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Thread: Are creative designers done? (NYT article)

  1. #1
    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Default Are creative designers done? (NYT article)

    This was mighty depressing.

    From NY Times.

    September 7, 2006

    Critic’s Notebook

    The End of the Affair

    IT’S astonishing when a fashion star becomes a bystander, a shadow.

    “Oh, it’s you.”

    Startled, this is what you say, all you can think to say, when you
    encounter a Displaced Fashion Person at a glamorous industry party,
    your sense of shame manifest in the little jerk of surprise his head

    Well, it happens. Fame lasts for no one.

    But when the roster of DFP’s includes Tom Ford, Helmut Lang,
    Jil Sander, Miguel Adrover, Phoebe Philo (late of Chloé) and Olivier
    Theyskens, who was recently cut loose from the Paris house Rochas by
    its corporate parent, Procter & Gamble, you have to think that
    something more than Darwinian theory is at work.

    These were — are — great designers. They
    changed the way we dressed. And I don’t mean load-bearing fashionistas,
    pillars of Frenchy chic and obscure fads. I mean you.
    Mr. Theyskens’s extreme shapes for Rochas, however ugly duckling they
    looked at first, set in motion the trend for dressy fashion, and makers
    of midprice suits can thank him as well for helping to put the kibosh
    on casual Fridays. Ms. Philo established Chloé as a stylish baseline,
    the Chanel of her generation. Mr. Lang gave men a sleek, fashionable
    uniform that still retained a masculine roughness. And Mr. Ford did
    more than make sexy fashion: he made fashion a sexy topic.

    As another runway season begins with New York Fashion Week tomorrow,
    a tide seems to have turned against designers and even perhaps against
    talent. To be sure, we writers are notoriously uneven when it comes to
    predicting fashion’s demise. We’ve got it wrong so many times that
    reparations seem in order for all the trellises we’ve collapsed.
    Fashion has never touched more lives than it does at the moment, and by
    so many different means — reality television shows like “Project
    Runway,” Web sites and blogs, corporate sponsorships (like those that
    underwrite many of the shows in Bryant Park), design competitions and
    international trade fairs.

    A sufficiently motivated individual could find a Fashion Week on
    virtually every continent except Antarctica. As Julie Gilhart, the
    fashion director of Barneys New York, said from her office, where boxes
    of unsolicited designs wait for her review, “We’ve opened the

    Yet the busyness and excitement surrounding fashion are not proof of
    any genius, only of a talent for seizing opportunity. In point of fact,
    some very gifted designers are idle, and at relatively young ages. Ms.
    Philo was 31 when she left Chloé last year to spend more time with her
    family. Other designers’ reasons are as varied as they are familiar.
    (Businesses were sold, financial backers disappeared.)

    What feels less familiar is the lack of interest in the talent they
    represent — for skillful cutting, a refined color sense or for
    communicating emotion. These gifts, along with a strong sense of
    identity, are probably a designer’s most valuable assets. Yet lately
    they have been devalued, like an out-of-date sweater, as much by a
    jangling, “what do I get out of it” culture as by a greediness and
    mistrust that seem to exist between designers and corporate owners.

    Far from landing smoothly on his feet, Mr. Theyskens may have
    trouble getting a job or, at any rate, one that allows him the creative
    freedom he had at Rochas. As it is, the top houses are well fixed for
    talent, and there’s no rush to invest in new ventures, one clue being
    the apparent reluctance of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to give
    Hedi Slimane, its Dior men’s designer, his own women’s label. Wherever
    Mr. Theyskens goes — speculation favors Nina Ricci — his new boss will
    probably approve of artistry, in principle.

    But if he is like any number of chief executives in Paris these days
    — the exasperation breaking through the polished surface — he will want
    clothes that sell. As Ralph Toledano, the chief executive of Chloé,
    said, referring to the popular strategy of creating runway drama in
    order to sell bread-and-butter purses: “The problem is that formula has
    a real limit, and we’ve reached the limit. At the end of the day, our
    garment must be sold. It can’t just create drama among 500 people,
    including you and me.”

