Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quality Control (or lack thereof): The Prada Case Study

This post is inspired by a recent purchase – my very own Prada messenger bag. Like many young adults with an affinity for fashion, but not the bank account to back it up, I decided that while I can’t deck myself out in a Prada suit everyday for work, I could save my money and buy a little piece of the dream in the form of a black, nylon bag that I can carry almost every day. With the price tag at $750 dollars, it certainly wasn’t an inexpensive purchase, but I hoped that the bag would last a decade. A few days later, I was trying to explain my splurge to a friend who was criticizing me for buying a bag that “wasn’t even leather and wasn’t worth the money.” I was literally in the middle of countering her attack by saying, “Yeah, but look at the craftsmanship. Everything is perfect, the lining is immaculate, and the stitching is even…” when my friend noticed that the seam holding the strap to my bag was coming undone. It was only 5 stitches that were pulled out slightly, but having only carried the bag for a week and having spent almost 2 paychecks to get it, I was pretty horrified. I went to the internet to find out if there was anything I could do to have Prada either refund or fix my bag for me when I discovered they were dealing with other bag problems as well.
At Milan’s 2008 fashion week in January, there was much hype swirling about Miuccia Prada’s new design concept – colorful fairy prints. The clothes were colorful, avant-garde pieces said to be inspired by the daydreams of a young girl but they weren’t something everyone would want to wear. The purses, on the other hand, were quickly becoming the “It” bag of the season and were retailing for over $2200 dollar with a three month waiting list. But Prada's success was suddenly overshadowed by a devastating realization – the beautiful colored ink used to dye the bags was running the instant water touched the purse. noted that, “Prada is well aware of [the bleeding] problem. Some SA’s warned their customers due to the nature of the delicacy of the bag the ink could bleed. There have also been conflicting stories [about] how Prada is handling it. Some say Prada will not refund you after buying the bag, some say they will. What I do know is that when paying upwards of $2500 for a bag, you want it to stay in tact and the ink to stay in place. For those of you that already own the bag, be cautious with it in the rain and make sure to read up on the issues.” One blog poster wrote, “My fairy bled and so did my heart.” A bit dramatic perhaps, but try and imagine watching the ink from 2,500 dollars worth of paper bills blotch before your eyes and you will see what this person was feeling.
The last Prada nightmare story I have encountered was in the pages of Dana Thomas’s book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster (which I mentioned in the last post). Here is an excerpt from her book:

“In 1992, I bought a pink sleeveless Prada cocktail dress that was made of thick iridescent cotton and silk faille, fully lined, and finished beautifully. It cost 2,000 dollars, but it is couture quality and will last forever. Ten years later, I bought a pair of thin cotton-poplin cropped trousers at Prada for $500. I put them on, and the gentle passing of my foot ripped the hem out. I put my hand in the pocket, and it tore away from the seam. I squatted down to pick up my two year old, and the derriere split open. I hadn’t had the pants ten minutes and they were literally falling apart at the seams. I mentioned this to a former Prada design assistant. ‘It’s the thread,’ he told me. ‘It’s cheaper and breaks easily.’ When I told him about my gorgeous dress from 1992 that was as solid as a Rolls, he nodded. ‘That was then,’ he said with a sigh.”

How can companies like Prada call themselves luxury goods companies when the luxury only lasts ten minutes? It is true that people buy luxury goods for many reasons, status being the primary one (in my opinion). However, many people justify their purchases with the rationale that the price-per-wear or the price-per-use is similar to cheaper alternatives. So what IS the motivation to continue “buying labels” when they are guaranteed to fall off in a matter of days? I was fortunate in that my Prada bag was replaced within the week, but many others were not so lucky. I think it is time that Prada, as well as many other high-fashion companies, scale back on the plans for global domination and mass production (see the cover of Deluxe for the visual image of this idea) and take the time to reconsider what they are selling to the customer. Luxury may not last forever, but it certainly is supposed to make it out of the store!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How the Fashion Industry Sold Out: The Emergence of the Designer Cell Phone

