Essays, Fashion, Opinion

The Importance of Creative Directors to Musicians

I cameĀ across an interesting article on Billboard recently about how in the digital age, a musician or an artist having a creative director in charge of their branding is more important than ever. This makes sense, especially because being in the social media spotlight can be highly beneficial to an artist and the key to gaining this kudos is by having a clearly defined and well managed brand – something cool for people to look at and aspire to. Branding is everything nowadays whether you like it or not. We all even have a personal brand, even if it is not monetized. If we all have a brand, are we all creative directors? Maybe on a micro-level. An artist needs to hire somebody to direct their brand because it is the most important thing they have, arguably. Songs can blow up and become a summer jam but are easily forgotten about a year later. A brand leads to longevity – something that is vital, and often missing, for musicians today.

So what does a creative director do exactly? To my understanding, a creative director is in charge of how things look overall. A wide, encompassing statement, I know, but I think it all comes down to imagery. Creative directors control the vibe, the style, the look of everything. Whether that be the clothing worn by the artists (acting as a wardrobe stylist, deciding not only tour outfits for on stage but everyday looks in case of candid paparazzi shots or the all-important Instagrams), the style of photography used in Instagram shots or album covers, or the color schemes, products, and locations used in music videos. Anything that you see can be, and is likely, conceptualized by the creative director and brought forward to the artist. That’s not to say that the artist is not in charge of their own style in any way. It is more so that the creative director comes up with ideas and then work with the artist to make something that feels authentic and right for the artist instead of a singleminded vision: a collaboration.

Virgil Abloh and Kanye West

I think the importance of a creative director can be best demonstratedĀ via Kanye West and his longtime collaborator Virgil Abloh, who has become a star in his own right in the past year. Abloh has his own brand (Off-White, formerly operating another brand called Pyrex Vision), he DJs, he hosts events and parties all around the world, and he has degrees in Architecture and Engineering. He’s a smart guy. He’s also partially responsible for keeping Kanye West so relevant as he knows exactly what people want. Abloh has his finger on the pulse and has no problem telling people that he listens to the kids on Tumblr and realizes their spending power and also their knowledge of fashion. No bullshit passes by Tumblr kids, especially the fashion ones (myself included) as we have been given the resource to learn everything online. Abloh understands this and uses it to his advantage. He has taken things that he has found on Tumblr and presented it to WestĀ in the past, as mentioned in one of the interviews linked below. It’s no secret that West loves fashion and has tried various times to break into the industry, with his Yeezy line for Adidas being extremely commercially successful but other ventures failing or floundering. West has also found great success in the merch game, perhaps solely starting the trend of people wearing concert merch as fashion items, beginning back on the Yeezus tour in 2013. We hit peak merch in 2016 with the Saint Pablo tour and the trickle-down effect with merch-inspired pieces being sold in fast-fashion stores like Forever 21 (who were accused of copying West multiple times) and Zara. H&M currently sell a range of “band t-shirts” with various rock bands’ graphics printed on them. Everyone jumped onboard – retailers and other artists alike. Now everyone needs to have merch, and to have merch that sells you need a brand. That’s where your creative director comes in.

West is not the only musician with a creative director. In fact, most of the biggest stars in the music world have one right now. The Weeknd has La Mar Taylor, a friend from Toronto who created the now iconic mixtape trilogy covers and continues to manage the artistic outputs. The XO brand, the collective of individuals associated with The Weeknd, has gone from being an underground icon, big on Tumblr with a cult-like following but not yet mainstream, to being an easily recognized symbol that is even tattooed on loyal fans. The Weeknd recently done a collaboration with H&M, featuring shirts with the XO logo prominently posted. That wouldn’t’ve been possible if he didn’t have theĀ brand. Some otherĀ stars just have stylists. There’s a difference. A creative director’s role is much bigger, and arguably much more important. I could go on for days and days about this topic because one of the things I love the most in life is seeing how fashion intersects with other industries. In this sense, fashion and music and art all collide into one, and everything, in turn, becomes one commercial product. That’s not to say that art for art’s sake doesn’t remain, it’s just that everything nowadays is monetized. Pure artistic endeavors still exist, but creative direction takes something from that level and makes it something bigger. Something that can help you pay the bills for years to come.

The Weeknd’s brand is XO

Further Reading

“The Secret to Being A Modern Pop Star? A Creative Director Pulling The Strings” – W Magazine, September 2016

“Virgil Abloh: From Pyrex to Paris” – Dazed Digital, 2016

“The Life of (Virgil) Abloh” – GQ, August 2016

“From Kanye to Kings of Leon, Why Artists Need Creative Directors in the Age of Instagram” – Billboard, April 2017

 

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Essays, Opinion

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo as a style icon is funny to me. I’ve never thought of her as fashionable. She was, however, known for being unapologetic about her heritage at a time when Mexicans were unpopular in America. In fact, it is not much different now than it was then. Ever since Donald Trump suggested building a wall, anti-Mexican sentiment that was often hushed has once again being exposed. The issue of race is so complicated in America, something that has become increasingly apparent in recent years with the abundance of murders and attacks on, basically, anyone who isn’t white.

Frida Kahlo, besides being a talented artist, was known for not liking white people. Despite this, she speaks to a lot of women, including white women, for her uncompromising nature. She painted herself in natural dress when women were shunning that look. She let her eyebrows grow into a monobrow, even though that is thought of extremely unfeminine. Was she a feminist because she did what she wanted or have we painted her as a feminist hero without her making any true statements? This is something I’ve wanted to explore.

My Grandparents, My Parents, and me (this is my favourite painting)

My Grandparents, My Parents, and me (this is my favourite painting)

I have always been drawn to her artwork because I find it visually appealing. On top of that, everyone knows Frida Kahlo as her image is iconic. I can understand why she is hailed as a style icon because her look is unique. However, there is more to the woman than that. For example, a famous painting of hers at the MoMA in New York explores her familial background. It has two sets of grandparents on each side, one white and German and the others Mexican, then her parents, then her. It is important that she chose to identify with her Mexican roots instead of the white side of her family. There is another self portrait that she did with her two selves, connected by veins. It shows the duality of her, as like many women she had an image that she presented to the public and an image of her true self. The painting is believed to represent two sides of her after her break-up from her husband who cheated on her. One side is broken-hearted and rejected whilst the other side is well-presented and still appealing to her husband.

