Saturday, July 28, 2018

Are We Seeing the End of Lifestyle Clothing Companies?


The demise of one high profile "lifestyle brand" clothing company was commented on extensively in the press, including in a column by Rhonda Garelic, author of “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History”:

Over 100 years ago... [Coco] Chanel invented a business model that fashion companies still use, wherein success depends as much on a glamorous life narrative as on particular garments. [C]ustomers buy not just products but also aspirational identities.... 
Not coincidentally, Chanel’s movement peaked in influence between the two world wars... Like luxury-logo fashion, fascism enticed followers with an alluring narrative about an exclusive world  (the myth of the superior Aryans)  and a logo  (the swastika)  betokening membership in that world. Chanel... invented her double-C insignia in 1921, just one year after the Nazis adopted the swastika, which they treated like a fashion label, stamping it on jewelry, clothing, even lingerie, in addition to military uniforms... 
Ivanka Trump ... created an aspirational universe [for] working women... wanting to fake it till they make it.... Over all, the brand offered watered-down simulacra of luxury goods, accessibly priced, elite-seeming but poorly made. 
- Rhonda Garelick in The New York Times <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/opinion/gender-and-society/ivanka-trump-fashion-chanel.html>

For some, lifestyle brands have already become a signal of what products not to buy.  A clothing company invests in a massive photo campaign of people hiking and canoeing?  The products will likely fail after the fifth night on the trail.  Nautical icons, wooden boats, and Nantucket photographs seem aimed at people who have the same facility with the water as Martin Brody.  Business clothiers who pushed trends on customers through elaborate marketing over the past decade deserve the empty floors and full warehouses they now have.  Slim Aarons must be be rolling in his grave.

It should amaze more people that one can hear an interview with a clothing CEO who goes on and on about demographics and channels and pricing strategies and big data and, yes, new lifestyle marketing directions, but never mentions specific products, and why they are fabulous.  The massively over-used term "iconic" should now make one shudder.

A useful mantra for some is, "Buy hard, wear easy."  Customers who plan their purchases and seek out well made, classic items will (almost) always have something to wear, and best of all, don't have to think about it day-to-day.  (Obviously, most items described as classic are anything but, so bring your own taste.)

Serving this type of market is how many dominant companies got that way, even if they have new aspirations today.

Still, has lifestyle marketing become a negative for more respectable clothing companies yet?  Has the technique of glossy photo-campaigns gone so far down-market that they are now becoming insulting to target customers?

38 comments:

  1. My answer to the last question is yes.

    MaryAnne

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  2. I agree! It's all fantasy and no substance.

    I can no longer shop happily
    I came in here for that special offer
    A guaranteed personality - The Clash :)

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  3. It is why I buy from second-hand shops. The local Episcopal thrift store will have vintage goods, made to last decades, still in 2018 with a good dry cleaning or a wash, good to 20 more years. I found a Barbour New Hampshire $15. Needed a new waxing and I spent the $50 to send to Barbour for a re-wax, it will last me the remainder of my life.

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    1. Episcopal Church thrift shops are the best. Many treasures.

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  4. I agree. Relevant examples are Polo Ralph Lauren, Gant and Brooks Brothers. They use the Preppy/New England narrative and images to sell merchandise that is mostly made in China and Asia. Quality has declined as prices have risen. It cheaper to buy UK made garments (e.g. from Cordings) that are better quality.

    It's not surprising that PRL is struggling financially and has huge debts. When brands depend on outlet stores for a significant proportion of their sales, they are in huge trouble. Consumers increasingly recognise that "premium" brands often have little substance and are dependent on PR hype. They are fed up with being ripped off and spend their money more wisely.

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  5. My answer to the last question is I'll answer when you correct the grammatical error. "Has glossy photo-campaigns gone so far down-market that they are now becoming insulting to target customers?"

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    1. Really? You are kidding aren't you? How childish.

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    2. Class? No I guess not.

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    3. No one is waiting for an answer from you, Anon 3:18, you silly, pompous, rude little speck.

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    4. Actually, one would hope that folks who post here would know the basics of subject/verb agreement. Yes, grammar is important.

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    5. Yes, grammar is important. But so is gracefully overlooking someone's minor error.

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    6. No Paul it is not. What is important is how we treat each other. The mistake could have been pointed out politely. To each his own.

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    7. Oh Paul, do shut up. Seriously. Have a cool drink and polish your toy soldiers or something. It's too hot for your nonsense

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    8. Also, Paul, it's too bad your nose is out of joint because the NYT has pointed out what a trashy hack Ivanka Trump is, but please don't take it out on the rest of us. We're not in your head, thankfully, and it's rude to ask other people to share in your obsessions.

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  6. Ivanka Trump's "fashion line," manufactured by sweatshop labour in third world countries, is not only the perfect flaming car wreck to symbolize the utter fakery of everything she and her disgusting family represent, it also shines a spotlight on the utter cheapness and sleaziness of aspirational American "lifestyle fashion" brands. Nothing about her cheap Made in China rags was ever going to confer chic on the brand's purchasers. On the other hand, it perfectly embodies what "Trump chic" was always about.

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    1. I quite agree with your assessment.

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    2. Robert ReichardtJuly 29, 2018 at 1:18 PM

      Anonymous July 28, 2018 at 6:57 PM

      Ah, yes, "her disgusting family." Gosh, sounds like another angry, tiresome Trump-hater (ironically, the man who saved America from THE biggest catastrophe in our history -- See Clinton, Hillary.) Also, please check out the recent GDP numbers, the big Tax Cut (now a lot of folks can afford nice clothes again), and the Stock Market since 2016. Thank you.

