Gareth Pugh & J.Crew SS13
As you no doubt gathered from the million and one times I’ve mentioned it, the issue of creativity V commerce has been a hot topic in fashion circles of late. Admittedly I’m pretty new to the industry but I do get the impression that, not so long ago commerce was something of a dirty word for designers and journos alike. To call a collection ‘commercial’ would be to insult it. No self respecting Central Saint Martins graduate would want their creations referred to in tawdry terms lie that.
Looking back at the tradition of “visionaire” designers-slash-artistes and the age old struggle between “creatives and suits”, it’s easy to see why design ingenuity and business acumen aren’t necessarily viewed as going hand in hand. But, during the course of the two years I’ve spent studying Fashion History and Theory at the aforementioned arts school, I’ve learnt that in fact this is not, and never had been, the case. Contrary to what I previously believed, many of the great Haute Couturiers – especially those who’s legacy lives on today – owe their success as much to intelligent business and marketing practice as they do to their talent for design. Charles Frederick Worth has been hailed both as the father of modern fashion and, by many accounts, a marketing genius. Almost seventy years after it’s inception, Dior remains be one of the most prestigious and profitable fashion houses in the world, were it not for the aggressive expansion strategy insisted on by the young Monsieur Dior’s financial backer, Marcel Boussac would that still be the case? I doubt it. A combination of carefully executed licensing deals, sophisticated international marketing strategy and customer driven production enabled Monsieur Dior’s exquisite creations to transcend the elite world of Parisian Haute Couture and create a global brand. I won’t bore you by regurgitating more of my thesis research but trust me there are infinitely more examples besides.
It seems to me that innovative design and sound business practice have always been equally important ingredients in ensuring the success of a fashion brand. So why, somewhere down the line, did “commerce” get such a bad rep? I suspect the myth surrounding the design genius who creates whatever he fancies, irrespective of press, customers or production lines is to some degree just that. Couple said stereotype with the fact critics started using “commercial” as a byword for boring, and its easy to see how the confusion happened.
Mary Katrantzou SS13
Because of course, appreciating and understanding the commercial aspects of fashion doesn’t necessarily make for dull clothes. As everyone from Natalie Massenet to Victoria Beckham drummed home at Vogue Festival, that’s not the case today at all. UK designers in particular have traditionally been praised for creating fantastical collections that thrill the critics but pay little heed to what consumers want to, or in some cases can, actually wear. But in fact it seems to me that today’s Brit taught talent know full well that they need to be business minded and aware of everything from budgets and brand management to retail environments, social media and visual merchandising if they want to have any hope of surviving. Mary Katrantzou may concoct mesmerising tromp l’oiel masterpieces tantamount to wearable works of art. But she counterbalances those wondrous runway-to-red-carpet creations with mega hit separates and collaborations with Topshop and Current X Elliot, slowly but surely growing her label into a global fashion player. London’s Centre For Fashion Enterprise is entirely devoted to teaching the city’s newest design talent in the ways. With programmes ranging from “New Market Entry” to “Building Brand Equity” and alumni including Marios Schwab and Simone Rocha, it stands to reason that besides being undeniably talented, our up-and-coming sartorial stars are also spread sheet savvy.
In the end it’s not even about the clothes, it’s about the fact that designers can no longer afford to solely be creative and it appears that both they, and the industry is appreciating and emphasising this as never before. Ultimately I don’t think it matters whether you’re J.Crew or Gareth Pugh. It’s not about whether you’re creating plaid cigarette pants or rubber masks, it’s about running a fashion brand as a 21st century business and understanding everything that involves. Like so many of my recent posts, this isn’t a straightforward conclusion kinda thing (sorry!). I just find it very interesting that fashion forerunners ranging from Peter Pilotto to Alexandra Shulman are acknowledging the importance of commerce, and specifically designers embracing it, like never before. Given the financial
shit storm difficulties of the past few years, I reckon this bodes well for the future of fashion, especially here in London. But then I may well be talking total rubbish, what do you think?
Love Ella. X