The Two Fridas

The Two Fridas

Maybe it’s Kahlo’s spirit that makes her an icon. It’s nothing to do with clothes or appearance. It’s about attitude. A nonchalant way of living that many people strive to achieve, and often never quite manage to reach. One thing is for certain, Frida Kahlo stayed true to who she was and didn’t change herself to suit the male gaze or the typical white beauty standards. That is a true skill that all women should learn. Be yourself, not who someone else may want you to be.

Further reading on the artist & the cultural appropriation of her work (and her as a person)

“Quit Appropriating Frida Kahlo” – Resistance Always, WordPress (lots of good photos on this post too)

“Stop Bastardising Frida Kahlo”Ā – a popular post that went around Tumblr

“Frida Kahlo would hate your Frida Kahlo shirt” – Golden Gate Xpress

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Essays, Fashion, Opinion

MR Writers Club: Describe Your Personal Style

See below the response I submitted to last month’s prompt.


Black & minimalist. Words that Iā€™d previously use to describe my personal style. Note: previously. I worked in an office for a year at 17 and quickly adapted to the corporate dress code. Somehow it spilled over into my casualwear. Neither jeans nor sneakers existed. I wore a uniform of pencil skirts, wide leg pants, and black tops of some variant. Iā€™d say I dressed twenty years older than my chronological age. Sometimes I still do.

I went back to school this summer. Starting college after two years out of the system was daunting to me, especially coming from Scotland where things are rather different. Not only were the classes going to be unfamiliar, but the people too. Iā€™ve discovered that although we are two English speaking countries, culturally, we are worlds apart. I learned that teenagers in America are really teenagers. Like, actual kids still, not mini-adults like we are at home. I soon realized that I had to adapt or I would stick out. During orientation people were already asking me why I dressed up so much, so I made a conscious decision to change. It was time. Micro-miniskirts in various materials (vinyl, pleather, scuba), colorful fur coats, t-shirts, and jeans have made it into the rotation. I literally hadnā€™t worn denim since I was 14 years old.

I enjoy getting dressed nowadays. I often think of a #look (yes, the hashtag really elevates it) and strive to realize it. I love when I plan an outfit mentally and execute it perfectly. Going to a fashion school helps too, allowing the freedom to push the boundaries of what would be considered acceptable in a regular college. Sometimes I will wear the most ridiculous outfits just because I can. Itā€™s fun. Fashion should be fun.

Part #2 – #fashion or #fashun, same damn thing

A post shared by Eve Gardiner (@bigbabyeve) on

The Man Repeller ethos was ingrained in me before I even heard about this website. Iā€™ve never dressed for guys. Ever. I donā€™t want to. Case in point, I wore a typical ā€œclubā€ outfit yesterday but paired it with black leather Converse and a plaid blazer. ā€œGeography professorā€ vibes, yet I think it looked cool. The week before I wore Acne Studios leopard print tights with a leopard print fur coat – youā€™ve got to fully commit to that kind of thing. I got many puzzled faces looking back at me on the streets (and I thought New York would be ready for that look).

My style has changed over the past few months, but so have I as a person. Iā€™ve matured and my style has too. Iā€™d say the biggest sign of maturity is not caring what people think, knowing that you are enough without requiring the validation of others. Thatā€™s what Iā€™ve come to achieve in my outfit choices and, almost, in daily life. So, to summarize my new, improved, and ever-evolving style in the simplest way possible: a series of #looks. (Say the hashtag.)

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Essays, Fashion, Opinion

The Future of Retail

In the past few weeks I have been reading a lot about the ever-evolving retail landscape. I find it very interesting, especially because I plan to enter the apparel industry in a few years time. Our notions of what we want and expect out of a shopping experience have changed dramatically. Now it is not enough for a brand just to have brick-and-mortar locations, an online presence is a necessity. But is online all that brands need to provide, or is there something more? Fashion companies need to change with the times in order to remain in business, essentially. But how do they do that, going forward?

I find it funny that online has taken over, or that we perceive it to. I learned in one of my classes that only 10% of all transactions in the USA occur online and around 30-40% in China. I’d say that my generation would think that more transactions occur online because we have embraced e-tailing in such a full-on way. I have friends who shop almost exclusively at online stores because it’s easier, there’s a bigger selection, it’s cheaper – a myriad of reasons, really. Some shoppers are still reluctant to make the shift to the internet, but a large chunk of people will at least browse.

ThereĀ are still some brands who have a very small online presence. For example, Chanel sells just sunglasses, skincare, fragrance, and beauty on their e-store. Pieces from collections, such as shoes and bags, are available to view online but not to purchase – that can only be done in stores. For such a high end brand, it is important to keep exclusivity. In a major way, the internet has democratized fashion.Ā For younger brands like Altuzarra, based in New York City, it doesn’t make too much sense having to worry about e-commerce on their own website. Instead you can shop these type of brands online on sites like Net-a-porter and Matches Fashion. Altuzarra’s e-store actually links you through to Matches to complete your transaction. That’s a true partnership.

I do a lot of my browsing online, especially for brands that I wouldn’t normally have access to. I love e-tailers like Net-a-porter where I can see all of the items that I loved going down the runway in an as close to real life situation as I can. I also love online boutiques like FRWD by Elyse Walker. It has a cool, tightly edited selection of merchandise on offer and I can visualize how the store would be in my head without having to leave my bed. Now that I live in New York I can go to the high end department stores and browse in person but before I came here online was my only platform. This is what I mean when I say the internet has democratized fashion. It has made it accessible. Luxury is no longer out of reach. Consumers no longer feel intimidated by the luxury stores because they can pre-pick what they’re going to buy online (and find out the price so there’s none of the awkward “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” drama) and go in store to have the experience of shopping there. That’s what shopping is about, an experience. If retailers can’t provide that then they will lose out to online stores eventually.

Barneys New York

It has also been speculated that the internet is going to kill the department store. They are not the giants that they once were, both in the UK and the US. Macy’s is known for being constantly on sale. It’s a store where you’d be foolish to pay full price. In fact, this can be damaging for some of the brands that are stocked in store (like Michael Kors, for example, who has been hit by discounts offered by department stores fairly badly in the past few years). Similarly, Debenhams in the UK runs promotions almost weekly. It is just a way to get shoppers into the stores. However, there are some things that can be done by the department stores to draw shoppers back in without having to slash prices.

