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Excuses, Excuses

It took me eight months. I had surgery; I stood frozen in time. I kept procrastinating. For this condition, one of my friends of the past even took a special medication to unfreeze her writer’s block to allow her to finish her doctorate. Maybe my next blog will be written in a blissful delirium.)

I kept reading about the most successful blogs. I realised, the most successful blogs were the blogs about how to write a successful blog. It kept me frozen for even longer.

And here I am my reader, in front of you. I came undone. I longed to write this blog for a very long time. In my previous blogs, I tried to protect you, from the gentle hands of the brands seduction. I tried to explain to you, that the trends/brands and what you are wearing should not define you. You define them, and you create your style.

But, who am I to tell you this? A hopeless fashion romantic? A believer in the miracles of individual operators and independent fashion brands? Well, I decided to write about the Rulers of the fashion world, about the brands. They also need to come undone).

Does It Matter Where It Is Made?

 

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Look at today’s woman and what do you see? The clothes which are more or less anonymous, the shoes which are more or less signature(less). Only her bag tells her story, her reality, her fantasy, her dreams.

From 1990-s, most of the fashion magazines were saying – “if you could not afford the new look every year, you can always update it with a new bag.” The new bags are being discussed now at the fashion weeks with the same intensity as Donald Trumps’ ascendancy to the presidency (God Forbid!).

Lots of luxury handbags are made in China. Top brands, brands that we carry. Brands that would vehemently deny that their bags are made in China. According to Dana Thomas, the author of the book “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre” during her visit to the factory producing those luxury bags in Chinese Province of Guangdong, she was sworn to secrecy about the names of the brands she saw and witnessed being manufactured. “Each brand makes the manufacturer sign confidentiality agreement. In turn, the manufacturer does not let the competition know which other brands he is also producing.”

The “brand’s team” is led to a separate part of the factory where only their “Made in France” bags are manufactured. “It is as complicated as keeping a slew of mistresses,” – Tomas says.

Most of the brands won’t admit to the “Made in China” truth. In reality, the luxury brands cannot openly move their production to China without damaging their image. The labour costs for manufacturing luxury goods are steadily rising in Europe. There are two solutions: to increase the prices and face not so happy shareholders and the customers or to move the production elsewhere where production would be cheaper.

Few of the brands would admit to their not so Paris romantic manufacturing roots. But even the purists of the luxury brands should understand that most of the hardware, primarily the locks, might come now from China (Guangzhou). The zipper might have the passport of Japan. The embroidery might be made in India or Northern China. The leather could come from Italy or “worse”, from Korea. We are citizens of the global village; our rooftops are touching each other.

Due to the labelling laws in Europe, the “Made In China” sticker has had an easy workaround. Imagine the bag produced in China, par the handle. Then this bag travels to Italy. On arrival of the bag, the Italian made handle is attached. Voila, it suddenly becomes legitimately “Made In Italy” bag. To continue the story, sometimes the tops of the shoes are made in China, and then the Italian made soles are attached to them in Italy to “elevate” those shoes to the Italian made level, so to speak.

But again, why is it so important that the brands are made where they claim to be made?

Firstly, the honesty factor is paramount for the consumer. When the consumer spends the equivalent of his/her monthly salary, on the branded item, it is imperative the brand treats the customer with the same respect.

Secondly, the consumers of the logos/brands are also buying into the history of the house, into the images of Audrey Hepburn, clad in Givenchy and carrying her forever Louis Vuitton bag. They are buying into austerity and purity of Miuccia Prada, not realising that Prada bags have been manufactured in China since 2005. Better than, they are manufactured in even cheaper “Made In Vietnam” factories now. They are buying into Donna Karan image of luxurious New Yorker, not realising that the luxury New York is now made in China.

Thirdly, when the cost to produce the item becomes lower when it is “Made in China”, so should the price of the final product, should it not? Not so. Dana Thomas mentions in her book after her visit to the factory in Guangdong finished; she travelled that night back to Hong Kong. The end of the journey and the end of the day took her to Harvey Nichols for a couple of drinks with her friends. In Harvey Nichols, that night, Thomas saw the same bag she spotted in the factory with a hefty price tag of $1200. This bag cost only $120 for the luxury brand to manufacture at that secret Guangdong location.

The lower are the costs, the bigger are the profits, the larger could become the volume of production. Our non-suspecting logo/brands consumers are no longer investing into the images of Audrey Hepburn or romanticism of the brand; they invest in a mass market luxury reality. Why is it still luxury? Because of the price tag? Because of the marketing? Because the brand consumers will still be following the brand, until the death do they part?

During the last three years, the sales of Louis Vuitton canvas bags fell dramatically in China. The Chinese started to call them “the bags for the secretaries.” Their appetite shifted towards more discreet and label-less bags from the other brands.

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Louis Vuitton Canvas Bag

My chosen menu of today is LVMH, Hermes, Lanvin and the outsiders such as Fung Brands. I am going to tell you all about how “Where Is It Made” works for each of them.

 

THE BRANDS

In reality, there are about ten biggest fashion corporations in the world. They make our lives impossible with day/night dreaming and longing. They force us to judge of who is who around us and even further, to make our life choices. If anything, we can blame the brands for our own partner’s choices.

For more than a century, the luxury fashion business, was, in reality, a conglomerate of family companies which produced beautiful items from the finest fabrics and materials. It was a niche business for the creme de la crema of the society. From the late 1980-s, business magnates started to invest in the fashion business and began to buy up these companies with the purpose to turn them into billion-dollar global brands producing millions of logo-embellished items for the middle market. The executives labeled this rollout the “democratisation” of luxury. The creme de la crema of the society descended to the middle class. And there is nothing wrong with it.

 

 

Luxury-chart

 

Let’s Talk About LVMH

About-Louis-Vuitton

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE is better known as LVMH. It is a French multinational luxury goods conglomerate, headquartered in Paris, France. Since Louis Vuitton family story had come to an end in 1987, we cannot not mention it here.

Louis Vuitton had been the maker and supplier of luggage to the rich and famous for more than 100 years. In 1987, the company emerged together with Moet Hennessy, thus creating the world biggest conglomerate Moet-Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). The 1980s were extremely successful years for Louis Vuitton. The marketing of the Vuitton name was extensive, and the brand was promoted in a very smart way.  In 1983, Louis Vuitton became the preliminaries sponsor of the America’s Cup. Three years later, the company created the Louis Vuitton Foundation for opera and music. 

Henry Racamier was the husband of Gaston Vuitton’s daughter Odile. He took over management of the company in 1977. Under Racamier management, the company started acquisitions of the companies with a reputation for top-notch quality. It purchased a major interest in haute couture house of  Givenchy and the champagne producer of Veuve Cliquot. Louis Vuitton’s acquisition philosophy was “to treat the brands with kid gloves”. It was respectful, it was discreet, it was never- ever greedy, nor it was aggressive. Since June 1987 and the $4 billion mergers with Moet-Hennessy, (company, specialising in the production of champagne, spirits, wines, and perfumes), Louis Vuitton expanded its investments in the luxury business. Louis Vuitton also allowed a narrow escape for Moet-Hennessy from the impending threat of takeover. The tandem respected the autonomy of each company.

 

“Never Set The Wolf To Guard The Sheep.”

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The happy marriage became unhappy only after a few months. The underlying issues were the size of Moet-Hennessy (three times bigger than Louis Vuitton). The size of Louis Vuitton shares shrank to a pitiful 17%.

Racamier was led to believe that Moet-Hennessy was trying to take over Louis Vuitton. Racamier needed an independent mediator to end the war and start productive peace. This person was the young property developer and financial engineer Bernard Arnault

By that time, in 1984, Arnault had already bought the Financière Agache, a luxury goods company, which was in control of Boussac. Since Boussac owned Christian Dior, and the department store Le Bon Marché, Arnault also became a CEO of Christian Dior and Le Bon Marche in a matter of days. Young property developer/engineer/independent mediator, he certainly, was not.

Hoping to stay within LVMH with the help of Arnault, Racamier soon saw, however, that Arnault had ambitions of his own.  The French bank Lazard Freres and the British liquor giant Guinness PLC came handy. Arnault secured for himself a staggering 45 percent controlling interest in LVMH stock.

An 18-month legal battle started between Racamier and Arnault. During this battle, even Chevalier stepped down, becoming just another fish in the catch. Nothing helped: not even Louis Vuitton’s strong performance, accounting for 32 percent of LVMH sales Racamier could not continue fighting since he did not have the support of Moet and Hennessy family against Arnault. Arnault, eventually, weeded out Vuitton’s top executives and began to bring together his fragmented luxury empire. In line with the Arabic saying, “if the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”

 

LVMH Acquisitions

In 2013, LVMH released a fantastic video on the brands acquisitions

 

The Diagram of Acquisitions by LVMH.

