the right: take initiative, even when you are at the top of the food chain
for a designer, it is important to be able to see, feel and experience different cultures. yves saint laurent’s pioneering spanish collection (1976), russian collection (1976) and chinese collection (1977) were good proofs of this. with the internet, the world is a much smaller place and pictures are readily available. however, you cannot compare looking at the mona lisa online and standing in front of the real painting in the louvre; just because you brought a cookbook does not mean you know how to cook. that is why traveling is so important for creativity.
i have been very lucky that work brought me to travel the world – new york, los angeles, paris, london, tokyo, berlin, barcelona, antwerp, etc., except milan. in fact, i had ever been to any part of italy. that is the source of a joke for most of my close friends. italian cuisine is my favorite. italian fabrics i love. italian renaissance was an integral part of my art education. yet, i had never been to italy.
that was before mid september, because i just went to florence and milan. florence is widely regarded as the birthplace of the renaissance with de vinci and michelangelo. and it is still well known for its leather craft business. but truth be told, their leather products can hardly compete with the luxury brands nowadays, not after the race of creating the “it” bag every season for the past decade. about 40 minutes from the center, there are some great outlet shops. space is a mighty big warehouse for prada and miu miu. and the mall has everything from pucci to gucci, from marni to bally, from balenciaga to stella. but the one standout is the pharmacy of santa maria novella who sells beauty products and perfume made by the monks. nice products with a great story. how can you beat that? my problem with florence is that now it is basically a town made up of tourists. so even with all that history behind it, florence is strangely unauthentic.
milan is totally different. duomo di milano is still beautiful but the city is much more about fashion. fashion quadrangle contains the most prestigious boutiques and showrooms in the world densely packed all within walking distance. it was amazing taking in all the visual information just by window-shopping. i cannot descript it with words; you have to experience it yourselves.
the night before i left was the fashion night out. it is the second edition of an international event conceived by american vogue (possibly by anna wintour) to fight the great recession of 2009. basically, it was one big block fashion party on the street in all of the world’s major cities. i had some free champagne from the stella mccartney store and the balenciaga store. no one was really shopping, but the fun was making fashion exciting again. it was great to see the most influential fashion press trying to change the world for the better. let’s hope the fashion brands can follow the lead with their products.
(first published in the nov. 2010 issue of his life magazine)
the heroes shape the time, or the time shapes the heroes?
in the case of fashion, i would definitely say it is the latter. coco chanel once pronounced: “i set the fashion for a quarter of a century. why? because i knew how to express my own time.” since the best fashion always reflects its period, the great designers were mostly shaped and determined by their time and environment. chanel liberated women with jersey, with the little black dress, etc. christian dior gave women the new look. yves saint laurent empowered women with his le smoking tuxedo suit. none would be possible if they did not realize their time and place in fashion with regards to their social period.
what else is essential to become a great fashion designer? creativity? a great point of view? a handsome face? good relationships with the press? yes to all of the above, but the most important is the right business partner – a fashion ceo with a capital f. it is not just any ceos; she/he has to love fashion more than cash. understanding of the long-term nature of identity building and the intangibles of a designers’ brand is a must, while never loses sight of the company’s balance sheet. absent of an ego is imperative to co-exist with designers who egoistic being one of the defining quality. in this business, communication skill has to be second nature: the fceo has to be able to communicate as easily and flawlessly as breathing. she/he is like the king of its world but ultimately serves its queer (correction: queen). it really could be done: pierre bergé to yves saint laurent. barry k. schwartz to calvin klein. domenico de sole to tom ford. robert duffy to marc jacobs.
those are qualities that are not exactly second nature for our chinese people; none of our ancient kings severed their queen. teamwork is fine as long as she/he is the cristiano ronaldo of the real madrid. is it a surprise that none of our national teams consisted of more than 2 people succeeded in the beijing olympics? it is really hard to find good fashion management talents, just like it is hard to find someone to play defenders on our national soccer team. every one wants to score those gorgeous and glamorous goals, but no one is willing to do the dirty work and play the under-appreciated defense.
the irony is: the part that really needs creativity is the business side of fashion. coach turned itself from a manufacturing business to a marketing business offering “affordable” luxury with great timing. zara got creative on their logistics to create amazing value for their customers. h&m practically invented fast fashion. polo paved the way for lifestyle fashion. calvin klein owned the underwear and fragrance business with his ads. duffy once said on twitter: “marc is the dreamer; it’s my job to make it a reality.” he accomplished that creatively, and more. we need more people like that for fashion design to flourish in china.