I recently started reading a book by Dana Thomas called Deluxe, How Luxury Lost Its Luster, which was recommended to me by a professor at the UCLA Law Department two weeks ago. The book is all about how fashion is now solely focused on commodification and increasing profits as opposed to creativity, design and style. It is a very critical look at an already controversial industry, but because it is so well-researched and well-written, I am trying to keep an open mind despite the fact that it is destroying a lot of my preconceived notions about the fashion industry. One thing that the book has not yet mentioned (but would fit in perfectly with the idea that designers are selling themselves out to big business) is the prospect of the designer cell phone. Even I can see that the phones are a blatant attempt to reign in more customers, enter new markets, and brand something that you had no part in creating.
The first designer cell phone I ever remember seeing was Motorola’s Razr “designed” (and I use this term loosely) by Dolce and Gabbana in 2005. The phone was gold and had D&G emblazoned on the back of the phone and on the screen's wallpaper background. No extraordinary features were included on the phone with the exception of the color and a special ringtone, yet the phone sold at prices that were sometimes triple the cost of a regular Razr in silver or black. Since then, the hype in cell phone technology has only increased by including better cameras, touch screens, bluetooth, GPS, etc. and fashion designers have not ceased attempts to snag a part of the enormous profits.
Since the D&G phone, we have seen the emergence of the Giorgio Armani cell phone for Samsung, the Prada phone for LG, a Diane von Furstenberg Sidekick, a Dior cell by ModeLabs... I simply don’t have the time to list how much the unbranded phones cost versus their logoed counterparts, but let it suffice to say that they are all overpriced. With an iPhone now priced around $300 dollars, it seems ridiculous to pay $800 for a Prada phone or $5,000 (no that’s not a typo, there are three zeros on the end of that 5) for the Dior phone. One blogger writes, “When is a cell phone worth 5,000 dollars? Hint: never.” And I completely agree. I found one cell phone designed by the famous French jeweler Boucheron for Vertu that is selling for $310,000. Yes, the phone is decked out in diamonds and rubies, but PLEASE! Whose ego needs stroking so badly that their phone has to cost as much as a down-payment on a house? Here is an idea - buy a ruby bracelet, a diamond ring, AND a cell phone, keeping each entity separate from one another.
In my opinion, the materialization of designer cell phones is the most transparent attempt by fashion houses to expand their customer base and drive up sales without contributing anything besides their name. It is true that some customers might be unwilling to spend 900 dollars on a purse but would spend that much on a cell phone. It is also true that we have entered modern times, and adaptation is crucial in order to remain relevant. That is why I am not ranting about the creation of cell phone holders and iPod cases – I can imagine Miuccia Prada’s expertise in leather and craftsmanship could result in a very elegant cell phone case, but until the media leaks that she got her degree in computer science and has become a cell phone programmer as well as a fashionista, I will maintain that the two creations should remain separate. Sure, if you have a lot of money, go ahead and buy a nice phone, but if the name brand is the only thing distinguishing it from a phone that is hundreds of dollars cheaper, then you have undoubtedly entered “fashion victim” territory. I know I said that this blog wouldn’t be a style guide, but in this case I can’t help but cry out, “Stay away from designer phones!" They simply aren’t worth the money and you look like you are trying way too hard.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Burberry Trench Coat

