Tag Archives: WWD

The Method Behind Our “No Technology” Madness

Last month, when I announced that Louis would be closing its doors for good in July, the response was overwhelming. So many well wishers, a handful naysayers, and two or three people who claimed they knew more about my business than I ever could. The assessment walked a fine line between critiquing me and promoting their own interests, but I found the comments interesting nonetheless.

One savvy blogger wrote that they knew Louis was closing because of our major “tech fail.” They stated that the barrier created between our customer and us once we moved from our trendy Newbury Street location to the rapidly developing Fan Pier could only be repaired if we took a cruise down Digital Drive. After a few more clever, yet uninformed sentiments were declared, the blogger asked, “…being such forward thinkers, why (did) LOUiS shun tech?”

Well, for those of you holding your breath…here’s why:

I’ve been reading a lot, in the Business of Fashion, WWD, etc. about the benefit or deficit of adding a multi-channel sales strategy to your business. And there are reasons why the benefit hasn’t been definitively defined and the deficit remains. A shining example is Gucci – a brand that has a global, multi-channel sales strategy that has compromised and weakened, and deteriorated the cachet of what Gucci once stood for.

It was recently announced that, Frida Giannini, the Creative Director for Gucci since 2005, would be stepping down. According to an article in The New York Times, the company claims that after Tom Ford, Ms. Giannini couldn’t maintain the “buzz,” and after 9 years would be leaving the brand. Did she lead the iconic fashion brand astray, or should the fact that “Luxury consumers, particularly in China, have turned away from Gucci’s signature logo-emblazoned goods in favor of subtler fashion statements” be telling them something.

Further into the article you get the sense that their parent company, and Kering’s chairman, François-Henri Pinault, recognizes that “Over the last five-seven years, there has been a great change in the world of luxury in terms of scale and growth, and we are facing the question of how to maintain exclusivity while continuing to grow.”

I would argue that you can’t. You can find Gucci everywhere these days, and when you can find a brand everywhere, it’s not exclusive and it’s simply not a luxury brand anymore.

As is expected, all successful industries spend a great deal of time and money listening to their consumer – and the consumer says that they want it fast, and they want it cheap. But when you give the consumer something fast and cheap, they are at the same time agreeing (willing or ignorantly) to give up a little (or a lot of) quality as well. Companies react to their customers to maximize what they want as quickly as possible, to the point where the consumer experiences fatigue, loses interest, and really doesn’t care for the brand anymore.

Perhaps this is what has happened to Gucci. And perhaps instead of talking about it, the company thought technology would fix it, but actually technology is breaking down the brand even further.

Let me ask you – why wouldn’t a person go into a Gucci store, find something they like, turn their back, pull out their smartphone, and find it online or at another retail location on sale?

People think that brands will be obsolete if they don’t incorporate technology into their model, and my argument is that technology or not, most brands will be obsolete anyway. You can sell out and expect people to pay full price when they know they don’t have to.

Another great example of “too much” is the GAP. After thriving for the better part of 40 years, they are now the perfect representation of how a perfectly good thing can go awry when you grow too much. They have become a sad example of brand that has to be so “across the board” they can’t get it back. It seems that every two years they promote something to the effect of “Too much fashion? Let’s go back to basics,” and two years after that they say “You’re too basic! Let’s get back to fashion.” They just let go of their creative director too, and they can blame whomever they want, but the bottom line is, how can you get it all right when you have so many categories to service?

I’ve heard from several people that the fashion at the popular brand J.Crew is beginning to lag now they too have so. many. stores. Perhaps it can be said that Mickey Drexler, former CEO of the GAP, current chairman and CEO of J.Crew, has become a victim of his own paradigm. He knows how to get these companies going, but burns them out by inventing too many ways and locations to sell them.

Once you get that big, you can’t cut things back, you just have to be that much more generic with what you do.

However, some brands have figured out how to beat the system and keep their sales intact. Stores like H&M, Uniqlo, Top Shop, and Zara have mastered the art of copying design trends, keeping production costs low, and establishing a quick turnover of a product that is unique to them. They control the ebb and flow and they are growing because of it.

There was a day when people didn’t want to buy something with a click. There was a day where people saved their money to purchase something of quality that they coveted. They were proud and they appreciated the accomplishment. Now, sadly, those days are all but gone.

And what of the actual products. It seems like no one talks about the products anymore, they only talk about the incidentals like: is a celebrity wearing the brand, and what was Kim Kardashian’s #OOTD today?

What ever happened to appreciation of craftsmanship? Don’t you want to know what it feels like? Don’t you want to try it on? Don’t you want a knowledgeable sales person to recommend what he or she knows will work with your body? Don’t you want to know that what works for Kim, isn’t going to work for you.

For me, the real problem with technology is that it is taking away the art of choice. Your smartphone or iPad or television tells you what you want, and you believe it. When you shop online, and therefore eliminate all of your senses while doing so, you end up with generic goods – but at a price. And as a result, brands are no longer pushing the envelope the way they used to. Generic is expected and brands are learning how to deliver it. That’s not a world I care to live in, and I certainly wouldn’t let LOUiS live there either.

Eventually consumers will realize what they gave up, understand that overall they weren’t really saving money, but instead were being lured into a world where corporate, crowd-sourced products are simply being reproduced again, and again, and again.

So, while some of you prefer to stay in and shop glued to your smartphones and tablets, other are excited to be out in the world honoring individuality, effort, and ingenuity. Some of us actually enjoy the art of exploration, and make a concerted effort to seek out the things that possess value and have longevity.

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Maison Ullens Sweater and Skirt, Jason Wu Blouse, Pierre Hardy Shoes

Meanwhile, in Paris…

Each season I board a plane to Paris and expect to find some inspiration when I land. I attend shows and visit showrooms; I talk to other businesswomen and men; I meet with designers and exchange ideas with magazine editors…all in an effort to find and bring new ideas and inspiration back to Boston.

