The business of fashion is a complicated, layered and often fickle thing. The amount of dissection it has been subjected to is still very minimal in comparison to many other industries and so it was a great privilege to attend the LMFF Business Seminar last Thursday at the Sofitel in Melbourne. The speakers were Mikael Schiller of ACNE, Jan Nord and Jörgen Andersson – revitalisers of H&M and now Esprit, Jefferson Hack of Dazed and Confused, and Graeme Fidler and Michael Herz of Bally – whom we did not have time to see, so we’ll be going through the first three.
The common thread running through each presentation was the notion that you need to go with your gut; trust your own instincts and dont be afraid to challenge the normal order of things. Many of their stories talked about breaking the rules, and it seems some of the most successful projects come about when you just do what you enjoy.
ACNE had its beginnings as a jeans brand on the brink of bankruptcy. Mikael Schiller, ACNE’s CEO, went through the development of ACNE as a brand, and how it has been able to expand its creative endeavours while at the same time increasing its profit growth and distribution. He outlined the importance of getting the logistical approach to work with the creative side; for without some good business sense, the kind of ideas ACNE pursues would not be possible.
A great thing about the philosophy of their brand is that ACNE sticks to what it likes to do – it doesn’t compromise on ideas for fear of a backlash. Rather, their success comes from liking their ideas and thus wanting to make them as good as they can possibly be. Schiller talked of the fact that ACNE does not follow a master plan, it does what intuitively feels right, takes opportunities and trusts in those instincts. They look for different approaches and conquer them: swapping their whole shop and staff in Sweden with Brown’s in London one year; making furniture to show at Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan; ACNE paper, the widely successful cult magazine… These activities go beyond simply making clothes to build an identity for ACNE that is all-encompassing and always interesting and desirable.
The H&M talk by Jan Nord and Jörgen Andersson centred around the notion that the world is becoming more and more generic, that we are constantly looking for ways to be different while still remaining the same. Their message was, “don’t try to be unique – try to be you“. They have a realist approach to their philosophy that has grounded their projects and, in a sense set them free. We need brands to form associations with – as humans we construct memories and stories based around the products we identify with, and those that do it effectively are what become ingrained in the public consciousness. They reiterated ACNE’s advice to throw out the manual and do it your way – have the bravery and boldness to fight the conventions.
It is interesting to note how such huge companies advocate the personal, individualist approach, in that there is no need to follow a prescribed model for strategic marketing, but that often your own direction is what counts. Also like ACNE, Nord and Andersson went through some of their unique projects – looking to combine high street and high fashion for H&M, their series of designer collaborations set a new precedent in fast fashion marketing, starting with Karl Lagerfeld for H&M. Initially the idea of involving high end fashion designers with a global clothing chain was a contradiction on so many levels, and yet they somehow turned it around to be the biggest and most anticipated event ever for a high street label. The key is creating that desire and maintaining an element of exclusivity with a brand – a big feat for a retailer that has thousands of stores worldwide!
Jefferson Hack’s presentation diverged from the branding strategies of its company to talk about the future of new media and the plethora of potential technologies this will open up. He posed the idea that content will be accessible everywhere, tailored to the interests of the individual at any time of the day. Brand presence is being amplified by the social web – while print is one medium, the cross platforms of the internet, and devices like ipad and smart phones means that magazines and fashion brands must be across all these things. Thus where one approach works for one medium, the same will not necessarily work for another, like an ipad, and so the way we interact with each technology is also very important. I think on this point, it is simply a matter of time and more experimentation with the technology until these devices are better utilised by media and brands. Something like an ipad essentially requires developing a new mode of interacting – which in a sense also means the user has to learn a new skill – to think of it not as a phone or a computer or anything else but as a completely different device with the potential for a new mode of using it.
Hack talked about thinking beyond the future; thinking the improbable. With the popularity of social media and sharing, he also talked about the collective nature of future media; how communications are becoming a culture of recommendation and sharing. While it is enlarging, the use of social media has also personalised the web, so that we may all be considered contributors – it is all about making more connections with each other. Dazed is looking at doing a reader-created birthday issue based on this premise, inspiring the audience to think for themselves. Lastly, something which all the speakers made a point of, the story is still the most important thing, not the technology; for a brand to make an impression they need to engage people, inspire them, and convey meaning. And this again comes back to the fact that to create meaning, you must do something that you love!