Does it make the company the biggest elephant with the biggest appetite? Yes and no. Not many brands suffered as a result of those acquisitions. Hermes and their non-acquisition are a different story. R.M Williams should have felt they found a gold mine when acquired by LVMH…

The only major shareholder of LVMH is now Groupe Arnault. It is the family holding company of Bernard Arnault. The group controls 47.64% of LVMH’s stock,  (42.36% through Christian Dior and 5.28% directly). The group holds  63.66% of the voting rights (59.01% by Dior and 4.65% directly).  LVMH also has 66% of the drinks division, Moët Hennessy, with the remaining 34% owned by Diageo.

For a major shareholder like Bernard Arnault would it be easy to walk away from the stock exchange altogether? Not difficult, I would think since he would not need to sell the shares to himself. His dependence on the share price would be marginal.

In March 2015, Forbes estimated Arnault’s wealth to be $37 billion. As for the last year Arnault was the 13th richest person in the world and the richest in France.

Arnault promoted decisions towards decentralising of the group’s brands. I never saw a joint advertising of any of LVMH brands, except, on one occasion, the advertising of Beluti shoes and Krug champagne.

 

LVMH World Hehemony

 

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Among all the brands LVMH owns, the oldest of the LVMH brands is the wine producer Château d’Yquem, which dates its origins back to 1593.
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Berluti-Krug Advertising

Where is it made?

In 2012, LVMH launched the project called The Journées Particulières.

LVMH showcased the incredible “diversity of métiers and savoir-faire within LVMH Houses across the world.” (From LVMH News). The first two editions met tremendous success. Beautiful Haussmann lofts, beautiful workshops, the places, where the magic happens. If I were an LVMH customer, I would be entranced.

 

Journees Particulairies

 

But the truth is somewhat different. In 2004, at the luxury conference in Hong Kong, Bertrand Arnault categorically denied any possibility of LVMH brands produced in China. The same year, Celine moved production of its bags to China. A brown leather tag inside its Macadam bags said:
the design belonged in Paris”, but the “proud production” happened in China with the high attention to quality and detail.

It is also not surprising that since the acquisition, the following brands of LVMH at least partly moved their production to outside of France/Italy/USA:

  1. Kenzo
  2. Loewe
  3. Donna Karan and DKNY
  4. Mark Jacobs
  5. Givenchy

 

 

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Why would Arnault allow this? He could certainly afford the brands to be made where they truthfully belong. The answer is never simple. In my opinion, (and I would love to interview Monsieur Arnault one day), he never came from one of LVMH brands heritage background, not even from Christian Dior’s heritage(his first catch). Arnault looks at the brands and their acquisitions as the means to his success. If it does not require a heritage based production, so be it. If it does at the same time, require more marketing expenses to persuade the customer, that is indeed a heritage based production, so be it, too. It is nothing wrong with success, and it is nothing wrong with somebody being successful. The model works perfectly well. At the same time, if I were an LVMH customer, I would appreciate the Monsieur Arnault’s honesty.

Moet Chandon produced in China
LVMH Chandon winery processing plant in Yongning County in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In Summary

I will never drink Chandon coming from China, or, for that matter, from any other of the countries outside France. I will never buy into the mass luxury market, champagnes, wines, and Belvedere excluding. LVMH won’t suffer as a result. The elephant of LVMH will survive no matter what. The “bag for the secretaries” might give way to a more luxurious bag, or might be deleted from Louis Vuitton production altogether. LVMH is the most successful fashion/retail company in the world. It sells the embellished aristocratic heritage to the masses. It sells the dreams of luxury to the middle class. That is LVMH formula for success.

Let’s Talk About Hermes

“A business generating nothing but profits is poor indeed.” –  Pierre Alexis Dumas, President of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès.

I must admit, I love Hermes. Thus, I have slammed the first nail in the coffin of my label-less religion.
I love Hermes for the different reasons. Not the least of them is the behaviour of the company in the times of the Second World War. It is blemishless, to say the least.

“We don’t have a policy of image; we have a policy of product.” – Former Hermes CEO Jean-Louis Dumas. With this leitmotif, the company has existed for almost 200 years. I don’t want to go into the brand history. It is well-known to my readers, and it is still “in the family”. I wished to underpin just another success story and “Where Is It Made.” in Hermes case.

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Hyundai/Hermes Collaboration

 

LVMH BID – The War of Handbags

 

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It Stays in The Family (Courtesy of Renauldon R.B. Press)

Hermes is the 10th most successful fashion company in the world, nine rows behind LVMH. The two companies, however, cannot be more different. To be fair, there is a similarity which might have started almost 200 years ago when both businesses were born. It lies in the production of objects associated with travel.

LVMH had started buying up Hermès shares in 2002, using the hedge funds who don’t want to disclose their purchases. After this had come to light in Oct. 2010, Arnault maintained that his intentions toward Hermès were “friendly,” but Hermès again saw Arnault as the wolf entering the role of a babysitter for their sheep. Then-CEO Patrick Thomas at the time said: “If you want to seduce a beautiful woman you don’t start raping her from behind.” In his interview in 2011 to WSJ, Thomas also made not so politically correct point about the two companies religious differences: The family(Hermes) is Protestant, and Protestants have a very different approach to money than the Catholics”.

In 2011, the 6th generation of Hermès founder Thierry Hermès finally got together and formed a holding company. They called it H51 in a genuine spirit of the Cold War, I believe. The company held 50.2% of the shares locked up for the next 20 years.

Though H51 stopped any takeover attempt by LVMH, the courts were abuzz with the “war of handbags” activity until 2014. Then the president of Paris’s Tribunal de Commerce brokered a deal. LVMH would distribute its Hermès stake to its shareholders before the end of the year. Since Arnault has had quite various business holdings within LVMH, Christian Dior needed to be involved. Bernard Arnault was left with a roughly 8.5% stake in Hermès. Arnault (LVMH) was not allowed to buy any more of Hermes shares for another 20 years. Regardless of this Dumas were not selling any of the family shares for that period.
As in the Russian proverb, the status quo allowed “for the wolves to be sated and for the sheep to stay intact.” For the next 20 years.

Where is it Made?

In a world of the luxury handbags made in China, Hermès still employs the great artisans in France, who make each of its famous Kellys and Birkins, individually, by hand. While most of its competitors buy rolls of pre-made fabric from China to print their silk scarves, Hermès weaves its fabric in Lyon from silk raised on its farm in the mountains of Brazil. While most of the Hermes competitors license perfume creation to the monster large laboratories that also make air fresheners, detergent scents, and food flavouring, Hermès has an in-house nose (Jean-Claude Elena) who meticulously creates each new perfume in his lab near Grasse, South of France. This attention to detail and dedication to integrity has given Hermes a license of trust by the customer.

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Making A Birkin

Hermès controls the production of 80% of the products it sells, using few carefully selected sub-contractors only in segments for which it lacks expertise, as in ready to wear (France or Italy), Watches (Swiss). Hermès still hand-produces in France most of its products maintaining its traditions and using the craftsmanship of its employees. It takes approximately 15 hours to produce Kelly or Birkin handbag.

Hermès does not market the Birkin at all. Instead, the company relies on the bag’s “exclusivity and prestige”, on the celebrities wearing the bag. In fact, Hermes does not have a marketing department. If the world knew how many bags came out from Hermes oven every year, the lights of excitement would likely dim. The only fact Hermès wants us to know about the bag’s availability is that you probably can’t get one.

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By the sources, Victoria Beckham owns 100 Birkin bags. No wonder, the waiting list is so long

The Secret of Success

Hermes is the It luxury brand in the world. The highest attention to detail in manufacturing, craftsmanship, brand exclusivity and family values – all of these contribute to the core of Hermes. The group is also a unique example of a successful premium business model. Its share price has been multiplied by 60 since 1993 and unlike other luxury brands, the group proved resilient during the crisis returning superior returns to its shareholders, who for 73% of them are heirs of the founding family. Hermes has always remained acutely desirable while being committed to the tradition of “making things the way the grandfathers of our grandfathers did.” At Hermès, any workable premium solution relies solely on mystique. After all, selling a commodity boils down ultimately to one thing: price versus the margin. Selling the beautiful objects that people already accumulated from so many other luxury brands? The objects which people don’t need but still desire? Like this cotton beach towel? It will make them poorer by $1,000. It is, I imagine, what Hermes would think, a small price to pay to belong.

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Beach Towel by Hermes 700 Euro
In examining Hermès’ ownership structure, FORBES states, that at least five family members now belong on the global billionaires’ list. Combined fortune for Dumas’ family now tops $25 billion–more than the Rockefellers, the Mellons and the Fords.