I was in Macy’s at Herald Square a few months ago. What I learned from my visit was never go too far up in the building because the clothes get dowdier the higher you go. If you start from the basement, the “teen” or “junior” area (which is where the Levi’s are kept), you will experience fitting rooms with adjustable lighting on the mirrors. You can see how the outfit would look in various settings. I found that a very cool feature. I’ve heard of other stores doing a “smart” mirror where you digitally try on clothing instead of actually having to go into the fitting rooms and do it yourself. I’m not sure that I like that idea as I think you can only get a true representation of how things fit once they’re on your body, although I do realize that nobody ever, ever, ever looks good in fitting room lighting. Ever.Ā Experience is key; trial new technology.

I think the area that department stores need to work on is becoming speciality stores, like Barneys or Bergdorfs instead of “department stores” in the traditional sense. I think the two aforementioned are safe, regardless of what happens to normal department stores. Young people aren’t interested in shopping at the same store as their grandparents generally (although my granny shops at Free People…) so I think more needs to be done to modernize the stores and make them more youthful. I found that Macy’s had a stark contrast between what they classed as “juniors” fashion and what they had in the regular womenswear area. It was almost like the kids were too young and the adults were too old. There didn’t seem to be a good spot for women between 18 and 30, and I think that is a key demographic in terms of spending power, disposable income, and actual interest in fashion and keeping up to date with trends. The way to find out about how young people actually dress is through social media. It is an as-true-as-can-be reflection of our times, although what you see on there is often an edited reality. Alternatively, pay attention to what young people on the street actually wear. Chances are you’ll think that the teens are older than their calendar age, mainly because we all dress more maturely than teens did a decade ago. The time of teenage high school movies is over, although sometimes stores reflect these dated ideals in their choices. My main suggestion would beĀ know your customer andĀ ensure your research is current.

If it is more convenient to shop on my phone whilst lying in bed at 2am, I’ll do it. But if I know there’s a great store where the employees are friendly, the visuals are appealing, and theĀ experience is worthwhile, I’ll sure as hell get out of my bed in the morning and march along there instead. We no longer need specific retailers because there are so many options out there for consumers. Retailers now need us.

FURTHER READING

Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren Hit Hard by Stores’ Discounting Binge – Business of Fashion (August 2016)

The Future of Retailing: The Technology Revolution is Now – Forbes (August 2016)

RECOMMENDED RETAILERS (online & in-store)

Forward by Elyse Walker

Matches Fashion

Net-A-Porter & The Outnet

Opening Ceremony

 

& Other Stories, Soho, New York

Barneys New York, Downtown location (Chelsea, New York)

Topshop Oxford Circus, London

Aritzia, FlatironĀ location, New York

 

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Essays, Opinion

Book Review: The Vogue Factor by Kirstie Clements

I am an avid reader. Give me a book on almost any subject and I will devour it. Honestly, I read books on so many different topics from the most low-brow trashy crap to great pieces of literature and a whole bunch of stuff in-between. Now my usual method of reading is buying a book from Amazon marketplace for a penny plus postage and waiting 6 weeks for it to arrived in a tattered, old condition from some random town in the middle of the United States. This book was slightly different though. I received it for Christmas in 2013, brand new and untouched. Almost fresh from the print, the book was just out and just making a stir: I read it in 2 days. Realising that it was probably not enough time to digest what I had actually read, I decided to read it again this spring and you know what? It is a really good book.

 

Let me give you some background information.Ā The Vogue Factor is written by Kirstie Clements, ex-editor in chief of Vogue Australia. She wrote the book after being fired from her position after working at the magazine for almost a quarter of a century. The book tells her story of how she grew up in Australia and managed to snag a job on the reception desk of Vogue and how she managed to work her way up to the very top by making herself practically indispensable. She discusses the glamour and the passion of the staffers for Vogue, as you can imagine, and all the behind the scenes stories ranging from gossipy titbits to real business talk. AsĀ luck had it, Kirstie moved to Paris, moved back to Australia, worked for a couple of different magazines (mainly branches of Vogue), and had a hell of a time in the process of it. Yes, she’s not Anna Wintour but she is, or was, Australia’s equivalent, except less scary and a little bit more approachable.

When I found out that she had been fired, I expected the book to be very bitter, but it wasn’t. It genuinely was just a woman sharing stories of her life, one that likely inspired many young girls after reading the book. But don’t get me wrong, she didn’t look back on everything fondly and paint life at Vogue as all sunshine and happiness. It was very much a no bullshit book. She called out the fact that there is a definite Conde Nast hierarchy and Vogue Australia is very near the bottom of it. She acknowledged that so many things that are commonplace in the fashion industry are absolutely ridiculous; like the super-skinny models who reportedly ate tissues and spent lots of time on a hospital drip. But mostly, she seemed appreciative of all that she had experienced and proud of all that she had achieved. I think what you can tell from her book is that she got very lucky and I think she knows that.

“And God Created Woman” starring Abbey Lee Kershaw, a famous Aussie model. Clements said in the book that the magazine were fond of using Australian models and supporting local talent.

I think perhaps the bestĀ example of her luck is the fact that she got a job at Vogue with no degree, no contacts, no real fashion experience. Ah, yes back in the simpler times when a degree didn’t equal success (even though it doesn’t guarantee it now), you could get your foot in the door by starting at the lowest level and working your way all the way to the top. Now, you need a degree to even get an internship or to fetch a cup of coffee: ridiculous but true. Despite her lack of formal education, she seemed to have a rough idea of what she was doing and managed to get herself involved with as many projects as possible. This led to her promotion at the magazine and she ended up in a more senior role than just reception. Then she moved to Paris and contributed to Vogue Singapore (I think?) then moved back to Australia and came back to Vogue. She was made EIC in 1999 and was fired from that position in 2012.

