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The Fashion Critics that Still Matter

For many years, my dream job was to be a fashion journalist to review the shows. By reading the collections critiques and articles about the industry, I got a good part of my fashion culture and a great understanding of the business. However, as you know, things changed drastically in the last decade and the role of fashion journalism today is quite different, especially when shows are conceived more to get Insta-perfect images than perfect pieces for real life.

Nevertheless, if you work or want to work in fashion, reading what the top journalists are writing is still essential to develop a critical view. Here is the list of my favourites and where to find their articles (please, don’t just follow them on Instagram, right?)

Cathy Horyn: the former New York Times fashion critic and currently contributor of New York Magazine’s The Cut blog is famous for her direct and straightforward vision about a collection and for not going easy on her critique, which caused some notorious feuds with Giorgio Armani and Hedi Slimane.

Robin Givhan: thanks to her broad vision, always linking fashion to cultural issues, she received a Pulitzer Prize in 2006. With experiences at Vogue, Newsweek and The San Francisco Chronicle, she is The Washington Post fashion editor for more or less 10 years, on and off. The style analysis of political figures, such as Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, under a social-economic prism, only reinforces her prestige.

Tim Blanks: if you are old enough to remember the Canadian show Fashion File, you know how Tim is a walking encyclopaedia! And what to say about the Throwback Thursdays videos on Style.com remembering iconic 90s moments? At the extinct site or as Business of Fashion editor, his critiques can be subtly straightforward and embedded with references that range from fashion history to pop culture.

Vanessa Friedman: Cathy Horyn’s replacement on NY Times has worked for The Financial Times, Elle, InStyle and The Economist, which means that her vision aggregate economic aspects and the pragmatism of editing a contemporary wardrobe for women. For this reason, the articles are easy to read but present constant reflexions about the industry trends.

Sarah Mower: the English journalist is American Vogue contributor for years and fashion critic on its website since the days of Style.com. Even with the magazine’s “neutral” voice, Sarah is able to send a message with a delicate and intelligent approach. Her work for the British Fashion Council, as ambassador for NEWGEN, the project for up-and-coming designers, only adds to her views of the business.

Bridget Foley: she is one of the most low profile figures, holding a position at WWD for over 30 years. Her critiques are direct and inquisitive and the “Bridget Foley’s Diary” is a constant invitation to reflect on the current industry moods.

Suzy Menkes: obviously, she is a living legend, famous for her hair do and for the speed to write her eagerly awaited critiques. Even with an old school approach and fierce opinions about the industry compass and the pressure on designers, the former editor of The International Herald Tribune (now International New York Times) and current International Vogue editor, with articles published in the online editions, was among the first to embrace social media and new technologies, discussing them on her annual summit about luxury.

Alexander Fury: The Independent fashion editor is the voice of a new generation and is already recognized for his honest, even controversial opinions. With encyclopaedic references and a rather ironic tone, the articles (he also writes for other publications) are as informative as questioning.

Want to Try: Probiotic Skincare

If you are into healthy eating must probably have heard about the importance of probiotics, the good bacteria found in yoghurts and other fermented foods, like kombucha and kefir. There is scientific evidence that they help our digestion and even boost immunity. Now, research points out to probiotics being powerful ingredients in skincare!

Even though there is no proven results yes, some studies show that common skin problems such as acne, rosacea and eczema may be softened and aging signs reverted, as they act on skin PH, avoiding collagen and elastin breakdown. The cosmetics industry has already jumped into the bandwagon and launched versions of Danone’s Activia to the skin. A few brands went further and created their USPs around probiotics. Aurelia, Tula and Gallinée are good examples:

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare is an English company, founded in 2013 by Claire Vero, a dermatology expert with experience in very well-known pharmaceutical labs. The products are a mix of probiotics and botanic formulas and claim to reduce inflammation thus, the aging process.

Tula is an American brand created by gastroenterologist Roshini Raj. The name means balance in Sanskrit and the target is to nourish skin with the same ingredients that help our digestion.

Gallinée goes beyond probiotics, combining them with prebiotics (boost the growth of the former) and lactic acid (naturally produced by some of our good bacteria). Founded by French Doctor in Pharmacy Marie Drago, with funding from Kickstarter, the products aim to balance the skin PH and its microbiome, i.e., the bacteria that live around us.

With so many potential benefits, all I want is to try them as soon as possible!