    Mr. Ford has plans for a new men’s line, along with other products.
    He may well be successful, given his track record at Gucci, but
    fashion, like Hollywood, isn’t producing blockbusters the way it once

    Until two or three years ago, executives at publicly traded
    luxury-goods companies were willing to have their faith in creativity
    tested by designers, few more so than Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, who seems to relish the risk-taking of his top impresarios, the couturier John Galliano of Dior and Marc Jacobs of Vuitton. Other executives insist that nothing has changed, despite heavy business pressures.

    “You need the most outstanding talent possible,” Robert Polet, the
    chief executive of Gucci Group, said, adding that the worst things for
    a brand were “complacency, a lack of consistency and becoming too
    greedy as well.” At the same time, he suggested it would be a mistake
    to start coddling a semi-sacred brand like Balenciaga, now that its
    designer, Nicolas Ghesquiere, has fully reinvented the house. “We
    believe the brand can grow fast for quite some time,” Mr. Polet said.

    Still, there are signs of fraying nerves. One reason is plain.
    “Business is tough,” said Bryan Bradley, the designer of Tuleh, an
    independent company in New York. “I just don’t think women are in a
    mood to splurge and buy expensive things.” Besides, he added: “There
    are a lot of good clothes out there. Go to Zara, APC.”

    Fashion, once a cartel of practical imperatives — this shoe! that
    hemline! — has had to accept a lesser role in women’s lives, as a kind
    of girlfriend-procurer of style tips and celebrity news. “We’ve lost
    our power,” said David Wolfe, the creative director of the Doneger
    Group, which forecasts trends for stores like Nordstrom. “I can’t
    remember the last time I saw someone on the street and thought, ‘Oh,
    you’re hopelessly out of style.’ Everything is equal.”

    Even the number of students in design schools does not necessarily
    signal a wave of creative talent. “If every fashion school graduated
    one talented person each year,” Mr. Bradley said, “I don’t think
    there’s room even for them in the business.”

    Given this reality, maybe design schools should think about offering
    a separate career track, with classes in the study of demographics,
    shopping patterns and store leasing. You could have an internship at
    Star magazine, observing the editors’ choices or as Paris Hilton’s
    assistant. True, you won’t get a seat at the Costume Institute gala — well, you might — but at least this approach reflects something contemporary and actual.

    Considering the almost promiscuous views we have had into the lives
    of designers, and the assumption that such publicity helps to sell
    clothes, it was surprising that several chief executives expressed
    concern about the high salaries being paid to designers. The inference
    was that the practice — in Europe, some salaries are in excess of 2
    million euros a year — has soured things.

    “I think it’s a big issue,” said Robert Duffy, the president of Marc
    Jacobs, pointing out that when he and Mr. Jacobs first began to work
    with LVMH, in the late 1990’s, they purposely did not seek a large
    salary. “We felt we had to prove ourselves.” He suggests the celebrity
    of fashion, especially in the 90’s, may have created unreasonable
    expectations. As he put it, “You can’t be a niche designer and still do
    expensive shows, and get the big salary, and hire the big stylists.”

    The audience for fashion is real. “The public loves designers right
    now,” Mr. Duffy said. But like many creative fields, fashion faces the
    challenge of how to be not just exciting but also meaningful. “You need
    to have some conscience, because people are going to get bored,” Mr.
    Adrover said by phone from Majorca, where he runs a cafe. For a few
    years in New York, Mr. Adrover challenged the conventional thinking
    that avant-garde fashion could be found only in Europe. He was also one
    of the few designers anywhere who addressed cultural diversity. “From
    the outside, I can tell you fashion doesn’t look that interesting,” he
    said. “It’s all related to business, and ad campaigns and parties. It’s
    not related to the world.”

    Actually, it just may relate to the world, but with issues like
    diversity and technologically smart clothes largely ignored, designers
    will have to decide if it’s the world they want.