(first published in the jun. 2010 issue of his life magazine)
还有哪些因素是成为一个伟大设计师的条件？创意？良好的视觉剪裁？一张美丽的模特脸？出色的宣传？当然基于上述因素外，更重要的是选对商业合作伙伴——他一定要对时尚狂热，而非金钱。理解并支持设计师的表达，同时帮助设计师建立长久发展的个人风格，但又能保证财务方面的平衡并且控制设计师天马行空的表达被确定在一个标准。在这个行业，社交与传播能力已成为成功与否的第二考量：作为设计师背后的金主，他必须让各个生产、设计、售卖的环节顺畅自如。他是世界之王，但最终服务的王后（设计师）。一些成功的榜样可以说明问题：pierre bergé之于yves saint laurent、barry k. schwartz之于calvin klein、domenico de sole之于tom ford……
the right: once in a while, people should be a bit selfish and follow their hearts. success sometimes would follow as well
i am probably the last to write about this tom ford directorial debut. and i am the first to admit that i hated all those gucci collections. but i love this movie.
to be expected, it’s a great looking film: the not-overly-slim suits, the semi-transparent house, the wild-within-control mercedes convertible, the slightly-off-beautiful actors. the color story is unexpectedly 3-dimensional; the changes of the color intensity correspond with george’s mood and sensuality. tom ford picked the novel of the same name by christopher isherwood, and did a great job of adopting the screenplay himself, understanding that a great story is essential to his movie much the same way a great inspiration is critical for his fashion shows. the soundtrack is a perfect complement to the visuals, similar to the hair and makeup completing the looks, again, at his fashion shows.
colin firth is amazing. and i love the ‘becoming george’ part. and i love the ending with james ‘coming back’ and kissing george. what a romantic idea (kiss) of death! it’s not just about being homosexual, that would be too narrow a view. it’s more then just beauty, for that is too shallow (that’s what i thought of tom ford before). it’s not very commercial, and that is a shocker! it is about love. it is about life.
i never knew tom ford has such sensuality, this movie puts his old works in totally new contexts. maybe there are other sides of tom ford that we didn’t know about. he did (and financed) this movie for himself and that alone deserves praise. after gucci and before tom ford menswear, someone asked him about a namesake women’s line. he answered that it wouldn’t happen before he direct a movie. with that out of the way, and rumor has it that he is busy building a women’s team, i am looking forwards to it with great expectation.
the right: never stop learning and employing new technology
jean paul gaultier might not be the hottest name around at the moment, but it will be your mistake to ignore him. take his marketing campaign for the first anniversary (1st birthday if you will) of his ‘madame’ fragrance, it is the most creative online promotion to date. over the next few weeks, he will slowly reveal the secret identity of a mystery guest though his website and a network of blogs, thus ensuring the word-of-mouth internet phenomenon (no, we are not part of that network. and yes, we realize we are being ‘used’).
we speculate that the secret guest is the artist brian donnelly, better known as kaws.
lesson learned: technology is a tool like a typewriter, but you still have to come up with a story.
the right: fearlessly charge into the unknown territory
we are probably the last few to find out that lynn yaeger is out of a job. the village voice, where the legendary fashion critic worked for over 30 years, gave her the pink slip on dec 29, 08.
we don’t know her personally, but i met her once 6 years ago. it was for some lower east side thing, something about a shop project promoting new designers and the district. i didn’t care about it, but i did want to introduce myself to judges lynn yaeger and mickey boardman of papermag. with my crazy little accessories line at the time, we talked for about 5 minutes. she won’t remember it, but the encounter was helpful in my quest. (a month later, we turned down the offer because i didn’t think we would make the fee back in the project.)
now, we dearly wish her to go on to more successful venture. she is too good for that place anyways. the voice is about the progressive kids in the city. but those same kids are about technology and the web. when the recession hit and the advertising dollars found their way online, the voice is looking at the same fate as dinosaurs. the good news is, lynn is now free to write for vogue, katie’s love, blogs, a book or 2, a tv series, etc.
simon cowell: “ok, what’s the dream?”
susan boyle: “i am trying to be a professional singer.”
simon: “and why haven’t it worked out so far, susan?”