I think what I’ve really taken from the book is how different things would be at a major edition of Vogue, say American or British, in comparison with what it is like in Australia. Yes, the Australian fashion market is ever increasing but it is unlikely that it will ever be a major player in the global scale like sayĀ the big four (New York, London, Paris & Milan), maybe in a decade or two… Clements discussed having to get Aussie designers to literally copy designs from the catwalks of Europe to feature in the magazine because the pieces weren’t available in Australia. She talked about how difficult it was to book the big-name models and photographers because they could not offer them enough money or the magazine wasn’t prestigious enough for them to want to work for. She talked about the fact that even though she got invited to all of these wonderful fashion events, say Paris Fashion Week, Vogue Australia would only ever get one seat (or sometimes just standing room). Lets face it, Australia is a small fish in a big sea.

What I got from her story was real inspiration. Now I’m not a fool: I understand that the world of fashion is not paradise, not even close. But what I do know is that it is a world that I want to be a part of. Not just for the glamorous parties, fancy foods & the jet-set lifestyle, but for the love of fashion. It is something that excites me, and as a person who looks perpetually unimpressed (it is just my resting face, honestly) fashion is a big deal in contributing to my happiness. The joy that I feel when seeing brilliant clothes, striking editorials and, even, eye-catching advertising campaigns is unparalleled. I think the people who have a genuine love for this industry will succeed, should they work hard enough. The people who are social-climbers and really don’t give a fuck will fail, in the end anyway (even if they seem more successful than you at the time). What was so great about Kirstie’s book was that she did not seem jaded by the fashion industry, despite her decades-spanning career in it. She still seemed to care and she still seemed excited, and that’s what I love to hear. So yes, she may no longer be Editor-in-Chief but she likely has other things ahead. This is a woman who seems smart, is a good writer and who actually cares: three things that are practically vital for success in magazines. I wish her all the best in the future and I’m actually kind-of glad that she was fired, purely because if she weren’t this book would not exist. Ah yes, the silver lining.

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Essays, Opinion

Why Chanel and the Met Gala Being on the Same Night is Ok

Fashion is deemed very frivolous. It is not a matter that people think hold much weight, rightly or wrongly so depending on your opinion. That’s why the Met Gala is such a big deal. Often classed as fashion’s equivalent of the Oscars, the Met Gala (or Ball depending on who is saying it) is an annual charity event held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The event honours the opening of that year’s exhibit at the Costume Institute in the museum. Basically, it is one of the few evenings in the year that fashion actually matters to people. Celebrities, designers and fashion-people in general attend. An invitation is so sought after that tickets cost around $25,000 to purchase, you know, if you’re not actually on the guest list. The prestige of the event is so much so that the first time that a very pregnant Kim Kardashian attended in 2013, there was a general uproar from press and fashion critics alike. Just as a little side note, she was banned the previous year by Anna Wintour but we all know how that has changed as she has since received that infamous Vogue cover that led many to proclaim Anna Wintour’s credibility dead and gone.

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel's Metiers d'Art show in Salzburg (Pre-Fall 2015)

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel’s Metiers d’Art show in Salzburg (Pre-Fall 2015)

 

Chanel’s cruise show, on the other hand, is a little bit less of interest to regular people. Whilst gossip magazines and fashion magazines alike will include images of the best dressed attendees at the Met Gala, Chanel’s cruise show will likely receive less mainstream attention. However, it is always quite a spectacle. For the pre-collections (both Pre-fall and Cruise/Resort/whatever you want to call it), Karl Lagerfeld takes Chanel all over the globe, showing in many exciting locations and often drawing inspiration from such places. This year for the Cruise show, Chanel is going to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. I often think that the pre-collections for Chanel are better than, and certainly more exciting than, their regular collections. For reference, Chanel is always near the end of the show schedule in Paris meaning that by the time you see the photos from Chanel, you have seen at least 100 other shows (if you’re looking online, I doubt people actually go to that many) and have probably seen about 10,000 photos. I feel burned out looking at it all and I’m not even travelling. However, for the pre-collections, Chanel is one of the few brands that actually stage a show – many brands just show lookbooks or release photos from presentations – and they always put on a good one. Usually there is more of a story behind the collection and the different locations make it all the more exciting: think of it as all the important people in fashion going on holiday together.

This year, Chanel’s cruise show has fallen on the same date as the Met Gala. That is a problem. Now you may think “why not just change the date?” as that does seem like the most logical thing to do. However, the date has reportedly already been changed due to a clash with Dior. This isn’t the first time that a conundrum like this has occurred. The same thing happened for the pre-fall Metiers d’Art collection in Salzburg. It was held on the same day as the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that was held in London. Because of the different locations (and the not-so-close proximity) people had to choose between one and the other. This meant that fashion editors, buyers, journalists, and basically anybody that matters in fashion attended Chanel and the rest (including the celebrities, for the most part) attended Victoria’s Secret. However, this time around it is different. The Met Gala is not the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show: it actually matters. It is an event that people in fashion covet a ticket to and attendance is thought of as an honour.

So how are people going to decide between the two? I’m assuming that buyers, journalists and some important editors will go to Chanel and the rest to the Met Gala. Of course Anna Wintour, perhaps the most influential woman in fashion, will go to the Met Gala as the Costume Institute is now named after her and she is heavily involved in the running of the event. For that reason, I also assume that many important American Vogue editors may also attend. However, the celebrities will be divided. I don’t think celebrities are needed at a fashion show. Their only role is to grab a little bit of press which in the end doesn’t matter because press doesn’t always translate into sales, especially if said celebrities fan base is primarily made up of teenagers who cannot afford the brand’s product. I think that celebrities will see the Met Gala as a better event to attend. For one, the coverage that they will receive will be greater, both in volume and quality. Moreover, the event looks like a bunch of fun. I’d love to get a preview of the exhibition at the Costume Institute as the exhibitions are always hugely successful and very busy. However, many may attend Chanel if their loyalty lies with Karl.

The most divided sector will be the models. Each year, some models attend the Met Gala on the arm of a designer or are often there to represent a certain brand. Last year, Kendall Jenner, Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman went to the event wearing Topshop and to represent the brand. Similarly, Liu Wen wore Zac Posen, Cara Delevingne wore Stella McCartney, and Karlie Kloss wore Oscar de la Renta – all representing their respective brands. A few more models not listed also attended. Now I think it is pretty likely that these models will be invited to attend this year but will they accept the invitation? This goes back to aforementioned the VSFS vs Chanel Salzburg debacle. Both Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne were rumoured to be cast for Victoria’s Secret yet they walked Chanel. Considering that they are Karl’s favourites at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if they skipped the Met Gala and walked Chanel instead. Perhaps the rest of the models that walk Chanel will be less known ones. I don’t think that is necessarily a problem as often the less known girls are the best. When I say less known, I mean girls like Sasha Luss and Marina Nery who probably won’t be invited to the Met Gala as their social media following hasn’t hit the million mark. I don’t think social media should be an indicator of someone’s success but unfortunately it is nowadays. Anyway, my point being, the pseudo-supermodels will probably go to the Met Gala, the rest (if they get cast) to Chanel; that is fine with me.