In Summary

In my view – I am a half way Hermes customer. I would never buy a Birkin or a Kelly. It is an inconspicuous mass luxury. Inconspicuous(as in no logos), but recognisable, mass market luxury nevertheless.
I love Hermes scarves, though, I think, they are worth collecting.
I love and love Hermes cooperation with the Parisian Designer Pierre Hardy. I also love Hermes ready-to-wear silly conservative clothes.
Hermes, however, is still playing cat and mouse with the customer. Why their prices are so high? Because they can! They can charge us, the gullible devotees. Their marketing is based on the fairy tale of exclusivity and very limited numbers. Hermes is a the quintessential “Hard To Get Bride” of the fashion world. At least, their heart is in the right place – they are remarkably honest about “Where Is It Made”.

Herms RTW Spring 2016

 

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Pierre Hardy Hermes Bag

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What Happens When The New World Buys The Old World

Does the world collapse? Does Almighty send ten plagues to punish offenders? Not really. In fact, it already happened.

Lanvin

Lanvin Packaging One-Blue-Shoe-Box-3When Taiwanese entrepreneur Wang Shaw first bought Lanvin in 2001, she was considered a pioneer. Lanvin is the oldest French Fashion house, dating back to 1905, with Jeanne Lanvin as a founder. She started making clothes for her daughter, Marie-Blanche de Polignac. The clothes were a big success and instantly came in demand by the circle of wealthy people for their children. After the children’s clothes success, Jeanne Lanvin continued as a designer for the grown ups. She became one of the most influential French designers during the 1920-1940s. After Jeanne Lanvin’s death, the house ownership went to her daughter. Marie-Blanche de Polignac was childless when she died in 1958, and the ownership of the House of Lanvin since went as a result, to a cousin, Yves Lanvin.

The ownership of the house changed hands from Squibb USA to Britain Middle Bank, then to Orcofi (Vuitton Family) and later to L’Oreal. During this period, the factory managed to stay in Nanterre where all perfumes (“My Sin” since 1924 and “Arpege” since 1927) were made and bottled. The real decline started since 1995 when L’Oreal took over ownership of the house. L’Oreal would appoint any available of the CEOs to be the head of Lanvin from the array of circulating CEO’s under its vast umbrella.

In August 2001, when Lanvin, the oldest French fashion house was still in operation, it was taken private again by investor group Harmonie S.A., headed by Mrs. Shaw-Lan Wang, a Taiwanese media magnate. I honestly think she did it for good luck because of the pure coincidence of the names. Come October 2001, and Alber Elbaz was appointed the Lanvin artistic director for all activities, including interiors. In 2006, he introduced the new packaging for the fashion house, featuring a forget-me-not flower color. In accordance to Suzy Menkes, it was Lanvin’s favorite shade which Madame Lanvin saw in the fresco “Fra Angelico.”

Fra Angelico
Fresco by Fra Angelico

 

The injection of Vitamin C (C, being capital) helped the brand enormously. It also helped that in May 2009 when Michelle Obama was photographed wearing a popular line of Lanvin’s sneakers while volunteering at the food bank. The sneakers were retailed at $540. On September 2, 2010, it was announced by H&M that Lanvin would be their guest designer collaboration for the Winter 2010 collection. On November 20, 2013, Lanvin became the official producer of Arsenal FC, a London-based football club.

On October 28, 2015, Lanvin announced that Elbaz was no longer at the company. According to Elbaz, his removal was “the decision of the company’s majority shareholder.” In accordance to me, he is primed to become The Designer of Christian Dior. It would be only politically correct for the company associated in the past with the Nazis and John Galliano to hire a Jewish, Israeli-born Elbaz. From one hand, in accordance to Charles De Gaulle. “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”. From another hand, “who knows?”

Where is it made?

Lanvin is made where it is supposed to be made – in France. The perfumes still come from Nanterre. Lanvin financials moved from red to black in 2008 for the first time in decades. Lanvin profits reached 15.3 million Euros in 2013. They fell immediately after Elbaz departure. They are still is in the black. Lanvin would still stay afloat with the firm hand managing it and under the guardianship of the Taiwanese owner. They will never move their production to China since the heritage is too important for Mrs. Shaw-Lan Wang.

First Heritage Brands and the Others.

 

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One of Valentino’s Intricate Dresses

Since Madame Wang made her first brave step, many non-European investors have followed the suite, spending hundreds of millions on the established European luxury houses in need of a makeover and a cash injection. They are Fang Brothers (Pringle of Scotland)Singaporean magnate Christina Ong (Mulberry) and Megha Mittal (Escada), Qatar Luxury Group (Valentino, Le Tanneur and Cie), Kazakh-born Goga Ashkenazi (aka Vionnet).

In 2011, William and Victor Fung of Fung Group (owner of global sourcing giant Li & Fung) joined their ranks, forming First Heritage Brands, a subsidiary of Fung Investments with the sole purpose of investing in European luxury brands to develop their international potential, especially in China. LVMH veteran Jean-Marc Loubier became the First Heritage Brands “Hunter”. He managed the acquisition of the French shoemaker Robert Clergerie, as well as Delvaux, the oldest luxury leather goods manufacturer in the world, both in 2011. The following year, the firm added ready-to-wear brand Sonia Rykiel to its portfolio, relaunching the label with a new artistic director and opening stores for company’s contemporary line, Sonia By Sonia Rykiel.

Where is it Made

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Delvaux Bag Le Brillant (From 1958)

remember when Delvaux was in financial trouble before the acquisition, everybody was wondering if their production would move to Vietnam since their then CEO Francois Schwennicke moved to live in Vietnam. Belgium was indignant – how could the “Hermes of Nothern Europe” be produced in Asia? But nobody raised a finger in Belgium to help the national icon. When Hong Kong-based, First Heritage Brands acquired Delvaux in 2011, Belgium was indignant once again. Belgium journalists were sure all Delvaux bags would now come from China. Not so. Delvaux is still produced at the factory in Arsenal, almost in the centre of Brussels. Robert Clergerie is still manufactured in Italy and France, only Sonia by Sonia is produced in China. I have a niggling feeling it was already produced there before the acquisition.

60% of Mulberry is still produced in the UK, with 40% of production outsourced to Turkey and China (the same factories Givenchy are using). Valentino is still made in Italy since Qatar Foundation invested in their factories too. Pringle of Scotland is not so lucky – it should be renamed as Pringle of China. Pringle of Scotland still holds a royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Elizabeth II might not be aware it is Made in China.

pringle_river
According to Jean-Marc Loubier: “We are looking at companies with idiosyncrasies, product and know-how that haven’t been so well [leveraged] in the last 20 years, but have something to say in the future. We want to make them global.
Our analysis is that we are experiencing the second wave of the development of luxury consumption after its world massification. The early but important actors with their powerful and huge brands will stay and develop, but there is an interesting space and need for a new offer.”

In my opinion and in general, the newcomers care much more about the brand heritage; they still have a point to prove to themselves, to the whole world. Li & Fung are the main suppliers to the Walmart. First Heritage Brands are the world away from Wallmart. The New World Buyers keep their names hidden behind the brands they acquire.

Epilogue

Made in China, my reader, means what it means – made in China – it could be an excellent quality product, it could be a product of a Chinese designer of an excellent quality and beauty, it might be your sought after luxury product-pretend also made in China. The three stories are those of luxury. It is up to you to decide whether:

  1. You don’t care where your brand comes from as long as it is your brand of desire. God forbid you to see a photocopy (a fake) of the object of your desire.
  2. You don’t care how much you pay for the brand as long as it is made where it claims to be made, as long it is so exclusive that you won’t be able to spot it in the vicinity of 100 metres from you. Further afield, your bag uniqueness is not guaranteed.
  3. You don’t care whether it is a brand recognised by everybody, you care that you and your chosen brand make a unique tandem of class and style. In most of the cases, it will be produced in their birthplace.
  4. Just remember there is nobody there to judge you on your choices.

A Bientot

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luxury-consumption

An International consulting firm, Brain & Company, estimated that the luxury market was valued at $274 billion in 2014, and was set to grow even bigger to a whopping $280 billion by 2015. And just like only a small percentage of the world wealthiest people make up most of the world’s wealth, only a handful of the most expensive clothing designers make up the bulk of the luxury clothing market.