Wish list

probiotics-clinique

Clinique Redness Solutions Daily Relief Cream

probiotics-aurelia

Aurelia Revitalise & Glow Serum 

probiotics-tula

Tula Purifying Face Cleanser

Gallinee_face_cream

Gallinée La Culture Hydrating Face Cream 

How Chanel 2.55 Bag Inspired a Trend

When Chanel created the iconic 2.55 bag, all she wanted was to free a woman’s hand from holding clutches. The rectangular, quilted model, with gold chain straps turned into a classic. However, along the tweed tailleur, for decades it was associated with rich and elegant ladies who lunch and even though it was very chic, wasn’t exactly cool. Then, in 2005, when it celebrated 50 years and during the it bag fever, Karl Lagerfeld decided that was time to revamp the 2.55 and make it coveted by grandmothers and granddaughters. With marketing campaigns and it girls holding them, it didn’t take long until the bag became as desired as a Birkin or a Kelly.

Ironically, not only Chanel relies on the model to be a best-seller. Many luxury brands got “inspired” and developed bags with gold chain straps and locks (most with the brand logo), rectangular shapes and frontal flap. In a quick search, I found quite a few 2.55 alike, from Gucci to Saint Laurent, from Stella McCartney and Mulberry to Proenza Schouler.

Do you think any of them overcomes the original?

From left to right: Valentino Lock medium, Stella McCartney Falabella shoulder bag, Saint Laurent Monogramme, Proenza Schouler  PS small, Mulberry Lily, Lanvin Jiji small,  Gucci Icon, Chloé Drew, Chanel 2.55 and Coco with the original bag.

Who’s Who: Kevyn Aucoin

You may have heard or tried one of the products that carries his name, but did you know that Kevyn Aucoin is one of the most celebrated makeup artists of all time? His life story could be a Hollywood movie: small town boy from Louisiana goes to New York to try a career in the beauty industry. Even with little experience doing make-up, his talent is so outstanding that in a matter of months he becomes one of Steven Meisel’s protégés. Moreover, the legendary photographer Irving Penn requests him in many shootings for Vogue. Another successful American dream! Kevyn was also the favourite of Tina Turner, Liza Minelli, Cher, Janet Jackson and all the supermodels of the 1980s and 90s. Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Julia Roberts, Barbra Streissand, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington… The “fan & friends” list goes on and on. Worth noting is the fact that he liked to have them lay down, with a pillow to support the head whilst he was doing the makeup, preferably with some relaxing music from his playlist.

As Nicole Kidman said, Kevyn’s makeup was magical. Just take a look at the pictures above, of celebs turned into iconic stars. They are part of “Making Faces” and “Face Forward”, (his first book was “The Art of Makeup and he also has a bio: Kevyn Aucoin: A Beautiful Life”). Unfortunately, Kevyn left us way too soon (in 2002, age 40, after an accidental overdose of painkillers to relieve the pain from a rare disease) but his influence is still strong. He defined the natural look of the 90s with a line of nude products for Ultima II, in 1988. His namesake line arrived in 2001 and is a total cult, with best sellers like the Sculpting and Celestial Powders, to contour and highlight (available in the UK at Space NK and Cult Beauty, among others). They may not have the power to transform you as Kevyn did, but it’s a start…

Note: if you still can’t figure out who is who, here are the answers: Kate Moss channelling the Biba look, Isabella Rossellini as Sophia Loren, Julianne Moore as Twiggy, Christy Turlington as Marisa Berenson, Julia Roberts as Julie Christie, Winona Ryder as Elizabeth Taylor in “Cat in a Hot Tin Roof” and Gwyneth Paltrow as Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie & Clyde”. 

Pleasure to Meet: Fresh

The first product from Fresh  that I tried was the Sugar Lip Treatment, that I got as a sample at Sephora and immediately fell in love with. I hate the feeling of dry lips and have tested tons of lip balms but  this really stood out as the moisture effect lasts for hours! The tinted versions are perfect to replace lipstick or gloss (mine is Rosé).

Then, I bought the Seaberry Restorative Body Cream and was also love at first sight, I mean, application! The lotion has omegas 3,6,7 and 9, some antioxidants and is easily absorbed. So now Fresh is one of my favourite prestige brands and my wish list just grows…

If you don’t know it yet, the company, part of LVMH, was founded 22 years ago in Boston by Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg, who just wanted to create a line of artisanal soaps (the best-seller Oval Soap Collection). Because they were very curious and interested in testing natural ingredients, one thing led to another and soon ranges made with sugar, soy, milk and rice were available.