So this is it, a cardinal sin, a faux pas, has been committed, through no fault of either party, by scheduling both events on the same date. It sounds rather silly when you think about it but it will be a big deal and a difficult choice for some. For example, for some models walking Chanel may grant them some prestige in their career and is definitely a good show to have listed on your models.com profile, but being seen at the Met Gala would do wonders from a publicity standpoint as it garners more attention with the masses than a Chanel runway does. The fact of the two events being on the same night might actually be a good thing though. At least the people who matter (for the most part) and those who are actually influential will be at Chanel, you know reviewing the runway and picking pieces to buy into their stores, and those who just generate publicity but little more will be elsewhere. Yes there will be some important people missing out (think Ms Wintour) but it is not the end of the world. After all, the Chanel show will be on style.com, the goings-on inside the Met Gala will not.

As someone who is not a model or at all important in fashion for that matter, an invite to either of the events would be appreciated but if you twisted my arm for a definitive answer, I think I’d choose the Met Gala: would you?

 

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Essays

Mary Kate and Ashley: The Accomplished Duo

There is something about a set of twins that makes them infinitely more interesting than regular people. For one, they would never struggle to think of a fun fact about themselves at a group job interview – “I have a twin” always breaks the ice. Secondly, having a twin must be even better than being merely siblings. You would share a bond that can only be achieved by being twins because you are together, and have been together, right from the beginning all the way until the end. Twins are often grouped together for life, which can be tiresome for many but if you’re as business-savvy and as passionate as the Olsen twins, you will reap all the rewards.

Mary Kate and Ashley have been in show business since they were less than a year old and have only grown since then. They started out acting in Full House, sharing a role at just 9 months old, and now, 27 years later, they are at the forefront of fashion. What makes Mary Kate and Ashley different from other child stars is the fact that they created an empire, or their management did, at a time when most other children their age were playing board games and learning basic arithmetic.
Dualstar, their production company which released their movies and television specials, was founded in 1993, when the twins were just 7 years old.Ā Between 1993 and 2004, the Olsens starred in 13 feature films (all of which I watched as a child), 3 television programmes and 2 other video series. During this time they also released a wide range of products to target the pre-teen and teen market including video games, dolls, clothes, home decoration, furniture: practically anything you can think of, they did.

Although the empire that they built was a pretty mean feat to achieve, I’d say they have achieved something even greater than that now. The twins have completely reinvented themselves, so much so that they are almost unrecognisable from who they used to be. They have come to embody American luxury fashion, becoming complete icons in the process of it. I’d say that Mary Kate was the breakout fashion figure of the two, purely because her boho-chic look in the mid 2000s which became hugely fashionable all over the world (helped by Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe of course). Now, with their hugely successful fashion line The Row, the Olsen twins have proven themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

From various collections of the past few years

From various collections of the past few years

Now let me clarify one thing, I do not agree with celebrity designers. Those who are already famous that decide to dabble in fashion for a bit of fun on the side without having a true passion for it are a real annoyance to many. They usually have zero formal training, no experience and just the celebrity status to get on by. The Olsen twins, however, have surpassed the celebrity designer stage. The Row has recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary and receives rave reviews almost every season, along with admirable coverage in fashion magazines not just in America but around the world. The Row has established itself as one of the great American brands of the past decade and one that will, hopefully, be around for decades to come.

I think what has made the Olsen twins’ experience in fashion different is that they have stuck it out. This is not just a side-project for them but actually their main and only focus. They no longer think of themselves as actors, their production company has been dormant since 2004, and are fashion people through and through. That is not to say that they didn’t face critics when the first started out, because of course they did. Fashion is a notoriously elitist industry and unless you have worked your way up and paid your dues, you won’t be respected. As the Olsens were celebrities, actors nonetheless, they were faced with hurdles from the start. Yes they had the finance behind them to create something special, but if the fashion press are against you it can be difficult. But they have done something commendable in sticking it out for so long and creating such a good output. They have truly proven themselves in the industry.

Their line, The Row, started out with them trying to create the perfect white t-shirt and has since expanded into something of couture-like proportions. Although technically still ready to wear, the construction and thought that goes into the line is impeccable. Famed for the simplicity yet complex details (a bit of an oxymoron, I get it), The Row produces garments that can be a staple in wardrobes. Mary Kate and Ashley have almost created uniforms for themselves, as that’s what their line really is. They create what they would wear. A key feature of The Row is the neutral colour palette that is used season after season. The straightforwardness of it is so important to the success of the range. And believe me, it is definitely a commercial success. Sold in over 145 stores worldwide (Harvey Nichols in London, Saks in New York to name a couple), the label generates sales of tens of millions each per year. It is also a critical success: collections are lauded by the press and they have received real critical acclaim in the form of awards from the CFDA (Womenswear Designer of the Year 2012, Accessories Designer of the Year 2014). Basically, what I am saying is that there is no stopping Mary Kate & Ashley.

Another factor that separate s The Row from other celebrity lines is the fact that they have positioned themselves firmly in the luxury segment. Price-wise, they could rival Hermes. At $39000 for an alligator skin backpack, their prices aren’t for those who are just dabbling in the high end market. People buy their items, and pay such high prices for them, because they are so good. Well researched, designed and constructed, the pieces are classics that could last for years and become wardrobe staples. You have to remember that the first collection the twins created consisted of just 7 pieces. The effort and singular attention that goes into every individual piece designed along with the hands-on work by the Olsen twins makes the price tag worthy and almost justified. So whilst I am unlikely to be able to afford anything by The Row, I can always dream. The Olsens have gone beyond what anybody could’ve imagined when they set out to become fashion designers. One can only hope that The Row‘s place in the history of American fashion is realised.

Ashley carrying the $39000 backpack

Ashley carrying the $39000 backpack

FURTHER READING

An interview with the duo in Elle magazine this month.

