Thursday, February 28, 2013

"He Sinned Against His Talent"

The quote that is the title of this post comes from Jack Rollins who was a good friend of the late Lenny Bruce. Bruce who was a groundbreaking, risk taking comedian died of a morphine overdose at the age of 40. The line was Rollins' response to Tony Bennett when Bennett was attempting to commiserate with Rollins about Bruce's tragic death. The lesson is that the tragedy in such a situation is the waste of the gift that has been given to a young person. A young person who if they had been able, should have had the world on a string. In my short time in the fashion industry I have seen many sins against talent. Designers who were given a gift that people would kill to have and who because of ego, insecurity, and a lack of gratitude are pissing away the one thing that could give them not only a great life but the opportunity to help others through jobs, charity, and adding beauty to the world. I've seen it wasted on designing to make money where a designer's creativity & bravery are eroded away by chasing cash. They sin by becoming ordinary. They sin by not making their creations wearable by every day people. They sin by half assing their careers spending more time at the bar than they do at the cutting table. There are two gifts that a fashion designer receives.  The first is the gift of extraordinary imagination, an uncommon creative vision. The second is the gift of execution, the ability to bring to life what they see in their head. Either gift alone is extraordinary, together they are priceless. If you have them and you put every single drop of blood, sweat, and tears into making them the basis of your life, you will be rewarded I promise. It will not be easy, in fact it will be painful and gut wrenching but if you persevere you will end up fulfilled and with a beautiful life. If you don't, if you aren't, you are sinning, you are being selfish, you are wasting your time, and ours. Get out of the way for the next person who is grateful that they have what you have and will try to live up to such an extraordinary blessing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dear Metropolitan Museum of Art, How to get the Punk Fashion exhibit right

After a recent brief exchange with Elle Fashion Editor at Large Lori Goldstein I finally admitted that I had to come to terms with my fears about the up coming "Punk" fashion exhibit at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The spring 2013 exhibition organized by The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is called, PUNK: Chaos to Couture. The exhibition, which runs from May 9 through August 14, 2013 will, "examine punk’s impact on high fashion from the movement’s birth in the 1970s through its continuing influence today.

To read the description of the approach to, and execution of the exhibit it sounds as if they might get at least some of it right. There seems to be a solid understanding of the DIY core of Punk fashion. The exhibit wisely has chosen to focus on both the fashion forged from the feelings that drive the Punk movement and the designers that have been "inspired" by those styles then and now. Now it goes without saying that not a single person who is involved with the exhibit is a Punk, was a Punk, listens to any Punk, or most importantly has ever been poor and hungry for one day in their whole life. This is the core of the disconnect and a source of a divide that I don't know can be overcome. Fashion is about rich people and Punk is about poor people. Punk is, (I do not say was because although dormant I believe the spirit of punk is about to make a huge comeback and contribution), about raw unedited expression that is neither informed nor deterred by convention or conventional thinking. It is very much an anti-everything as it is philosophy. If the best reason a culture could come up with is, "It's just not how it's done", then it's what Punk does. As Joe Strummer once explained, "Punk rock is meant to be our freedom. We're meant to be able to do what we want to do."

The other cornerstone of Punk and one I dearly loved was it's fist raising, and sometimes using, top of the lungs screaming that things are not okay. There are many accepted pillars of the way we conduct ourselves and teach our children that are wrong and we know they're wrong because they keep biting us in the ass. Punk was at it's best the confrontational addictions counselor who has that magical ability to call you on your crap in a way that you can't deny that it's crap. To me it is proof positive that society must always have a robust and vocal fringe that simply isn't interested in attaining status and the trophies that go along with it but would rather devote blood & sweat to pointing out how damaging the pursuit of that is. That brings me back to fashion as it exists today and the fact that the industry is about to "honor" the influence of Punk with the Met exhibit. One of the root causes with all that is ugly about fashion today is that money and connections rather than talent and vision is what gets the industry behind a designer today. If the CFDA and the powers that be really want to celebrate Punk what they will do is give several hundred thousand dollars to two or three designers who have shown enormous talent and the ability to stay in business for a few seasons despite the fact they have no money. That would be a very Punk thing to do. In a way though the Met is perhaps the perfect place to talk about Punk fashion because even though it is an institution that represents and is infected with wealth, status, and elitist power it only has a "recommended" admission price, which is also a very Punk thing to do.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What are the rules of fashion design?

