VOL. MMXIII..No. 207

Bold Moves | Strategy in Perspective

Luxury Goes Pop: Why Brands are Going for the Kitschy and the Kooky

 

 

“Newness” is one of those words that fashion directors like to use a lot, especially when things aren’t going well.

 

There’s not a lot of newness this season.”

 

That usually means that designers presented collections with no coherent message or obvious best sellers with which to tell a story on the sales floor.

 

In an effort to fan the flames against an increasingly fragile consumer economy, luxury brands are producing collections that are either vaguely arty or downright cartoony, and consumers love it.

Fendi-Black-Peekaboo-with-Bag-Bug-Interior 19.

Fendi, which hadn’t seen much traction since the craze for it’s iconic Baguette bag, helped spearhead the mania for “creature couture.” Here, the brand’s Peekaboo bag and a collection of “bag bugs.”

From Valentino to Saint Laurent to Gucci to Prada, every label is creating the kind of kawaii (“cute” in Japanese) characters and graphics that typically appeals to the… Japanese.

 

Two years ago, Fendi found wild success with its Peekaboo bag and all of its iterations of furry “bag bugs,” that retail for up to $700 (after you already spent up to $5,000 on the bag.) Now the Fendi monsters have become its own category for the brand.

{ Now more than ever, “youth” is a fashion look, and it starts with being ironic.}

Or take Saint Laurent’s new intarsia T-Rex sweater, which looks vaguely like something we would have worn to elementary school. It retails for over $1,000 – if you can find it. It’s completely sold out.

 

Saint Laurent’s designer, Hedi Slimane, who’s obsession with the L.A. rock scene is well documented, shocked many when he not only changed the name of the brand moved all of its creative to Los Angeles instead of Paris.

SaintLaurent_TRexSweater Courtesy the Corner Berlin

Saint Laurent’s spring 2016 collection featured clothes that could easily pass for children’s wear, like this T-Rex sweater.

Even Valentino succumbed to this genre of children’s fashion for adults, with a 2014 Snow White collection. Winsome, isn’t it? But that’s the point.

 

So what’s the motivation?

 

With so many aspirational and bargain brands elbowing into luxury territory and offering the same or similar looks at a fraction of the price, luxe leaders are once again, co-opting the downtown cool of club kids in an effort to make their brands feel more authentic and earnest.

 

More importantly, with Millenials being such a key market, why bother with ordinary suits and gowns? Now more than ever, “youth” is a fashion look, and it starts with being ironic.

 

Prada_Resort_2016_Advertising_Campaign_01_1_

A campaign image for Prada’s 2016 resort collection.

The young, upwardly mobile fashion consumer seeks edgy urban looks that say, “it might be from a thrift store, but if you’re cool, you’ll know it’s Hedi.” Why else would Jennifer Lawrence wear a Alexander Wang denim jacket that says PERV on the back (other than to give the paparazzi a piece of her mind)?

{ For luxury brands, this kind of street-savvy bravado is fairly typical and it works – for a while, at least. }

This spring it’s Gucci that’s getting the biggest buzz, all thanks to designer Alessandro Michele. He shrewdly made the strategic move of adding a huge dose of irreverence and Italian loucheness to the formerly ho-hum brand.

 

Gucci spring 2016

 

gucci ghost courtesy global graphica

 

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For 2016, Gucci went full tilt into a heavily vintage-inspired collection that parodied itself thanks to graffiti artist Trevor Andrew, who’s GucciGhost caught the attention of creative director Alessandro Michele.

Gucci’s blatant grab for the respect of the bourgeois glitterati is largely thanks to graffiti artist Trevor Andrew, who’s “GucciGhost” can be found in all of the fashionable alleys of New York’s lower east side. Michele even went so far as to make Andrew an official member of the Gucci design team.

 

For luxury brands, this kind of street-savvy bravado is fairly typical and it works – for a while, at least. Just ask Louis Vuitton, who scored all kinds of cred thanks to its collaborations over the years with Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, and Yayoi Kusama. But admittedly, that stuff always felt too corporate, especially when you saw your secretary carrying a bag with cherries all over it.

 

At it’s core, however, these self-consciously irreverent pop culture collections become more marketing exercise than anything, since in the end, there’s still a much larger collection of other merchandise that needs to sell in order for a brand to turn a real profit. An iconic look may get them in the store, but will they really buy more than what they came for?

 

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