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    3. I guess hatred comes cheap.

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    4. I may sound like "another angry, tiresome Trump-hater" to you, Robert. I'm fine with that. To me, you sound like a half-educated, MAGA-hat wearing, fulminating, slavering right-wing lickspittle who secretly wishes America would turf all of the values upon which the framers founded it, and be a little more like Russia. We can't both be right, can we. What trying times we live in.

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  7. "Slim Aarons must be be rolling in his grave." —Flawless.

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    1. Yup. It's been years since real cowboys wore Levi's.

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  8. I’ve been thinking these many years that there had to be an end in sight and a return to quality goods. But this generation is throwing another New England hero and heroine up the fashion pop charts!

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  9. Not really. So called lifestyle clothing companies are doing well in emerging countries. You need a middle class. Ironically, China - a country much derided by some as the source of all clothing manufacturing evil - is one of those countries.

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    1. We need a middle class as well. Ours is all but dead.

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  10. I have a couple of old coach purses bought in the early 80's. I still use them and refuse to replace them with Chinese made junk. They were made in the US and have stood the test of time. Quality speaks volumes!

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  11. Claudio Del Vecchio and the mafia management team he brought to RBA (Retail Brand Alliance) has done more in the last decade to destroy Brooks Bros. than any other set of forces could have.

    Many of the dress shirts and ALL of the polo shirts are made in China and CDV personally ordered his vendors to cut material out of the products so they are nowhere nearly accurate size-wise.

    The suits, may with Italian fabrics are still made in the USA, but even there, they are cut skimpy. BB still sells shoes from Alden, albeit ridiculously overpriced. Example: the calfskin tassel loafers I've worn for years are now $548. Men's ties are still made in the factory in Long Island City.

    CDV cares nothing for this iconic brand or his customers and as BB struggles, he chooses to do away with the dedicated, commissioned professional sales force in favor of PT sales people with pooled commissions.

    Should BB eventually die, it will be almost entirely due to the unbridled arrogance of a man who inherited his wealth and knows nothing about how to run a business, keep dedicated employees and not turn off his most loyal, lifelong customers.

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    1. Del Vecchio does speak quite well. His grammar is impecable.

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    2. Paul you have a typo in the 3rd paragraph.

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    3. It's very ironic that the pedantic Anonymous can't spell impeccable.

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    4. I think it is called a typographical error Ken. And no, I’m not the person who posted originally. Why so much anger today from everyone

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    5. If it's Sunday at 10:14 a.m., Paul has a rant about Claudio Del Vecchio scheduled to inflict upon his unblinking, captive audience on SWNE.

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  12. I think we are seeing the end of a lot of things... not in a good way!

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  13. I appreciate your linking the article and I agree with the premise of it - aside from the overtones of it being, ultimately, a political editorial. The premise I agree with is the descent of lifestyle branding from Chanel, down through RL, to what we have today (and lots of other manufacturers besides Ivanka Trump could have equally been used to illustrate the point).

    I agree with Ken above about the low-grade outsourced flimsy clothing. Oh well, I wear my made-in-China BB polos all summer, they're thin which is good for really hot weather and despite being made in China, they are a true pique polo, so the air flows through the material well, but, they do feel cheap nonetheless. I also have older BB polos and they're so much better, thicker, yet soft and seem to have hardly aged.

    Anonymous at 3:47 has a good point about lifestyle brands doing well in emerging countries. The Dominican Republic is a good example. Lifestyle branding is everywhere there. The RL pony is ubiquitous, as are countless other brands and the malls, which are springing up like weeds there are filled with so-called luxury brands. And I'm not just talking about the tourist areas, it's everywhere there.

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    1. What's your objection to them using the execrable Ivanka Trump "fashion" line as a illustration of the point? She shut down her brand this past week, so it's entirely in the wheelhouse of timely news. It only seems to be "a political editorial" to you people if it calls into question anything about America's version of the Duvalier family.

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  14. Oh yes, I forgot to comment on the title of your article as well: "are we seeing the end of lifestyle clothing companies?" That depends on what you mean by "the end." Is it the "end of them as we have known them / wish they could be," or is it "there aren't any lifestyle clothing companies anymore, anywhere of any kind?" They seem to be everywhere, no end in sight.

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  15. Dearest Anonymous July 28, 2018 at 3:18 PM, Preparation H fresh from the fridge, liberally applied/spackled/troweled onto thou-est both ends may result in ever so heavenly relief- for you.
    Lay down, take a load off- it must be heavy.

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  16. While some will disappear, others will take their place. It makes a difference as to what "lifestyle company" means. There are several trends taking place, so it can be confusing. One thing I have noticed is that some company's products have evolved into what might be called lifestyle clothing. The products themselves may be the same products sold thirty years ago and there will almost certainly be new designs produced that maintain some of the same characteristics as those in the past. They may or may not be made in the U.S. (or Western Europe) but that isn't the important point. The main thing with this trend is that the customers are different from the old ones of years past. Typically, the new customers are attracted to these brands because their clothing has achieved a degree of street fashion--in some places. There is some niche marketing going on but that has always been true of a lot of brands. Likewise, there is probably an attempt to create the air of exclusiveness about the brand. The brand may no long be purchased by the sort of people who were buying it when the company was new, as functional clothing. But even among companies that produced actual functional clothing (chiefly) for the use of sportsmen, there have always been some that were expensive and which catered to the more affluent customer. Overall, though, I think the key factor to changes like this, meaning selling to a different market, is usually a change in ownership or ownership structure. And that will usually happen after the departure of the founder of the company.

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