Archive for January, 2009

Year of the Ox; Musings on the state of fashion

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

It’s upon us!  Happy Chinese New Year.  I am grateful to be home with family and friends.  Our traditional Reunion Dinner was even more lively than usual this year with the addition of another family.  Instead of New Year’s eve, we had brought the dinner forward a day to accommodate my sister who was on call at the hospital all of today (a touch depressing to have to work for 36 hours on a holiday).  So we had one of our aunts and her family join our early Reunion Dinner, making it the 3 oldest siblings on my father’s side of the family, along with the family matriarch, with whom I really should spend more time while I can.

Me, Puff Puff and Peapie Rooster, 25 Jan 2009

Another thing to be grateful for is the fact that this week-long break falls right in the center of the very intense case I’m staffed on in Shanghai.  Literally as I was stepping out of the elevator to go to Reunion Dinner, the most important meal in the Chinese calendar, my phone rang with a call from my manager in Hong Kong.  My heart sank not a little. 

Blessedly it turned out to be a false alarm – my manager’s phone had accidentally dialed me while in his pocket.  I wonder why I’m first on his call list?  (Later that night at 5am his phone left me a voicemail of him leaving some woman’s apartment… Don’t think I’m not going to tease him about that when I see him again next week!  I’m sure he was just at some house party, or perhaps at his sister’s, but he is single, which makes it all the more amusing.)

Only three-ish more weeks on this case.  And blessedly, again, I can now look forward to an unexpected trip home in two weeks because my class at work is having training.  I love my job, I love my job! 🙂

As business and economic news continues to paint a grey picture, fashion is very clearly suffering.  The Fall-Winter shows for next season are some of the gloomiest, most uninspiring stuff I’ve seen in years.  Gone is the exuberance of feathers, hand-painted fabric and gratuitous fur.  All has been replaced by conservative classics in black, charcoal and navy. 


I’m not sure what I think of this strategy.  If Burberry Prorsum and Prada–usually some of the most interesting menswear shown–are only showing ultra subtle variations on classics that most men already own (navy double breasted blazers, black wool peacoats, black oxford lace-ups), are these really the pieces that are going to sell and save these companies?  I’m personally not sure.  For the first-time buyer, perhaps that’s what they want, the basic Burberry nova check scarf (also easily available everywhere for about $20 from counterfeiters or me-too manufacturers, and under $100 from Burberry factory outlet stores).

But for the rest of the market (the majority of the market), we already have the black pima cotton crewneck t-shirt, the dark wash jeans, the khaki trenchcoat.  And even if I needed a new one, say a cashmere car coat, how am I going to differentiate among all these designers making the same thing?    As numerous consumer psychology studies have shown, people are worst at deciding among many similar things, they are much more likely to choose to buy nothing.  I know that if I walk by Dior, Jil Sander, Marni and Giorgio Armani and they are all selling the same thing (black leather wallets, white cotton dress shirts), I’m apt to just give up and leave empty handed.  And with the price points these labels are at, I might as well buy my coat from Zara or have my tailor in Bangkok make me a bespoke one.

That’s where I think designers putting out collections based on optimism have got it right.  Yes, we may all want to be more restrained and thoughtful with our spending, but if I am going to be tempted to shell out for a luxury item in the coming months, it’s going to be for a Gucci Tattoo print Babouska tote, or an Etro duffle bag in mottled green python.  In other words, it’s going to be something aspirational, fabulously unique and impeccably made.  And if you make it affordable (the Gucci bag is about $800 if you can find a store with stock, the python duffle will probably be $700 at 60% off), then I’m sold.  In this FT article, the same message is clear: “We are not seeing people trading down,” [Burberry Finance Director, Stacey Cartwright] said. “What we are seeing at all levels of the pyramid is people just spending a little bit less – there’s less footfall to start with and when people come into the stores they are just holding off on buying that second or third item.”  If you ask me, if there was a second or third amazing lace handbag or brocade cardigan, these shoppers would be much more likely to buy.

In any case, this past Fall-Winter 2008 and Spring Summer 2009 seasons will likely be the last great shopping seasons we see for a while.  Both these seasons were designed and priced before the financial crisis, and a lot of the Spring Summer merchandise was probably ordered before retailers like Saks and Neiman Marcus reported huge declines in sales.  Lanvin was still showing whimsical neckties made of feathers, and Dolce & Gabbana were pushing ironically opulent formal wear inspired by sleepwear.  Even thinking about this makes me sad.  Fast forward three or four months and Chanel has fired 200 staff in Paris, Bill Blass has gone out of business (along with Waterford Wedgwood) and the industry is awash in dire predictions.  Burberry has announced up to 540 jobs cut from payroll (coupled with it’s 30% rise in sales spurred by steep discounts, this caused Burberry Group shares to rise 12%).  So stock up on as many beautiful fashion objets d’art you can afford, for in the coming seasons they will be harder to find (and certainly less heavily discounted).

As for me, I should definitely stop heeding my own advice.  In the past two months or so, I’ve bought so many bags that it’s bordering on an unhealthy obsession…  The list so far:

–Salvatore Ferragamo Origami frame bag – I’ve waited literally a year for this to go on sale for the price I wanted.  Yay!
–Fendi Bag de Jour in blue Zucca denim- what a great price for a great bag!  After buying it at Changi T2 with Terence, I found it being sold online at for about 25% more (where it was also sold out)
–Marc Jacobs Daydream bag – I really want the one in Orchid instead of the brown one I got…  still tempted!
–Gucci Positano Scarf Tote – not that exciting, but functional?
–Chanel vintage lambskin large chain tote – I’ve eyed these for a while, now I have one! 🙂
–Prada FW06 nylon and marmot fur bag – has to be seen to be believed, what a gorgeous beauty!
–YSL oversized Muse in Terracotta – I still want a dark brown one… we’ll see

That’s seven, and there are still others: two more Prada satchels, a Bottega Veneta canvas tote, an enormous Burberry duffel/tote in gold from the Shimmer series (irresistible at 50% off), a Ferragamo shopper, a Gianfranco Ferre laptop case and a couple of clutches from Calvin Klein (an amazingly textured pewter number that was selling at 80% off) and Etro (trying to get my total purchase of two fantastic belts up to qualify for a gift).  That’s… fifteen??  Since December? 

Yet I still want a Givenchy Sacca tote, and those other Gucci and Etro bags I mentioned earlier.  Erk.