Luxury

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

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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.

 

 

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Celebrity Image Rehab with Alessandro Michele

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Tom Hiddleston is covering major ground on the road to an image makeover after a humiliating summer.

Well, well, well, look who it is showing his sheepish and handsome face in the fall Gucci ads.

None other than Mr. Thomas William Hiddleston, actor, Shakespearean, and international punchline on a level of schadenfreude never before witnessed by human eyes.

After a summer of being a gossip site punching bag, human Muppet, and court jester to Satan, and along with losing the Emmy for The Night Manager and any shred of hope of landing the role of 007, Tommy is in need of a serious image overhaul. And what better than posing for the hottest luxury label in the world to regain one’s shredded dignity?

Tommy is a good fit for Gucci because of the new aesthetic direction Alessandro Michele has taken with the brand in the last year and a half. Gucci now codes for quirky, oddball glamour, with its Wes Anderson color palettes, zany accessories, and an overall aesthetic of weirdo chic. Tom is both classically handsome and very normal whilst being a pale, weirdo icon because of his roles in Marvel films and cult-y flicks like Only Lovers Left Alive. It has been sneeringly (and accurately) speculated that Tom wanted to shed his comic-con fanbase and become more of a mainstream movie star, presumably using a high-profile “relationship” with a singer as a spingboard (said singer who is “as big of a danger to the world as ISIS,” as my mother has put it.) But fronting a quirky brand like Gucci, instead of something like an ultra-boring but alpha male suit brand, is a gesture of atonement to disgruntled Dragonflies – I’m still in here, says Tommy. Forgive my desperation and moment of true, fever-dream, out-of-my-mind, insanity. Remember how good I was in Deep Blue Sea?

Tom’s also good for Gucci because of the label’s quest to embody the spirit of bohemian, English eccentricity. Michele, having worked for Gucci in London when under Tom Ford, is my peer in Anglomania, and has implemented a number of initiatives to imbue the Italian label with a British sensibility over the past few seasons, including holding a show at Westminster Abbey, forging a long-term partnership with Chatsworth House, where the Cruise 2017 campaign was shot, and appointing scions of offbeat, British glamour to be brand ambassadors, including Alexa Chung, Florence Welch, and, in a stroke of genius so sublime it makes me want to cry, Vanessa Redgrave. Tom’s a good celebrity to add to this stable, because he’s so very English – he literally looks like he could be an English gentleman from any of the last ten centuries – and yet current, handsome, and a little bit quirky.

This partnership happens to occur precisely when said gentleman is in need of some good press. No other brand is on Gucci’s level in terms of Instagram-mania, excitement, critical acclaim, and just really really cool clothes – exactly the kind of associations Tom needs after his summer of PR thirst exploded in his face over and over again like trick birthday candle. I’m convinced that Gucci is the only label that could rehab Tommy’s image in the public eye just at this moment, and I grudgingly admit that I feel relieved that Michele extended his hand to Tom in a gesture that marks Tom as pathetic no more, but actually cooler, and certainly more fashion-forward, than he was before his bummer summer.

The ads are great, too – saturated confections of satin and velvet dandyism, complete with  Judith Light dogs and feelings of isolation and anxiety that’s all both beautiful and slightly repulsive to look at. I applaud the execution and I think Tom bring something patrician yet geeky to the mix that makes him pitch-perfect embodiment of the Gucci look today.

I think young Tom has a ways to go on his path to media redemption and restoration to the title of the Thinking Woman’s Internet Boyfriend, but I can’t think of a better way to start than by starring in an ad like this for a brand like Gucci. Alessandro Michele might also want to consider a second career in celebrity image rehab. Move over Dr. Drew.

 

 

The Triumph of The Non-Designer: Justin, Alexa and More

Alexa Chung and Justin O’Shea, fashion’s most exciting new designers, are not designers at all, depending on whom you ask.

 

Justin O’Shea, former buying director of MyTheresa and the coolest, most hard-boiled guy in the fashion business, debuted his first collection for luxury menswear label Brioni this month to enormous success: the ultra-cool collection for men and women was sexy, immaculate, and exuded an almost Tom Ford-level of slickness. O’Shea has taken an uncompromisingly “lad” approach to the brand – Brioni logoed beer cans were omnipresent at the event and Metallica fronts the new ad campaign – but in a way that’s sophisticated, self-aware, and almost retro without seeming kitchy. He’s proven himself to be a fantastic creative director, even if he is not a typical choice to helm a luxury label, because he gets brand so completely.

O’Shea’s brilliant debut was the perfect backdrop for Alexa Chung to announce that she is launching her own clothing line in the spring of 2017, to the desperate, raucous joy of young women everywhere. The brand will encompass everything from denim to eveningwear, and follows on the heels of Chung’s multiple collaborations with a wide range of brands – she’s collaborated on design for Marks & Spencer, AG Denim, Madewell, Maje, and cosmetics brand Eyeko; and has served as a brand ambassador for Mulberry, Longchamp, and most recently Gucci, when she temporarily took over the label’s Snapchat. But instead of drawing a parallel between Chung and O’Shea, rock-and-roll, much beloved fashion outsiders, The New York Times wondered if Chung might, with her long-hoped for eponymous line, become Britain’s Tory Burch – a theory predicated upon the fact that neither woman were trained as designers.

