MARKET TRENDS: Is It All About The Brands?

When the great couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his Paris house, in 1968, and retired, he complained that it had been a dog’s life. But at least Balenciaga was free to design what he wanted, and to show his clothes when and to whom he pleased. Today, the most celebrated designers work for big luxury groups — Nicolas Ghesquiere for the PPR-owned Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, which belongs to LVMH, as do Céline and Givenchy. Not only do designers produce more stuff than ever before — clothes for early deliveries, for red carpet and editorial, as well as accessories — but they are also increasingly perceived as less important than brands.


Balenciaga Campaign


A decade ago this seemed unthinkable. Designers enjoyed the status of contemporary artists and architects, and indeed were busy collaborating with them — Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons with Cindy Sherman for advertising, Miuccia Prada with Rem Koolhaas on store concepts, Mr. Jacobs with Takashi Murakami for handbags. This was a significant change from the ’70s and ’80s, when designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino focused on building empires, and living as well as their richest clients. That generation of stars was also broadly involved in decision making, from the choice of factories to the style of carpet in a boutique. Today, some owner-designers are no less involved — Stella McCartney, for instance, and Dries van Noten. But more and more the two sides, creative and management, feel like separate camps, with designers forced to explain the fundamentals of fashion to executives whose last job might have been in finance or baby products.


Givenchy Campaign

It was a lot easier when designers just had to worry about making good clothes — and were not distracted by a hundred other concerns — and there were executives who knew how to make a business out of creative ideas. Mr. Simons’s designs for Jil Sander were never all that extreme. To the contrary, editors rooted for him because they saw genuinely good work. What’s more, it has the virtue of being plain enough for anyone to see. He may yet land at a big house or do his own women’s label.


Louis Vuitton Campaign


I can’t help thinking about the dramas that surround the industry. Fashion has always been a blood sport, especially in Paris, and the most gifted and fragile talents could be monsters at heart. Of course that’s how those men and women achieved fabulous names for themselves ... Chanel, Saint Laurent. But now you sense that designers, their talents apart, are being used in a dreary chess game of brand power.


Céline Campaign


As the Sander story broke, news leaked that Stefano Pilati would leave Saint Laurent on March 5. His successor is expected to be Hedi Slimane, the former men’s star at both YSL and Dior. A Slimane comeback could be interesting, though people immediately saw it as a thorn in the side of his former boss — and PPR rival — Bernard Arnault of LVMH. That’s far from dreamy fashion.


Dior Campaign

From The New York Times
By Cathy Horyn

Sunday, March 04, 2012 · Categories: Consumer Intelligence, Fashion, Marketing and Advertising
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