Vogue Italia’s first cover under their new editor-in-chief, Emanuele Farneti, is here and it focuses on e-commerce. It’s almost satire, bringing to light the rise of the internet and the decline of brick and mortar stores in today’s modern world. It’s interesting and I appreciate the social commentary, even if it’s put forward in a humorous, light way. Shot by Steven Meisel and styled by Karl Templer, the issue is on sale now.
Vogue Italia as a magazine is always at the forefront of what is happening culturally, sometimes in an insensitive way (as critics said after the cover alluding to the BP oil spill in August 2010). The aforementioned cover featured Kristen McMenamy lying on a dirty beach, covered in oil and surrounded by rocks and sea-debris. At the time, the magazine and the photographer, Steven Meisel, caught heat for what was interpreted as mocking the Gulf Sea spill which devastated marine wildlife. The current cover, whilst not controversial in the same way, could still be interpreted as social commentary.
Almost once a week an email pops up in my inbox, telling me about the latest retailer to go into administration. The profile is generally this: American, mall-brand, no longer in favor with millennials, poor e-commerce. Think about it, staple stores where Americans went throughout their childhoods are now disappearing rapidly. Analysts speculate that Sears and K-Mart will be gone by the end of this year as well. Why is it happening? To bring it down to the most basic of levels, the rise of e-commerce and the decline of mall culture.
Quite simply, kids don’t hang out in shopping malls anymore. That’s not a cool thing to do. Teen movies of the 80s and 90s almost always featured a scene in a shopping mall – Mallrats, Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High – yet nowadays they’re not so prominent. Teens don’t want to all dress the same anymore. Individuality, or perceived individuality more so, is key. Thrifting is cool, fast-fashion is cool (although there is a sub-set of teens who are ethically opposed to fast-fashion retailers and its harmful effect, but they still make up the minority of consumers); mall brands are not cool. Abercrombie & Fitch, perhaps the king of teen clothing throughout the noughties, has undertaken an entire repositioning approach in order to recapture the millennial customer that was once their core shopper but has defected to other brands. In an attempt to do this they have changed their product offering (removed visible branding, used higher quality materials, gone with more design-led basics) and tried to overhaul their stores. While the brand is still struggling, they are managing. Many teen retailers have met a different fate. In the past year, stores closing down entirely include American Apparel (unrelated to the rise of e-commerce, internal politics killed this brand), BCBG, Wet Seal, and The Limited. Other huge stores like JC Penney and Macy’s are closing doors around the country. To summarize, brick and mortar stores are not doing well.
E-commerce, on the other hand, is only getting stronger. We may think that e-commerce sales make up the majority of revenue for brands as it can certainly seem that way, but really it is only around 10% of sales in the US. However, the e-commerce sector as a whole is growing, around 6% in 2016. E-commerce is a sector that I would prefer to work in, purely because the growth is exciting. E-commerce is the future. Some companies that do it perfectly are Moda Operandi and FarFetch.
Moda Operandi is a New York-based e-tailer, launched in 2010, that allows customers to order looks straight from the runway. It works on a pre-order basis, with customers buying their items straight after the runway shows and receiving them at the beginning of the delivery season. It is a way to guarantee that you get the piece you’ve seen before it sells out and also gives the customer that adrenaline rush that fuels fashion purchases. You have it, it is yours, but you have to wait. The company also holds online trunk shows which run for a limited time only where you pay a deposit on the item and pay the rest later. When I first came across the site I was immediately intrigued and honestly I still think it is one of the most exciting companies in fashion today. They have since expanded into having personal shopping consultants where you can try on pieces in person before pre-ordering. They also offer a “Boutique” service which has current season items as well, for those who simply cannot wait. There was talk about what would happen to them given the whole see-now, buy-now culture of fashion and the new system which is currently being trialled, but honestly I think they will succeed.
FarFetch is a wholly different enterprise. Started in 2008, the brand is now valued at over $1 billion USD. They began as a way to bring different fashion boutiques from around the world together under one united e-commerce site, giving benefits to both the boutiques and the consumers: consumers have greater choice, boutiques have greater distribution. It was another cool concept. The site has almost every designer brand you can think of, from luxury brands like Givenchy and Saint Laurent (categorized under Luxe) to younger, emerging designers like Protagonist and Sally Lapointe (classed as Lab). If you can’t find something on FarFetch, you’re probably not going to find it anywhere. Saying this, you’d think the site would be overwhelming due to the volume of products but you can filter things down so much that you can find anything you’re looking for. To make things better, in my opinion, the company has just been joined by Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter, as their non-executive chairman. I personally think Natalie Massenet is one of the most interesting figures in the fashion industry, purely because her business acumen is incredible. She built one of the first huge, and still leading, luxury e-commerce sites in a time where e-commerce was a no-go for high end brands, and now every designer has their own e-commerce site or at least some outlet for online distribution. I’m interested to see what her role will consist of at FarFetch, given that she used to lead one of their competitors, but left her own company in 2015, shortly before it was bought by Yoox.
Finally, an honorable mention in the e-commerce category goes to Matches Fashion, a London based retailer which began as a small boutique in Wimbledon and grew into one of the most prominent luxury e-commerce sites. British Vogue did a great profile on the owners, Ruth and Tom Chapman, in their most recent issue that I encourage you to read if you get the chance.