    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

  2. #2
    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Default Re: Are creative designers done? (NYT article)

    So, as I keep reading these articles, I wonder about those who are successful. Ann Dem., Raf Simons, Dries van Noten, Margiela, Undercover, Number (N)ine, Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Viktor & Rolf, Cloak, etc. What is it that they are doing right, staying creative and financially successful? Some of them are indie, some of them are part of big business. I don't see one unifying quality that makes a creative business successful. Is it staying small and catering to a loyal niche market as Cloak and Number (N)ine are doing, and as Ann has done in the past (it looks like her niche market simply became larger over the years). Is it producing appealing clothes at prices more reasonable than most designers, and projecting a positive attitued the way Dries has done? Is it selling the house to the right investor, the way Margiela has done? Is it being a srewd business person and having a great sense of the market the way Rei has been operating (in addition to her amazing creativity)? Is it growing through having the right celebrity muses the way Rick Owens has?

    What is the difference between Jurgi Persoons and Bruno Pieters for example? Between Raf Simons and Dirk Schonberger? Between Matsuda and Issey Miyake? Between Helmut Lang and Costume National? I think they are in very similar categories, yet some are out of business, or about to be, and some are doing great.

    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

  3. #3

    Default Re: Are creative designers done? (NYT article)

    It is absolutely astounding to read an article like this, in a period of economic uncertainty, where no mention is made regarding out-of-control retail prices. It is a sob story about the bottom line affecting creativity and putting talented designers out on the street, but has the fucking author ever looked at a Rochas price tag? Jesus.

  4. #4
    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Default Re: Are creative designers done? (NYT article)

    [quote user="keith"]It is absolutely astounding to read an article like this, in a period of economic uncertainty, where no mention is made regarding out-of-control retail prices. It is a sob story about the bottom line affecting creativity and putting talented designers out on the street, but has the fucking author ever looked at a Rochas price tag? Jesus.

    Ha! That's true. We are especially hit in the US with the weak $. However, I think the prices are a part of the problem (well, for guys like us it may be the whole problem, lol). Another part of the problem is what influences people who have enough money to spend. Why do they choose to spend on Prada instead of Rochas? Why are $300 jeans Ok, but a fine wool $2k coat isn't? I think it's the tastes of those with money that is a part of the reason why Rochas is out of business. I don't think that's the case with Helmut Lang - I think it was partially penis-waving between Lang and Bertelli, and part because they diluted the brand by pumping out too much stuff that they couldn't sell.

    I wish we had someone with the inside knowledge on what exactly the markups are by the designer showrooms (not retail places). Than we could have a good measure of judging whether someone is very greedy, moderately greedy, or what. The best measure of judgement I can offer so far is closely watching the progress of Cloak from having decent prices to being obscenely overpriced these days. A LOT of fabrics have stayed the same, and I am sure the economies of scale have swing in Cloak's favor with rising popularity, but the prices went up tremendously. Hmmm.

    I agree about today's prices, though. I feel a little upset when I can no longer afford stuff at full prices. I mean, NEVER. 5 years ago $350 was a lot to pay for a pair of boots. Now it's $1k. Insane. Crap, often I can't even afford stuff on Yoox at full price these days.

    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

  5. #5

    Default Re: Are creative designers done? (NYT article)

    Oh man, the margins have to be huge. They've got to be, to offset the amount being made. They've got themselves boxed into a corner--they can't mass-produce, because that dilutes the brand and thereby the value. The flip side is that they can't sell on the cheap, because they aren't making enough items to offset production costs. Also, a brand's price is also tied into the brand's value; I don't mean that in a literal sense, I mean that part of the reason that Prada is PRADA is because it costs so fucking much to get it. That's an important part of the equation, which is a complex one--we want to sell as much as we can, without flooding the market and diluting value (which is tied to exclusivity), so the inflection point has to be a price where sales are maxed but also where the price isn't so low that the brand is perceived to be cheap.

    I remember on tFS when someone idiot was talking about the "worth" of their Cloak boots. People talk about "worth" as though it is non-variable and intrinsic, when in fact it is the opposite. If 10 pairs of a boot are made per size, per run, then they cost $1500 and sell at Atelier. You add an order of magnitude and they sell for $250 at Macy's. An extra order of magnitude and they are $50 at Foot Locker. The material can stay absolutely the same--except in cases where they're using something truly exotic--and the design can stay the same, but the "worth" varies. If none sell at Atelier, then they aren't "worth" anything! They are worth exactly what the market will bear, and what you personally will pay. I'm getting tangental here, I think, but it speaks to some larger issue, which I'm having trouble defining.

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