All of them are hits and keep the brand philosophy of promoting sensorial experiences that are both indulgent and efficient. One of the best examples is the Crème Ancienne, a formula inspired in the first certified lotion to renew the skin, used in the 2nd Century by physician and emperor Marcus Aurelius. Lev and Aline went all the way to the Czech Republic and searched in monasteries to find the right ingredient list. Can you see why the products are real indulgences?

In the US, Fresh has its own stores in cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Las Vegas and is available at Sephora, Barneys and Neiman Marcus. Here in London, there are shops in Marylebone, Covent Garden and inside Harrods, besides the e-commerce. Check it out: www.fresh.com/UK

Wish list

fresh-sugarose
Sugar Rose Lip Treatment SPF 15

fresh-brownsugar
Brown Sugar Body Polish

fresh-seaberry
– Seaberry Restorative Body Cream

fresh-lotus
Lotus Youth Preserve Face Cream

fresh-elixir
Elixir Ancien

fresh-umbrianclay
Umbrian Clay Mattifying Skincare Set

Vintage Time: Sun In

Sun-In was one of these products that you asked every friend or relative that travelled to the US back in the 80s or early 90s to bring. The spray gave a sun-kissed look to the hair without the need of staying in the beach for hours (and frying your skin). I was 11 or 12 when my mother brought it from a trip to Orlando. You needed to spray it sparingly and then blow dry, so the heat would activate the bleaching effect.

I never cared to learn what was in the formula, but researching for the post, found out the obvious: it’s peroxide. This means that it contained a recipe to damage your hair after a while… Anyway, who cares about that when you are a tween?

I really thought that Sun In was resting in peace along with other 80s fads (that dirty blonde and bad perm look…) since there are so many modern techniques to lighten your colour. Surprise! It is still available and you can purchase at Amazon, now with improved formulas, containing lemon extract and nourishing oils. But I’m sure the fun factor is hidden somewhere in 1990!

How to Create a Brand? Step 3 – The Business Plan

Many people cringe at the simple mention of a Business Plan, thinking it is one of the most complicated things to do. It’s not! Besides directing your company towards its goals, it is essential to have one when you go after loans or investors. To make things easier, let’s talk it through:

A typical business plan has:

  • Executive summary: key information about the brand, the products, the market and how you plan to make it profitable (sometimes the amount of investment desired can also be here).
  • Description of the product or service: what is the brand, why it was created (you can include mission, vision, values), what are the products/services and what gap/opportunity they are addressing.
  • Management team: who is going to be on board with you? Maybe in the beginning, to reduce costs, you may outsource personnel but try to have people with complementary skills close to you (i.e. a financial consultant if you can’t do accountancy at all). List everyone, regardless of being full time employees or not, as you’ll need to justify these costs later on.
  • Market and competition: how is the current market in your segment (worth doing a wide research, backed by statistics) and who are your main competitors (if you think there aren’t any, re-evaluate the whole endeavour!). Go deep and analyse what they are doing right and wrong and improve your competitive advantage.
  • Marketing and sales: what is the marketing plan and the sales channels? How do you intend to use different media and where your client will be able to purchase a product? Using the 7P’s of Marketing Mix can be helpful here.
  • Business system and organisation: how the business is structured, what are the sources of revenue and how the activities are organised? Also, what are the resources (physical and intellectual) you’ll need? It’s important to have a clear vision even when you are working in a studio, by yourself, most of the time. This shows understanding and perspective of your objectives.
  • Opportunities and risks: both are critical to the venture success. Identifying an opportunity is a big step to differentiate the brand but knowing the risks will prepare you to better deal with them.
  • Financial planning: this is the key part, where all the projections of cash flow, profit & loss account and forecast of sales are gathered. Don’t hesitate in seeking professional help to do it, since it’s the most sought-after element of a BP.
  • Appendix: if you have research that assures a gap in the market or any other material that evidences that you are on the right path, attach here.