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but as my trip came to a close last week and I found myself ready to come home, I realized that overall, I wasn’t so inspired.

Actually, I’m quite happy with what I bought while I was there, and I had no problem committing to the designers and ideas that I did, but I’m glad I went into it with a definitive point of view – because when people walk into the major department stores in spring, I don’t know if they’ll be able to find one. Sure, you’ll see the trends – but inspiration? I’m not so sure.

I really enjoyed what designers like Haider Ackermann, Jonathan Saunders, Victoria Beckham, and Roland Mouret had to say, but beyond that most everything else smelled quite unauthentic. It seemed the creative air was sucked out of the city in some odd way. Paris has always been about the artistry, but more and more it’s become about going “global,” and the art is getting lost.

I understand that the name of the game is the bottom line, but we can’t forget that ingenuity has paved the road to the bottom line for many incredible designers throughout the ages. There is no question that fashion is losing its edge and becoming too commercialized overall. Authenticity is becoming lost and not only is it affecting the subconscious behaviors of consumers, it’s taking an evident toll on the industry itself.

One of the last shows of Fashion Week was Chanel. Karl Lagarfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a Paris Boulevard and it seemed, a feminist protest. Models strutted together in a large group, shouting with and without megaphones, carrying posters to protest…I don’t know what, or more importantly perhaps, why. Was it a protest of fashion? Quite honestly it left me feeling confused, not inspired.

It seemed there was a sense of anti-fashion off of the runway as well. I couldn’t help but notice the fashion bloggers who are usually very well dressed were a bit more casual in Paris. I saw a lot of boy jeans and white shirts and man-style shoes, indicating that none of them wanted to fall into fashion? I got the sense that Tommy Ton didn’t know what or who to shoot because everyone was dressed so similarly. Nary a Christian Louboutin heel or Céline bag could be found. The tone was definitely toned down and it felt unsettling to me that people were holding back.

Other unsettling news came via WWD where I learned that New York would be adding five new 250k square foot department stores to the borough of Manhattan. Why? So they can sell everything on sale? So the conglomerates that own a great deal of the fashion space can continue to seek a dominant space in the market? At what price?

Quite often I feel like Vanessa Freidman, Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic of the New York Times, is one of the only other people who sees what I see, and is willing to talk about it. If you read her articles it’s clear she wants to know what the purpose is of fashion these days, and why the industry is behaving as it is. What’s going on and what’s it really all about? Do we need another paparazzi picture of Kim and Kanye arriving late to a fashion show?

Unfortunately, my need for authenticity and integrity wasn’t quite satiated this season. It seemed the designers wanted to say or demand something, but they didn’t quite know what it was – and it’s for this reason that the reaction of the industry to build more toward dominance seems quite counterproductive at this time.

My hope is that the industry starts to see and dismantle the hamster wheel they’ve built for consumers to build an appetite with, and instead find ways to encourage consumption that has some meaning behind it. Find a way to encourage originality and authenticity, and understand that people want to devour that even more.

Meanwhile…I’m walking around the city streets of Paris wearing pieces that I brought from Boston. Pieces from Louis, past and present – all mixed up but with a distinct point of view. People were stopping me, asking me how I put things together – finally something to talking about!

…and so I ask, do you really care where Kim and Kanye are today?

Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann

Jonathan Saunders

Jonathan Saunders

Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham

Roland Mouret

Roland Mouret

(all images: style.com)

Thomas Tait – He Belongs To The World Now

If you’re into design – and if you’re reading this I know that you are – you already know that Canadian-born, London-trained designer Thomas Tait won the Inaugural LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize yesterday.

What you may not know is that I literally searched for and found Thomas Tait when he was finishing his MA at Central Saint Martins in London way back in 2010. Shortly after he won the Dorchester Collection fashion prize that year I saw his work in an editorial spread in some British fashion publication. I sent my assistant on a wild chase, and of course she found him, and we met for the first time in his publicist’s office.

If memory serves, he had 10 pieces in his first collection, and in January of 2011 I placed my order for fall. After that we were the only store in the US to carry his line – for at least two seasons. Since that time, WWD is reporting that Tait has found a home in only 10 specialty stores…and that number still includes LOUiS!

When I reflect on what it was about Thomas that made me fall for his work, I know it was because he fulfilled my never-ending quest to find something new. I’m never interested in regurgitation, but I am always interested in innovation that moves fashion forward. And that is what he is doing! Also, I had done a lot of work with Jil Sander in the 90’s and Thomas’s minimalist approach and astute attention to the detail of his craft reminded me so much of her. If you’ve ever seen a piece from any of his collections you know that nothing he creates leaves the factory until the garment is absolutely perfect, inside and out. These are not qualities you can learn necessarily, they are qualities you are born with.

Yesterday, after hearing the news, I was thrilled to be able to send him a text message to congratulate him and let him know how proud I was of him and all that he has now accomplished. His endearing response of, “I can’t wait to tell you all about it,” left me feeling, well…special.

Then I got this text from an old friend I approached about investing in Thomas Tait years ago:

“I should have listened to you.”

That was all it said.

And this is where things become bittersweet for me because I know that Thomas Tait belongs to the world now. My hope is that the industry will do their job well and continue to elevate him, with respect, to exactly where he should be.

Of the 11 finalists in the LVMH New Designer competition, Louis carries 8 of them; so now there are 7 other designers, including Suno, Simon Porte Jacquemus, Tim Coppens, and Simone Rocha, yet to be discovered at 60 Northern Ave. Are you going to wait for LVMH to tell you how spectacular they are, or should you simply come and see so for yourself?

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