Op-Ed: The Decline of Marketing and the Re-Birth of Style

A strong narrative of change has come to light over the past couple of years in connection with larger fashion strategies – namely, the merging of fashion lines under a single label and the application of direct-to-consumer methods.

Inquiries have certainly been posed with some frequency into the purpose and timing of such changes, and into the breadth with which they represent a transition in the modern fashion system. The notion of evolving with the changing technological capabilities of modern times and catering to consumers, who want what they see on the runway right away, has reigned supreme.

What has not been explored in depth with regard to these newly emerging business trends is how their emergence stands to positively impact – and hopefully, reignite – the dying art of “fashion.” Note: This term is distinct from the more commercial, more straightforward and utilitarian notion of “clothing,” which seems to be have dominated the runways for the most part in recent years for one reason or another.

It is easy to see how the merging of lines fits into this grander scheme, whether it be the unifying of different price point collections – as Paul Smith or Burberry announced several months ago – or the combination of men’s and women’s collections onto one runway, as many a brand has announced plans to do. This way of doing things will, in theory, edit out quite a significant portion of a brand’s PR and production-related activities.

The same can be said for the banning of social media from presentations, embargoing the release of collection images until just before the garments and accessories hit stores (à la Céline, Balenciaga, The Row, and Proenza Schouler, etc.), and selling runway collections directly after shows (as many other brands are attempting to do in one way or another).

Still yet, there is the emerging direct-to-consumer model, which is being adopted in a number of ways by an array of brands. One form of this is forgoing to the over-the-top and overly expensive runway show and instead, displaying collections’ images on social media, as Misha Nonoo and a number of other brands has chosen to do in recent seasons. There is also the See Now-Buy Now model, which allows brands to show now, promote now, and sell now.

In each of their own ways, these logistical alterations seek to avoid the over-expenditure of resources, including but not limited to money and time, that the creation, showing, marketing and distribution of a collection requires. It has become quite clear that in order for a collection to sell nowadays, a brand must create fanfare around a runway show and a collection. A problem arises, however, when that collection will not be delivered to stores for nearly to six months, and brands are forced to bring their collections back from the dead, so to speak, with more PR at the point of delivery, in order to entice consumers to shop.

These growing logistical changes are working to render many of the redundant marketing processes unnecessary, at least to an extent, and that is a good thing. If the fashion gods are on our side, that should reduce the marketing and branding noise by half and allow the garments and accessories to take center stage. This bodes well for fashion as a craft and for discerning consumers, who are looking for garments and accessories with substance and value.

A LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE

Although it seems like each brand is approaching these issues differently, it is clear that we are witnessing a much bigger movement. In fact, fashion – as a major force that demands constant overhaul – is correcting itself by rediscovering what made it successful and appealing in the first place, and eliminating what was added artificially along the way. 

Until 35 years ago, modern fashion was usually about clothes and about the initial design. We can learn about this grand idea from the first haute couture shows – merely an intimate presentation with numbered models and no fireworks – or from Paul Poirt's European trunk shows; the biggest intention was to sell the garments (even if there were some side products) and to present a sincere new silhouette at least every so often.

The same principal goes with the evolution of ready-to-wear, which was widely accepted in the 1960’s as a legitimate method of creating designer clothes. As Carla Sozzani of 10 Corso Como noted in an interview for AT Magazine, “When RTW started everything was so new. It was fantastic – you could buy clothes without going to the tailor.”

But after that, with Yves Saint Laurent posing nude for his own fragrance, the ever expanding 1980’s globalization and the visualizing power of youth networks such as MTV, clothes – and the importance of design as an artistic idea – were put aside, in a way. The point became to use them, or more accurately to use the deluxe image of a fashion maker, to sell other things. Designers such as Pierre Cardin or behemoths like LVMH, and many others since then, have made fortunes based on the idea of inflating marketing to the max.

Fashion became a marketing tool for almost everything, except for the designer’s work itself. With this in mind, it is not surprising that even designers – who are now slaves to marketing – have started to run away these days, leaving their star positions empty, tired of pedaling in the air. It's not (only) the pressure, but also the understanding that we can't keep carrying on with a fluffed-up designer image or a story that is not connected to a solid reality. After all, how long is it possible to continue offering high-end Stan Smith knock-offs, perhaps the most brilliant example of design values being swapped for marketing values?

That is why the changes happening now are so significant. In a way, during the last two years – and this is even more evident now – fashion has been rebalancing and reclaiming its lost dignity by making clothes and their artistic agenda matter again by shifting the focus from marketing to the product. That is also why, when talking about direct-to-consumer and merging lines, there are voices that are constantly claiming that fashion now looks like a group of gangs, with a clan following each designer. The slow drop in the level of marketing that we are experiencing in the present makes the different styles and directions – which always existed in fashion – much more evident.

Direct-to-consumer and line merging is just the beginning in the present and future solution. Lowering the marketing component in fashion must be the key to making design – and style – shine again. 

LIROY CHOUFAN is a fashion writer, the editor in chief of The Critical-F and a lecturer at the fashion department of Shenkar Collage of Engineering, Design and Art.