Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fashion, It's A Business, Really

Why a seditious Banksy? Seductive, pretty, familiar and dangerous.  And very expensive.

Lights, cameras, iPhones, iPads and where once the front row was editors at Vogue flanked by media to the left and right, photographers kneeling (yeah right) in front, an occasional buyer sprawled, tangled by the cables. Row Two was the money row: Presidents of large stores and their buyers spilling into Row Three with its star boutiques and friends of the house. Standing by the back wall was every bit as cool as the very front row; it meant the house security and fire marshals accepted you, knew that you needed to be first to exit (but never before the show's end, no matter what) to race somewhere very important: lunch or the next show.

Children were barely tolerated, special cases only; none were wearing lipstick or tiaras or had their own press agent. Directors were very, very welcome however. Smoking, certainly.

American and Brit designers were dispatched from St Martin's to fashion houses to work alongside designers. Well-born daughters were sent to intern under Lagerfeld and the children of fashion houses sent to Brown's in London.  Someday with a few years rare and delicious experience on their CV's, the designers would leave, some to form their own house or work with an Italian factory who would fund their first few collections or even to work for more money at other houses.

Photographers at the shows turned over their film - real film - to their agencies and sold some under the table in the back of the building at midnight under a dull streetlight to manufacturers who would assemble a team to gather together to ambush a designer collection into a shop by a good six weeks. European designers waited for textile deliveries that were always late, factory workers to return from weeks off in the summer, kicking shipping boxes out the door as quickly as possibly to play beat the cancellation date. Shop buyers fought with schedules and complained that Vogue was doing editorials before anything arrived.

Buyers were stuck with loyalty (and hefty minimums) even in the face of of one of those "omg, you've done it again" collections where everything was wrong. Can you really buy enough plain white blouses and black pants to pass the minimum and make something of the mess in shop?

Shops phoned in to Mastercard, Visa and American Express for approval, a plodding painful where-do-you-look process; there was always the possibility of no and maybe I wasn't the only one holding my breath and hoping "let me pay for this, let me take it, hurry up, oh please." The chip is, no doubt, a distant cousin of that time.

Pierre Berge, the rock strong business partner of YSL, taught the rest of the designers (truth) to care about the brand, not to just sell to any shop for just more money but to do a no-punches-pulled tour of America to make sure all the claims about movie star customers and a fashion mix straight from designer heaven was true, that clothes should not end up in a discount shop such as Loehmans or Century21. They did it, growing money, licenses and movie-stardom in leaps, trying to become as successful as Calvin Klein.  Rumors \about money laundering, the Mafia, at Versace and other Italian houses. Who knew what was up. These houses sold more clothes raking in more profits than seemed feasible. Where were all these shoppers ponying up thousands for dresses coming from? There was New York, Los Angeles and Chicago apart from Hong Kong, Tokyo and European cities.

Money was at the heart of it. Here in Los Angeles, size four to eight could sell out while tens and twelves (were there fourteens?) languished even unto the sale racks.  7, 7 1/2 and 8 were the shoe sizes that would sell out but reluctantly you'd add fives, sixes, nines and tens. If the minimum was too high as it was at many houses, you could take a chance that the most extravagant evening clothes wouldn't be shipped, too difficult for the textile house to produce small quantities: minimums met and yet avoided.

Was. Was ok, was very good. A period called Then. Things that had no part of Then:

  • Faxes, cells, computers
  • Look books and videos/cd's/dvd's, youtube
  • Bloggeratti 
  • Designer websites
  • Flash sales sites
  • Online shopping ala (ok, there was no online)
  • Democracy in fashion and, umm, social media
  • Thank you ... yes, I know: a few buyers waited (ad nauseum) for thanks for your order pal
  • Special emissaries (huh?) for Chanel etc
  • Hotel suites for swag, just plain giving things away would have made anyone in fashion faint 
  • Red carpet free haute couture and payments, omg, for wearing "our" dress
  • Hundreds of billions of dollars to buy out your boutique to take it big time
  • Live fashion reporting (there was Elsa Klensch once a week and that was it)
  • Friendly returns (ok, we all took returns but you'd never know it from our clenched teeth)I

Is. Is is very good: social conscience and doors flung open. Fashion is barely produced in America; once it was a major industry. French fashion might have a made in Romania label, nothing would be sent in a taxi to a particular seamstress, as Karl Lagerfeld at Chloe had done.  Fast fashion has a cadre of designers waiting like wallflowers to collaborate things. talking about "masstige" and "why not." Red carpets unrolled (rolled out?) for press parties for reality tv people, fashion magazines and bloggers too.

Fashion shows are live streamed, sometimes with designer q&a's simultaneously, in a cloud to whatever you sign into, designer websites let you order from bypassing the shops that built the brands.

The front row continues with Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Carla Sozzana, and the lot of Vogue editors but squeezing closer to the middle will be and the Kardashian/Jenner clan.

Fashion uses interns: glamorous, brilliant, young, highly educated, energy content to sometimes be paid but mostly for the association.  Bryanboy, who may sweat glitter, wrote about this phenomenon and its true meaning in his post "Coffee Runners Are The Future Of Fashion Reporting."