Along with being a form of expression, fashion has always been a way for people to showcase their status. Much like the size of your house or the price tag on your car, the designer that you are wearing says much more about you than just where you shop. It also says a lot about your level of income, your style and taste levels, whether you prefer funky cool, or sleek sophistication…

I picked up four Luxury Houses for my research. They are not chosen because of their income ladder, but in the order of my preferences… And here we start, with the House of Chanel…

The House Of Chanel

Chanel, Rue Cambon, Window Display

Chanel is a still a privately owned company. It is still owned by the brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who, in turn was the business partner of the couturière Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. From Bloomberg Business: “The pair keep their private lives – and their finances – are out of the spotlight to such an extent that their combined $19.2 billion fortune is more than double previous estimates.” “Chanel would rate at the very top of the industry,” Gilbert Harrison, chairman and founder of investment bank Financo LLC, said in a phone interview. “Given luxury companies are going for three to four times revenues you can easily get to a $20 billion valuation.” “We’re a very discreet family, we never talk,” Gerard was quoted as saying in an article in the New York Times in February 2002. “It is about Coco Chanel. It is about Karl [Lagerfeld]. It is about everyone, who works and creates at Chanel. It’s not about the Wertheimers.”

Lets talk about Coco Chanel for better or for worse! Somebody has to…

I must admit that my research might have resulted in a biased and one-faceted story, when describing this extraordinary and multifaceted personality. I have tried my best. I tried not to gloss Chanel’s personality over, but I tried to be objective at the same time…

The history of House of Chanel is very different from any movies ever made about its creator.

Early Years

Gabrielle, “Coco”, Chanel, came from very humble beginnings. She was born in the town of Saumur, in 1883, one of three daughters of a very sickly mother and forever unfaithful father, who worked as a travelling salesman.

After Gabrielle’s mother died, when the girl was only 11, the father deposited the girls to the orphanage house in Auvergne and was never seen again.

Gabrielle Coco Chanel

At the age of 18, Chanel went to a Catholic boarding school, where the nuns taught her how to sew. Chanel was able to find employment as a seamstress. When not plying her needle, she sang in a cabaret frequented by cavalry officers. Chanel made her stage debut singing at a café-concert (a popular entertainment venue of the era) in a Moulins pavilion, “La Rotonde”. She was among other girls dubbed “poseuses”, the performers who entertained the crowd between star turns. The money earned, was what they managed to accumulate when the plate was passed among the audience in appreciation of their performance. It was at this time that Gabrielle acquired the name “Coco”, possibly based on two popular songs with which she became identified, “Ko Ko Ri Ko”, and “Qui qu’a vu Coco”, or it was an allusion to the French word for kept woman, cocotte.

Coco Chanel With Etienne Balsan
Coco Chanel With Etienne Balsan

Life As A Courtesan

It was at Moulins, that Chanel met the young French ex-cavalry officer and the wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan. At the age of twenty-three, Chanel became Balsan’s mistress. For the next three years, she lived with him in his chateau Royallieu, near Compiègne, an area known for it’s wooded equestrian paths and the hunting life. It was a life style of self-indulgence, which only Balsan’s wealth and leisure allowed.

Chanel and "Boy" Capel
Chanel and “Boy” Capel

In 1908, Chanel began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel. Capel, a wealthy member of the English upper class, installed Chanel in an apartment in Paris at Rue Cambon, directly behind Hotel Ritz and financed Chanel’s first shops. It is said that Capel’s elegant style influenced many of Chanel’s creations. The bottle design for Chanel No. 5 had three probable origins, the first two attributable to the sophisticated design of Capel belongings and the third one, to the aesthetics of an apothecary bottle. It is believed, Chanel adapted the rectangular, bevelled lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles he carried in his leather traveling case, or it was the design of the whiskey decanter Capel used and Chanel so admired, that she wished to reproduce it in “exquisite, expensive, delicate glass. The affair lasted nine years, but even after Capel married an English aristocrat, Lady Diana Wyndham in 1918, he did not completely break off with Chanel. His death in a car accident, in late 1919, was the single most devastating event in Chanel’s life. She commissioned the placement of a roadside memorial at the site of the accident, which she visited in later years to lay flowers in remembrance. Twenty-five years after the event, Chanel, was quoted as saying, that “in losing Capel, I lost everything. What followed was not a life of happiness, I have to say”…6 years after Capel’s death, Chanel acquired a logo with two interlocking Cs, said to be dedicated to Boy Capel and herself….

Chanel with Grand Duke Romanov
Chanel with Grand Duke Romanov

No.5

After a three years stint in Deauville, Normandy seaside town, Gabrielle moved to Rue Cambon in 1918, where she settled there since. She sold hats and couture until 1919… In 1919, Chanel’s then lover, The Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich Romanov (known for being involved in the murder of the mystic peasant and faith healer Grigori Rasputin), introduced Chanel to Ernest Beaux, the Russian French Perfumer. Beaux was born to the French Perfumers in Russia, where in 1881 he became the Czar’s official perfumer. Since the Revolution, Beaux fled Russia and settled in an inland town near Cannes. Chanel met him there and asked him to produce a perfume “which would have everything in it and nothing in the bottle”. Her brief was laconic: an abstract of flowers, which would evoke the smell of a woman. Beaux presented his concoctions to Mademoiselle. She chose the fifth composition and called it simply, No.5.

Ernest Beaux - inventor of No.5
Ernest Beaux, the Creator of No.5

 

Chanel No.5 is still constructed of approximately 50 ingredients. The most important is jasmine, but there is also ylang-ylang, patchouli, dried leaf from Indonesia, that was used as a repellent in silk shipments. There is a healthy dose of Provence roses. For the flask, Chanel chose the most banal shape, the rectangular chemist’s bottle. Chanel launched the perfume quietly without any announcement. She wore it herself, spritzed in the dressing rooms. The rumour mill started working – “Mademoiselle Chanel has a new perfume!!!” Only then, Chanel put an order for Number 5 into production.

Happy Birthday Mr President
Happy Birthday Mr President

 

 Wertheimers, The New Era

 

Pierre WertheimerChanel in her 40-s

Theophille Bader, the founder of the French Department Store Galleries Lafayette, wanted to sell the perfume, but in order to do this, Chanel needed to expand her production. Bader introduced her to his friend Pierre Wertheimer, co-owner of Bourjois cosmetics company. In 1924, the deal was signed for Les Parfumes Chanel: Wertheimer got 70% for production of perfumes in his Bourjois factories, Bader got 20% for the finders fee, Chanel received 10%. It did not take long for her to realise she had been duped. She filed so many suits to no avail, that by 1928 Wertheimers hired a lawyer to deal exclusively with Chanel’s demands. Throughout the 20-s Chanel added few more perfumes to her perfume house: Gardenia, No.22, Cuir De Russie, but none of them could surpass the soaring popularity of No.5, which was named the best perfume in the world in 1929. By the 1930-s Coco Chanel was earning $4 million a year and reportedly, had assets of $10 million dollars.

les exclusifs de chanel collage
Exclusive to House of Chanel Collage of Chanel Perfumes

English Aristocracy

Chanel with Winston Churchill and His Son

In 1923, Chanel was introduced into the highest levels of British aristocracy. It was an elite group of associations revolving around such personages as Winston Churchill, aristocrats such as the Duke of Westminster, and royals such as Edward, Prince of Wales. It was in Monte Carlo, in 1923, that at the age of forty, Chanel was introduced to the vastly wealthy Duke of Westminster. The Duke of Westminster lavished Chanel with extravagant jewels, costly art, and a home in London’s prestigious Mayfair district. His affair with Chanel lasted ten years. The Duke, an outspoken anti-Semite, intensified Chanel’s inherent antipathy toward Jews and shared with her an expressed homophobia. In 1927, the Duke of Westminster gave Chanel a parcel of land he had purchased in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera. It was on this site that Chanel built her villa, La Pausa] (“restful pause”). When asked, why she did not marry the Duke of Westminster, she has supposedly stated: “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”

Chanel and Hollywood

It was in 1931 while in Monte Carlo that Chanel made the acquaintance of Samuel Goldwyn (most well known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood) The introduction was made through a mutual friend, her then lover, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, cousin to the last czar of Russia, Nicolas II. Goldwyn offered Chanel a tantalizing proposition. For the sum of a million dollars (approximately seventy-five million in twenty-first century valuation), he would bring her to Hollywood twice a year to design costumes for MGM stars. Chanel accepted the offer. Chanel said she had agreed to the arrangement to “see what the pictures have to offer me and what I have to offer the pictures. Chanel designed the clothing worn on screen by Gloria Swanson, in “Tonight or Never” (1931), and for Ina Claire in “The Greeks Had a Word for Them”. Both Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich became private clients. Her experience with American movie making left Chanel with a dislike for the Hollywood film business and distaste for the Hollywood culture itself, which she denounced as “infantile”.Chanel’s verdict was that “Hollywood is the capital of bad taste … and it is vulgar.” Ultimately, her design aesthetic did not translate well to film. The New Yorker speculated that Chanel had left Hollywood because “they told her the dresses weren’t sensational enough. She made a lady look like a lady. Hollywood wants a lady to look like two ladies.” Chanel went on to design the costumes for several French films, including Jean Renoir’s 1939 film “La Règle du jeu”, in which she was credited as La Maison Chanel.

