The Mega-Marketing of Designer Fashion

On Thursday, New York Fashion Week kicked off the luxury apparel and accessories trade show season, which sees thousands of designers, retailers, stylists, journalists and celebrities travel the world for nearly two months twice every year. The fashion week has become such a familiar yet otherworldly parade that it’s easy to lose sight of its relevance in the bigger business equation. For a poignant reminder of why this spectacle is such a successful and enduring mega-marketing ploy, the New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn penned a column that put the first few days of shows into perspective.


American Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour launching Fashion’s Night Out last year

 Fashion’s Night Out has grown by slightly epic proportions 

If the catwalk shows have already become a hugely valuable promotional tool for brands to seduce the luxury consumer with a blitz of entertainment, then a mass retail shopping event cum street festival was all that was needed to make fashion week more accessible. By complementing the fanfare and wholesale transactions taking place on the sidelines of what began many decades ago as an exclusive industry event, the second edition of Fashion’s Night Out was an evening conceived by Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, to help the fashion industry get through the economic crisis.

In just one year, this night of lively public-access shopping revelry and retail sales has spawned clone events organised by Vogue’s international editions around the world to coincide with the start of the fashion week calendar each year in New York.


Karl Lagerfeld and French Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Carine Roitfeld, on Avenue Montaigne during this year’s Fashion’s Night Out in Paris

Just like her bulging magazine – almost overflowing with advertising pages – Wintour can only seem to do things big, a point she deftly conveyed over the weekend using of her trademark of grand understatement in a succinct sound bite: the event had grown “by slightly epic proportions,” she said. To get a sense of the variety of celebrity, fashionista and commercial elements on show at the New York event, WWD put together an interesting diary-style piece.

For an appraisal of how they mingled together from a marketeer’s point-of-view, read the post in Brand Channel. Alternatively for a panoramic look at Fashion’s Night Out global sister events, there are also several interesting reports filed locally by the press in Paris, London, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Moscow.


Three Auto Kings Covet the Luxury Crown

The same week that the likes of Dior, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton present their spring/summer collections to the nomadic fashion fraternity, the auto world will convene on the city for the Paris Motor Show. The biennial event is a preferred showcase for the unveiling of new luxury cars and this year’s edition (held from October 2 -17) is no different.


A close-up teaser image of Lamborghini’s new Jota model before its release at the Paris Motor Show next month

In recent years, it has become customary for the big automakers to leak teaser images of their new models to the press in the weeks before the show to generate early buzz. Previewing some of these are the bloggers behind, who recently published the photo of Lamborghini’s Jota model above.

But the big story in the run-up to the auto show is the triple show-down between Bayerische Motoren Werke (the producer of BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce), Volkswagen (which owns Lamborghini, Bentley, Audi and is currently merging with Porsche) and Daimler (maker of Mercedes-Benz and Maybach). According to two stories by Bloomberg, these titans are using every resource available to them as they vie for the number one spot in the luxury tier (currently occupied by the BMW group).

Recently, analysts have been listening for clues from the CEOs of these three firms in order to identify how each of them is plotting their next phase of growth strategies. While it’s widely known that they share ambitions to roll-out new production facilities, ramp up their penetration of emerging markets and more rapidly adapt existing designs to new niche markets, it was unclear just how assertive BMW would be with the launching of entirely new models – and how soon. Until, that is, the firm’s CEO, Norbert Reithofer made a revealing statement during the week. “The big push in new models entering new segments comes after 2012,” he said.


BMW’s 6-series, one of the model lines that the firm plans to widen

 The big push in new models, entering new segments comes after 2012 

This comes at a moment when things are looking up for both the sector and BMW group’s portfolio, according to a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, who wrote that the firm’s sales rose 13% on the year in August and exceeded the monthly sales of the years before the crisis (2008 and 2007). Meanwhile, Jing Daily revealed how the automaker is set to trump the exclusivity strategies of its rivals in China by tactics like releasing an extremely limited edition M3 Tiger model especially for that market. Only 30 will be produced.

