Major hat tip to NPR for bringing Yelping with Cormac into my life…a blog featuring the voice of Cormac McCarthy applied to some of the most banal of American consumer institutions. It was with particular glee that I read the review of Juicy Couture, located in my backyard of Union Square, San Francisco…
It’s said that when you see something three times, it’s a trend. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen three cases of “stiletto nails” – the 1960s style nail shape where the tips are long and filed to a point. Refinery 29 talked about this roughly a year ago and I’ve noticed some students in my fashion program sporting cherry red versions. When I opened my Vogue September issue this morning, I saw this ad from Tom Ford…
I also saw it on Emma Frost in X-Men First Class this summer (sorry for the fuzzy pics, this was a hard one to document)…
What do you think? Personally, I’m not a fan, but I also said that about skinny jeans and now I’m trying to wean myself off of them so there you go…
Last week, I wrote about the color trends for fall and there were so many great visuals (thanks to Lizzie Smithson and Isaiah Maldonado) that I held off including any pictures. I thought I’d share a few examples of the color schemes and designers I referred to – mostly because I just love the colors…
Examples of the subdued palette:
The subdued palette also had options in paler shades:
Earth tones came in a spectrum of shades:
I mentioned that coral red and cobalt blue were not widely used, but they did show up as pops of bright accent colors:
I have to show a few examples of designers who strayed from the herd. Purple and metallics were the least used colors for fall, but these designers used them the most:
One thing I love about the fashion industry is that, despite all the glitz of runway shows and glossy magazines, there are real people behind the clothes we look at, long for, and buy. Fashion isn’t just about Vogue magazine. These clothes have to be made by someone, somewhere. And despite a sketchy history of child labor and sweatshop conditions, clothing production can be an opportunity for positive change in countries like Liberia.
Located in western Africa, Liberia was torn by a brutal civil war that only recently ended in 2003. Women in this country have had little control over their own lives and are frequently sold into marriage. In fact, an estimated 75% of Liberian women were raped during the fourteen-year civil conflict.
But things are changing. In 2003, a small group of women, who were tired of the stalled peace talks, staged a demonstration that contributed to the exile of corrupt leader, Charles Taylor. How did they do it? Wearing only white t-shirts, they threatened to remove their clothes and stand naked in the streets (their protest is chronicled in the award-winning documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell). Then, in 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia – the first female elected to office in Africa. Sirleaf has made substantial economic improvements but unemployment still hovers around 80% (even the current recession only resulted in roughly 9% unemployment in the US).
In this environment, entrepreneurs like Chid Liberty are seeing opportunities to affect change and create a profitable local business. Liberty was born in Liberia as the son of the Liberian ambassador to Germany. Although his family moved to Germany and, ultimately, the United States when Liberty was a child, he always felt a connection to his home country. Inspired by the actions of the women protesters, Liberty started brainstorming ways to make a long-term impact in Liberia.
A currently popular aid effort for struggling nations like Liberia is microfinancing – basically, providing small loans to individuals so they can create a business to support themselves. One criticism with this strategy is that many of the recipients are not equipped to handle the money and often end up no better off. A recent example of this occurred in Haiti, where a $3,000 donation to rebuild a school resulted in a pile of concrete instead of any substantial improvements. Liberty felt that a better solution was stable, long-term employment and the Liberian women who have demonstrated the strength and desire to change their circumstances were the perfect employees.
Leaving a finance job in San Francisco, Liberty started the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project (LWSP) in Liberia in 2009. To house the new business, he reclaimed a family-owned building in the capitol city, Monrovia, that the military had commandeered during the war. Bullet holes still cover the exterior and, at the height of the conflict, passersby would often be shot if they even looked at the building. Now, the building is a factory for LWSP clothing assembly services and the 58 women employed there currently sew t-shirts – a fitting choice as t-shirts were worn by the female protestors in 2003. The LWSP is the non-profit arm of its for-profit parent company, Liberty & Justice, and is guided by the same strategic and financial principles. Decisions for the company are made through an all-employee voting process and the women function more like business owners than strictly employees.