A Wall Street Journal online article.

If The Row is out of your price range, like me, the twins also have a second, more contemporary line called Elizabeth & James. Prices start at around Ā£50 and go up to the late hundreds.

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Essays, Fashion News, Opinion

Who Is Going to Gucci?

TheĀ recent news of the departure of Frida Giannini and her husband, CEO, Patrizio di Marco from Gucci poses the question: who will replace them?Ā Or, more importantly, her? Now I, for one, don’t really care about who the new CEO is because that will not change anything for me: the CEO is very much behind the scenes with their impact on the designs practically non-existent. I do care about who will become the new creative director, however, even if the internet seems rather unfussed: google Gucci and the news of the departure of theirĀ head designerĀ doesn’t even come up on the first page.

I am a Frida Giannini fan so when I found out that she was leaving I was saddened. However, IĀ often feel like IĀ stand alone in liking her as she is often heavily criticised online for reasons I am unsure of. I feel that in the past few seasons Gucci’s collections had really improved and were clothes that I would want to spend money on, if I had it… For the past few seasons Gucci’s campaigns have been some of my favourites, their clothes often the most copied and their business seemed to be reaching new heights with the introduction of the beauty line, something that Giannini was involved with. She doesn’t officially depart until after the Fall 2015 collection which will, like the previous few collections, likely be met with praise from the press. If you look at reviews from style.com, vogue.co.ukĀ and a few other publications the past few seasons have been viewed as largely positive. She has left citing personal reasons and I hope that she returns to fashion at some point in the future.

A lot of the criticism for Frida stemmed from the fact that she was not Tom Ford. A rather preposterous reason to dislike somebody, or their work more so, but this is fashion and that is how it works. She took over from Tom Ford in 2004 whose departure a hell of a lot of people are still not over. Frida’s Gucci woman was completely different from Mr Ford’s who is known for his sexed up designs andĀ that is one thing that she always had against her. Although fashion is rooted in continual change, an often unhealthy nostalgia for the past can be prominent. Another hurdle that Frida had to overcome was the world economic crisis that began in the late 2000s. If the entire world, pretty much, is in recession people naturally will have less money and the first thing that will go is luxuries. For that reason, many brands’ sales took a hit – Gucci included. Sales at Gucci have been stagnant for years. Where some brands have seen meteoric rises (like Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent whose retail increase has been reported at 40% after his rebrand of YSL and 28% in the past year), Gucci has remained steady and in an industry where the only way is up, staying still is very much a negative. Some of the failure can be put down to Gucci’s heavily branded image, something that was very popular in the early 2000s but has diminished now. Luxury, nowadays, is understated. The joy doesn’t come in having a brand name or logo splashed all over a bag but by knowing that your bag is made of the finest leather by the most skilled workers: Gucci didn’t catch up with that.

Still, it is not a bad brand: for that reason alone it should be easy to get a new designer. However, it is choosing the new designer that will be the hardest part. Now obviously all of us on the internet are not involved with the inner workings of Gucci, we do not know what is going on. The brand released a statement saying that the new creative director has not yet been named and the uncertainty has just led to meaningless speculation, something that I am going to join in with. Now the name that is most commonly thrown around is Hedi Slimane, the previously mentioned creative director at Saint Laurent. In his short time back at Saint Laurent (he joined up again in 2012 after 4 years in the menswear division between 1996 and 2000 where he popularised the skinny suit) he has done a lot – perhaps an understatement? He has re-branded from Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent Paris, a move that sparked much controversy and those god-awful “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves” t-shirts that caused him to pull the brand from Collette in Paris. However, even if you don’t like his change of name it is undeniable that is has had brilliant results for the brand business-wise. Sales have grown massively and continue to do so season upon season, he has grown a near cult-like following of people who will buy whatever he produces. It seems like a great idea for Gucci to hire him then, no? I mean, I know he is the most likely candidate for the job but in a way, I hope that he doesn’t get it: no ill feelings Hedi. My reason is not that I dislike him (because I do like him) but because I think he is doing great at Saint Laurent and think it would be a shame to see him go so quickly. I think it would be unnecessary for him to leave so quickly and at a brand that he has quickly made his own.Ā Furthermore, if he left Saint Laurent somebody would have to replace him there and I cannot think of anybody better for the job than him, he has made himself almost irreplaceable.

So if Hedi is not the man for the job, then who is? So many names have been thrown around that it is difficult to make sense of it all. If a creative director is poached from another brand then they need to be replaced, leading to a round of fashion musical chairs, or as Suzy Menkes put it, Candy Crush. Of course, it could be an internal hire. Gucci will have a strong design team in-house already so perhaps a promotion could be on the horizon? That seems unlikely however. I feel that they will be looking for an already established name to make a splash. Riccardo Tisci’s name has come up in conversation but that has quickly been shut down by the media citing his contract with LVMH as the main reason. (I like him there so I hope he stays.) Christopher Kane has been mentioned, mainly because he worked for Versus Versace for a while and Kering, Gucci’s owner, has a majority stake in his own brand.

My favourite name that has come up is Joseph Altuzarra, designer of the brand of the same last name. I am aware that these are all just rumours but I think he would be perfect for the brand, despite the fact that he is already creative director of his own brand. Now I don’t exactly love it when designers design for multiple brands at once (think Alexander Wang at his mainline, Balenciaga, T diffusion line and his new denim line) but sometimes it works. For example, Alexander Wang has produced stellar collections for all of his own lines and the Balenciaga brand since his appointment but you can’t help but wonder if it is too much for one person to do. You wonder how involved they really are, questioning if it is just their name on the line and their face at the end of the runway show or if they are actually hands-on at all of their jobs. Or think of Karl Lagerfeld who has simultaneously designed for Chanel and Fendi, amongst other projects for decades now. It often works, often doesn’t. Now I don’t want Altuzarra to overwork himself or stretch himself too thin, especially since his brand is a relatively new one, but I do think that Gucci would be a great brand for him to grow at. For one, he does that whole classy-sex-appeal thing very well, something that is key to Gucci’s brand. Secondly, he is a good designer and that has been noted by Kering who bought a stake in his company already. Altuzarra won the CFDA’s Womenswear Designer of the Year award this year and has received much critical acclaim, making Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in the past.Ā Whatever happens, he has good investment in his brand, that much-needed talent and the means to grow – whether that is within Gucci or his own brand only time will tell.