Coco Chanel in Hollywood
Coco Chanel Costume Design Hollywood

Another part of Chanel’s story are her “Channelisms” often attributed to her as Chanel’s famous expressions, which as we say in Russian, became the “winged phrases”. They are flying from one story to another, but they might not be by Chanel at all. Chanel was the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time, but she never married. At some stage in her life, she had a loving relationship with the poet Pierre Reverdy. After her romance with Reverdy ended in 1926, they still maintained a friendship that lasted for some forty years. It is postulated that the legendary maxims attributed to Chanel and published in periodicals were crafted under the mentorship of Reverdy, as a collaborative effort. A review of Chanel’s correspondence reveals a complete contradiction between the clumsiness of Chanel’s writing, and the talent of Chanel as a composer of maxims … After correcting the handful of aphorisms that Chanel wrote about her métier, Reverdy added to this collection of “Chanelisms” a series of thoughts of a more general nature, some touching on life and taste, others on allure and love.” In short, when you come across the expression “A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”, attributed to Chanel, it might not have been by Chanel, but by Reverdy…

Chanel and the World War II

When Nazis arrived to Paris in 1940, brothers Pierre and Paul Wertheimer had to flee to USA, since they were Jewish. Once settled in New York, they sent an American H. Gregory Thomas to Grasse to secure the formula and the ingredients to produce number 5 in the United States during the war. Thomas also helped Pierre’s son Jacques escape via Morocco and Portugal to New York. Thomas was later named the President of Chanel USA – he held this position for 32 years. In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops, at the same time, maintaining her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 Rue de Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion and her 3,000 female employees lost their jobs. Chanel moved to a “house” across the road – to Hotel Ritz. Hotel Ritz at the time housed the German military headquarters. Chanel lived there with her young lover, the Nazi officer Hans Gunther Von Dincklage. World War II, specifically the Nazi seizure of all Jewish-owned property and business interests, provided Chanel with the opportunity to gain the full monetary fortune generated by Parfums Chanel and its most profitable product, Chanel No. 5. The directors of Parfums Chanel, the Wertheimers, were Jewish, and Chanel used her position as an “Aryan” to petition German officials to legalise her claim to the sole ownership. On 5 May 1941, she wrote to the Vichy government administrator charged with ruling on the disposition of Jewish financial assets. Her grounds for proprietary ownership were based on the claim that Parfums Chanel “is still the property of Jews” and had been legally “abandoned” by the owners. “I have,” she wrote, “an indisputable right of priority … the profits that I have received from my creations since the foundation of this business … are disproportionate … you can help to repair in part the prejudices I have suffered in the course of these seventeen years.” Chanel was not aware that the Wertheimers, anticipating the forthcoming Nazi mandates against Jews had, in May 1940, legally turned control of Parfums Chanel over to a Christian, French businessman and industrialist Felix Amiot. At war’s end, Amiot turned “Parfums Chanel” back into the hands of the Wertheimers.

Chanel World War II
In 1939, because of the sudden outbreak of World War II, Coco Chanel closed Maison Chanel. “This is no time for fashion” she said.

Declassified, archival documents unearthed by Hal Vaughan (former US secret service agent turned writer) in his book “Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” reveal that the French Préfecture de Police had a document on Chanel in which she was described as “Couturier and perfumer. Pseudonym: Westminster. Agent reference: F 7124. Signalled as suspect in the file” (For Vaughan, this was a piece of revelatory information linking Chanel to German intelligence operations). Vaughan establishes that Chanel committed herself to the German cause as early as 1941 and worked for General Walter Schellenberg, chief of SS intelligence. At the end of the war, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 owing to incurable liver disease and took refuge in Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg’s medical care and living expenses, financially supported his wife and family and paid for Schellenberg’s funeral upon his death in 1952.

In September 1944, Chanel was invited for questioning by the Free French Purge Committee, L’Epuration. The committee, which had no documented evidence of her collaboration activity, was obliged to release her. According to Chanel’s grand-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when Chanel returned home she said, “Churchill had me freed” The extent of Winston Churchill’s intervention became a subject of gossip and speculation. It was supposedly feared that if Chanel were ever made to testify at trial, the pro-Nazi sympathies and activities of top-level British officials, members of the society elite and those of the royal family itself would be exposed. Some claim, that Churchill instructed Duff Cooper, British ambassador to the French provisional government, to protect Chanel. Finally induced to appear in Paris before investigators in 1949, Chanel left her retreat in Switzerland to confront testimony given against her at the war crime trial of Baron Louis de Vaufreland, a French traitor and highly placed German intelligence agent. Chanel denied all accusations brought against her. She offered the presiding judge, Leclercq, a character reference: “I could arrange for a declaration to come from Mr. Duff Cooper.” Chanel’s friend and biographer Marcel Haedrich provided a telling estimation of her wartime interaction with the Nazi regime: “If one took seriously the few disclosures that Mademoiselle Chanel allowed herself to make about those black years of the occupation, one’s teeth would be set on edge.”

Vaughan’s disclosure of the contents of recently de-classified military intelligence documents, and the subsequent controversy generated soon after the book’s publication in August 2011, prompted The House of Chanel to issue a statement, portions of which appeared in myriad media outlets. Chanel Group “refuted the claim” (of espionage), while admitting that company officials had read only media excerpts of the book.

“What’s certain is that she had a relationship with a German aristocrat during the War. Clearly it wasn’t the best period to have a love story with a German even if Baron von Dincklage was English by his mother and she (Chanel) knew him before the War,” the Chanel group said in a statement.

Photo Collage of Coco Chanel in Hotel Ritz and of Her Dashing Nazi Lover Baron Von
Photo Collage of Coco Chanel in Hotel Ritz and of Her Dashing Nazi Lover Baron Von Dinclage

In an interview given to the Associated Press, author Vaughan explains the trajectory of his research. “I was looking for something else and I came across this document saying ‘Chanel is a Nazi agent’…Then I really started hunting through all of the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I came across not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials on Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy.” Vaughan also addressed the discomfort many felt with the revelations provided in his book: “A lot of people in this world don’t want the iconic figure of Gabrielle Coco Chanel, one of France’s great cultural idols, destroyed. This is definitely something that a lot of people would have preferred to put aside, to forget, to just go on selling Chanel scarves and jewellery.”

Chanel after World War II

During the period directly following the end of World War II, the business world watched with interest and some apprehension the ongoing legal wrestle for control of Parfums Chanel. Interested parties in the proceedings were well aware of Chanel’s Nazi affiliations during wartime, if made public knowledge, would seriously threaten the reputation and status of the Chanel brand. Forbes magazine summarized the dilemma faced by the Wertheimers: it is Pierre Wertheimer’s worry how “a legal fight might illuminate Chanel’s wartime activities and wreck her image—and his business.”

Ultimately, the Wertheimers and Chanel came to a mutual accommodation, renegotiating the original 1924 contract. On 17 May 1947, Chanel received wartime profits from the sale of Chanel No. 5, in an amount equivalent to some nine million dollars in twenty-first century valuation. Further, her future share would be two percent of all Chanel No. 5 sales worldwide. The financial benefit to her would be enormous. Her earnings would be in the vicinity of twenty-five million dollars a year, making her at the time one of the richest women in the world. In addition, Pierre Wertheimer agreed to an unusual stipulation proposed by Chanel herself. Wertheimer agreed to pay all of Chanel’s living expenses—from the trivial to the large — for the rest of her life.

cococ-chanel-in-her-studio-1954chanel-and-suzy-parker-photo-by-richard-avedon-jan-1959

 

In 1945, Chanel moved to Switzerland where she lived with Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, eventually returning to Paris in 1954. When No.5 sales began to lag in the early 1950-s, Pierre Werthemeir paid a visit to then 70-year old Mademoiselle Chanel at the Beau Rivage hotel in Lausanne. Within a few days she was back on the Rue Cambon, planning the relaunch of Chanel Couture. Her 1920-s reminiscent collection in the era of Christian Dior New Look design was simply dismissed. The crowds snickered and simply laughed. “It was a fiasco and one of the cruelest experiences I’ve ever witnessed “, film director Franco Zeffirelli recalled. Chanel, the ultimate survivor, was not to be swayed. “I want to go on, to go on and win”, she told Pierre Werthemeir. He agreed. He also financed Coco Chanel’s hopes. Chanel did go on and her collections became stronger and stronger. It took only one year for Chanel to achieve her ultimate success and to become the Queen of Fashion again. Her success in in fashion boosted the perfume sales and Mademoiselle’s position in the company. In 1954, Wertheimer negotiated his final deal with her: the family would pay all Chanel’s personal expenses, for her Rue Cambon headquarters, her taxes till the rest of her life in exchange for the full control of her name for perfume and fashion. As she had no heirs, upon her death, the family would receive all her royalties too. The same year Pierre bought off remaining 20% from the Bader family. When Chanel died in 1971, Werthemeirs became the sole owners of the company. They still are.