I figured every once in a while it might be fun to put up an informational post, detailing the history or background of a fashion brand, as it will build my knowledge as well as let me share it with others. This post is my cop-out though, as I am simply reformatting a report I did for my Couture class I took in Paris 2007. So I hope you at least learn something new!
Burberry is a British fashion house that specializes in luxury apparel, fragrances, and accessories and is currently run by creative director Christopher Bailey, who joined the team in May 2001. At only 37 years old, Bailey is one of the world’s hottest young designers, achieving the same golden status as men like Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford. Furthermore, as a mark of its world domination, the classic Burberry check pattern is currently one of the most copied patterns in fashion history, along with the LV monogram of Louis Vuitton. I went to Shanghai for five weeks this summer, so trust me when I say that the novacheck print (real and fake) is everywhere!
Also like Louis Vuitton, Burberry has been around for over a century now. Burberry was founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, a former draper's apprentice, in Hampshire, England and he focused mainly on outdoor attire. This history is still apparent today when shopping at Burberry boutiques, as items like rainboots and leather gloves always have their place within the collection.
Later, in 1880, Burberry invented “a breathable fabric made using an innovative process where the yarn is waterproofed before weaving” and called it gabardine. In 1888, Burberry took out a patent for the innovative fabric and three years later opened his own boutique. But it wasn’t until Thomas Burberry literally invented the trench coat that his brand began to skyrocket.
In 1914, Burberry was commissioned by the British War Office to design an officer's coat, to suit the conditions of contemporary warfare. Using his patented gabardine fabric, Burberry created a raincoat which proved to be both practical and elegant, and soon it became a part of the service uniform for all British officers. These gabardine raincoats, which looked like leather, were then dubbed "trench coats" by the soldiers who were fighting in the trenches (can you imagine soldiers today laying in ditches wearing 2,000 dollar Burberry coats!?). By World War II, the trench coat was a part of all enlisted men’s kits in many countries' armed forces. In 1920, the classic novacheck print was designed and used in the lining of all the coats, and the look soon became synonymous with Burberry itself. After the war ended, many veterans returned to civilian life, but kept their coats as a sort of status symbol, which soon became fashionable for both men and women. The coat was then marketed to the public and with the help of American celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, who brought attention to the style, the coat became a must-own and its prominence as a fashion staple still exists today.
Unfortunately, both Burberry and the trench coat itself have had problems with their image over the last couple of years. A Burberry representative wrote that, “There is some concern among the investment community that the ‘plaid mania’ that has seen the Burberry check appear everywhere over the past few years (including knock-offs) may contribute to a premature burnout for Burberry”. With copies of the fake Burberry print adorning everything from cars to toilet paper, it seemed as though the company’s image was irreparably damaged. As for the trench coat itself, the apparel became linked to incidents such as the Columbine High School shootings, where the perpetrators of the massacre were given the nickname, “The Trench Coat Mafia”. Many schools have since banned the trench, claiming it can be used to conceal weapons or mask attempts by exhibitionists to streak at sporting events.
Luckily, Burberry has grabbed a hold of the reigns as far as reinventing itself goes. The store has limited the use of plaid to only a few items, they have limited the distribution channels, associating it only with high-end department stores and private boutiques, and they continue to fight against fraud the best that any major fashion brand can. Today, the company is ranked number three in the world as far as earning profits is concerned, just behind Louis Vuitton (1) and Gucci (2).So to end, if you are looking to own a staple that hasn’t gone out of fashion for nearly a century, are looking to spend a little of that hard earned money, and you desire to own a piece of clothing that is linked to a bit of fashion history; the Burberry trench coat is just the thing for you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Understanding Fashion Controversies: The Marc Jacobs Case Study

According to a 2004 article entitled Ethics of the Fashion Industry, “politics and fashion have never been a trendy mix”. Formerly, designers and fashion companies with strong messages about “global welfare” were most often considered unappealing to the masses. Fashion has always been an industry obsessed with mass marketing and appealing to the largest amount of [wealthy] customers they can, so why "stir the pot", and risk offending potential clients who would have otherwise made a purchase? I can’t think of anyone more suited to answer this question than Marc Jacobs, creative director of Louis Vuitton and his own Marc Jacobs brand. Since I am not personally friends with Marc Jacobs, I will have to walk you through his affinity for fashion controversy myself.
Let’s start with the Louis Vuitton Monogram Joke bags, created in late 2007. These bags were created when Marc teamed up with Richard Prince, American painter and photographer, who created a line of “joke” themed paintings in the 80’s. It was these joke paintings that fueled the inspiration for a new, colorful twist on the monogram print created by the Paris Fashion House 112 years ago. The only perceived problem with the bags is the text sprawled across them. Jokes like “Every time I meet a woman who can cook like my Mother....She looks like my Father” and “My wife went to the beauty shop and got a mud pack. For two days she looked beautiful. Then the mud fell off” adorn all of the bags, and unsurprisingly, many people hate them. On, a reviewer wrote that the jokes were “lame ass jokes your 80 year old sexist uncle tells” and many commentators on the site backed up the review saying:

“The biggest joke of all is the LV label. Is there no concern for devaluing the brand?”

“What woman on this planet would want to be seen with this bag? For me, this is in the same category of offensive as that swastika bag.”

“I think Marc left rehab more messed up than he was before. This line is becoming a joke (no pun intended).”

