Chic of it
|Fashion expert Caroline Kennedy reviews a new book on branding from Armani to Zara|
It was The Devil Wears Prada, the hit book and movie based closely on Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, amusingly illustrated the power of the style police to instil sheer terror in the uninitiated. Allegedly this top fashion glossy can single-handedly make or break a fashion label and so is equally worshipped and feared.
In Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara (second edition), the author and journalist Mark Tungate cleverly un-picks the seemingly glamorous world of fashion and in the process demystifies the business.
Tungate does by dissecting the big global fashion brands by provenance and then by placing their design and marketing under the microcope. The book shines light on the key global players, from big name designers to ad agencies and fashion magazines, from fashion photographers to star models, from store architects to window dressers, from celebrity-backed labels to anonymous trend spotters.
It is entertaining reading for anyone with a passing interest in fashion, business or consumer marketing. The fashion industry is a big, serious business, worth more than a trillion dollars a year and yet it often escapes serious scrutiny in the Irish media.
Tungate, a journalist with a keen interest in marketing, admits to being a fashion outsider, “an interloper”, and it is this detached observation that allows him take a candid look at the once exclusive world, oft oxygenated by snobbery and hubris.
Fashion Brands starts with a succinct account of the history of fashion, originating in Paris at the end of the 19th century in the salon of Charles Worth. The book swiftly moves through the decades giving potted histories of the once exclusive international labels, ultimately arriving at the point where fashion has been popularised.
It appears modern consumerism has shrunk the gap between haute couture and the high street, its Karl Lagerfeld meets H&M. Yet this is less a history of household fashion labels and more an analysis of how brands originate, behave and market themselves to their customers. First hand accounts from players such as Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood or Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel, are enlightening and certainly make fashion marketing appear more glamorous than selling margarine.
From a current perspective, the book sheds light on how the big brands like Zara, Penneys, Top Shop and H&M have become successes, all able to transform catwalk collections into new season collections. ‘Minted and Skinted' and ‘How to get the Look' are all now permanent features in the glossies, powered by low cost labels.
News too for many will be of the main global players who own many brands. It is unlikely many Brown Thomas shoppers know that Gucci owns Alexander McQueen, YSL, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Boucheron. Besides Louis Vuitton, LVMH owns Marc Jacobs, Celine, Kenzo, Givenchy, Thomas Pink and Pucci.
Understandably, the recent phenomenon of ‘celebrity culture' fuelled by reality TV and magazines such as Hello!, gets an outing in the book. Celebrity is now a big driver of the fashion industry as, put simply, celebrity sells.
Every teen hanging out in the Dundrum Centre knows how to dress like Kate. Every fashionista knows what Posh was wearing on her arm last week. They know Sienna's cool style and label and just about everyone knows Kylie ‘does' lingerie. Pop stars and actresses become designers overnight. It all makes perfect business sense.
Interestingly, Tungate admits that in the course of researching his book he bounced from cynicism to admiration as he progressed and so refreshingly he dares to say what many would not. For example, he points out that it was only after Coco Chanel died did the company launched Chanel jewellery, ‘in her spirit', despite the fact that Coco had no liking for jewellery. Invented in the 1970's, stylists, Turngate points out, are “the benign dictators of dress”, a profession only invented in the Seventies.
The fashion industry is often seen as being dominated by women and gay men; after all, men don't buy fashion, they buy clothes and not necessarily every season. Interestingly, sales too reflect their weaker interest and in the UK menswear accounts for just 48 per cent of women's wear sales. So there is the gap – how to effectively market to men who are notoriously fashion resistant.
In truth, there is just one weakness in this book which Tungate himself acknowledges. There is much focus on European brands and not enough on US labels such as Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Michael Kors or any of the sports brands such as Nike.
Alannah Weston, creative director of Selfridges, once said: “You can't market a bad product!” The labels that succeed are those with design integrity and marketing talent, whose overriding interest is to please the customer at a price they can afford. Simple.
Caroline Kennedy (email@example.com) is a director of Kennedy PR
Guests watch models showing off Joanne Hayes designs on the catwalk at Motorola Dublin Fashion Week. Kate Moss influences lots of teenagers in what they wear. Kylie Minogue and Elle Macpherson are synonymous with lingerie.