last month, the latest intertextile was held in shanghai. textile mills (and their agents) all over the world were exhibiting their fall / winter 2011 fabrics collections and competing for share in the fastest growing market. bucol carries the best fancy silk. for lace, you just go to soltiss. solbiati provides top quality natural-fiber woven such as cotton, linen and wool. cut-and-sewn knits belong to mario boselli. denim? kaihara. no question.
that got me thinking: what made them who they are today? the money? the history? the passion? it is all of the above and more. it is the tradition. and, it was a very nice way to work in the pre-internet era. information was restricted. techniques were passed down from generation to generation within the family. it would take decades to master all the little tricks and secrets of the trade. but this business model does not work neither in china nor the post-internet economies.
i disagree with the western point of view of china being merely a copying nation. modern china is relatively young comparing even to the us. we are only 60 years old and we are in the economics adolescence for the pass 25 years. speaking of tradition within such a short time is like examining the cooking skill of a chief of mcdonald – there is none to be found. copying is how you learn. copying is part of growing up. look at japan in the 70’s.the first skyline by toyota was an effort to “learn” from the americans how to build a muscle car, only cheaper and smaller. i bet a ford mustang owner was laughing at the skyline back then. but somewhere along the way, the toyota found its own way (the manga culture and the rising video gaming industry lent a great hand). the latest skyline is nothing to sneeze at – with the million renminbi price tags and its performance, it is more like a ferrari then any ford.
drawing parallel between the two counties in different era is a mistake. unlike japan in the 70’s, because of the internet, new china has an abundance of information, which crowded out both traditions and new ideas. so i would argue that copying is more a by-product of the time and place in history for the chinese.
with the backing of hermès, shang-xia is aiming to be a chinese luxury brand building on the tradition of chinese craftsmanship and nothing else. according to its website, it is “chinese and asian heritage crafted for contemporary lifestyle”. it could be very beautiful and extremely successful financially, but it sounds very boring to me. where is the excitement? what is the new idea here? to truly build a modern chinese hi-end brand, the idea of tradition would be a negative one. we can’t compete on the history and heritage with the western companies. nor should we. chinese customers will dominate the new luxury market. so why are we playing their game of tradition?
(first published in the dec. 2010 issue of his life magazine)
5 years ago, i was throwing around an idea of building a chinese fashion house. all the feedbacks from china were 1) copy, copy, copy, 2) make it look like a western brand, and 3) give it a european name. no one said anything about the actual customers. no one said anything about an original vision. and, no one said anything about a long-term strategy. 5 years later, i am still getting the same answers. and no, i am not taking those “advices”.
i suspect our proud 5000 years of chinese culture and history are not doing us any good regarding designs. at this point in time, not only should we break from the western ideals in aesthetic, but also our own past history. if design is about exploration and navigation of our contemporary life, then we should be looking for new frontier of the modern lives, not the remains of our cultural ruins. please forget about all those dragon motifs visually. please let go of all those emperors and dynasties conceptually. please stop using all these ancient similes conversationally. and please: do not be imprisoned by our own past.
when i went to 798 for the first time a few years back, i saw lots of artworks dealing in the rein of politics. the americans ate that stuff up, but as a chinese citizen, i found that too far removed from everyday lives and the general reality of the here and the now. in other words – boring! then there were those artworks with which their main idea is to update the past to the future: pop art ink drawings, the ceramic coca cola cans, the modern installation using ancient furniture from the forbidden city, etc. these were all good gimmicks… for about 5 minutes – boring! and let’s not even mention the “east meets west” rubbish; that stuff lays so deep inside the mind-prison that i am not even going to comment on that – boring!
however, i came across some artworks that excited me. those were free of our historical baggages as a people. the artists just deal with the everyday lives without referring to the past. the artworks are all witnesses of the modern history of the rise of china. i invite you to check out the brilliant minds of yue minjum, zhang huan, and ju ming.
i am not saying we should develop our own form of internet from the ground up. a good thing is a good thing. but if we are going to copy, we should copy the thought process, not the end products. i don’t want your fish; i want to learn how to fish. don’t just hire all the international celebrity designers and architects to work on our projects; we should mix in our own creative talents to learn, to adopt and to find our own paths. not to be limited by our 5000 years of experiences, to be a trailblazer is to have one’s own beliefs, own value, and own strategy.