susan: “i was never given the chance before….”
being a never-been-kissed 47-year-old, this unemployed lady wants to be as successful as elaine paige. didn’t look like it was gonna happen, not with her look. in fact, it looked like a joke…. until she hit her first note on the song ‘i dreamed a dream’ from ‘les miserables’ on the show ‘britain’s got talents’.
the ‘feminine’ abbey lee actively affect her surroundings with a dream super power (sex perhaps?). then she sort of ‘become’ flora herself, mystifying her ability. you know it is about ideas, and it’s easy to understand. this is different, yet amazingly gucci.
the picking of the director is out of this world. we never thought gucci would pick chris, and the end product is beyond ‘fabulous’. the music is the classic ‘i feel love’ by donna summer. cunningham actually re-arrange and went to nashville to re-record the vocal with her. this is the fruit of his time off in 2004/5 to study music and music production out of his passion. (if you have read our post from oct, ’08, you would’ve known that he is a big influence on our design and concept)
the right: don’t lost sight of the dna of your company
we were more of a black or white converse all-stars person. you will see tons of all-stars on the feet of chain-smoking designers on 7th avenue and 40th street in new york. you know them: they wear really expensive clothes with the 30 bucks sneakers. always in black; never in jeans. yeah, we were one of them. how creative, right?
adidas stan smith is another designers’ favorite too. other than the fact that adidas have been pushing that style to death every season and running it to the ground , it’s alright if you don’t mind that it really look dated now. here comes the nike air elan pinnacle qs. it would look great with our pants (never with jeans) and we would still look like designers. it should be a future fashion classic, in the spirit of stan smith in the 90′s.
the real lessons are how nike finally gets it. they wanted badly to create a converse all-stars of their own for a decade. failed miserably, they eventually bought converse for usd 305 million. at last, nike realized those fabrics sneakers are not in their blood. you simply can’t have coca cola making champagne.
similar thing happened with stan smith. nike wanted their version of it. god, were those ugly; those soles have no soul. it was just the same last with the swoosh perforation on it. this failure gave born to nike’s nike sportswear brand, and this kicks that we love. the quality is european. the leather screams fashion. the sole is fashionable thin. the details are designers’ (check out the leather in-set side sole). most importantly, the design reflects all the nike dna yet fashionably minimal. this is what happens when you never give up and figure out how to apply your brand dna to a new territory of aesthetics.
the right: seeing the future with contemporary art
beth ditto is all the rage in fashion nowadays. she is best pal with kate moss. she was seen in the front row at all the major shows. she is on the cover of the new conde nast magazine ‘love’ by katie grand. and you would have seen that coming, if you pay any attention to contemporary art, which is 3, 5 steps ahead of designs and the rest of the world.
jenny saville has been painting ‘bigger’ women for over 15 years. we were intrigued by her ability to see and make such beauty with the ‘unusual’. (her other objects are carcass, transvestite, open wounds, etc.) eventually, her ideas penetrated fashion by ’08. if you get to read her interview, you will find it very inspiring. we wish it is the artists that got to fix the financial crisis; artists are the smartest people really. they are not about money, not about greed, not about material gain. they deal with ideas and they deal with results.
(note: technology is another good indictor of future fashion. remember bush opposition of stem cell research back in 2001? it actually raised awareness for that science. and tom ford started juxtaposing, or cloning if you will, the same model one next to another for his gucci ads. the impact is felt to this day with the victor & rolf online show last season with the same sharon one after another. but that’s for another post.)
prediction: chinese designs will be fashionable, much like how the art world discovered the chinese contemporary art.
the right: being ambitious enough to push fashion forward relentlessly
going to parsons right next to the byrant park more than a decade ago, my friend & classmate, somsack, and i never missed our semiannual chance to sneak into the new york shows. it’s the time of the year that awkward beauties roam the pavement on 7th avenue. however, the excitement would be replaced by disappointment in a new york minute. adding to the confusion were the warm reviews to obviously ugly collections by most magazines and their critics. that was when i discovered the guiding words of cathy horyn.
it was never about her personal taste and her friends. she is not interested in fame. her writing is about fashion journalism, understanding of fashion, and pushing us forwards. ideas and concepts matter. it’s more inspirational than any mood board you would find in any design studio. go on. read on the runway.
the right: paying attention to the business side of design
you would hear fashion people talking about 80/20 all the time. my friend ce ce even named her shoe line 80%20. but what is it?
the general name is ‘pareto principle’ - 80% of the result is from 20% of the effort.