Chung and Burch could literally not be more opposite. This comparison is incredibly sexist (O’Shea got no press so insulting), out of touch, and the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard for several reasons, most egregiously so because Tory Burch is anti-fashion in the way that Michael Kors is: it’s what upper middle class women wear when they want to be invisible and embarrassingly nondescript; it’s a giant empire of nothing. Alexa Chung is all about individuality and instincts when it comes to her personal style and the kinds of things she has designed and endorsed in the past. Why on earth would she want to be anything, anything like Tory Burch? In terms of contemporaries, the Times should have likened her, obviously to Justin O’Shea; or to Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, who studied to be architects; or Humberto Leon and Carol Kim of Opening Ceremony and now Kenzo, who started as retailers before they were co-creative directors. These “untrained” designers, unlike Tory Burch, create fashion, and not logoed lifestyle brands for people with french manicures. Secondly, Chung has had a string of collaborative design experiences, more than any other public figure, and is incredibly well-situated to take on her own line – she is much better positioned to design than Burch was when she launched Tory Burch on a dark day in 2004.

Grouping Chung and Burch together for being “untrained” is not only bizarre, but simultaneously incredibly out of touch with the direction in which fashion creation is moving: it’s not just the realm of trained designers anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. It will become even less so after the smashing success of the likes of Leon and Kim at Kenzo and O’Shea at Brioni, Kate Moss for Topshop, and even Victoria Beckham’s eponymous line. Truly exceptional fashion is about instinct, which thoughtful and innovative stylists, retailers, bloggers and brand managers have in abundance — perhaps more than some trained designers do.  Personal style and understanding of brand has become the new and most important qualifications for design, and for this Chung and O’Shea are insanely qualified. Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada were not technically trained, and many designers today, including Raf Simons, do not sketch. Bloggers like Vanessa Hong and Elin King, whom I love, and Rumi Neely, whom I used to like as a teen but about whom I am now ambivalent, have all started fashion labels. Olivia Palermo, Erika Bearman, Lauren Santo Domingo, Miroslava Duma, and Maja Wyh should all be next. Some of these women, I’m sure, are afraid of the celebrity-label brushoff, and/or the Rachel Zoe hyped-line-that-isn’t-really-very-good effect; I think Chung’s foray into the arena will help dispel these fears and help further validate a “celebrity” line, when the celebrity in question is qualified.

If anyone, Alexa Chung should have been likened to Elsa Schiaparelli, who was a little offbeat, had many famous friends, and an innate knack for knowing what looked good. Untrained in the traditional sense, Schiaparelli went on to become one of the most iconic designers of the 20th century. This kind of path is one that makes sense for Chung, and should be aspirational to both trained and untrained creators of fashion alike – not a bulky, empty empire. If that’s not clear to the New York Times, I question their relevancy, and  their conception of success in the fashion world.

 

Maria Grazia Chiuri to Dior: A Bittersweet Split

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Hmmm, is the framing of this photo of Valentino Co-Creative Directors telling? Maria Grazia Chiurri is positioned in front of Pierpaolo Piccioli and staring up, while he looks squarely at the camera. If today’s news is any indicator, then yes, this 2015 photo might tease that Chiuri was considering moving on a over year ago. And that my art history classes paid off and that I paid attention to the body language episode of Tyra circa 2008.

In a completely stunning move, Dior appointed Maria Grazia Chiuri as its new creative director following the departure of Raf Simons earlier this year. Usually  whispers trickle around before an appointment, but that wasn’t the case with Chiuri—I stared at my email inbox completely agog with surprise when the news broke this morning.

Surprised I may be, but I am also delighted. Maria Grazia Chiuri is an incredible designer, and has co-created some of the most beautiful, intricate, and feminine pieces of ready-to-wear and couture humanly conceivable during her nine-year tenure at Valentino—pieces so simple in line yet opulent in fabric so as to make one gasp.

Chiuri will be brilliant at Dior; she understands the pressures and rigor of working at a mega-house, and is a near-perfect match in terms of aesthetics with her appreciation for simplicity and graceful femininity. Beyond the tulle and Roman richness, she also knows how to make money. Chiuri and Piccioli pioneered the incredibly commercially successful Valentino Rockstud accessory line, which, six years later, the public is still hungry for. She knows how to walk the fine line between accessibility and exclusivity, and realizes the importance of refreshing and building on cult items each season to maximize their relevance. Chiuri will also be Dior’s first female creative director in its 70 year history—ironic for a label whose image is so tied up in femininity.

As exciting as this news is, it’s not without a scoop of bitterness. I’m so sad to see this harmonious era of exquisite design and seamless execution of Valentino’s sensibilities come to an end. It never occurred to me that Chiuri was even being considered for this role because I figured that she and Piccioli were a package deal and firmly ensconced at Valentino for many years to come.Why did Dior pick only Chiuri and not the pair? Will Chiuri and Piccioli be any good without the other? Perhaps Dior execs had special insight into their creative process to be able to make that call. We will have to wait and see on these. But as to the question of whether or not Valentino is upset that his natural heir has chosen to go elsewhere, well, I think we have our answer from Giancarlo Giametti’s Instagram today. No one does Italian drama quite like Valentino!

 

 

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.

 

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!!!!

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.

 

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.