(first published in the aug. 2010 issue of his life magazine)
once upon a time in new york, all you had to do to build a fashion business was to copy the french couture houses. you took the ferry across the atlantic ocean, tried to get into the shows, found the exact knockoff patterns, went home, and raked it in. later on, on 1968 someone started a company copying yves saint laurent and went on to create a multi-billion dollars company. that someone is calvin klein. if you try that today in new york, you will probably last 12-18 months and then realize all your investment is gone because no one will pay any attention.
if you are trying to start a new business in china today, my advice is: stop copying. the western appropriation era of china is fast closing. yes, there is a successful example of h&m in china called me & city. yes, there is also a chinese nike called ni ling. polo “became” sept. wolves. but, china pace of changes is unprecedented. the path pioneered by the west may not be suitable for us. and even it proved to work, it doesn’t mean it will still work. if you just want to follow ni ling’s road to success, you will be disappointed that a few bridges were burned long ago. you will see them ahead, but never get there.
with all the information available online and otherwise, the quality of the chinese customers is rapidly improving. thus, to build a successful label is to be a trailblazer. go where no one has been before. byd is building a car business with their own lithium ion battery technology in an effort to jump ahead of the traditional gasoline-base brands and thus dominate the industry. even though the result remains to be seen, the courage, the method, and the ideas are visionary. copy that.
if you told tadashi yanai 25 years ago that he would build the biggest japanese clothing brand to compete international and be the richest man in japan ahead of the real estate developer, tech investor, and bankers, he would probably think you are crazy. yiner started with only 7 sewing machines 16 years ago and has over 500 stores today. i understand that the goal is to first make a huge amount of money, then figure it out later. (ellesay can now hire jean paul knott as consultant.) but time is different and my point is to ‘think far, act near’. a good counter example is, again, byd. the first logo is a not-so-subtle copy of bmw, but now, they had to change it to move onto the international stage. ni ning is changing their nike look-alike logo by the end of this year to compete in the european market.
time is different. look far and build something in china for chinese, build an identity, learn everything about your customers, and stand for your beliefs. never underestimate your customers! stop copying now!
(first published in the jul. 2010 issue of his life magazine)
从前的纽约，如果想创造一个时尚品牌，那么最好的途径就复制法国。轮船横跨大西洋，带来了 t 台秀的灵感以及最时尚的潮流。后来，有人在1968年，复制了 yves saint laurent，进而建立一个亿元规模的公司，这个人就是 calvin klein。同样的模式，如果在今天的纽约尝试，你可能会徒劳12-18个月，然后发现事实并非当年，没有人理会你了。
如果你想在中国启动一个新的业务，我的建议是：停止复制。盗用西方观点的时代马上就要终结。这里有 h＆m 的复制品 me & city,当然也有成功的例子“中国式 nike — 李宁……中国的变化速度是前所未有的，曾经适用于西方的路径可能不适合我们。事实证明，即使有个案成功，也不意味着它能产生长期价值。如果你只是想跟着李宁的道路走向成功，你会感到失望。
25年前的柳井忠，放出狠话要建立日本最大的服装品牌，成为最富有的领先的房地产开发商、技术投资者和银行家，你可能会认为他疯了。 因为这句豪言壮语只始于7台缝纫机，而今天，塔发展成了拥有超过500家商店的品牌。据我所知，“优衣库”的理念是先普及，再设计（先以低廉的价格在消费者心中打开认知和市场，进而再在实用的单品上添加设计元素）。不得不承认，优衣库以其自己的方式走向了国际。再举一个反例——比亚迪，之前的 logo 与宝马的 logo 有微妙的相似，但却没有因为此走上国际舞台，于是比亚迪有了新 logo。曾经 logo 相似的李宁与耐克，也在各自改进，以“不可复制”的个性驰骋在消费者中间。
designers stephan janson, julio espada, christian lacroix and mathew williamson all swung and missed. currently, poor peter dundas is still just looking for the bat. we are talking about a game of pucci.
to many, pucci is a colorful retro-print house. i suspect that such a strong but narrow identity is doing more harm than good. no one dared to move it forward (like nicolas ghesquiere did with balanciaga). no one managed to fake a history onto the company (like tom ford did with gucci). and, no one figured to just take it by the horns and move it the way she/he see fits (like john galliano did with dior). everyone spent a little too much time with pucci’s archive.
there were just too many missed opportunities, with the latest being the inkjet (or digital) fabric printing technology. the british fashion student first started using it for their thesis. with advances of bulk production capacity of the past few years, digital print appeared on runway of hussein chalayan (depicting car crashes), alexander mcqueen (extraordinary textural visual effect, as expected from him), mary katrantzou (bottling up the female body), etc. can you imagine the possibilities of applying this technology to the house of pucci? apparently, none of the passing designers could.
they can’t just keep slapping the pucci prints onto lingerie, cups, hats, etc. to be relevant today, pucci need to show a belief in something. if all pucci stands for are those tired old ‘original’ prints, then they should realize their market really only exists on ebay. pucci, like china, should NOT be paralyzed by its heritage, its history and even its identity (be respectful of the character). turn the page!
note: versace is fast becoming a pucci of our generation – increasing historic identity with decreasing relevancy.
the wrong: using the same idea on the wrong context
product design, music, fashion, architecture, and movies.
which one of the above does not belong in the same group?