The End of a Turbulent Life

As 1971 began, Chanel was 87 years old, tired, and ailing, but nonetheless stuck to her usual routine of preparing the spring catalogue. She had gone for a long drive the afternoon of Saturday January 9 and feeling ill went to bed early. She died on Sunday, January 10, 1971 at the Hotel Ritz where she had resided for more than 30 years. Her funeral was held at the Église de la Madeleine; her fashion models occupied the first seats during the ceremony and her coffin was covered with white flowers – camellias, gardenias, orchids, azaleas and a few red roses. Her grave is located in the Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery, Lausanne, Switzerland…

White Camellias, Chanel's favourite flowers - Coco Chanel's Grave in Lausanne
White Camellias, Chanel’s favourite flowers – Coco Chanel’s Grave in Lausanne

Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel’s Legacy

Chanel Show

Chanel’s legacy as a person and as a designer will live with us forever… As early as 1915, Harper’s Bazaar raved over Chanel’s designs: “The woman who hasn’t at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion … .” Chanel’s ascendancy was the official deathblow to the corseted, restrained female silhouette. The frills, fuss, and constraints endured by earlier generations of women were now passé; under her influence—gone were the “aigrettes, long hair, hobbling skirts. Her design aesthetic redefined the fashionable woman for the post WWI era. The Chanel trademark was a look of youthful ease, a liberated physicality, and unencumbered sportive confidence. Chanel’s philosophy was to emphasize understated elegance through her clothing. Her popularity thrived in the 1920s, because of her innovative designs. Chanel’s own look itself was as different and new as her creations. Instead of the usual pale-skinned, long-haired and full-bodied women preferred at the time.

French couturier Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel (1883 - 1971) at her home, Fauborg, St Honore, Paris.   (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
French couturier Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel (1883 – 1971) at her home, Fauborg, St Honore, Paris. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)

Jersey’s Fabrics

Chanel’s initial triumph was the innovative use of jersey fabric, a machine knit material manufactured for her by the firm Rodier, and traditionally relegated to the manufacture of undergarments. Chanel’s early wool jersey traveling suit consisted of a cardigan jacket, and pleated skirt, paired with a low-belted pullover top. This ensemble, worn with low-heeled shoes, became the casual look in expensive women’s wear. Prior to this, jersey tended to only be used in hosiery and for tennis, golf and beachwear. It was too “ordinary” to be used in couture and its weave was difficult to handle. Chanel’s introduction of jersey to high fashion worked well for two reasons. First, the war had caused a shortage of other materials and second, women started to desire more simple and practical clothes. Her fluid jersey suits and dresses were created for practicality and allowed free movement. This was greatly appreciated at the time because women were working for the war effort as nurses, in civil service and in factories. Their work involved physical activity and they had to ride trains, buses and bicycles to get to work. They desired outfits, that did not give away easily and could be put on without the help of servants

chanel-linton-tweed-840x1024

Chanel Suit

The Chanel tweed suit was built for comfort and practicality. It consisted of a jacket and skirt in a matching Scottish tweed and a blouse and jacket lining in jersey or a silk crepe. The jacket had the piping and gold buttons. The tweed she used was supple and light. She did not stiffen the material or use shoulder pads. She also cut the jackets on the straight grain, without adding bust darts. This allowed for quick and easy movement. She designed the neckline to leave the neck comfortably free and also added pockets that could actually hold things. On most other suits, pockets were just for show. For a higher level of comfort, the skirt had a grosgrain across the hips, instead of a belt. More importantly, meticulous attention was placed on detail during fittings. Measurements were taken in a standing position with arms folded at shoulder height. She also conducted crash tests with models where they would walk around, hop on a platform as if they were stepping on an imaginary bus, and then bend over as if they were getting into a sports car. She wanted to make sure women could do all of these things while wearing her suit, without exposing unwanted parts of their body that might catch the eyes of men. Each customer could get repeated adjustments until the suit was comfortable enough for her to perform her daily activities with comfort and ease.

 

Chanel Camellias

 

The Camellias

The camellia had an established association with Alexandre Dumas’s literary work, “La Dame aux Camélias” (”The Lady of the Camellias”). Its heroine and her story had resonated for Chanel since her youth. The flower itself had become identified with the courtesan who would wear a camellia to advertise her availability. The camellia came to be associated with The House of Chanel, making its first appearance as a decorative element on a white-trimmed black suit in 1933.

Chanel Camellia Sneaker
Chanel Camellia Sneaker

The Little Black Dress

After the jersey suit, the concept of the little black dress is often cited as a Chanel contribution to the fashion lexicon and as an article of clothing survives to this day. Its first incarnation was executed in thin silk, crèpe de chine, and had long sleeves. Chanel started making little black dresses in wool or chenille for the day and in satin, crepe or velvet for the evening. The dress was fashionable, yet comfortable and practical because it was stripped of all excess. In 1926, the American edition of Vogue highlighted such a Chanel dress, dubbing it the jargon (little boy look). They predicted it would “become sort of a uniform for all women of taste”, embodying a standardized aesthetic, which the magazine likened to the democratic appeal of the ubiquitous black Ford automobile. Its spare look generated widespread criticism from male journalists who complained: “no more bosom, no more stomach, no more rump…” The popularity of the little black dress can be attributed to the timing at which it was introduced. The 1930s brought in the Great Depression Era during which women desired affordable fashion. Chanel quoted, “Thanks to me they can walk around like millionaires.”

 LBD

Jewellery

Chanel introduced a line of jewellery that was a conceptual innovation in design and materials incorporating both simulated and fine gemstones. This was revolutionary in an era when jewellery was strictly categorized into either fine or costume jewellery.

Basque Diamond necklace by Paul Iribe for Chanel
Basque Diamond necklace by Paul Iribe for Chanel

In 1933, designer Paul Iribe collaborated with Chanel in the creation of extravagant jewellery pieces commissioned by the International Guild of Diamond Merchants. The collection, executed exclusively in diamonds and platinum, was exhibited for public viewing and drew a large audience.

Costume Jewellery Chanel-Goossens collaboration
Costume Jewellery Chanel-Goossens collaboration

Starting in 1953, Goossens worked with Coco Chanel to design jewellery to accompany her fashion designs, mostly through presentations where she would guide his inspiration. Chanel herself loved to blend the rich with the poor and Goossens’ creations were entirely in keeping with that approach. Notable work during his tenure at Chanel includes silver and gold plaited pins set with emeralds, moon earth pendants, and crystal Byzantine crosses. Goossens would create original pieces for Mademoiselle Chanel made of real gold and genuine stones, which in turn were copied as imitations designed for fashion shows and presentations. These models ultimately served as the basis for Chanel’s costume jewellery designs.

Chanel/Goossens Famous Bracelet
Chanel/Goossens Bracelet

Goossens continued his work with the house of Chanel after its founder’s passing, and collaborated with her successor Karl Lagerfeld throughout the 1980s and 1990s to create costume jewellery for Chanel’s ready-to-wear and couture collections. Chanel bought Goossens’ company in 2005.

Chanel quilted bag

Chanel Early quilted bag made from Jersey
Chanel Early quilted bag made from Jersey

Identifying a need to liberate women’s hands from the encumbrance of a hand held bag, Chanel conceived of a handbag that would accomplish this stylishly. Christened the “2.55” (named after the date of the bag’s creation: February 1955), its design, combined with Chanel’s creative inspiration, evoked the memories of her convent days and her love of the sporting world. The original version was constructed of jersey or leather, the outside featuring a hand-stitched quilted design influenced by the jackets worn by jockeys. The chain strap was a nod to her orphanage years, reminiscent to Chanel of the abbey caretakers who wore such waist chains to hold keys. The burgundy red uniform worn by the convent girls was incorporated into the bag’s interior lining.

Karl Lagerfeld's version of Chanel's 2.55 bag
Karl Lagerfeld’s version of Chanel’s 2.55 bag

The bag design went through a reincarnation in the 1980s when it was updated by Karl Lagerfeld. Known as the Classic Flap, the bag retained its original classic shape, with the clasp and chain strap differing from its initial form. Lagerfeld worked the House of Chanel logo, “CC” into the rectangular twist lock and wove leather through the shoulder chain.

Epilogue

I tried to create a true homage to a great designer and to a great business woman. I tried to be as objective as I could. 

