But still, the logo can go mentally unprocessed. Who are Nike’s spokespeople? I can’t name a single one besides Michael Jordan in ye olden days. Perhaps more visible advertisement, beyond a small smooth Swoosh on an athlete’s lapel, would lend the brand more concrete meaning to an audience that doesn’t obsessively consume sports. Perhaps they should also consider non-athlete or famous spokespeople to front or even design for the brand, like what Puma has done with Rihanna, or non-traditional athletes, like Misty Copeland for Under Armor. I would love for a celebrity trainer like Mary Helen Bowers to be a spokesperson for Nike, or for Nike to do a black-and-white photoshoot starring an icon like Mikhail Baryshnikov (who, does, I can ah, say from personal experience, wear sneakers in his downtime.)

My next instinct would be to advise Nike to carve out niches within its bigness, like going after the fashion set. Adidas already has the upper hand here, however, with its ultra-popular Stan Smith and its collaborations with Kanye West, Raf Simons, and Stella McCartney. Reebok, too, is collaborating with interesting non-apparel labels like FACE Stockholm to appeal to a young, trendy set.  Nike could continue to expand its fashion collaboration attempts, like the one launched with Ricardo Tischi earlier this year. Carine Roitfeld for Nike has a nice ring to it.

In the short term, to boost its falling stock, Nike could push the Huarache shoe into becoming the next Instagram star, like the white-and-burgundy Nike Free was few years ago. This style is on the precipice of really “happening,” and just needs some more Instagram and editorial coverage.

Nike can combat its logo invisibility with a revamped advertising platform, since it’s not the logo itself, but its ubiquity coupled with a lack of meaningful advertising that causes the brain skip. But really, we don’t have to worry about Nike going anywhere despite interesting and innovative endeavors by its competitors. It already has the cultural resonance (and money) for permanent staying power, as long as it doesn’t get too comfortable on its laurels.

 

Valentino…Who?

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Imagine my surprise when I, a casual and unsuspecting reader, was flipping through this month’s Harper’s Bazaar trying to see how I could take snippets from Karl Lagerfeld’s interview with Kendall Jenner and parse them to look unflattering to her, saw instead a classic Terry Richardson Rockstud ad, which, instead of saying VALENTINO, read: Valentino Garavani.

Not quite a spit take-level of surprise, but it definitely resulted in a squinty “what?”

First it actually took me a minute to put together – what was Valentino’s last name, again? G…something? Not Giametti. I Googled and confirmed that Garavani was indeed the designer’s surname (although his Wikipedia article is simply under ‘Valentino.’) How utterly and completely bizarre, then, to see a kamikaze “Garavani” after all these years of a solo “Valentino.”

Why would Valentino change their advertising out of nowhere to use the last name of the founding designer? It’s like changing the name of Dolce & Gabanna to Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabanna. Or Prada to Miuccia Prada. Insane! If I, someone who thinks about Valentino on a regular basis can’t pull his last name from a murky corner of my mind, then there is a serious problem with this advertising. People less tuned-in to fashion will think there’s some cool new designer out there named Valentino Garavani. Oh dear.

I then plunged into some deep internet research, which assured me that Valentino is not changing their name, and that Valentino Garavani is a sub-label along the lines of Valentino Red, that encompasses most bags and shoes, including all Rockstud accessories.

The whole thing is still, however, immensely weird. Valentino is the only designer whose fashion house takes his first name, not his last name. We know most designers by their surnames – Armani, Chanel, Dior, etcetera – but we also know their first names – Giorgio, Coco, Christian. Valentino is more like Gucci in that it is, culturally, one word, like Madonna and Cher, and most definitely not Guccio Gucci or Valentino Garavani.