(hints: music is about emotions. movies are about experiences. product design is about function. architecture is about belonging. fashion is about cash.)
the answer is…. fashion. all others are about ideas.
but, it could be worst, when fashion has the wrong ideas – look at the givenchy menswear spring ‘08. please tell me what man would wear pink lace shorts and men’s tights? and what is his statement anyways? another example is thom browne spring ’09. he has similar ideas to put men in skirts. there were pants with a crotch dropped so low as to make them look like dresses? how many guys can dress like marc jacobs to work and to play?
when yves saint laruent pioneered the androgynous idea in 1966, he was reflecting his time and empowering women by giving them the option of wearing clothes with influence and power – menswear. that was a great idea. putting women’s clothes on a men’s body? that is a bad idea.
a female body is gracefully sculptural with attractive curve for child bearing; a male body is simply and totally utilitarian for hurting. womenswear designer spent over 100 years to perfect it for women. using those research and development for men is as appropriate as knocking off the aviation technology for submarines – ridiculous. so what should a fashionable man do?
(first published in the jan. 2010 issue of his life magazine)
for hussein chalayan spring / summer 2010, the most important look is # 42 – hussein himself came out pulling a dali. and it is also the most disappointing.
lacking the punches and the muscle from his early career, he is now reduced to a part of the fashion machine. whatever happened to the “let-the-works-speak-for-themselves”? puma being creatively directed by him has showed no teeth and no improvement. his own namesake line with the backing of ppr (or gucci if you will) is looking worst than when he was independent. what the hell on earth is going on with him?
we are still very much angry, but we are also super busy with our projects in china. we take on same fashion labels in the mainland and are really trying to work our magic there. as soon as we get time to breath, we will figure out a way to incorporate our experience there with the (angry) fashion blog.
wrong: fashion show for show’s sake suggestion: learn from the concepts of car shows
after the second world war, an influential school of car builders emerged in italy. their activities were 2-headed: consulting work for mass production companies and, designing expensive custom-made concepts there were pieces of art that served as a platform for the evolving and testing of new concepts of forms. without that movement, there would be no concept cars and, in turns, no sexy car shows.
take bmw’s gina (geometry and functions in “n” adaptions), it’s a visionary roadster that showcases an elastic and transformable outer ‘skin’ stretched across a moveable metal structure. that is something needed to be shown for all the hard work from the laboratory. on top of that, hundreds of thousands of the general public can simple show up at the show and check out all the concept cars, along side the production cars and the sexy chicks.
on the other hand, we have the fashion shows. the above are 3 of the ‘best looks’ (out of 96! whatever happened to editing?!) of fall 09 according to vogue.com. marc, ralph, and the 2 cute boys are no bmw. but we suppose a gina is too much to ask.
there are no testing of new ideas or forms. hundreds of thousands of real paying customers are excluded. fashion shows are just public relation events, parties, and elitists’ semi-annual gatherings of the past. you know something is as good as dead when a tv show is named after it.
we really don’t mean to pick on coach, but they provide such good materials.
even thought hermes was found in 1837 as a saddle shop by thiery hermès, the carriage and horse logo and well-known orange hermès boxes weren’t introduced until 1951, when the company was under the direction of robert dumas-hermès, after the death of emile-maurice hermès. now, we don’t think it’s necessary to point out who ‘inspired’ who regarding the logo, do we?
coach build their huge business in the past 10 years by changing their cooperate identity from a manufacturing standpoint (all products were produced in the states based on their 34th street factory in new york city) to a marketing-driven brand. they saw a niche in america they described as ‘affordable’ luxury. (an oxymoron if you ask us. it is the second worst ‘creative concept’ next to the credit default swap.) the outcome are those gucci/lv/hermès hybrid bags at 1/3 of the price. and they translated to comp sales of over 80% for an extended period of time and ended up being a few-billion-dollar-a-year business. it was a combination of creative business decision, good operation management, and great fortune.
