Ask Antwerpsex: Designers and Celebrities

In the last episode of the most recent season of The Fashion Fund, Anna Wintour mentioned something along the lines of designers having to take on a celebrity image in order for their brands to be sustainable. Do you believe it true that a designer must attain somewhat of a celebrity status in order for his/her brand to be successful in this day and age?

When I received this question (months ago, sorry!) the first name that came to mind was Maison Martin Margiela. It’s a clichéd and obvious example, of course, but the company’s mantra of collective contribution and anonymity has generated a unique form of cultural cool. Last month, after Suzy Menkes ‘outed’ Matthieu Blazy as the company’s lead designer, the Business of Fashion published an article, claiming that if designers learned how to harness the power of anonymity then the rewards could be huge. “In 2014, we’re living in a culture where anonymity has never been more potent, or more lucrative,” wrote Joe McShea and Lucian James. Jake Woolf at GQ, however, adopted an alternative view, stating: “With Maison Martin Margiela, we’re talking about a brand that is fully committed to the anonymous way of life, and not as a PR stunt.”

Tom Ford Grey Veviter. Ph: Terry Richardson.

Tom Ford Grey Vetiver ad campaign. Photo: Terry Richardson.

Woolf has the right idea: anonymity is impossible to fake, and there are very few people in the industry who have the time and patience to tolerate designers’ quirky marketing schemes. The industry moves too quickly for such a covert and organic strategy to take form. I think it worked for Maison Martin Margiela because the timing was right—fashion as an industry wasn’t so saturated. Only in the late 90s did it really begin to speed up, when Bernard Arnault instigated a retail renaissance that called for star designers, flashy boutiques, logo-heavy designs, and garish advertising. Margiela (among others) provided relief from the bombardment of imagery and the “cult of anonymity,” as writers now call it, began to flourish.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Photoshopped: Fall 2014

All the fall-winter 2014 campaigns have been released. Some are good, some are bad, some are insanely photoshopped, and others look like promotional posters for the hottest new nightclub in Manhattan. Here are my loves and loathes of the season.

I love…

love 2 steven klein

The master of austerity. Ph: Steven Klein for Alexander Wang.

love carven viviane sassen

The surrealist collage looks great. Ph: Viviane Sassen for Carven.

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Fashion 101: Fashion Brands Going Public

Last year Marc Jacobs ended his 16-year tenure as creative director of Louis Vuitton, with rumours that he and Robert Duffy would be taking the Marc Jacobs company public. This came as a surprise to me for two reasons. Firstly, Marc Jacobs is a well-established designer and could live comfortably without having to work another day in his life—he can afford to be complacent. Secondly, with LVMH owning 96 per cent of Marc Jacobs International and a revenue of almost $1 billion, according to LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, it appears that Marc Jacobs is making the kind of money that most designers could only dream of. So what does going public actually mean? And what are the opportunities and risks of putting a company on the stock exchange? I want to better understand the concept myself, so I’ve decided to turn it into a Fashion 101 post.

Marc Jacobs and longtime business partner, Robert Duffy.

Marc Jacobs and longtime business partner, Robert Duffy.

An initial public offering (IPO) is the first time that a private company, like Marc Jacobs, offers shares to the public. Private companies work with investment banks to sell shares on the stock exchange to the public at a set price, with the hope that prices go up over time.

Let’s use a hypothetical example: Fashion Brand X is a luxury womenswear label that is wildly popular for its coats and cashmere knits. Brand X has five stores, all in North America. The founders of Brand X want to expand their business by opening more stores, developing stronger marketing campaigns, and perhaps starting lines for fragrances, accessories and sunglasses. But they don’t have enough money to do this. Where can they get it? They can borrow money from the bank, but the interest rates terrify them and they don’t want to be in debt until they’re 90. What they can decide to do instead is sell shares in their business to raise the necessary funds.

Private companies do not sell directly to the public. They work with an investment bank, which has many contacts on Wall Street and knows how to get a high price for the shares. The bank will determine how much the company is worth before splitting up shares. It will then consult Brand X to decide what percentage of the company should be sold, how many shares should be offered, and how high (or low, as they don’t want to alienate potential investors) to set the prices.

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Love: ARCHIVE Store Melbourne

ARCHIVE, a concept store conceived by Lauren Urquhart and Maya Webb, is one of the most exciting new developments in Melbourne’s consignment culture. It is located on the fifth floor of the iconic Mitchell House, an art deco building whose quiet charm is buried in the gathering commotion of the city. We recently paid a visit to ARCHIVE and spoke to Urquhart about the inspiration behind the store, the mystic power of second-hand clothes, and how she plans to expand the business.

Photograph by Kristoffer Paulsen for Broadsheet Melbourne.

Photograph by Kristoffer Paulsen for Broadsheet Melbourne.

The entrance to Mitchell House is absent of any conspicuous signage. Once identified, on the Lonsdale Street side of the building, visitors must slowly approach the entrance and wait for the glass and oak doors to open into a compact room of jade and amber tiles. The colours take stunning solar patterns on the floor, and creep up to the arches above the elevator. Going up, the street noise disperses and your ears surrender to an unnerving, almost artificial silence. Visitors must get off on the fifth floor, turn right, and walk down the dim corridor to ARCHIVE.