The history will never see such a great and, as I love to say, multifaceted input in fashion, design, perfumery, textiles, innovations, as the one, created by Chanel. Should I say I admire this lady? How can I? She was an anti-semite and a Nazi-symphatizer, to put it mildly. At the same time, I admire her for her fashion greatness, for her art, for her business qualities in the same way I would admire Leni Riefenstahl?…( Or maybe more, because Coco Chanel’s talents were much bigger and her horizons and aspirations were much higher…

I do, however, reserve my judgement for the current owners of the House of Chanel.

There are two aspects I wished to mention – I do believe that Pierre Wertheimer was in love with Mademoiselle Chanel, or he was at least fascinated by her survival skills.

Pierre Wertheimer died six years before Coco Chanel passed away, putting an end to an intriguing and curious relationship of which Parfums Chanel was just one, albeit pivotal, dynamic. Coco Chanel’s attorney, Rene de Chambrun, described the relationship as one based on a businessman’s passion for a woman who felt exploited by him. “Pierre returned to Paris full of pride and excitement (after one of his horses won the 1956 English Derby),” Chambrun recalled in Forbes. “He rushed to Coco, expecting congratulations and praise. But she refused to kiss him. She resented him, you see, all her life.”

For the current owners of The House of Chanel – I would like to tell an old legend…

There is a very famous Latin Expression,”Pecunia non olet”, or “Money does not stink”. Roman Emperor Vespasian imposed a Tax on public urinals in Rome’s Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) system. The buyers of the urine (tanners) paid the tax.The Roman historian Suetonius reports that when Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell (sciscitans num odore offenderetur). When Titus said “No,” he replied, “Yet it comes from urine”…The phrase Pecunia non olet is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins.

The owners of Chanel are very private Jewish people. Chanel did everything in her power not only to survive but to prosper during the Nazi occupation… If she could betray the Jews she would…indirectly though.  The Jewish owners of the company did everything they could to gloss her not so glorious past over. It makes their behaviour incredibly opportunistic. And money does stink… In my only humble opinion. There will be more research and more disclosures and more beautiful actresses will be hired to play Chanel in more glorious and more romantic movies to counterweigh those disclosures. But for how long? I think it is a high time to stop this charade – it will only benefit the company.

I started dreaming Chanel…It is not healthy. Therefore,

     Fin…

Chanel Fashion Show 2012
Chanel Fashion Show 2012

 

 

 

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Day 5. Dublin-Galway-Dublin

Monday.

So, as it was decided by my brand new Irish friends, the day before, at Max’s restaurant, that I “needed” to go to Galway. Only ‘2.5’ hours drive. Since visiting Ireland twice afterwards, and since visiting Armenia 4 times, I know now, that the definition of time for my beloved nations is a bit skewed, to say the least.

I was in deep pain the night before, but being a responsible person, I did not take any painkillers and did not take them with me. The car I hired, was an innocent Nissan Micra with an automatic gearbox, GPS, and no air-conditioning. They explained to me that I was plain lucky to get an automatic in Europe. According to the car rentals, “the air-con should be on my next wish list, but it never gets hot in Ireland”. Why on Earth, Europeans, make it hard for themselves all the time?

Irish Village Spring
Irish Village Spring

The drive to Galway took me 3.5 hours, only because I tried to fight with the navigation system in order to pass the most picturesque Irish villages…Mind you, I always fight with the navigation system, only to discover it is right after all…

When going through the villages, I thought, why are they so beautiful, clean, taken care of? Why in Russia are they so neglected? Oh, well, where do we start?

When I finally arrived to Galway, I thought – wow!!! Is it what people say in their blogs all the time? But honestly, it was wow!!!I saw a medieval, bright, non-English looking town, something which would be born out of the marriage of Belgium and Spain.

A little bit of history 🙂

Galway Main Street
Galway Main Street

Galway is the second largest county in Ireland. Physically, it is divided into two distinct parts; the eastern two thirds are flat, with many small lakes and rivers, while the western part of the county includes the area known as Connemara, with its rocky bogs, fjords, and magnificent mountains. The west of the county has the largest remaining Irish-speaking population of any county in Ireland.

The town of Galway was first recorded in 1124 when a fort was built there. However, the town was founded in the 13th century. In 1170-71 the English invaded eastern Ireland and in 1232 a baron named Richard de Burgh took this area and created a town. After 1270 walls were built around Galway.

In 1396 Galway was granted a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). Galway was made a royal borough. For centuries, Galway was ruled by 14 families, known as “the tribes” of Galway. The mayor and the leading citizens usually came from these 14 families. They were the Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy, Deane, French, Font, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris and Skerrett families.

In the Middle Ages Galway was an important port. The main import was wine. Exports included wool, skins and leather. The leading citizens of Galway were definitely English in their manners and customs. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the English kings gradually lost control of Ireland, except for Dublin and the surrounding Pale. However, to a large extent, Galway was an island of ‘Englishness’.

St Nicholas Church Galway
St Nicholas Church, Galway

The Church of St Nicholas was built in 1320 after Franciscan friars arrived in Galway in 1296. (Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach).

Lynch window inside the Church commemorates James Lynch Fitzstephen who, it is said, hanged his own son for murder in 1493.

Lynch Castle, Galway
Lynch Castle, Galway

The Spanish Arch (called Spanish, due to the Spanish merchant ships docked in the quays there) was built in 1584, and Lynch’s Castle, the mansion, was built around 1600. Browne Doorway is all that remains of the merchant’s house built in the early 17th century.

Spanish Arch, Galway
Spanish Arch, Galway

At the beginning of the 19th century the population of Galway was about 5,000, but it actually fell during the 19th century. The whole region suffered severely in the potato famine of 1845-49 and there was a considerable loss of population.

During the 20th century Galway was revived. By 1950 it had about 21,000 inhabitants. Galway was still a busy port. Exports included farm produce, wool and marble. Industries in Galway in the 20th century included iron, milling, furniture making and hat making.

At the end of the century modern industries such as engineering, IT and electronics began to replace the traditional industries in Galway.

In recent years Galway has undergone an economic boom and the population has grown rapidly. Today the population of Galway is 78,000…

Coloured Houses of Galway
Coloured Houses of Galway

I did not have much time in Galway, but I went to see the Church of St Nicholas, walked along the river, where I noticed many coloured doors and thought, that the drunken husbands needed those doors anywhere in the world.

It is a very smart “husband capturing” invention. Imagine, your drunken treasure stumbles in the night through somebody else’s door and the story suddenly unfolds to the depth of the unknown. He could be lost there forever!!! He could stumble 3 years later through your doorway once again! No need to imagine, the door trapping worked wonders.

I negotiated little tiny medieval streets in the city centre. I went to buy Aran sweaters and scarves… I went to McDonald and was served there by the speaking perfect Russian Latvian girl.  I did not even flinch – my heart was healed by then fully and completely, and I had nothing against anybody speaking Russian to me…I also made few purchases in Demora boutique, where I met the lovely owner Diedre Morahan. We also exchanged our very valuable opinions on fashion industry and retail industry…

Demora Boutique, Galway
Demora Boutique, Galway
Giants Causeway
Giants Causeway

It was time to drive back. I could not go to Giants Causeway, (you can see America from there)), to Carrick-a-Rede rope Bridge (not for the faint hearted), to the Old Bushmills Distillery – the oldest Whiskey Distillery in the world (since 1608)…To miss the latter one was unimaginable for me, but I had very valid reasons – I needed to go back…

And only then, my fun and games began!!!) Remember Nissan Micra, the air-conditioning or the lack of it? It was a combination of three factors – +32 Celsius, white nights and the navigation system, which I faithfully obeyed at the time.

Motorways Map of Ireland
Map, Ireland, Motorways

Naturally, it ordered me to take the highway (M6). My little bug had to drive with the speed limit of 120km per hour for the mighty 154 km…Feeling hot, tired, sleepy with no “Stop, Revive, Survive” detours along the road, – I …fell asleep at the wheel. The next thing I remember, was a huge thump, smell of the tyres burning and the smoke coming out from the car. I hit a concrete barrier along the road… Completely awake, I managed to drive the car for another 10 metres, before I jumped out with my bag and the sling…I assessed the damage – as much as a non-mechanic could do. The tyre was burned irrevocably, the “left wing” of the car was gone and the car was not drivable. I found the spare tyre inside the car, and that was the end of me. I stared at it as with the expression, as we say in Russian “Like a sheep at the new gate”. Imagine the flock of sheep coming home and seeing a new gate?

