Style knows no bounds: Article on designer 'lifestyle' branding
International Herald Tribune
Style knows no bounds — from fishing to fashion
By Fleur Britten
Monday, September 15, 2008
LONDON: To the outsider, Planet Fashion always has existed in a parallel universe. Now, though, it's really starting to look like another world, as seemingly everything this season - from chewing gum to fast cars - has been "fashioned."
Thirsty? Take your pick from Roberto Cavalli's leopard- and zebra-print bottles of wine and Coca-Cola, Perrier water "dressed" by Agnès B or Orla Kiely's refillable water bottles.
For transport, choose among Versace's Lamborghini, Preen's roller skates, Belstaff's Triumph motorbike and Richard James's Condor bicycle.
For amusements, there's fishing with Chanel's faux-quilted rod, art at Hermès's traveling H Box gallery, and partying with fashion designer DJs (including Gareth Pugh, Henry Holland and Giles Deacon).
Exhausted? Don't worry: Matthew Williamson has a nice line in bed linen, while Karl Lagerfeld's "couture" teddy bear will ensure that, even while you sleep, you're still in fashion.
Being fashionable, which once seemed to be just about clothes, now covers so many more aspects of life. Such is the demand for fashion design without actual garments that a new course, Fashion Artefact, has been created at the London College of Fashion.
The course director, the fashion designer Dai Rees, says: "We are so saturated with the high street that designers have had to take it up a notch. What is the point of reproducing what we've seen in the past?"
Now that the It bag market is reaching saturation point, that fashion and accessories are increasingly available to rent (on Web sites like BagBorroworSteal.com) and ever more procurable in counterfeit versions, conventional demand is dropping. Designers are having to diversify.
The proliferation of fashion artifacts is also consumer-led. James Gilmore, one of the authors of "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want," argues that we tend to buy whatever conforms to our self-image. "If you like to wear a particular fashion designer," he says, "you'll also want to 'wear' their wine, their car, their sporting equipment."
Referring to the author of the 2004 book "The Substance of Style", Gilmore said: "It's as Virginia Postrel put it, 'I like that; I am like that.' It's logical for designers to branch out."
Henry Holland, the designer behind House of Holland, this season has created the wrapper for Extra chewing gum, the exterior for a Sky Plus satellite TV box, and the soundtrack for many a fashion party. Such extracurricular work, he says, provides vital funding for his young label ("It's always a struggle with money," he admits), and is a way to get his name out there.
The graphic designer Peter Saville, who has guest-designed Microsoft Zune players, Adidas sneakers and Levi's jeans, says: "These projects have become part of business. They've replaced advertising for a society too cynical for it."
Talking of cynical, what's such a design really worth?
"It pays the rent for a few months," Saville says. "But you couldn't retire on it." One brand consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that a designer's fee ranges from £10,000 to £50,000, or about $18,000 to $90,000.
And, yes, Saville admits, "It strokes your ego, but it's embarrassing as well." Embarrassing, that is, in front of fashion purists, who, says Holland, turn their noses up at such work.
"Pernicious!" declares the design critic Stephen Bayley. "It's ridiculous for fashion designers to produce nonfashion items. Adding their name to a product might cause - among the credulous - a quick and dirty spike in sales but it's an imposture, and meretricious to charge a premium for it. Pierre Cardin might have made a few million francs adding his name to biros and saucepans but it destroyed whatever credibility he had as a couturier. And what sort of cretin would want a Pierre Cardin saucepan?"
But what's so wrong about wanting to improve the aesthetic appeal of functional products? Would a designer not make a better job of, say, a can opener?
"If a designer works with other creatives, they can achieve together what they can't alone," says Mandi Lennard, a fashion publicist whose clients include Pugh, Holland and Roksanda Ilincic. "It's healthy - do you want to be an introvert or do you want to interact with other talent, create synergy and take things onto a higher plane?"
And while she promises there are no Cardin saucepans in her kitchen, Lennard is not averse to collecting fashion artifacts. "I have a fizzy drink by Zandra Rhodes that I never drank, and a handkerchief that Kim Jones designed with Stephen Sprouse - you'd never blow your nose on it. That's the mark of a collectible."
Does she feel like a fashion fool? "I'm just enjoying fashion - this is fun and exciting. When you hear about these products, a red light goes on in your head and you need it immediately. That chase is pure fashion."
And there are others competing for such collectibles. Jane Audas, the design curator and fashion-ephemera collector, blogs about her obsession on shelfappeal.com. "It's addictive," she confesses. "Buying fashion ephemera is the next step along from having a clothes addiction. There's more cachet than with handbags - they're less showy, so you consider yourself more knowing. Plus, there's the rarity of it - most are produced in limited-edition runs. There's a kind of aesthetic one-upmanship."
What this phenomenon signals, reckons Saville, is a "postwar sociocultural democratization," not least since many of these products take fashion out of posh boutiques and onto the Internet and the street.
"It's the consumer as connoisseur," he says. "They don't just have an iPod but a Marc Jacobs iPod. Yes, there will be some funny cocktails along the way, which can be pretty awful to look at, but it's snobbish to question the basic principle."
But there are rules. "Marriages of convenience," as Saville sees them, must be avoided - "where multinationals with lots of money and no credibility seek to work with individuals with no money and lots of credibility."
This is known as brand slapping, where a cool brand allows a less cool brand to use his/her/its name. Holland recounts how he worked as a guest DJ for big-brand events, even after admitting that he didn't know how to do it. "They didn't mind," he says. "They'd just hire a real DJ and I would stand with them, choosing songs."
Saville believes that these marriages of convenience have devalued design to a point where no one trusts it any more. And Audas adds, "The real question is, will these artifacts make it into museum collections? Will they have integrity in 20 years' time?"
Fleur Britten is senior commissioning editor at the Sunday Times Style Magazine in London
If it ain't Baroque, fix it
If you wish to know my feelings about the masses, they seem to be suffering from an excess "m".
I suppose if every actress or rap artist with a bit of dosh thinks they can craft a collection, then the gloves are off...why not the other way around?
One does what comes naturally. Mr. Holland is more a PR machine than designer anyway so a bubble gum packet seems reasonable...just don't expect Margiela doing it anytime soon.
The wisest men follow their own direction.... Euripides
Last edited by Bidwell; 18-09-2008 at 04:45 AM. Reason: additional phrase
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