But the controversy doesn’t just stop there. In mid-2008, just in time for gay pride parades across the globe, Jacobs released the "Rebel Pride" shirt, designed by Jon Lynn. The shirt had many elements typical of gay pride: stars and rainbow flags. The caveat- it was superimposed on the confederate flag, an image displayed with prominence in the South during the Civil War. As a result, the confederate flag is deeply associated with racism, intolerance, and the United States' very own bible-belt. Not exactly what gay pride is all about, is it? Commentators on said:

“I think it's more for the shock-value than anything else. I mean, if the meaning behind it is so elusive then what's the point?”

“I'm from and live in the Deep South and will always consider the confederate flag offensive. I can only imagine how hurtful it must be for black people.”

It seems risky to offend both women and the gay community, two HUGE consumers of high fashion. So why not take the advice “Ethics of the Fashion Industry” has to offer and avoid alienating your biggest clients? Let me try to explain what I see in both the bags and the t-shirt (I think they’re both great).
I think that sexism and homophobia are both serious issues facing American society, but I also believe avoiding discussion of the subjects all together is the WORST possible way to deal with them. Keeping divisive issues like this secret and taboo ensure their long-lasting persistence within a culture. Marc Jacobs forces us to consider issues like sexism by placing them out in the open for all to see and discuss (and check out the blogosphere- they have been discussed plenty!).
I think women brave enough to carry the Monogram Joke bag are the same women that are strong enough to stand up to men and assert their individuality. The bag is being carried by women who are literally saying to the world, “I have a handle on sexism; I use it to carry my makeup”. And gay men and women sporting the “Rebel Pride” t-shirt are saying, “I can cover up a symbol of racism with one of acceptance”, a message revered by the gay, and various other minority communities. To end, I want to clarify that I am not one to give blind praise to a designer because he is currently dominating the fashion world. I saw the Marc Jacobs collection for Fall/Winter 08/09 – I was appalled. But as for these two fashion controversies, I think Marc's ideas are innovative and direct. It might not be for everyone to own, but it certainly should be something everyone can appreciate.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Keep Your Label Hidden

Since I decided to focus on Victoria Beckham in the last post, I figure I will continue the trend by starting out with her in this post; especially because it plays into a topic that I have wanted to write about for a while now.
In the October 2008 issue of Details magazine, Beckham says, “I don’t mind a vintage T-shirt with a logo on it that’s tongue-in-cheek. But if a man were to have just a huge logo on his chest, no. I think that’s very unattractive.” And many people agree with her. In the book titled, “The Fashion Questionnaire”, designers respond to various questions such as “What is your favorite decade in fashion”, “what is your biggest fashion pet peeve”, etc. Nicole Miller’s biggest pet peeve: big designer logos. And it isn’t just designers claiming this is a fashion no-no. Stylists and editors are constantly focusing on “staples” and “under-stated” looks where less is more.
This topic is personally very interesting to me as it takes me back to my fashion-victim four months in Paris. From August to December 2007, I lived in Paris taking courses in everything from Haute Couture to International Business. Before arriving, I updated my wardrobe with all the staples I would need, plus a few extra. I got a new blazer, a cardigan, a black v-neck sweater, some polos in winter colors. I even dropped $185 dollars on gray 7 for All Mankind jeans (which retail in Paris for 300 euro, so I guess that is a deal) because GQ told me I should. When I got there, I was feeling great, but one month later I was feeling a little insufficient again.
I don’t know if it was fashion week, or if it was the fact that I was sitting in a class for 3 hours a week discussing labels like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Dior that made feel like my clothing “staples” were no longer enough to get me by in fashion-conscious Paris. As a result, I got online and started to buy. I got a Versace shirt, a D&G shirt, a Versace wallet, and a Dior sweater, all complete with logos, some huge and some small. The packages kept coming in the mail and my roommate, whose fashion sense was a little more mature than mine at the time, was in a constant state of horror as I dawned my new threads. “That is SO tacky!” I would hear every other night while getting ready to go out. I brushed it off though, because I was wearing Versace, and everyone knew it! I was unstoppable!
This phase lasted all the way until I stepped foot back onto U.S. soil in late December, notably much poorer than before I left. When I got home I wore the Versace shirt one last time in public, and when some guy passed me on the street and said (somewhat) under his breath, “ver-SACE!” I knew it was time to give it up. I don’t know if the comment was to compliment it, diss it, or merely acknowledge its existence, but I realized I no longer wanted people to know what I was wearing because the name was on my chest, shoulder, sleeve, or back. For example, if you can tell that I am wearing Burberry, I want it to be because you noticed the small novacheck piping, not because the whole shirt is plaid. Clothes should be for the person wearing them, not for anybody else. It took a while for me to learn, but it was a lesson worth learning and, I think, worth sharing. From now on, my labels are on the inside of my clothes, where they belong. The only thing that still survives in my wardrobe today from the Paris clothing binge is the Dior sweater (which I was wearing when I met Project Runway designer Sweet P), whose logo is smaller than the Polo player on a Ralph Lauren polo, which is just the right size for me now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It’s not cross-dressing if it’s made for men!