Some would argue that the question should be, "Are there rules to fashion design?" but the concrete presence of one inarguable rule powerfully suggests the likelihood of others. That one rule is, "If you don't sell your designs you won't have the money to make more." It doesn't matter what the press says, it doesn't matter what the industry says, it only matters what your potential customer says. Yes, or no. That has to always be your guiding principle if you want your primary income to be from your own designs. Relax, there's a lot more freedom hidden in that stone statement than there first seems. The good news is that the solution lies in your art itself. It's your understanding of one vital fact about your designs that will propel you forward. Let's delve into the role of the principle of, "good design" in sales. The first thing I suggest to fashion designers is to replace the word "good" with the word "effective". An "effective design" is one that pleases your customer enough to not only buy it but to keep them coming back season after season to see what you're up to. If you have that you have a business, if you lose it you're done. Effective design as defined by your customer is what you need to learn. I'm not telling you you need to turn into a non-artistic service robot, but if you don't completely understand why your customer buys you you're going nowhere.

Once you have Rule #1 carved into your brain you will start seeing Rule #2: It's what I have in common with my customer that makes them buy me over others. What's important to understand about Rule #2 is how much subconscious communicating you do when you design
. Almost every designer I know has had only around two to three years to catch on to who their customer is and why they buy. That razor sharp truth has been true for some people who had pretty deep pockets as well as those who only had lint in theirs. The critical thing to grasp is that there are many other people who are attracted to the same forms and fabrics you are. There are a substantial but finite number of visual elements that humans find pleasing, thus there are shared elements in effective forms of artistic expression. Not all people find all visual elements attractive. To some Rei Kawakubo's play with shapes is powerful art while to others it is silly and grotesque. But she sells her work and that is the only thing that matters. Enough people share in what interests and attracts her for her to have a career. Her fashion designs can then be defined as effective. Effective artists create work that resonates with many people. They express ideas and feelings in ways that many find pleasing. It's shared aspects and the values that they signify to your customer that create the viable market for your designs. The key then is to discover the common elements that you & your customer find attractive and pleasing, as well as what values your brand embodies that they believe in. Go forth and figure it out.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Reflections on Fall '13

This is not about what I observed this NYFW in clothing & accessories. It's about what I observed in design, branding, marketing, and business. Put simply this is what I learned from Fall 2013-14 NYFW.

The general fashion press is so young that they don't know enough to write intelligent reviews. This is a phase, there are many talented and passionate fashion writers out there and I am confident as they learn more about fashion history, fabric, and techniques, they will be able to tell chicken salad from chicken "    " but right now too many of them can't. Please understand I'm not talking about whether they like something or not or even their taste level. I'm strictly speaking on their understanding of the history of fashion and the actual work that designers do. The level of commentary and review is just simply not very educated right now.

Too many emerging brands don't consider market position when they design and present. This one's tricky because in general I've been very publicly opposed to designers letting the market influence their creative process. There are two practical exceptions though, one is wearability and the other is understanding the established designers who you are competing against in your aesthetic. There are a limited number of, "types", of fashion. By that I mean that the market organically groups designers that tend to favor certain approaches to material and construction. So you then have competition for rack space and the hearts and minds of consumers whether you want to or not. It's important to recognize who they are and then understand what you naturally do that they do not. That's what makes you special and that's your biggest selling point.

It is still better to do your own PR and collection presentation than to hire bad PR. I see the same simple, avoidable mistakes over and over season after season. And more importantly the same throwing away of money that doesn't make you any back.

IMG is quietly panicking to get the tents to work. From the more relaxed entrance standards to having pay for everything to eat and drink but free beer at the same time. They're throwing you know what at the fan and hoping. They are now live streaming shows and yet there were far fewer SRO's and a lot of empty seats this season. The inescapable truth as I said years ago is that fashion shows aren't great for the designer but fashion week is critical to the industry. There needs to be a best & brightest sit down and soon.