20% of your favorite clothes will make up 80% of your look.
20% of the tastemakers will be responsible for 80% of the trends.
20% of the line will generate 80% of your sales.
20% of the designers will commend 80% of the coverage. you get the idea.
the key is to not forget the other side of the argument. even though 2 out of the 10 styles will generate the bulk of the sales, it’s the other 8 styles that define the identity, differentiate the label, and generate press (if you are doing it right). it’s the 80% consisting of the editorial pieces that is pushing the 20% of basics to sales.
after all, if everyone is considered to have good taste, there good taste doesn’t exist at all.
the right: more than just reflecting its time, fashion should react to it as well
i went to the burberry outlet last sunday and find this little piece of gem sitting at the corner rag for us 50 bucks. gribbed! ran! paid! i wanted it back in spring ’06 thinking that this editorial piece would be on sales soon enough. well, didn’t happen in new york. but now, it’s like i’ve reconnected with a long lost friend.
and then it hit me – what needed in fashion now is the fun, the crazies, and the optimism. offering practical clothes in subdued colors and with fewer flourishes is just short-term day trade speculation without regards for the long run. losing footings on what your company stand for and you are as good as dead. (well, unless you built your look on quick sands….) if your company is cash-trapped and won’t last through x’mas ’09, then you probably should’ve closed it last x’mas. i just don’t see any reason why a woman would want an ‘investment’ piece such as a gray wool coat when she has 3 pieces sitting in her closet. instead, lift her mode, made her smile, and strike her emotionally. only then, might she open her wallet.
the right: have faith in your products, unafraid of the perceived ‘adversity’ of the common man the wrong: not returning stolen goods
the christies auction of the yves saint laurent and pierre bergé collection yielded a grand total of us$ 484.6 million, the largest private art auction in history. its success showed that when you have the right products, the quality products, the buyers will come regardless of the market condition.
in case you ask, the ’2 out of the 12 heads’ were sold to anonymous bidders for us$ 20 million. each.
new york is kicking off the fall ’09 shows next week. with all the cancellations, we really don’t understand why they don’t produce online shows. one word: technophobia.
we can understand why fashion editors don’t like this format; online shows lessen the ‘importance’ and the elitism of the fashion bubble world. but everyone else would embrace it. what is not to love when you know anna wintor would be watching the viktor & rolf show the same way i am watching it now. talk about fashion democracy!
any buyers really placing orders during the shows? any real paying customers actually get into the shows? no! basically, it is just an advertising event. they do it because that’s what you are suppose to do. can fashion figure out a more creative way to market the products?
i think miss vreeland might agree with e.b. white and me.
“design is an act of faith, not a trick of gimmick.”
“style is the designer, and therefore what you are, rather than what you know, will at last determine your style. if you design, you must believe – in the truth and worth of the fabrics, in the ability of the customers to receive and decode the message. no one can design decently who is distrustful of the customer’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.”
the element of style is a great book for anyone who wants to write. i just didn’t expect that it can help a designer as well.
on the last page, e.b. white concludes, “it is now necessary to warn you that your concern for the reader must be pure: you must sympathize with the reader’s plight (most readers are in trouble about half the time) but never seek to know the reader’s wants. your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. start sniffing the air, or glancing at the trend machine, and you are as good as death, although you may make a nice living.”
a fashion designer is not an artist, never mind a writer. but lots of us are too busy pleasing everyone that we forget about the most important one – themselves.
the TT looks dated now. but back in 1998 when it first appeared, TT single-handedly put the excitment back into audi, bringing the name back from obscurity. it redefined the company, and lended its magic to audi’s bread and butter A4 and A6. without the TT, the message wouldn’t be so loud and clear. now that’s just terrific branding.
come to think of it, why can’t we consider them fashion brands? when was the last time fashion produced a TT or an iphone?
to be something great, he showed african-americans don’t have to be funny, to entertain, and to play sports to succeed. they, too, can aspire to the highest office.
to be something great, chinese don’t have to copy, to knockoff, and to sell fakes to succeed. we, too, can aspire to the luxury brands. maybe there will be a chinese designer in charge of a gucci, a chanel. better yet, there will be a ture fashion label created, ran, and competed by a chinese.