the same can’t be said for their design department. at a time when people are buying 6 less coach bags to save up for 1 hermès, it is high time for them to stand on solid original ground by their own ideas product-wise. 2nd hand concepts won’t cut it no more. but knocking-off is just too deeply embedded in their dna. to speak for themselves with design may be too much to ask of a company who needed to borrow even for their logo.
the wrong: capitalizing on smaller labels’ designs
on the left is the pierre hardy signature bag from 2006.
in the middle and on the right are the cricket summer 09 group from coach.
do we have to say more?
after running low on ideas from gucci (and running up the tap on the lawyers’ fee), coach has decided to take on a new direction. start coming up with original concepts? no. they have decided to pick on the ‘little guys’. simply take their hard-earned look and identity, and promote it like it’s their own. the thinking is simple: middle america probably never heard of a pierre hardy, so let’s introduce his ideas and call it the cricket. oh, and it probably will make them 100 million bucks. can you imagine how mr. hardy feels when he sees this shit?
the wrong: building a brand based on a borrowed identity
cole haan is not happening because it is following coach which is following hermes, lv, gucci…. but now, why would they try to brand themselves by combining bottega veneta with burberry? it is not the exact plaid, and they probably think it is a ‘clever’ way to update the weaving technique, bring it to a higher level, and thus own it. what a joke. (by the way, it is probably taken from one of those woven hemp carpet you can easily found in a chinatown near you)
a big idea is a prerequiest for resurrecting such brand. futuristic voyage for balenciaga, sex for gucci, craft for bottega, french romance for givenchy, (tiny bit quirky) status for lv, accessible ‘luxury’ for coach. oh, cole haan is so completely lost. no heritage, no direction, and apparently no idea.
suggestion: look to your parent company. using nike air was a good start. how would you push technology with a historical brand?
the wrong: building a business on a fashion bubble
words from the street are that thom browne is in financial trouble. should we be surprised?
started in ’01, thom has been hailed as one of the most influential mens designer (along with hedi slimane) of the 21st century. bergdorf goodman was the first to support him; and you could see him selling the line on the floor personally (he must have pick up that idea from working as a sale rep at armani’s showroom in new york). and that impressed quit a few of the higher-ups insiders of the industry. but what shocked us was the price tag. a grey wool sport jacket was usd 3750. it seemed a bit unreal.
what also seemed unreal was how important he got in the fashion bubble word. you could still find hedi’s sensibility and ‘slimness’ even in middle america. but thom’s? capri’s dress pants? 3/4 sleeves sport jacket? short suits? how influential is that really?
he might be able to turn that ‘talent’ into some good paying consulting jobs. but brooks brothers, moncler, and harry winston are real business. could one really build a real business on buzz and ‘potential’ without any regards for the real world?
the wrong: shameless cross-disciplinary self-promotion without understanding of the field
someone should have introduced damien hirst to mcqueen - 10 years ago - to save him the embarrassment. besides, did anyone actually pay any attention (never mind actual dollars) to those hirst’s levi’s? it was a failure with warhol. now, when would levi’s stop doing things for minimum impact?
people are always looking for the next donna, the next ralph, or the next calvin. (sorry tommy, we never consider you a fashion designer) but no one ever acknowledge that there may not be a next big fashion business bearing a designer’s name. consider this: after the big 3, name another designer with his/her business over 1 billion dollars. the answer is: 0. it’s very typical of fashion to prefer the system to remain unchanged.
let’s look at new york. marc? his business is tiny comparing to lv. micheal kors? those old tommy business guys, lawrence and silas, brought kors 6 years ago and proclaimed it will be a billion dollar business. they are stuck at the middle. our personal favorite narciso rodriguez? liz claiborne brought 50% for a mere 10 million, then return it back to the designer late last year. we assume for much less. then we have those wunderkind kids one after another; remember zack? what about jeffery chow? it’s ok, because now we have the wangs and the wus. but would they be like calvin?
yes, some designers would claim that they would like to remain small and ‘intimate’. fine, but you should also know that we are some of the most egotistical creatures. we want fame, money, and sway, in that order. to drive any real influence, one will need to reach the mass (say hi to issac mizrahi). to do that, you need cold hard cash. a billion of it.
what companies blew up so big in the part 10 years? juicy. seven. zara. h&m.
the wrong: blindly following a trend without even trying to understand why
waterproof zipper has been hot for a few seasons. but, can someone please educate us on why they would need waterproof zippers on a cotton hoodie? water won’t zip through the zippers for sure, but the only problem is that the cotton fleece would be soaping wet.
style without substance is a waterproof zipper without reason; DON”T DO IT!