FashionGPS could be the future of a lot of elements of the industry but in it's fifth season it's still really buggy and multiple applications fail many times a day. I think you're great Eddie Mullon but you still have some serious work to do.

It's painful to watch designers fade into dullsville. A lot of bright young talents from a few seasons ago are either still doing the same thing they did when I first saw them or have slid into having as much creativity as Juicy Couture. I suppose it's normal but it's the first time I'm dealing with it and I hate it.

If you are doing a show at a space other than L.Center or Milk Studios you must budget for a lighting designer. The resulting poor photos when you don't will prevent your designs from being shared by potential millions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It's absolutely crazy but, it's not about the clothes.

There is one great uncomfortable truth in fashion. Designers do not succeed or fail because of the quality of their clothes. It's this fact that causes most young designers to fail because they don't understand or can't handle it. Making the best garments you can is absolutely required but by itself it won't lead to success. As I like to say to designers who I consult for, "your next collection will not save you." It's important to embrace that in order to begin to grow as a fashion brand. The majority of the few women who can afford serious fashion and the serious price tag that goes along with it do not buy based on the artistic quality of your work. Most of the wealthy women of this world are just not very discerning in that way. I don't mean to be dismissive or insulting but I meet a lot of your potential customers at fashion events and they don't know the difference between silk and satin. It's just not important to them. Nor are your background, techniques, inspiration or any of the other things that we misguidedly focus on. I'm not saying they're vapid or sheep, though some are, it's that those qualities are not what makes them buy fashion. There we arrive at the nub of it, a brand must figure out what the connection is that they have to the customer they've identified as their target that has nothing to directly with the clothes. It's an odd truth and disturbing but it's absolutely essential to sales and making a living

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Clarifying my position on animal skins & fur

It is not my place to tell designers what materials they should or shouldn't work with. It is not my place to tell people what to wear.

It is my place to reject fur and animal skins, other than leather that is coming from cows who already being killed for food, for myself. It is also my place to reject women who consciously enjoy wearing a dead animal who was born, raised inhumanly, and slaughtered, solely so you could feel status from some antique symbol that has no place in modern society. It is even more so my right to really reject a woman who's answer to my charge is that she, "doesn't think about it". That doesn't make it better, it makes you worse.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

In aggression for American fashion

So Cathy Horn of the New York Times whined this morning about the sad state of American fashion. Perhaps if she would go to the shows I go to she would have a different opinion, but I doubt it because the New York Times isn't promoting this opinion for any other reason than to sound smugly superior. Yes we have a problem with, "too many labels", but how dare you say we don't have enough talent. Get to different shows embrace young talent. I'm done with this under thought drivel. Cathy Horn has become precisely what angered Eleanor Lambert in the first place way back in 1943 when all the fashion press covered was Paris.

I will put Ralph Rucci, Badgley Mischka, Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra, Proenza Schouler Narciso Rodriguez against anything Europe has. And when it comes to young talent let's go with Wes Gordon, Sally LaPointe, Karolina Zmarlak, Jen Kao, Cushnie Et Ochs & more. Beat The Blonds for over the top! Or Prabal Gurung for rising gun, how about Alexander Wang for crying out loud! Under recognized stars? A Detacher for innovation, Sophie Theallet for sophistication? How about Douglas Hannant for heart stopping glamour? She's not going to the right shows & frankly I'm sick of the American fashion bashing. Both barrels from now on if anybody puts that type of horseshit in print or on the web. I'm sick of it, done. Farshteyn?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fashion Code

I'm going to take the opportunity presented by my shows today, Sachin & Babi, Erin Barr, and Elliot Evan to decipher the often inscrutable world of fashion language. Not just a simple this means that but a deeper look at what the speaker is actually saying about the clothes. For example many will say that the Sachin & Babi collection was, "body con", which is short for body conscious which translates as tight which actually has less letters than, "body con", which means it takes longer to say than tight so we should just say the clothes were tight. The word that actually came to my mind was disciplined. The clothes created an air of severe control and the models were styled accordingly. The wearer of the clothes also must possess discipline as these are designs for women who are in shape. No matter what your size you have to be in decent to good physical condition for them to look good on you. This is something I agree with by the way, we should all be as healthy as we can and designers should not encourage permissiveness by joining in the being, "obese is okay", movement.