We don’t find out who is going to be the new creative director until Gucci decides to reveal it to us so everything until then is pure speculation: enjoyable but slightly worthless. Will they do what is predicted and hire Hedi Slimane, a man who has transformed the Saint Laurent brand and could potentially do the same for Gucci? Or will they take a risk and hire a newer but known designer such as Joseph Altuzarra? Or will they shock us all and do an internal hire or even more surprising, hire an unknown, fresh-out-of-school designer? Only time will tell and until then it is all uncertain. What we do know for sure is that Frida Giannini is designing one last collection, Fall 2015, and we should enjoy it whilst we can. Until then, may the excitement of the unknown fuel the fashion fire.

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Essays, Fashion News, Shows

Chanel Metiers d’Art – Salzburg

Chanel’s pre-season collections are a wonder. They seem to be bigger, and better, than the regular collections. When I say bigger, I don’t mean in numerical terms as, in typical Karl manner, there are around 80 looks per show: I mean that they are, oddly, more important. The pre-collections are stooped history and meaning, usually something related to the house’s DNA, and come with their own short film – directed by Karl Lagerfeld himself, obviously – a feat that the regular shows are not afforded.

The whole idea of the pre-season collections are to travel to a place and design the collection around that location. In the past, shows have been held in, among other places, Texas (you will remember the cowboy boots which were brilliant and the Native American headdresses which were… not good, offensive and not very tasteful), Bombay (well Mumbai, but the collection was called Paris-Bombay), and Edinburgh. One of the most important things about the Metiers d’Art collections is the fact that they honour the craftsmanship that the artisan partners bring to the regular collections: this is their time to shine. For this reason, the clothes shown here can seem even better than the ones shown on the runway. They are more embellished, more extravagant, more detailed. Or at least that is what I think.

from vogue.com

from vogue.com

Now you may be wondering what I mean by the “artisan partners“, until about a year ago I had literally no idea. The artisan partners, Chanel has 11, are separate ateliers that work on Chanel collections. Each of them produce unique parts of the highest quality. In the 90s, Chanel began obtaining workshops, based in Europe, to counteract the manufacturing that was going on in Asia. They want their collections to be of the highest quality possible with the most skilled workers. They also want to help prolong the couture industry which is, sadly, sure to be gone within the next century. The art of couture is a dying one and the skills that are needed to produce the utmost quality of work are rarely taught at fashion schools nowadays when the focus is firmly on ready-to-wear. The ateliers, reportedly, take on interns from top French fashion schools to train them up in the art. Since 2002, when the Metiers d’Art collections began, the artisans’ work has been showcased specifically in these collections. Each collection has a theme and honours the exceptional craft and accomplishment by the artisans. That is not to say that their work is not used all throughout the year though, as they produce all of the collections: the Metiers d’Art just highlights them.

The eleven ateliers all produce different things. There is Desrues, the costume jeweller and button -maker that employs around 100 and seemingly produces around 4000 button per day (think of the gilded double C’s). Secondly, there is LemariĆ© who make feathers and fabric flowers and have worked with many well-known couturiers like Christian Dior and Christian Lacroix.Ā  Thirdly, Massaro is the boot maker. They produce all of the, well, boots and shoes, and basically anything footwear oriented. Next up is Maison Michel, the hat maker. They produce the headwear, so think veils, berets, fedoras – anything that you would wear on your head – if it is Chanel – they have made it. Fifth is Lesage who does the embroidery. I think this is what people imagine when they think of couture: beautiful and intricate embroidery. Fun fact: they have their own embroidery school, opened in 1992, so if you want to learn the craft where would be better? Goosens is the official goldsmith and jeweller. They create the fine jewellery and the gold chains and gemstones that you see in a typical Chanel collection. Guillet makes corsages and artificial flowers. Montex is another embroiderer, albeit younger than Lesage but equally as skilled. Causse, the second newest addition that was acquired in 2012, is the glove-maker. Soon after came Barrie Knitwear, a Scottish company that Chanel saved from closure shortly before their Metiers d’Art collection of 2012 held in Edinburgh. Finally, the newest atelier, is Lognon, who are in charge of pleats. As you can see, the skills of each atelier are different from each other (apart from the two embroiderers who both do the same trade but different jobs) and all of them are essential in the creation of a Chanel collection. The Metiers d’Art is the time for all the work that goes on behind the scenes to be acknowledged.

 

GALLERYĀ OF MY FAVOURITE LOOKS FROM THE SHOW

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For this Metiers d’Art collection, everybody travelled to Salzburg in Austria. Going back to the house DNA, Austria is a huge part of it as Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel travelled there and found inspiration for the infamous Chanel jacket from a lift-boy’s uniform. This scene is played out in the short film, entitled “Reincarnation” which went along with the collection. The film starred Pharrell Williams as the lift-boy and Emperor Franz Joseph I. Cara Delevingne who played a worker at the hotel by day and a painting of Empress Elisabeth of Austria come to life at night time: she sung and she danced in the darkness and wreaked havoc in the hotel throughout the day. The film was just 7 minutes long but was actually wholly enjoyable, much like a lot of what Karl has done in the past. The films that accompany the collections are often just as exciting as the clothes themselves: they help to contextualise them. Historical references usually go over my head but with the short film in place to make it seem more current and altogether more exciting, it is much easier to pick up on.

History aside and moving into the present, the collection was divine. It had all of the opulence expected of a Chanel collection with a fairytale-esque twist that made it all the more exciting. It is hard to not be moved when you see the beautiful setting. Ā Austria feels like a living fairytale: when I think of it, I see forests and castles and grand old houses – it helps that they have a historical system of nobility. Now there were 85 looks: pretty massive for what is essentially a pre-fall collection. The show consisted of both menswear and womenswear, the menswear being worn by Karl’s favourite Baptiste and a few others. Lara Stone opened the show and Cara Delevingne closed it, something unsurprising considering her participation in the film.