To introduce Valentino’s last name now, eight years after his retirement from the label is odd, but would be completely inexplicable if he were not still involved with the label and a mentor to his successors, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli – it’s quite an unprecedented arrangement, as most designers’ tenure at their own houses tend to be lifelong. The three collaborated in creating costumes for Sofia Coppola’s La Traviata, which premiered in Rome mid-May and is the best collaboration between designer and director since Tom Ford dressed everyone his own film. Valentino always sits front row for Chiuri and Piccioli’s shows, keeping his visual presence associated with his brand, and is nearly always out and about (including visiting my former place of work in May 2015, NEVER FORGET), indicating that he’s retired only from designing, and not the public eye or public psyche. When interviewed by the New York Times about La Traviata, he made sure to remind his interlocutor of his energy and enthusiasm for design: “I still have creativity inside…Tomorrow I could do a runway show of 100 dresses with no problem.” This almost sounded like a veiled threat – as if the label is still very much his, and he might at any time decide to re-take its helm. However, I would guess he is having more fun cruising around Capri, as documented on his and Giancarlo’s Instagrams this week, than creating six collections a year at 84.

Close readings of comments aside, I like the relationship that Valentino and Chiuri and Piccioli enjoy: they venerate him, while he trusts them with his life’s legacy. It’s not surprising, then, that they would name a secondary line for him; it just should have been executed differently. Perhaps “Garavani by Valentino” or somehow rebranding the Rockstud line as the “Garavani Rockstud.’ But neither of those has the same iconic look on the page or feel in the mouth – both are awkward to say and somehow anything extra dilutes the his iconic status. My best recommendation is to drop the “Garavani” and have Terry Richardson shoot Valentino, Giacomo and their pugs with Rockstud accessories. His face, his tan, his lifestyle are all iconic and instantly recognizable, even to an audience with only moderate interest in fashion, while his last name is not recognizable to anyone. We’ve been on a first-name basis with Valentino since 1960; let’s not change this intimate and simultaneously larger than life way of talking about him now.

 

Valentino x Goop: Only Somewhat Super

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This week, Goop announced a collaboration with Valentino on a Wonder Woman-themed capsule collection. Comprised of 25 pieces ranging from sneakers to gowns, this collaboration is a great coup for Goop – Valentino is by far the highest-profile label Goop has ever partnered with, and Goop can also boast the distinction of being Valentino’s first-ever partnership with an outside label.

The brand pairing is excellent – the major fashion house will boost the much-derided Goop’s credibility, while working with Goop will reinforce the Chiuri and Piccioli-helmed Valentino as being youthful and not without a sense of humor. The Wonder Woman theme is incredibly random, but cute and apropos of the current feminist conversation, as well as an in-on-the-joke move aimed at Paltrow’s critics.

It seems like the perfect partnership – the resulting product, however, is mixed.

The pieces are genuinely stunning in person (I had the pleasure of visiting the Goop Pop-up store in New York yesterday) and beautifully constructed. But the price points are too high even for Goop’s altitudinous norm, with t-shirts and sneakers coming in at about $1,000 apiece, and a leather jacket for $10,000. The gowns, though, are truly special and worth the 5-digit price tags.  Many of the pieces are also hard to wear or too novelty for everyday use, like the star-spangled denim hotpants, the similarly-decorated denim jumpsuit, and the completely sheer t-shirt. If Goop and Valentino were going to pursue these price points, they ought to have incorporated at least a few simpler pieces that would be worth the investment But then again, Valentino isn’t exactly known for its practicality – every piece is something special.

The collection seems to be doing well, with several pieces having already sold out just two days after the line’s debut. Apparently the price points haven’t been too much of a deterrent for online buyers, though most of the women in the pop-up store cast one frightened look at the Valentino rack and hightailed it to the more budget-friendly cosmetics section. Price points more akin to Valentino’s Red collection would have been much more accessible – and would have sold out immediately. Or at least caused a reaction more similar to the opening for Balmain x H&M, and less like white ladies nervously eyeing a $1,000 crown.

I certainly hope to see more high-profile collaborations with Goop and even a brick-and-mortar store in the future. Gwyneth should leverage her celebrity friendships to this end. Could Tom Ford x Goop be next? The world might explode – or at least mine certainly would.