The words that will flow around the Fall 13 collection of relative newcomer Erin Barr, she's 28 and this is her fourth season, will likely be of the, "edgy" or, "avant garde" variety mostly because there were cut outs & zippers. Perhaps they will say, "punk" or "rock" and again this means again a designer has placed a metallic adornment on a largely normal blouse or dress. How that leap gets made I am unsure. I think we need to have Lemmy Kilmister pay a visit to Steven Kolb so the fashion world can really understand what rock really is or "edgy" for that matter.

The menswear label Elliot Evan will elicit such phrases as "deconstructed", "futuristic", or perhaps even, "dystopian". Those all mean the clothes were layered and draped unevenly there was asymmetry and the leathers were raw and beat up on purpose. If you go back to H. Naoto in Japan in the late 90s & the earlier work of NYC's own Logan Neitzel & Nicholas K you'll get the picture. NYC's fashionistas love to talk about that style but never wear it. I think they are far too dainty and compulsive to wear things that aren't perfect.

A quick note on my 1st show from NYFW Fall 13

Last night I went to the Suzanne Rae show, Her work is of the clean, and subtle variety which I always find pleasing. It's for the type of woman who wants to project a strong but very calm feeling. A veteran martial arts master prior to a fight. I think she needs to find a bit stronger of a signature to make her clothes stand out as this aesthetic is always a little crowded with other talented people. Think earlier Araks or Kaelen. Once she finds that, and I believe she will, Suzanne Rae is one to watch and better to wear. Oh and if Suzanne happens to read this, just keep hanging out with the wonderfully infectious Lindsay Degan, pick up a little of what she does and that could very well be the ticket.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why those with nothing to lose still won't risk it all.

New York Fashion Week started yesterday and continues through the 14th of February. The current layout of the fashion industry is to begin with the public unveiling of seasonal collections presented roughly six months prior to retail shipment. Those presentations are followed by exhibitions to buyers and then lastly to press. All of this occurs over a roughly a two month span. The current layout is hardly current as it began in 1943. Seventy years is a long time and yet the fashion industry has reacted to the massive changes that have occurred in our times like a traumatized rescue pet first set loose in it's new home. We spend most of our time hiding under the bed and "researching" with our senses without actually risking any harm to ourselves. The rise of celebrity designers followed by the influx & influence of corporate money that began to flow into fashion in the late 1980s has created a very entrenched and rigid culture. The seasonal system defined above is a symptom. Even if it increasingly no longer makes sense to do it this way the industry continues to use it because it works just fine for those in power. Fashion is a game and there is one set of rules play by them or lose. 

Except that the internet has now offered those on the outside a brand new way to play. In my time in fashion I have seen extraordinarily talented designers who also had great work ethic either fail or barely survive because they were not connected to those in power or didn't have access to enough money to get their attention. They want to make their art not go to parties and kiss ass. They understand precisely what the price of that approach is and they pay it, not cheerfully but they'd rather not be fake. There's an amazing amount of young fashion talent in NYC right now and most of them are struggling along. I know many if not all of them. We chat often, I visit their studios and recently I've been trying to get them to listen to me regarding what's possible for them via the internet. If you've read my last few posts or talked to me you know that I'm convinced that a huge wave of change is headed our way. There will soon rise a few internet made fashion designer brands that are making very, very good money. Any if not all of these struggling designers I spoke of can become those stars. But they keep trying to bash their way into the old system. A system in which they are clearly not welcome. Why?