The clothes themselves with, for the most part, stunning. Many were slightly more wearable than a regular Chanel collection and lots of the piece s you could actually see working in daily life. There was a slight outdoorsy feel to the first 20 or so looks, gradually getting more and more eveningwear as the show progressed. The embroidery and embellishments on some of the pieces were simply stunning and almost brought tears to my eyes. As usual, there were a few looks that were slightly hideous but that doesn’t cancel out the fact that the majority of this collection was not. A lot of people like to discredit Karl’s work as of late and say that he has fallen off. Whilst fashion is a very subjective matter, I think it is unfair to be calling for his retirement when he clearly has so much still to offer. This collection, and perhaps the past two collections for Chanel (RTW & Couture) demonstrate this. I am a massive Lagerfeld fan and I have been since I was young. Karl, I’d say, is the person who made me fall in love with fashion. Only since that moment has my interest developed and my horizons expanded. For that reason, Karl always will hold a dear place in my heart, even though we are unlikely to ever meet. Maybe for that reason I will always rate his work highly? I don’t know. I do know that he does make some really fucking ugly clothes, I am not blind to that. However, he makes up for that by creating some of the most beautiful clothes also. He is a man of paradoxes, both personally and professionally. All I can say is this: Metiers d’Art Paris – Salzburg was a success.

 

GALLERY OF THE VENUE

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Essays, Fashion News, Opinion

Fashion Behaving Badly – Tax Evasion

UPDATE: Dolce & Gabbana have now been cleared by Italy’s court in its final ruling on the case (24/10/14).

Fashion is a multi-billion dollar business. The sales, and subsequent profits, that fashion houses make each year are staggering. Yet, the vast amounts of money made are never enough – or so it seems. Back in 2013, after years of speculation, Dolce & Gabbana were charged with tax evasion; now Prada is under investigation and have been for years now. Why is it that, despite the crazily big profits made by these companies, they still won’t pay the correct tax?

Dolce & Gabbana FW12

Dolce & Gabbana FW12

It’s not just big fashion houses that avoid tax, or paying the correct amounts more so, but also the mega-rich in general. Tax evasion by the country’s richest costs Britain Ā£35 billion per year. This is a major issue but is often doable for the richest. They want to protect their money and can find legal schemes to do so. There are loopholes in the system, which greatly benefits them but can be hugely disadvantageous to us, the regular people.
Perhaps if I were mega-rich I would do the same or at least understand the motives but at this point in time, it seems unthinkable to me. Think of what Leonardo DiCaprio’s character inĀ The Wolf of Wall StreetĀ did: smuggling his money to a Swiss bank meant that he didn’t have to declare his income and pay taxes on it. All was good and well until he got caught. Now of course I’m not meaning to compare Dolce & Gabbana, a brand that I adore, and Prada, another brand that I am fond of, to a clear cut conman but there are some similarities between the two.

The Dolce & Gabbana case dates way back to 2004. The designers, Domenico & Stefano, sold the brand to a holding company based in Luxembourg in a move which the Italian tax authorities thought was to avoid paying tax in Italy, one of Europe’s highest corporate tax regions. (Luxembourg is a lower-tax region). As a result of this, they were both sentenced to 18 months in jail, but really it is unlikely that they will serve any time forĀ the sentence. Now I’m not an expert on Italian law, but what I have gathered from looking online is that sentences less than 3 years are spent outside a prison and instead under house arrest or via community service. However, they received a suspended sentence last year so when they actually have to pay for the crime is unknown. This is on top of the 343 million euro fine they has to pay back in 2012.

But Dolce & Gabbana aren’t the only company who have had to pay out big time. Giorgio Armani was fined 270Ā million euro earlier this year as a result of an issue surrounding subsidiaries abroad. Also, Prada Holding (the group controlling Prada) paid out between 400 and 420 million euros in voluntary disclosure back in December 2013 to try and settle backdated taxes in Italy. However, the brand have finally acknowledged that they are under investigation for tax evasion, something that they hadn’t done before, and have agreed to move their company back to Italy from the Netherlands and Luxembourg (like Dolce & Gabbana).

Prada FW11

Prada FW11

So why are the Italian authorities cracking down on fashion brands then? Well it comes down to the fact that despite the fact that most other EU countries are making their way out of the global financial crisis of recent years and are on the mend, the Italian economy is still going downhill and is stuck in a recession. Despite this, luxury is a sector that has continued to do well. It makes sense for the Italian government to try and source money that it is owed from places that can actually pay it back.

But really, why the government is doing what it is doing is self-explanatory really. Quite simply, laws are being broken and they are trying to set things right. Really, the crux of the matter is why are the fashion houses avoiding paying the correct tax? Since being arrested for tax evasion, Dolce & Gabbana, personally, have become billionaires; Giorgio Armani is estimated to be the 4th richest man in Italy; Miuccia Prada has a real-time net worth of $8.5 billion – it is not like they need the money. So why do they do it? It is a matter that I will never understand.

Luxury fashion is an industry where a pair of jeans can sell for $17,500 (the price that Dolce & Gabbana’s bejewelled beauties are rumoured to be retailing for) and a plain white t-shirt for hundreds. So with these astronomical prices, why can’t the designers spare some cash to pay the right tax? It is not like they are short in profits. Mark-ups are rife, meaning that the price to make an item is nowhere near what you pay. This is only logical and anybody running a business who didn’t take a cut for themselves would be living on the streets. However, mark-ups are also massive. Louis Vuitton has a rumoured 45% profit margin on their bags (yes, I know they’re not Italian, it is just an example), Prada reportedly makes their bags in China (cheaper labour costs) but still charges a Made in Italy prices, the majority of designer clothing is retailed at double the wholesale price and then some. Prices in the luxury market have risen between 25 and 50 percent in the last few years and now a dress can cost more than a family car – and that is just ready to wear. As we know, the rich and getting richer and they can afford these prices, oddly enough.

But that doesn’t answer the key question as to why designers are avoiding the correct taxes. I’d say there are three key things to consider in this debate. Is what they are doing unethical? Yes, I’d say so. Regular people, from society’s lowest earners to the humble middle class, have to pay tax on however little their earnings are (as long as they meet the tax threshold), even if that means a large chunk of their income just disappears before they even see it. Why should the highest earners, the top 1% and multi-billion pound/dollar/euro/whatever bloody currency companies avoid this? Is what they are doing greedy? Well, I don’t know the designers personally and what they are doing with their money but from an outsider view it seems slightly like that. And finally, is what they are doing wrong? Definitely yes.

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