Where Boardroom Tears Meet 'Google Fashion'


Robb Young | November 15, 2010

Our weekly analysis of the must-read luxury news headlines

eBay’s ‘Outlet Mall’ & the launch of ‘Google Fashion’?

It may have begun with an old-fashioned marketing tactic but it has since taken on a life of its own, morphing into a very 21st century corporate rumour which, if true, could make waves in the luxury fashion retail sector. By teasing industry insiders with a cryptic invitation about an event held next Wednesday entitled “High Tech Fuses with High Fashion”, Google has done more than just heighten buzz around the event’s launch.

It has sparked speculation that the online giant is about to expand its offering of retail services – which already includes Google Shopping and Google Checkout – to a designer fashion sales platform rivalling eBay. By the weekend, established fashion magazines like Grazia and leading blogs such as Fashionologie were running with the story.

But, interestingly, what prompted the rumour to catch on like wild fire was the fact that it was confirmed by an anonymous Tweeter who regularly leaks insider gossip from the world of fashion public relations where he or she purports to be a leading figure. “Breaking news: Google is launching an ecommerce site with shop in shops by major designers,” read a part of the tweet written by the ‘mole’ who goes by the Twitter handle @NoBtotheS.

WWD’s technology editor, Cate T. Corcoran, then tried to get the official scoop from her contacts at Google but, unsurprisingly, was met with a vapid response: “We are hosting an exclusive fashion party to celebrate our partners. We don’t have further details to share,” said a spokesman.

In today’s hyperconnected world, it will be quite a feat if Google manages to keep a lid on its forthcoming event. But no doubt, whatever the project really is, thanks to Twitter we can be sure the whole world will know no later than precisely 8:00 PM EST this Wednesday.

Next week’s Google event invitation

Any move by Google to sell designer fashion online would not only encroach on eBay’s growing market share but also go further toward persuading sceptics that the mass market ecommerce channel is a viable one for luxury goods in a broader sense. Naysayers have been vocal at every stage of the online evolution, as luxury brands went from niche players like Net-A-Porter to their own etail flagships to discounted flash sales sites like Gilt Groupe and, most recently, to eBay.

Rather unexpectedly perhaps, it has been among the most digitally savvy – young authors of fashion blogs – where many sceptics have actively taken up the campaign against high fashion being “diluted” on such sites. A post this week in WonderMode was typical of the mood.

“ What could possibly be more unexciting than being limited to a selection of popularly elected clothing in a virtual outlet mall? ”

Entitled ‘eBay’s Play for Luxury Retail Will Fail – Here’s Why’, it lambasted a recent announcement by eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe, which was widely seen as a pitch to fashion brands to launch outlet stores on the sprawling site. The author then went on to condemn eBay’s existing designer collaborations, including its most recent partnership with American designer Derek Lam to sell a capsule collection exclusively on eBay which will be edited using crowdsourcing.


Not so, say the business brains behind such luxury brands who are now venturing into this wild frontier . When the collaboration was first revealed last month, Derek Lam’s CEO Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann suggested to reporters that companies like his were on the vanguard of a retailing revolution which would be led by direct retail, crowdsourcing and mass customisation.

“The convergence of fashion and technology is essential to the future of the industry…eBay provides a new, innovative channel, which will enable us to deliver fashion, in season, directly off the runway,” he insisted.

Departures, Defections & New Directions

Bonnie Takhar, exiting CEO of Halston

The more dramatic departure gleaned from this week’s corporate and creative appointment shuffle came from the resurrected American ‘heritage brand’ Halston. According to a host of sources including NBC New York and Fashion Week Daily, Bonnie Takhar has been ousted as CEO by its board of directors which include film mogul Harvey Weinstein and Jimmy Choo’s Tamara Mellon.

Takhar, who worked under Mellon at Jimmy Choo before being tapped to lead Halston when it was relaunched in 2007, had reportedly been at loggerheads with virtually everyone on the board except actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who famously came on board as a shareholder and chief creative officer earlier this year. Parker was said to be “in tears” over Takhar’s dismissal.

But what makes the exit more newsworthy than its celebrity quotient is that Halston has struggled to create a consistent identity since its latest relaunch (and that it has flopped under several previous relaunches). After just two seasons, former designer Marco Zanini was fired in 2008 and Rachel Zoe, the celebrity stylist who had served as creative consultant, was let go shortly afterward. It is unclear what Takhar’s exit will mean for Halston’s current head designer, Marios Schwab, who has had moderately good reviews in his first two collections. But one thing is certain, without him, the label will seem shakier than ever.

Brioni S/S 2011 collections

Elsewhere, Bloomberg helped get the word out that Brioni promoted a 13-year company veteran to CEO.

Francesco Pesci’s appointment comes at a crucial time not only because the firm has been without a CEO for four months since the grandson of Brioni co-founder Gaetano Savini resigned in July but also because Pesci has experience leading luxury brand subsidiaries in two of Brioni’s key regions going forward: North America and the Far East.

Three other corporate moves which have kept luxury insiders talking this week are the defection of former Rolls-Royce CFO Hanno Kirner to Aston Martin (The Manufacturer); the resignation of the socialite art dealer as editor-in-chief Dasha Zhukova of Pop magazine (The Daily Telegraph); and the succession of Polo Ralph Lauren’s Asia Pacific president from George Hrdina to Mark Daley (WWD).