Tonight, on my way home from the gym, I decided to stop by Border’s. It was very impulsive, since I have literally five books stacked in the “to-read” pile on my nightstand and it is still a little early for October issues to hit the stands, but when I noticed the new Details magazine sitting there on the shelf, I was delighted to see my trip was not a waste.
After arriving home and changing clothes, I plopped down on my bed and started to skim through in my usual manner: fashion first, cover story second, short/interesting articles third, and the rest I would save for later. With this method, it is clear to see how one of the first things that caught my attention was a one page feature on “10 Rules of Style” provided by Victoria Beckham, formerly known round the world as Posh Spice. In it, she talked about why guys should avoid tight jeans, designer logos and trying too hard, and overall, I agreed with everything she had to say. The thing that stuck out to me though is when she proclaimed, “Men who wear skinny jeans won’t be wearing my jeans. I don’t think jeans should be tight around their bollocks.”
When I read that, my brain highlighted “MEN” and “MY JEANS”. I certainly would hope not! If Vicky doesn’t like men to wear their jeans tight, I can’t imagine her liking them sporting women’s jeans, even if she is responsible for designing them. Further investigation revealed that next month, Beckham will be adding onto dVb Denim by Victoria Beckham, with a brand new menswear line. Online, I even discovered some pictures of husband, David Beckham sporting the first pair of dVb jeans for men. As a reigning style icon for women in Europe and the United States, it makes sense for her to extend her denim brand as far as it will go – but how many men are willing to buy clothes from stores initially geared towards women’s apparel? Apparently, a lot of companies are trying to find out. On two very opposite ends of the fashion spectrum, two formerly “women-only” brands, Chanel and Forever 21 (see, it is possible to use the two in the same sentence) are delving into menswear too.I first noticed the Chanel men’s collection in November 2007, when Karl Lagerfeld’s cruise collection for men under the Chanel label was reviewed in British GQ. The article notes that, “Coco Chanel never turned her hand to making clothes for men, but Karl Lagerfeld is showing an increasing fascination with the challenge” - a fascination which apparently did not die, as you can now scroll through a couple of looks for men on the Chanel website (two of which are posted here). I actually saved the article because I really liked the seersucker cashmere blazer and I hoped that one day, I would peruse a Chanel boutique for some clothes for myself. Forever 21, on the other hand, was another story.
In May of this year, I was unwillingly dragged into the Santa Monica Forever 21 by a female friend who was looking to save money and find a less expensive version of the MaxMara dress she actually wanted (which didn’t happen). So as she searched, I wandered off, all the while trying to avoid pushy bargain hunters and masses of synthetic fabric falling off the racks, and then I saw it – a sad little corner of men’s clothes. It was as you would expect: lots of tee shirts, sweatshirts, some jeans, a poorly made blazer, etc. And as I looked through the merchandise, I couldn’t help but think, “What self respecting man would ever buy his clothes here?” If I am shopping high-street, give me GAP or Zara any day! And by the absence of men looking around, it seems as if the general population agrees with me.
So what is it about women’s brands suddenly catering to men? Is it okay as long as the label is good and the clothes are chic (and ultimately, expensive), or is it something that should just be avoided all together? I can’t help but wonder if Victoria Beckham’s brand will succeed along reigning denim brands like Diesel and 7 for All Mankind, both of which don’t have any “girly” stigma attached. I guess ultimately we will have to wait and see, but I don’t think I will be the first in line to grab a pair.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fashionable Donations: A Trend towards Giving