With the Business Plan in hands, if you are looking for investment, it’s time to prepare your case.  Ensure that the amount you are seeking is satisfactory for the business to run for a while (usually one year, at least). Since this is a serious and thoughtful process, again, look for external help if needed. Once the math is done, decide what kind of investment is the most suitable:

  1. Strategic investors: equity investors, business angels or venture capitalists
  2. Debt financiers: banks, loan schemes and insurance schemes

Traditionally, fashion is not a field that strategic investors are willing to put their money up front, but if you are stepping into wearable techs or any other technology related field (apps, augmented reality, e-commerce) you may get their attention faster. As I said before, innovation is key and the market is longing for it. As you sort out the path to grow your business, prepare all the documents, make a confident presentation and schedule a pitch! Good luck!

Online resources

Business strategy and financial consultancies

Good Bye, Vogue

Once upon a time, there was a girl that loved fashion magazines, particularly American Vogue. To find out who was on the cover, to flip the pages, to admire Grace Coddington’s editorials, to read about designers of the moment and to check the new campaigns from beloved brands was a pleasure and also a way to elevate her fashion culture. She saw models been replaced by celebrities, swapped paper for tablet and followed Vogue in its digital expansion. However, one day, when the time to renew her subscription arrived, she realized that the pleasure had turned into a habit and there weren’t any reasons to keep it. After years watching the same celebrities with little or nothing to say on the covers, superficial topics and embarrassing trials to increase an online presence (how hard it may be to edit the top 10 beauty Instagrams of the week???), she knew it was time to say goodbye and ended a relationship of almost 20 years.

The problem is that like her, thousands of readers are also bidding farewell to fashion magazines. Meanwhile, the younger generation couldn’t care less about them as they grew up accessing content via blogs and social media. That means the fate of magazines has been traced? The possibility exists, just don’t blame the internet but the way they are interacting with the public.

As a start, the Vogues, Elles and Bazaars lost their authority and power to influence fashion. They gave up being leaders and turned into followers thanks to pathetic attempts of talking with a “deaf” audience. Instead of captivating the ones who grew up reading them, they insist on competing with bloggers/vloggers or put Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid in every issue. The average age of a Vogue reader is 38 years old, as I’m almost there I can speak with propriety that “social influencers” don’t inspire me to buy a magazine. I’m positive that a lot of people agree. Nothing against them, but to know about their lives, I just need to follow on Instagram.

Magazines are missing the chance to reinvent themselves, to be a more analytical vehicle, with a more in-depth content. Instead of exploring new ways to communicate, they let instant demands rule and keep trying an approach that simply can’t match an image projected for decades. The result is unwilling, artificial and irrelevant.  When was the last time that a Vogue cover made headlines? When Kim Kardashian was on it? What was the impact for the industry? None.

I really believe that fashion magazines were created to sell dreams, to plot purposefully unreal images that inspire creativity and, yes, consumption in an indirect way.  The distance between the publication and the reader is part of the game. On the other hand, the internet (blogs, vlogs, social media) suggests the opposite: it is the space to fast interaction and direct consumption (literally, a product is only a few clicks away). They don’t need to be exclusive, quite the contrary, and may complement each other – as long as they manage their domains, which unfortunately is not happening in Anna Wintour’s office…

Open Letter to Miuccia Prada

 

Dear Miuccia,

I would like to start this letter by saying that you are one of the reasons I have a career in fashion. I was a teenager back in the 1990s, when a new world was revealed through the pages of Vogue – and Prada was one the central characters. That vintage-quirky-intellectual look from the mid-decade collections swept me over my feet in a time when fashion wasn’t an “in your face” entertainment thing as today. Year after year, I eagerly waited for a new show (by that time on Style.com) to check how you were going to turn the fashion compass upside down once again. The colour combination, the shapes, the textures, the smart details – be a brooch, a fur stole, the heel of a shoe, a new way to carry a bag… Miuccia, you’ve rocked my world!

Nevertheless, as years gone by and your creativity kept surprising the fashion industry, the business went through not so optimistic times. Yes, I understand how difficult it is to manage a global brand, the pressure of being a public traded company, the demand for expansion and so on. Bags, shoes, perfumes must be sold. Tons of them! Suddenly, I see those bags almost everywhere and they started to become less covetable. In malls in the US, here in the UK and even in my native Brazil, I see Prada all over the place. It’s not so exclusive, it’s not so cool anymore. It’s just… ubiquitous, obvious, predictable. Three adjectives that are quite the opposite of what the label stands for, which deeply saddens me.