But BMW’s two German rivals are also doing a roaring trade in China, according to an analysis in Reuters. And in India, The Hindustan Times, recently published the news that one of those – Mercedes-Benz – had its highest-ever monthly sales there in August, which amounted to more than twice its figure from a year ago. Little wonder that experts are likening the CEOs at both Volkswagen and Daimler to military leaders readying for an offensive campaign against Reithofer’s army.


Bad Brand Diplomacy & Ambassadors Everywhere

As luxury brands expand across the globe, their regional offices in fast-growing markets also swell in size and staff numbers. With this comes a shifting of the creative centre of gravity and a dispersal of responsibilities that can occasionally cause a controversy – like the one that Christian Dior finds itself in now. The brand is being accused in China of approving offensive and possibly racist imagery, says a writer for The Daily Mail. A series of photos taken by a Chinese-born, New York-based photographer presented white and non-Asian models wearing the brand’s finery surrounded by what appeared to be identical Chinese models (or possibly a graphical reproduction of the same model) in utilitarian workwear styles. The newspaper quoted one Chinese blogger who it said had summed up the collective grievance: “Are you saying all Chinese people look the same?”


Photographer Quentin Shih’s ‘Shanghai Dreamers’ campaign shot for display at Christian Dior’s flagship boutique in China

For his part, the photographer went on the record to defend his work by explaining that he, “wanted to show the power of Chinese people standing together and a kind of socialism in Chinese history,” and that his idea was for the Chinese models in the photos was to serve as, ”symbols of Chinese history between the 1960s and 1980s.” But many in China and beyond continue to interpret the images as evidence that there is either widespread Orientalism alive at Christian Dior, or worse, that a sense of Western superiority pervades the wider fashion and luxury goods industries.

Jenny Zhang, a columnist for The Guardian, was adamant that, “Dior and Galliano should know better than to commission these photographs for their Shanghai storefront… If fantasy is part of the appeal of fashion, then wouldn’t it be worthwhile for Dior, Chanel, and other couture houses to figure out how Chinese people fantasise and see themselves? Surely, the vision does not include wearing a Mao suit, carrying a migrant’s work bag, and dressing exactly like everyone else.”

 Dior and Galliano should know better than to commission these photographs for their Shanghai storefront 

How damaging this episode will be for the brand in this hugely important market has yet to be seen but it’s not the first time that Christian Dior has inadvertently offended consumers in China. Three years ago, a number of Chinese called for a boycott of Dior’s products after Sharon Stone, who was the face of its cosmetics brand at the time, suggested that a disastrous earthquake in the country had happened because of bad “karma” for the Chinese government’s treatment of Tibetans. The Hollywood actress was subsequently dropped from Dior’s adverts in China.

Late last year, Tag Heuer and several other brands linked to the golfer Tiger Woods through sponsorship and endorsement deals struggled to know how to react when unsavoury facts were revealed about his private life, causing a public relations disaster. And this week, Jaguar severed its ties with the Australian swimmer and three-time Olympic gold medallist winner, Stephanie Rice, after she tweeted an anti-gay slur.


Actresses Aishwarya Rai, Chi-Ling-Lin and, most recently, Kate Winslet are Longines’ ‘Ambassadors of Elegance’

What’s obvious is that hiring the right actress, musician, athlete or celebrity can be an extraordinarily lucrative marketing strategy. But what luxury brands don’t always seem to appreciate is that the use of such brand ambassadors for ad campaigns and special appearances is also a gamble. With the exception of household names like the hot-tempered Naomi Campbell or the hard-partying Kate Moss, models (by contrast) are generally less vocal about politically charged or culturally sensitive issues and, as such, are less likely to spark a controversy due to their private lives. Unlike their peers on the silver screen and the athletics pitch, models are usually considered ‘faces’ rather than ‘personalities’.

But the lure – and indeed the value – of celebrities is far too powerful for many brands to resist. In the past week alone, there were at least half a dozen announcements and revelations about deals between celebrities and luxury brands. Among them were a sighting of Keira Knightley on a Ducati bike filming the latest Chanel advert (The Luxury Insider) and the news that Megan Fox will be the new face of Giorgio Armani Beauty (DFNI Online).

About the author

Robb Young


Luxury & Fashion Business Journalist,
International Herald Tribune, Financial Times,

Strategic Consultant,
Swiss Textiles Award, Diptrics