And the business plays a role in their personal lives as well. In a country where parents have to pick which one of their children can go to school, all the employees have all of their children in school. One employee, who was sold into marriage as the 8th wife to a man 50 years her senior, was left in a displaced persons camp after her husband took her children and fled the country. Today, she is remarried to a man she loves, is reuniting with her children, and is building a small house. Many women have found the financial independence to leave abusive relationships.
But is this just one of many feel-good social causes? Liberty is emphatically opposed to this idea:
“Giving people the opportunity to work in factories may not be as sexy as giving a woman a $100 loan to buy a goat which, according to our Western dream, she will obviously turn into a multi-million dollar goat cheese empire – but I think we in the international development space need to check ourselves and really understand who we are serving.”
In order to make a real difference in the Liberian economy, the LWSP must be a business that can stay in business. Kendall Riding, a social impact investor who has committed capital to the venture, is confident in Chid’s ability to see opportunity amidst the global market forces and to create a financially successful business.
“Global manufacturing is not going away any time soon,” she says. “As wages rise in Asia and the idea of corporate social responsibility becomes increasingly important, companies like Liberty &Justice are going to be uniquely positioned to meet the demands of the marketplace.”
Additionally, Liberia benefits from a new trade agreement called the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that provides up to a 30% price advantage over products from countries like China and India. On the other hand, if this were purely a for-profit enterprise, Liberty claims the women would likely not receive crucial literacy and family planning training. The LWSP is unique in its aim of creating a real, sustainable business while assisting its employees to a better life. Riding describes her experience seeing the factory firsthand,
“After visiting Liberia and meeting the women, I knew the social impact component of the investment was there. It doesn’t take long to see what this factory is doing not only for its employees, but also for their families and their communities. L&J is empowering these women to see opportunities and possibilities and encouraging them to dream big not only for the company but also for themselves, for their families and for Liberia.”
The future looks bright for the LWSP. Ashley Bush, the sister of designer Lauren Bush and niece of President George W. Bush, plans to use the LWSP to produce a line of skirts. The LWSP also has new contracts with a major men’s pants company and a large Japanese trading company. Liberty hopes to expand the staff to 900 employees in 18 months – a tall order despite the high levels of unemployment. As Liberty found, experienced tailors were less useful than those who were quick, could get in “the zone”, and have great eyesight. The expansion will require everyone to pitch in, but that’s something these women are excited to do.
Back when I lived in DC, August was the month when I was ready to throw my overused tank tops and flip-flops in a trash barrel and burn them. After months of excessive heat, where all you can wear is the barest form of body-covering, August would give me hope that one day I would layer my clothing again and, perhaps, even wear a sweater. Although, now, I live in San Francisco and have lost all meaning of the word “summer”.
For those of you who are ready to stop thinking about the recent scorching heat wave and start shopping for fall clothes, here’s my advice to you: buy something black. In fact, if you want to be totally on trend, buy something in these colors:
- Dark teal
- Dark red
If these are too dark for you, buy a few accent pieces in:
- Coral red
- Cobalt blue
How do I know this? Because I counted how often these colors were used in the fall collections of 32 ready-to-wear designers and labels (see graphic for the full list). According to the book, Fashion Forecasting by Evelyn L. Brannon, designers tend to use color palettes in a predictable pattern, or cycle. I’m in the process of checking this out now – so stay tuned – but, if this is true, it means that spring fashions will still use a lot of black, white, and grey.
This week, LVMH announced that the founders of Opening Ceremony, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, will be the new creative directors at the quiet and aging brand, Kenzo. Like many of the brands in the LVMH stable, Kenzo was wildly popular at one time (the 70s) but has slowly lost its edge and fallen from the forefront of fashion. Kenzo is a winner because it seems its turn to get the LVMH makeover treatment has come. If I put on my happy ears, this is a great thing. Once great fashion brands are revitalized and younger, start up designers get a chance to have the resources of a company like LVMH support their development.