There, Lauren Urquhart, wearing a tartan Comme des Garçons jacket, greets me: once, with wide eyes emboldened by gold Balenciaga frames; and a second time, with a laugh so loud and prolonged it seems to bounce off concrete. This is not the first time we are meeting, but she has such an infectious spirit that every time we see each other feels like the first time all over again.

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Is Christopher Bailey Worth It?

In fashion it is commonly said that a designer is only as good as their last collection, and that there is always someone, somewhere, willing to do a lot more for a lot less in return. Christopher Bailey, who became Creative Director of Burberry in 2001, and was named Chief Executive Officer last October, is single-handedly proving the cynics wrong. Despite the fact that 53 per cent of shareholders voted against the company’s latest remuneration report, Bailey, 43, is set to become one of the wealthiest creative directors in the fashion industry. His latest pay package, including salary and stock options, is valued at up to £27 million.

Christopher Bailey replaces former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, who joined technology giant Apple as senior vice president of retail and online stores. Cute picture, no?

Christopher Bailey replaces former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, who joined technology giant Apple as senior vice president of retail and online stores. Cute picture, no?

Christopher Bailey’s pay package includes a £1.1 million base salary, a £440,000 annual allowance for an undisclosed purpose, and a one-off, performance-based grant of 500,000 shares, which is worth approximately £7 million in today’s market. Bailey also received 350,000 shares in 2010, and an additional one million shares in 2013 when he became CEO of the company, worth a combined £19 million. “The message to Burberry is loud and clear: multimillion-pound pay packages are obscene, unnecessary and will damage the economy in the long-term,” said Deborah Hargreaves, director of the High Pay Centre. “If those at the top are seen to grab such vast rewards while wages stagnate for everybody else, it completely undermines public faith in business.” Burberry Chairman Sir John Peace, however, defended the company’s generosity, citing Christopher Bailey’s aggressive push to the digital realm, and successful hauling and restructuring of brand licenses, as some of the key drivers to Burberry’s success. Moreover, he admitted that there have been many competing job offers coming Bailey’s way, and that to lose a CEO and creative director in one fell swoop would have been disastrous.

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Quote: Anna Wintour’s Fashion Advice

Last month Dazed Digital published an article with a rather sensational headline: “Anna Wintour has some harsh fashion advice for fashion students.” I’ve received some questions from my friends and followers regarding this article, with requests to turn it into a post of some kind. Before opening the link, I was expecting to read an elitist and disdainful story by a woman who used her father’s connections (Charles Wintour, a wealthy newspaper editor in the UK) to propel herself into the publishing world. But I was surprised to find that, despite the headline, the advice that Anna Wintour offered was not particularly “harsh”; in fact, most of it was very rational and realistic, which, as editor-in-chief of American Vogue, isn’t exactly her forte. She seems to live in her own world most of the time.

Anna Wintour is finally starting to make sense to me.

Anna Wintour is finally starting to make sense to me.

I suppose the point of this blog post is not to illustrate how distanced she is from the struggles of common fashion folk, although that’s always a fun to do. Today I want to dig a little deeper and explore these quotes with a balanced mix of curiosity and cynicism. All of Anna Wintour’s quotes have been written in bold.

“I do think there is a tradition in England, that you can do anything with nothing…The only thing I worry a little bit about, going straight from school to starting your own business, is not that many succeed… I personally would advise you to think carefully before you start your own business, and consider possibly working for a designer or a company whose work you admire.”

There’s a lot to break down here. I think the most important myth to address is the one that anybody in England can come from modest beginnings and still achieve success, if their talent is great enough to sustain itself over ten years or more in a design studio. People who perpetuate this myth often cite Alexander McQueen and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey as examples (and they’re good ones!). However, as Alexander Fury from The Independent wrote, student debt is increasing, even for a bachelor’s degree. The path from student to designer isn’t as clear as it used to be, but all the great designers that are working today–Phoebe Philo, Raf Simons, Nicolas Ghesquiere, Marc Jacobs–all worked for other designers before they found their own fame. They didn’t just throw a party one night and called themselves designers, which seems to be the way that many celebrities think it works. If we could only figure out how to protect fashion interns from being exploited for their labour…

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Chanel Fall 2014 Couture

I usually hate the word “pretty” but there isn’t really any other word for what I saw here. It was white and pretty–elegantly so. There were a whopping 70 looks in this collection, but that I didn’t mind. There were also several of those rounded necklines that make it look like the models’ heads have been pushed through straws, but I didn’t mind that either. And of all 70 models, I counted only 7 or 8 models of colour. That still bothers me, of course, especially as a predominantly white collection (the colour of the fabric, I mean) would have looked even more incredible against darker skin tones. Regardless, the clothes looked great. Really, really great. The skirts were beautifully molded, the shoulders and sleeves were sculptured, but not severe; and even then everything was so light and airy. The only thing missing from some of these dresses is Daphne Guinness’s body.

I love…

love 12

A dress with embellished borders.

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