John Locke once proclaimed, “Fashion for the most part is nothing but the ostentation of riches”. While many fashionistas today would argue with this proclamation, declaring that fashion is also about beauty and creativity, the general population would most likely agree: especially when they are staring at a $4,000 Gucci handbag sitting in a window display. For the average consumer, most elements of high fashion are regarded as superfluous and unnecessary. On the other hand, these same consumers would most likely agree with Sir Francis Bacon, who once declared: “In charity, there is no excess”. Everyone likes to believe that they are doing something to benefit the world, and donating to charities is one of the easiest ways for people to gain a sense of philanthropic satisfaction. So what happens when a world of extravagance and excess collides with one of humanitarian cause and relentless giving? Recently, the answer seems to be a line of new and trendy merchandise sold at diverse prices, which also fulfill a person’s desire to give back to the world. By combining the influence of fashion and the goodwill of donations, designers have made “giving back” a trendy movement; one which is benefiting both fashion houses and world charities alike.
The most notable combination of fashion and charity today is of course (PRODUCT)RED, a project started by Bono and Bobby Shriver, to raise awareness and money for The Global Fund. Companies like Gap, Emporio Armani, and Converse have branded some of their merchandise with (RED) labels, and they all donate a percentage of the revenue created by selling these products in their stores. The money is then used to purchase anti-retroviral medication and distribute it to impoverished countries in Africa. Giorgio Armani, one of the world’s leading fashion designers, signed on with Bono’s RED campaign in September 2006, when he created a new line for men and women to be sold in all of his 124 Emporio Armani stores across the globe. Armani is contributing an average of 40% of its gross profit margin from its (RED) merchandise directly to the Global Fund. To date, (RED) has contributed 49.8 million dollars to the Global Fund and has provided 1.1 million people with treatment for HIV/AIDS, 2.8 million with treatment for tuberculosis and 23 million with treatment for malaria.
Not only have (RED) products clearly helped people in the world, but it has also done something for fashion. (PRODUCT)RED has created a whole new collection of looks, most notably for Armani’s new designs. In developing his collection, Giorgio Armani teamed up with Ghanaian contemporary artist Owusu-Ankomah, whose art is featured on the clothing, accessories and packaging. The shining red African pictograms give the line something new and different, and they are meant to represent positive, hopeful symbols for the future of Africa; however they simultaneously work as a fashionable status symbol for consumers, as a simple cotton crewneck retails for $85 and a men’s calfskin messenger bag for $395. Armani also collaborated with Julia Roberts to create a bracelet for men ($195) and women ($175) that appears in the line as well. Giorgio Armani says that, “Julia has helped create a beautiful accessory for both men and women, which will also be a visible reminder of the part that we can all play in fighting AIDS in Africa.” Evidently, supporting noble causes has not made designers or fashion companies any less noble in their already-innovative fashion apparel, and other superstar designers are catching on to the new trend as well.
Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren are two of America’s hottest designers and they are also devoting a portion of their profits to aid the charitable causes of their choice. In the summer of 2006, Marc Jacobs created a line of fashion tees which retail at $35 to raise awareness about skin cancer. The t-shirts feature celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Heidi Klum (which I am sporting), Naomi Campbell, Hilary Swank, and Marc Jacobs himself posing nude with witty messages like “Protect the Skin You’re In,” “Protect Your Largest Organ,” and “Save Your Ass” covering their private parts. All of the proceeds from these shirts were donated to NYU Interdisciplinary School of Medicine Melanoma Cooperative Group in memory of the late NYU physician Jessie Rubin. The 2006 line of nudie tees reportedly raised about $60,000 for the Melanoma Group, and they still remain available in all Marc by Marc Jacobs stores. Meanwhile, shoppers looking to support a different cause can shop Ralph Lauren’s Pink Pony Collection, which has raised over $300,000 for the National Breast Cancer Center. Lauren explains that, “in poor and minority communities, medically underserved populations suffer disproportionately from cancer because they lack access to basic, quality health care. The Pink Pony Campaign reaches out to these communities and strives to make a difference.” The Pink Pony Collection features apparel for both men (e.g. the $75 Classic Polo) and women (with items ranging from the $45 Tank to the $498 Hooded Cashmere Sweater), making the items a must-have for consumers of any age and any gender.
Even fashion house and mega-million dollar corporation Gucci has decided that charities are a worthy cause for their huge profits. Renewing a program that started in 2005, Gucci once again decided to hold “The Gucci Holiday Campaign to Benefit UNICEF” in 2007. From November 15th through December 31st, Gucci donated 25% of the sales from the special holiday items, personally crafted by Gucci’s Creative Director Frida Giannini, to UNICEF. In addition to the special holiday campaign, the company came out with a special “Gucci for UNICEF” Indy bag that will be sold in stores until December of this year. Just like the rest of the UNICEF items, 25 percent of the revenue generated by this bag goes directly to UNICEF.
Gucci may be the most well known luxury brand to commit themselves to charity work, however they are not alone. Cartier too partnered with eight celebrities in order to design a product in which a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to charity. Their concept is the LOVE Charity Bracelet, and each celebrity has created a different color piece, representing a different charity that will be supported . A few examples of the best-selling bracelets are Sarah Jessica Parker’s blue UNICEF bracelet, Rosario Dawson’s red Youth Aids Bracelet, Liv Tyler’s deep pink Breast Cancer Research Foundation bracelet, and Scarlett Johansson’s baby pink USA Harvest bracelet. The 18-carat white gold with cotton cord bracelet is sold at $475, $100 of which is given to the corresponding charity. Visibly, both Gucci and Cartier’s commitment towards different charities demonstrates that even on the most lavish and extravagant level, charity and fashion still fit together extremely well, and that the classification of members of the fashion world as “superficial, uncaring, label-whores” may not have to continue into the new age of fashion trends.
To end, I want to note that while integrating politics and fashion may have been something to avoid in the past, today it is nothing less than essential. We have made a movement in fashion trends where people do not just want to wear new clothes; they want their clothes to express something about their personality. Many believe that consumers are only buying these “charitable” items so they can participate in guilt-free shopping, and others believe that fashion houses are actually profiting more by donating a small portion of their profits than they would if they did not have these campaigns at all. However, I believe the old proverb to be true: “Charity looks at the need and not at the cause.” Does it really matter if fashion houses profit and consumers have a false sense of philanthropy by purchasing these items, as long as people are getting the help they deserve? True, one could just go donate 2,000 dollars directly to UNICEF instead of purchasing the Gucci handbag, but would UNICEF get all of those donations if it were not for Gucci’s campaign? Probably not. So while this trend for charitable giving might come and go as fast as neon pleather or shoulder pads, I think we should embrace this one while it lasts, because finally the fashion industry may have gotten something right.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Want knock-offs from Prada, Gucci, and Diesel? Just GUESS which store you should shop.

