I find it quite enticing that two of the greatest fashion designers of today are about to embark on two drastically different directions with their own namesake collections. Tom Ford of course made his comeback to womenswear during last month’s New York Fashion Week with a very exclusive front row crowd, minus bloggers, photographers and celebrities (save for those who modeled) to limit the exposure of his Spring 11 collection. Around the same time, Karl Lagerfeld announced that he wasn’t showing his namesake collection as scheduled during Paris Fashion Week, and is instead launching a new masstige line for Fall 2011.
Let’s start with Tom Ford. I think the key word when talking about Ford’s womenswear comeback is control, coupled with rare exclusivity that puts others that use the term to shame. The collection received rave reviews (not like he cares) by the elite group that saw and modeled it, but so far he’s done an excellent job at not exposing anything save for a few loosely drawn sketches. Images will not be released until December, celebrities will not be seen in the clothes until then and magazines won’t feature the collection until January. All that holding back leads to immense anticipation for customers, who will be able to buy the collection exclusively in Tom Ford stores come February. What went down in his Madison Avenue store during the presentation was a flock of “the world’s most inspirational women” who modeled his clothes including the likes of Beyoncé, Daphne Guinness, Natalia, Chanel Iman and Julianne Moore. As each one modeled, Ford himself narrated the looks, cultivating what would seem like a very rare, yet personal introduction to his latest collection.
But Ford being Ford, has a seemingly perfect reason behind all of this. Think about it. Today ANYBODY no matter who you are, can see runway photos within an hour after a show takes place. And although my work depends on that speed and it is what customers (industry and not) want, you have to admit that seeing everything at once takes away the mystique that, as a shopper, you would have if you saw it in a store for the first time. So he’s bringing that back by withholding photos and limiting distribution. Ford is also changing the dynamics of how to present a collection, by doing it in a way that is just so different from the hustle and bustle of every other fashion show, that it feels refreshing and much more special and memorable. While Ford’s ideas may seem radical now (or just plain old-school) I see major potential in the way he’s shifting the system, particularly for luxury brands who invented exclusivity in the first place. In a market where knock-offs hit the high street before the original designer pieces, I see demand for change amongst an elitist clientele. If you’re a luxury brand shopper, isn’t a purchase going to mean more to you if you know that you’re amongst the first to buy it, and it doesn’t exist on the high street (yet)? Seems to me that Tom Ford is putting a welcome dose of nostalgia back into fashion.
Now onto Karl Lagerfeld, who has decided to take his own namesake collection from designer to masstige starting in Fall 11. It is said that e-commerce will be a leading force behind the new initiative. Admittedly, there’s not much info on this because it hasn’t launched (there are even no photos to be had). So what about it? Well for starters, this isn’t Karl’s first foray into the mass market.. as we all recall he was the FIRST designer to team up with H&M for a one-off collection back in 2004. A lot has changed since then and it’s no longer impossible for big designers to dip their talent into more than one market. In fact some, like Jil Sander’s +J brand for Uniqlo and Giles Deacon for New Look, are doing quite well. Other luxury brands are just now warming to the idea of high street collaborations, like Lanvin, which has teamed up with H&M for a one-off collection launching this November. So Karl was somewhat of a pioneer 6 years ago when he ventured into the mass market, and subsequently sold out of merchandise within minutes. Well, doesn’t Karl always seem to have the knack of knowing what’s ripe, now and next?
Aside for being market-right, this is KARL after all. Attaching his own name (permanently) to the masses makes sense now because he is simply adored on all corners of this earth, by the fashion flock, customers of Chanel, Fendi, Diet Coke and beyond. Karl is a huge personality, and indeed he’s latched his name to a great number of products (fashion and otherwise) which have only heightened his visibility in a positive way. He gets fashion urgency, lives for pop culture and has been fast to adapt to technology whether by a personal obsession of iPods or fashion films. It takes a design visionary and a very global personality to be able to take on more than one market (let alone 2 luxury brands), and I’m convinced that Karl masstige will be some kind of wonderful.
So there you have it. Two extraordinary designers of our time, taking two very opposite and telling directions. There is no right or wrong. The beauty of it is that I believe both true exclusivity and designer masstige can exist in today’s marketplace. In many ways, the existence of exclusivity and masstige act as a balance and create demand for one another, making for some very interesting times ahead.