When I put on my cynical hat, I see Kenzo going the way of brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior. Overwhelming marketing campaigns centered on celebrity designers and, worst of all, teaching the consuming that heavily-logoed accessories is code word for wealth and class. But who knows? I read recently that Bernard Arnault is tiring of the antics of the celebrity designer, such as the recent Galliano debacle. Hiring highly talented but “more about the fashion than the publicity” designers like Phoebe Philo at Céline might indicate a trend in a new direction. And Leon and Lim don’t seem to be enfants terribles, so maybe this really is a good thing… Click here to check out the most recent Kenzo collections…
I’ve been sucked into several NPR-related pop culture podcasts recently and I noticed that they offer a segment called “winners and losers” – highlighting someone they thought did something well and someone who, well, kind of embarrassed themselves. I realized this would be great for the world of fashion, so I’m launching my own version:
Armani recently criticized not only the menswear collections of Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, but went after the financial structure of Prada as well. To be clear, I’m not celebrating trash-talking, because that’s not what happened here. I love it when someone gives a clear, honest opinion, even if it isn’t positive. Also, Armani is one of the few remaining designer labels still owned by the namesake designer. That’s saying a lot in this world of M&A gluttony. He must be doing something right financially. So, on both counts – honesty and business acumen – kudos to you, Giorgio Armani.
I’ll probably get some flack for picking someone with addiction problems, but Galliano didn’t help his image at all with his testimony to French courts about his racial slur scandal. Yes, he probably needs help with his addiction issues, but he was also a critical executive at a highly visible company. Pull it together, man. That kind of behavior wouldn’t fly for any other executive at any other company.
A few days ago, Gilt Groupe, the leader in high-end flash sales, announced it will launch its first full-price retail site later this summer. A take-off of Gilt MAN, the new site called Park and Bond, will offer men’s apparel.
Although this is interesting to note, the new site really makes me wonder if it signals the decline of the flash sale industry. It started in the recent recession as a way to offload the unpurchased merchandise many luxury brands were sitting on, while offering prices that were more appropriate for the recession-era consumer. More importantly, Gilt Groupe created a channel that maintained brand equity for luxury brands, even while they sold their products at discount prices.
But now, there are rumors that all that excess inventory has gone away – likely a combination of luxury brands slowing production and also retail sales picking up. What will sites like Gilt Groupe have to offer if there is no overflow inventory? The new Park and Bond site suggests that Gilt Groupe is migrating to other business models to stay alive.
Another idea Gilt Groupe is testing out – produce online content to drive traffic while providing commerce opportunities (discounted or full-price) to readers. Gilt Groupe recently hired former editor of Gourmet magazine, Ruth Reichl, to edit their new food site, GiltTaste.com. With her background, it is likely Reichl could produce more content than simply picking products to sell.
Since Gilt Groupe was a leader in flash sale site business, their recent strategies suggest they are seeing the tide change before others, especially late entrants like Amazon and EBay. Does this signal the end of flash sale sites? I know I’m sick of receiving the emails, so maybe so…
I have many tall friends who love wearing extra tall shoes and, at 5’9″ myself, I get it (and you know we love us some sky-high platforms). There’s something great about taking your height to new levels, especially when you can literally look down on men. There’s this brief flash of insecurity in their eyes that I admit I relish. Not only do they have to look up to talk to me, but I can see their bald spots.
But when you live in a city, you need to walk (especially in one as hilly as San Francisco) and so I’m always on the hunt for the perfect ballet flat, which is frustratingl elusive. Here’s where most ballet flats go wrong:
I recently finished a course on the history of fashion arts and, as part of my final project, prepared a comparison of historical and modern styles. One that really made me smile were the red-soled heels of Louis XIV and modern-day Christian Louboutins. Imagine my surprise when the Daily Mail posted a story on this today – apparently, YSL made the same argument to Louboutin in retaliation to their claims of copyright infringement. You can see a picture of the YSL heels in question in the article but, here, for your viewing pleasure, the original Louis heels and Louboutins: