Opinion: In Challenging Times, Fashion and Luxury Must Step Up And Lead


Susanna Nicoletti | May 04, 2022

The Valentino Pink PP Collection.Credit: Courtesy.

By becoming a leader in value creation and supply chain distribution as well as an inspirational example for its customers and passionate followers, fashion and luxury can show others that it has a meaning and purpose that can help redeem the whole industry, says Luxury Society Columnist Susanna Nicoletti.

With great power, comes great responsibility. In the world that we live in, challenges and disruption come in the form of pandemics, climate change and war. And as we are highly interconnected, there is no country nor company that might consider itself safe or outside of the reach of such turmoil.

Taking this into account, fashion and luxury and their role within our society are under scrutiny.

In the eyes of many of its critics, companies can either do too much or too little. They are heavily criticised or considered on a superficial basis of pure entertainment. Neither is preferable.

But a third option is available. One where fashion and luxury, at different levels, represent a strong position and a precise, sociological role in society. Let us not forget that beyond the trendy messages that change daily, fashion and luxury is a powerful industry that relies on a global supply chain, on dealers and retailers as well as a very profitable value chain that runs from precious creative ideas to the first-hand and vintage markets.

The numbers speak for themselves. The global luxury market grew to 1.14 trillion euros in 2021, up by 15 percent from the previous period, but still below levels seen in 2019, according to the Bain 2021 Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study. LVMH recorded revenue of 18 billion euros in the first quarter of 2022, up 29 percent compared to the same period in 2021.

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Fashion and luxury’s value is not derived from statements on social media, nor the volatile brand messages associated with social trends, but from a deep set of values and vision that only few brands can afford to develop consistently over the years, those that avoid disruptions and experiments that make brands stray too far from their established core roots.

Its purpose is creativity, communication, distribution and high profits. But fashion still needs, despite all these years, to push on the rhetoric that its veers on the superficial, in order to overcome its inferiority complex compared to more prestigious industries like art, music or acting.

At a time of saturation and overwhelming offerings from brands - where most wardrobes are full of unworn items, and where the Ellen Macarthur Foundation reports that if this trend continues, over 150 million tonnes of clothing waste will clog landfills by 2050 - fashion has a meaning and a purpose that can help redeem the whole industry: by becoming a leader in value creation and distribution in the supply chain as well as an inspirational example for its customers and passionate followers.

One way it could do this is to address the redistribution of the value (and profits) alongside the whole production chain: increasing salaries of workers and employees, improving the working conditions, implementing no discrimination policies, recruitment of talents and investments.

This could also help increase the purchasing power from the side of the same people who work and produce those items, creating a virtuous circle of welfare and growth for both sides (instead of having to invent new target customers - like the Gen Z - still not independent in their purchasing power and promoting for them a dangerous “buy now pay later” approach).

Improving the working conditions in such a valuable industry would mean overcoming the rhetoric linked to the social issues of the moment and setting a strong, powerful example of how this industry can be other than futile and inconsistent.

This is the path forward in which fashion and luxury could lead a new world rich of meaning and eventually become one of the greatest benchmarks in the world.

A further way to truly make a difference and act as an example to customers and followers is to start spreading relevant messages against the mainstream chatter or the latest cool events. In this sense, there are two interesting examples that pave the way for taking such a powerful stand: Valentino and Richemont.

Valentino’s Fall-Winter 22-23 show took the fashion system by a storm. It will be remembered as the “Pink Show”. At a time where every media outlet was talking about drama and tragedy related to war, where even brands were embracing the dark, desperate mode, Pierpaolo Piccioli decided to present a pink show to highlight the diversity of the models. The brand message was so clear and so strong that no words were needed nor no explanation was due: that precise tone of pink has become the brand, the message and it has embodied a whole ray of light and life for the entire world.

Enhanced by incredible craftsmanship and brand vision, this show has become history. And it has set a very powerful example opening the path to all those fashion and luxury brands willing to brighten the world with their clothes, their accessories, and their collections.

Charles Kaisin's ORIGAMI FOR LIFE installation, composed of paper origami figures from recycled paper, suspended in the air by cotton threads.Credit: Courtesy.

Another example is Richemont, which took to highlighting the importance of craftsmanship, through its Michelangelo Foundation which hosted the latest edition of its Homo Faber exhibition in Venice.

The Swiss group has no equals when talking (and acting) the preservation of creativity and craftsmanship. Homo Faber is defined as a “cultural experience of craftsmanship” and, in an era where most of the hype goes towards metaverse and NFTs and so on, this is a remarkable initiative.

Held all over the marvellous and unique city of Venice, “15 exhibitions, 22 curators and designers, 12 Japanese National Living Treasures, over 850 unique works crafted by more than 400 designers and artisans from 43 countries” were exhibited. It stands as an incredible investment and effort in terms of raising visibility towards beauty, magic, and the uplifting power of hand-crafted items.

It is truly inspiring that a Swiss foundation, created by a South African magnate, Johann Rupert, and an Italian luxury executive, Franco Cologni, has as a mission “to preserve, encourage and promote fine craftsmanship.”

While all the other luxury titans are investing money to fund very often not unforgettable art exhibitions (to fuel the art market in which they are also collectors), in the same city a Swiss luxury giant is investing to promote beauty and craftsmanship from all over the world, through a Foundation, which is a very different world from the open days organised by its competitors to visit their leather goods factories.

Homo Faber is the first step to make a difference in the overcrowded world of fashion, creating a network so far of more than 60 organisations between associations, museums and cultural organizations in over 25 countries.

Thanks to the inspiring rebellion against the dark ages set up by Piccioli in the Valentino pink show, and the empowering display of the beauty of craftsmanship at Homo Faber organised by Richemont’s Michelangelo Foundation, it proves that there is the possibility of a different fashion and luxury world willing to come to life. Again. Against all odds.

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