Before I started this blog, I created a list of topics that I wanted to discuss- you know, to make sure I had enough ideas to make this blog worth while. Well, I thought I had a great little piece worked out for today dealing with the popularity of designer logos, but my shopping trip to Macy’s tonight made me change my mind. The “logos” debate can wait; tonight I want to talk about Guess, while my thoughts are still fresh. Here is how the whole thing got started…

Strolling through the Men’s Shoe Department, I was keeping my eye out for a decent pair of loafers. It has become a tiny obsession for me recently and until I can bring myself to buy the pair from Prada that I truly want, or find a cheaper alternative that I like just as much, I will continue to pay attention to them in every department store I enter. But what I saw tonight did not bring an end to my mania, it heightened it. At first glance, I could have sworn the loafers sitting right in front of me were none other than the famous Gucci loafers, complete with tan “guccisima” print, which now adorns almost every piece of merchandise the Gucci brand has to offer.
The thought evaporated in my mind almost as quickly as it had formed and was replaced by questions instead. “Since when does Macy’s (especially the store in my suburban town mall) carry anything but Gucci sunglasses?” I asked myself. Then I noticed the red sticker placed on the stand holding the shoes… “AND SINCE WHEN DOES IT GO ON SALE!?” I stared at the distorted print a second longer and realized that this was no Gucci loafer, it was Guess! I had been momentarily fooled… now they had really gone too far.