Bloggers stormed open the doors of the sequestered, established world of fashion. The internet exploded, certainly one of the reasons that a recent IHT Luxury Conference revealed has become ingrained: the bother of shopping in a real store and dealing with the frustration of limited inventories whilst at the computer the entire world's stock is available with two clicks, along with the act of dealing with real people, not as easy as the forgiving websites have become.

Within the bloggeratti are rich rewards for the few: Marc Jacobs naming a handbag after Bryanboy to the photographic campaigns of Garance Dore to the reputed seven-figures Scott Schuman made for his book The Sartorialist which he just happened to launch at Bergdorf Goodman. Several are on the go-to list for opinions on collections, campaigns, magazine covers, models, the industry and are maturing as rapidly as they shot from behind a computer screen to stories in Vogue and the NYTimes. And then the Instagram stars, the SnapChat divas.

Blogging attracted journalists too: (Wendy Brandes and Sasha Wilkins of Liberty London Girl) and the masthead of W Magazine, InStyle and the assorted Vogues are overweight blogs by their own and guests.

Fashion can be immediate in a way that benefits the people who work within it. It is, after all, a business.

(Love Vanessa Friedman's post "Facebook, fashion and fantasy.")


  1. They say never bite the hand that feeds you. In this economy it seems people would be banding together. Its the little shops in my mind that introduce us to all the wonderful. Love this post

  2. Things are shifting, growth is online. The merchants, small and large, have more growth online and maybe because there's not a zip code online, specious things are being done to dilute the shops and their online business in the way of the silly excess of the '90's with mall growth and a Gap on every corner. It's not a fine way to do business and is changing, harming the business. Shame on the brands for allowing this dilution of integrity and that vague something fine they once struggled for.

    Leave the shops alone and make a better dress, sheesh.

  3. I love your perspective. "Dear designers, do not harm the shops that feed you. Love, Madeleine" -- so true. So much is going on that actually damages the industry in the long run. It's like a Greek tragedy with the seeds of one's own destruction visible right from the start.

  4. madeleine -- love this post. i mean, wow. powerful, always articulate, with a fashion history lesson to-boot ... plus, you've got a great, ironic banksy here as well.

    good gawd, you're good girl.


    post -- here's an article i did on a banksy-related theme for when you have some down time.

  5. Jg, loved your post and the connect the dots ...

    "if graffiti changed anything it would be illegal"

  6. Sandro from Paris opened in Bloomingdales and Bleeker street this week. They will also have a web site and I will order from there. I order from Net a porter, Jcrew and Anthropologie. I never walk in a store because for me the feeling of the store is lost, gone, it died when all the salespeople became bitches , they felt it was an honor for us, the shoppers to be there,and yes maybe they had 5 minutes to kill, but they had another more important costumer on the phone...And why didn't you wear your finest to walk in my store...? Should I really speak to you, do you have money, show me the credit cards...Now I am old ( by their account) so I don't exist...Do I feel sorry for the stores, no, they have bitten the hands that fed them too many times...beside I love my UPS man and my Fedex hunk. They love fashion too...

  7. I read this twice, so greatly did I admire your words and astute observation.

    Here in the UK, the dual rapier of out-of-town shopping and the internet has mortally wounded – what we colloquially and, indeed, affectionately, refer to as – the ‘high street’.

    According to a report published last week, nearly fifteen per cent of town centre shops are presently unoccupied – and this ruinous figure rises to more than 30% in smaller areas.

    The curse of changing times is upon us.

    Sarah x

  8. spirou, I wish I had a shop again, with pink washed walls and a rose garden and a few bad boys of the musical kind lurking, a luscious sofa and coffee, waters and wine (ok, and chocolates) along with edgy designers that cost the moon but have aching beauty and intrinsic value and if you looked fabulous in something several salesgirls would clap for you.

    once it was so.

  9. Sarah, it hurts that things have gone awry and that here in America one in six lives below the poverty level and fashion is discounted and demeaned and done with before it's shipped, copies no longer when the cheap store that has, one suspects, childish hands sewing pieces, and pays the actual designer to do a silly masstige of horrid quality that often, not always as Target as shown with Missoni, lands kaput on the get out of town rack.

    Alas. But creeping around the corner, we know it to be true, will come young angry raw talent to shake the banality (obsessed with that word alas) out and go somewhere fabulous we've never been.

    Out with the new and open the damn doors.

  10. Wow. Like Style Souk I have read this twice, it is an extraordinary piece of writing. The first time I read it was September 11th and I thought it best to come back and reflect upon the post another day. Today is that other day.

    There is so much I dislike and find distasteful about all of it, the sense of loss in what it has become is heightened because of the knowledge of what it was. I will remain optimistic that somewhere in the ongoing transformation the technology won't swallow the art, the craft, the special and unique.

    The flash sale sites are a sore spot to me, I suspect many of them are beginning to sell merchandise manufactured specifically for that purpose, that and their 'factory outlet' stores. I think there will be more of these

    Your mention of the "Special emissaries (huh?) for Chanel etc" is perfect, as it typifies what the industry has become, at least from my limited perspective.

    Thank you for sharing some of your perspective and insight, I simply remain blown away by the brilliance of the writing.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Powered by Blogger.