The answer most likely is twofold; first, is that it doesn't fit into the dreams they've had in their head since they were young. It's hard to shake those early pillars upon which we base our dreams. Secondly, is it's what the whole industry conditions them to believe. Young people lack the conviction that comes with context based on experience. They have yet to have that stunning moment when they realize that what they've accepted as true is bullshit. So what is the solution? Ironically enough it is for those that see what I do to keep doing the same thing we've been doing. If we trail blaze, if we help create those first examples of success the rest will take care of itself. If you make your living supporting creative people chances are that you love them. Though they may drive you batty on a daily basis and break your heart, yet you still believe in them and want success for them. You can no more stop that than they can stop creating. Please believe me when I say we are on the absolute edge of a massive change in the world of art & design. Devote yourself to understanding the coming changes, try to convince those you support of the new way forward that is unfolding. The readiness, the readiness is all...

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's about humanity, stupid.

Both the daunting broadness and the echoes of past presidential campaign strategy invoked in my title are intentional. The reason that I was so strident in my last post, ( and in my recent private communication with my friends who are also fashion brands is because I can so clearly see that the internet is changing dramatically and more importantly the pace of change is accelerating at aircraft carrier launch speeds. Humans are fond of sayings that indicate that we don't actually change much generation to generation. It was one of the very first things that I recall thinking was absurd when it was offered to me as "wisdom" in my early teenage years. We are constantly evolving. There is a roaring edge of voracious expansion into new concepts and new approaches. Hot on the heels of that come new technologies and systems that because they were born from a superior understanding of where human desires are heading seem to explode and utterly transform the world in a few years. Planes, trains, and automobiles anyone? Once all of the pieces of his life were in place it took Karl Benz less than three years to create the automobile. That the world was that close to a massive transformation, plus the fact that there were dozens of other visionaries working on the same idea should have meant that smart people saw it coming. But those in authority/power who are supposed to be our best & brightest, turned out to be our dullest & dimmest. We all understand about institutional blindness and what it takes to stay ahead of these massive upheavals but it happens anyway. It occurs with frightening regularity and taken as a symptom can only mean we are suffering from a global mental illness. 

Now it is happening again. The pieces are in place, the desires of humanity are crystal clear, there are tons of intelligent & respected people talking about what's about to happen. Then you look at those that are discussing the future of the fashion industry and they're not talking about it at all. They're droning on about, "more, better, and different" versions of the what currently exists. It's really not that hard to figure out what's coming, just take a survey of your friends. Ask them what they want from their internet experiences that they are currently not getting. Ask them what they wish they could do. Then understand, that's what's coming. Again if you want specifics you have to hire me, or by all means wait, and then you'll understand. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

You are not seeing the warning signs

Over the short space of the next few years the fashion industry will undergo radical changes that will completely transform every aspect of how it functions. There's a freight train of pain carrying boxcars of change and I get the sense that far, far too many people in fashion who are successful today do not see it coming and are not prepared. Rapid climate change kills that which can't adapt quickly.

The difficulty is that an insular culture has been created between those designers, stores and media that came into power in the 1990s. Insularity is great at keeping centralized power and controlling information. It's also great at creating total blindness and deafness to what's going on outside of it. Such lack of awareness ensures that those currently in power will not realize that their power has been fatally compromised until it's too late to do anything about it. Ask Best Buy if you don't believe me. Now when Amazon began to grow in the early 2000s Best Buy still had plenty of money to hire top talent to make the shift to online. They could have easily been Amazon but they spent all their time talking about why it wouldn't happen and when it became undeniable it was too late.

This is about to repeat itself in the fashion industry. The internet is simply too compelling to the consumer not to succeed. And it's not just for the reasons that you think of when you read that sentence. You will hear a number of explanations from the traditional establishment as to why I'm wrong. They're whistling past the graveyard and I'm not wrong. I'm not going to get into too many specifics as those insights and the tactics and strategies I've devised are my competitive advantage. But I did feel like finally going on record and saying, watch the next two years closely as a lot of stuff that's been percolating is about to come above water in a powerful way. Oh, and if you're a retailer or a brand and don't feel like becoming the 21st century Woolworths or Oleg Cassini feel free to e-mail me...

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