So, Miuccia, how to get those super cool years back on track? You are a Creator, don’t compromise on your views, don’t try to follow others. I’d love to see a better mix of clothes and accessories and the arts influence being used in a subversive way to mesmerize your consumer once again. I know that the biggest challenge for a luxury brand today is to expand without losing the aura of rarity. That’s a tough one.

Somehow, we became used to the ubiquity of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and many others but Prada, no. Do you really need so many stores? Why not invest more in epicentres and limit other points of sales? And let’s talk about the elephant in the room: digital. I know that you don’t like it and that the brand presence on social media is feeble, almost embarrassing. All I can say is that a company so embedded in art and disruption could do a lot better than posting about celebrities wearing Prada or product close ups. The same goes to the website and e-commerce. Although the site has improved its layout and the virtual store has a reasonable selection of products, we know it’s not enough and the experience is disappointing. I agree that the films are awesome, but are they creating real impact? Sorry for the honesty.

Maybe the design and marketing teams could work more aligned to ensure a better communication of the brand image, which is sadly not happening. Miuccia, I know that things are not easy and that you probably have tons of Excel tables on your desk pointing to financial goals to be achieved. It sucks. Ignore them and focus on what really matters: your designs.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that even the best products need to be marketed in a proper way to show how incredible they are. I’m looking forward to see all your out of the box concepts being applied to solve these management issues inside the brand.

By the way, autumn/winter 2016 show was exceptional!

Kind regards,
Mirela

How to Create a Brand? Step 1 – The Basics

Today we start a series of posts about the step by step to create a fashion brand. From the business model to marketing strategy, business planning to sales channels and funding, everything you must know before placing your first fabric order will be here!

So, you have decided to create a brand. It may be a childhood dream, an idea that you have nurtured for a while or an opportunity to address a gap in the market. The most important thing is to be very confident about your decision and prepared to enter into one of the most competitive sectors out there. Keep in mind that Tom Ford has said that even Hollywood is easier to navigate than fashion. And he is one of the most powerful designers in the world! Don’t be fooled by the glamour, the parties or the shows. But you probably already know that. Let’s cut to the chase:

Experience: having previous experience in the market is very important. First, because you will better understand how things work out in the real world and because you have the chance to meet many suppliers, from different areas and their contacts will be precious. Of course, there are successful cases of designers that launched labels just after graduation but they are getting rarer. Still in doubt? Read these arguments.

Business vs. Creativity: by now you are aware that a brand goes way beyond designing beautiful products and owning one means dealing with spreadsheets, deliveries, payments, accountancy, orders… It’s imperative to be prepared to handle the business side or have someone to do that. It can be a partner, a manager or a financial consultant. Even if you are willing to do by yourself, get some help. Your creativity will thank you later.

Investment: you need capital not only to start the business but also to run it for a while. It may come from your own savings, family/friends, bank loans or from investment companies. Nevertheless, carefully calculate how much you need to set up and keep the brand for at least one year. Most businesses don’t pass the second year because they can’t secure cash flow, so, avoid this trap.  Consider delaying the launching until you acquire the minimum amount.

USP (Unique Selling Proposition): why do you want to create a brand and what will make it unique? These are hard questions but the most important answers to focus on. Fashion is an oversaturated sector but there are opportunities to explore. Do research specific segments; learn more about innovation and how technology can be applied in the industry. Everyone is talking about “disruptive” models and the expression may be turning into a cliché, nevertheless it’s what the market needs to impress the consumers.

If you are still in doubt about how to run a business, look for consultancy, mentorship, workshops and every source of professional information that may be useful. Here are some of them:

  • Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE): London’s pioneering fashion business incubator is part of UAL (= Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion) and supports entrepreneurs in the UK and abroad with a diverse range of programmes. J.W Anderson, Mary Katrantzou, Marques’Almeida and Peter Pilotto are few of the alumni. (Note: I have worked there and truly recommend it!)
  • British Fashion Council (BFC): the organisation supports designers in different ways, with programmes focused on specific sectors (womenswear, menswear, millinery, jewellery, accessories, etc.) and also helps emerging brands via the London Showrooms and the London Fashion Showcasing Fund.
  • UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT): it works as a network that brings together designers, manufactures, retailers and agents to promote business across the country and overseas. Members can get business advice and guidance to expand sales channels, among other services.

Next week the subjects are sourcing, production and retail channels. Stay tuned!