I have always thought Guess was a little too obvious in their mimicking of high fashion. I realize that “high-street” stores like Zara and Gap are meant to offer designer trends to a market that cares about fashion but can’t afford the high-end merchandise of French and Italian luxury brands, but Guess always seemed to go further than that. Let’s say Versace creates a line of purple and black dresses and then one month later, purple dresses and black leggings are displayed on mannequins in the front of an H&M. This happens all the time and it is fine with me. If a cotton purple dress is what you want, and you are not trying to pass it off for something it isn’t, then great. Many times, a $50 dollar dress can look as good as a $500 one. But taking the famous Gucci “G’s”, Prada’s iconic triangular metal logo, and the embroidery on the back pocket of Diesel jeans and calling them your own? It seems as though the company isn’t just taking trends, it is taking trademarks from famous fashion retailers! I mean, maybe I am looking into this too much, so have a look at the pictures and decide for yourself. I believe that even people that don’t care about labels will notice the blaring similarities.

While I think this practice of ripping off other companies is terribly tacky of Guess, it is not to say I dislike the brand entirely or think people should stop shopping there. I just think that one should be careful when making purchases from the store – are you getting something original for a better price than you would at Neiman’s or are you buying what might as well be called a knock-off?

To highlight my point one final time, I thought I would share a story about a shopping trip I took with my sister and her friend recently to Union Square after I came home from a five week trip to Shanghai. We were in Gucci looking at women’s shoes when I went over and picked up a pair of heels covered in the Gucci “G’s” and showed them to my sister. “Look at these,” I said. “I would never buy these. These are $400 dollar shoes, but when I was in China there were people trying to sell us the fake ones for like $20! They were everywhere! I just could not bring myself to buy shoes that cost this much if I thought people would just assume they were knock-offs.” To my horror, I realized a sales representative was standing not more than ten feet away from me, and by the grin on his face I could tell he heard me. He started to walk over, and just as I thought I was going to get some kind of light reprimand for calling his merchandise tacky, he smiled and said, “You don’t have to go all the way to China. A lower quality version of that shoe is in the display window at Guess right down the street.”
Guess? I am not the only one who sees a similarity.

An Introduction

People write blogs for a lot of different reasons. Some think they have something valuable to contribute to society - a new take on politics, religion, or relationships that they feel must be shared with the world. Others are simply looking to pass the time, using their blog as a personal journal of sorts. I suppose both of these reasons play into why I am starting mine. Mostly though, I am writing this because I need an outlet to express my opinions. I wouldn’t say I am one of those people that constantly bombards friends and family with my views to the point where they walk away from me in mid-conversation, but I guess every once and a while I do get a little wrapped up in things. Also, I wouldn’t argue that my opinions matter or that my thoughts should be written down, but I am going to put them out there anyway, for people to read or not. But what exactly am I going to be spending my somewhat valuable time “putting out there”? Well, here is where I will probably either lose you completely or begin to intrigue you: I am going to be writing about fashion.
If you laughed out loud while reading the last sentence, then this probably isn’t the blog for you. But do let me explain first: I do not believe that the world of fashion labels and luxury brands compare to the trials and tribulations of people facing disease or countries torn apart by war. I do not think that fashion and clothing matter the way that a family or career matter. But these are not the things I choose to think about as I lay awake at night, and that is not what I am choosing to write about here.
I would also like to clarify that this is not some “What’s Hot, What’s Not” blog. I am in no position to tell you that white-framed sunglasses are out and woven leather belts are in. That is for Vogue and GQ to tell you, not me. Furthermore, you will never read something like, “Victoria Beckham dazzled on the red carpet last night in a couture Marc Jacobs gown and Louis Vuitton heels”. This isn’t some sort of style watch either. That is why we read magazines like People and US Weekly.
I would also like to note that I do not have any first-hand experience in the industry and I do not claim to be any sort of fashionista, but I am educated and I do think seriously about fashion. Not just what designers are doing what, but what fashion can mean to an economy, a society, or an individual. For example, I realize that while discussing Louis Vuitton, I am not simply talking about a single dress or one pair of sunglasses - I am discussing a company that earns more than twenty billion dollars a year, a designer who molds the brand’s appearance, and a customer who buys the clothes in order to feel a certain way and portray a certain image. By thinking about all of these things, I am learning to give praise, express disapproval, raise new questions, voice my opinion, and learn something for myself about the fashion industry. This blog won’t be too glamorous and it won’t be too chic, but I hope that it is interesting and I hope that you like it.