Sheep Staring/New Gate
Sheep Staring at the New Gate

Well, I needed to stop somebody to help me to change the tyre. 8pm, blinding sun and the trucks flying by with a speed of light. None of them was stopping. I thought – what about the kindness, openheartedness and friendliness of the Irish people? Just before I demoted the whole nation from Category A to Category Z, a sleek Mercedes stopped abruptly in front of me. The driver looked Richard Gere 20 years ago, but I was no Julia Richards just at that very moment. No tall boots, no long legs, no saucer size eyes and no lips to land a helicopter on…I was Rosa, myself, but also scared and frantic on the top of being Rosa, myself. My Irish Richard Gere gave me a diamond smile (good dentists in Ireland) and changed the tyre like it was a normal thing to do when one wears a Zegna suit and a tailored shirt…He also told me that nobody could drive faster than his/her guardian angel could fly. A catchy phrase, but so true to the core, indeed…I could not help, but notice, that my guardian angel’s car had an air conditioner.

Richard Gere/American Gigolo
Richard Gere/American Gigolo

On my spare tyre I drove back to Dublin with the speed of 80km per hour and tried not to pay much attention to the rowdy truck drivers honking at my snail speed and at my grieving car.

When the staff in Dylan saw my car, my sling, my xanax free state, they treated me with the dinner on the house, with the wine and you name it, what on the house too. The amok survival feeling gave way to the waterfall of tears. I was so happy to be alive…

Day 6. Dublin – KLM – Moscow

KLM Crew
Friendly KLM Crew

Tuesday.

The morning was quite a non-event. I went shopping for antique Victorian jewellery, bought an amazing chain with a pendant for an amazing price, which would have made London antique sellers to become colour green with envy…

Antique Jewellery Shops. Dublin
Antique Jewellery Shops. Dublin

Lingus was really difficult to negotiate with a sling – I think, Irish survival skills and the history of the nation, toughened the service to the point of disregarding people with the slings and the crutches…

No shopping and really bad food for the connection corner of Schiphol (Amsterdam to Moscow). Stupid really, because the Russians are huge spenders in every corner on the planet with the cash register…Had to eat  bad food, thinking loudly “I am fat anyway”, and thinking quietly that the bad food makes you fat anyway.

Boarded a plane taking me to Moscow. Was so ready. My sling and my injuries were taken care of with lots of champagne and lots of beautiful Dutch smiles. By midnight, when we crossed into Russian territory, the pilot of the business class cabin appeared with the pancakes, generously served with nutella and condensed milk. The stewardess told us (to all of the 6 business class survivors) that this pilot loved to do it, because he loved Russia. At this stage I was not surprised with anything. I was not even questioning who was flying the plane at the time.I loved Russia too…I was so ready to land with my healed heart and a very sore shoulder…

Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport
Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport

The Aftermath

Days later I called my rabbi and told him the story. He also told me, there was, apparently, a spiritual belt between Jerusalem and Ireland. It explained everything. What else would have propped me up to the heavens and lowered me kindly to the Planet Earth? Would be either the spiritual belt or my Guardian Angel.

Few months later, I had a complicated surgery on my shoulder performed by the grandson of the Father of Space Research Sergei Korolev, Andrey Korolev, the chief orthopaedic surgeon of Moscow. The spiritual belt magnetism continued.

Since then, I travelled to Ireland twice…I went on the famous Literary Pub Crawl, I went to see the “Lord of The Dance” with the legendary Michael Flatley. I found out why the Irish flag had Orange, Green and White colours. Not because the Red colour was bleached out by the sun:)

I visited, however, another Ireland. The magic of “anything happens” simply disappeared. I think, it was for the better, was not it?…

Michael Flatley. Lord of the Dance
Michael Flatley. Lord of the Dance

 

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I adore getting a good bargain and fighting for the best price. I remember 2 hours of negotiations/bargaining/haggling in Jerusalem markets for the beautiful Persian rug. I joked with the owner and promised to become his third wife. That cemented the deal.)

I also remember buying jade in Beijing for the best price. It happened in Panjiayuan market. The seller would write the price, I would write back, as a rule of thumb, half of the price. The seller would get enthusiastically upset, I would go opposite direction and then we would agree on somewhere in the middle. The deal was done, everybody was happy. That is a market behaviour.

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Here, however, I would like to talk about us, Australians. in Australia we started to negotiate in the shops where the prices are set and are usually non-negotiable. This phenomenon struck me as being specifically ours, Australian.

In Russia people get their VIP cards with the discount applied to them. VIP cards usually allow them to participate in certain events or to shop/get special benefits with certain partners, participating in the VIP program. VIP cards are also accumulative, and in many cases people can get as much as 20% off the new stock and some gifts together with purchase. To have this privilege though, the clients must spend around 3k to start climbing VIP ladder.

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I have been living in Australia for the last 25 years and I did not start seeing this “negotiating” culture until 5 years ago.

Before then, there were no “Start of Season Sales”, “Mid Season Sales”, “Clearance Sales”, “Last Chance Clearance Sales” with David Jones and Myer coming down to 70% discount even before the main sales would start, on the 26th of December and on the 1st of July.

Now the word “Sales” adorn the walls of those once respectable department stores almost permanently. What can we expect from the customer service of once being famous for its customer service David Jones? During big sales campaigns the clothes are strewn all over the floor, the sales assistants would rather talk with each other instead of cleaning the store.

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In France, Italy, Spain, Germany, for example, the sales are state regulated, they start end of June (summer sales) and last for 6 weeks. The same goes for winter sales. After the sales stop, and they have to stop in accordance to the law, the items on sale, become immediately full price items. It would be illegal to sell them with the discount. During the period of sales, discounts very rarely go below 50%.

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Following our shopping giants erratic sale behaviour, our customer would naturally expect the same in one of the most affluent suburbs in Australia from the independent boutiques and operators.

“With luxury cars lining its streets, upmarket eateries and luxury brands filling the shopfronts Suburb X is, where the rich show off their wears. It’s a place to be seen. The 3,235 taxpaying residents in the this Sydney suburb make an average individual’s taxable income $141,544 for 2013 financial year.”

I had a customer who bought a bag only after I gave her 10% discount. She came back 4 times, she photographed the bag, she went back to Bondi Junction to find out whether they had similar bags or whether it was cheaper to buy from there. Since they did not have similar bags, she bought the bag from us. I asked her, why we are like this in Australia – our shopping behaviour is noticeable in any city of the world. The customer said something out of the blue – a) we don’t like to show off, b) we have to be sure the goods are not made in Bangladesh, c) we have different priorities.

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Bangladesh set me off clearly). I asked her, – if the bag, was indeed, made in Bangladesh, would you fly there to get it cheaper? Not an easy question to answer).

Our other customer was contemplating buying a dress already discounted and beautiful at the same time. She sent her photos to the whole family living in many parts in the world. She went to think to a café nearby and to have a lunch ($38 dollars) and to think. She finally bought the dress. Maybe the price of the lunch was the final persuasive blow.

I have a customer who would cry if 5% discount was not applied to her purchase. I asked her, why was it so upsetting. She told me that discount was a sign of respect and that David Jones and Myer had sales and discounts all the time.  And here we go…

Despite of many sales conducted by the big players, the last Christmas retail results were quite disappointing for the big players and for the retail sector in its entirety.

Of course, in Australia, we have 1.5 seasons, Hobart excluding…Of course, our dentists are charging us in diamonds, or in carats measurements of the diamonds, of course, our private schools cost us half a million dollars per child for the duration of their school education, of course, our housing is one of the most expensive in the world, of course, our cars attract the biggest taxes, unless they are made in China or Japan…Its all true, but, so many other countries have it much worse, and yet, people living there, would allocate much bigger part of their budget on fashion. Maybe we are not scrooges and discount seekers after all, maybe, we just do not like to dress?

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We toss our working clothes come the weekend and then we are dressed in the same old, same old as the weekend before? Would we eventually stop caring and start dressing only for Xmas parties, and three ceremonies in life like baptisms, weddings and funerals?

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I had a client who was in the middle of fighting a life threatening illness… She bought lots of clothes and jewellery. She told me, that she was saving up all her life and never spent money on herself, only on the family and the house. She said, it was one of her greatest regrets. Life deserved celebrating, she said.

I agree. Clothes can make us beautiful or can make us ugly, they can lift us up and drag us down, but it is in my only limited humble opinion…

‘Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.’ – Virginia Woolf

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Please note, my blog is a result of several years of research and it is based, sometimes, on fictitious characters and fictitious situations.

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Life offers to us the chores and also little things we enjoy. Shopping is one of those little things. It is up to us to make it a chore, a source of anxiety or of a marital discord.

But…there are circumstances, when this little joy could be killed by the background noise of the relationships and “its complicated”☺ matters. I would only try make an attempt to generalise what I know, the cultures I am familiar with. Generalisation assumes a bias of error, lets say, of 20%. Generalisation assumes offence, which is not intentional here, but nevertheless, an offence, for which, I apologise.

I only tried to write on behalf of the married and single women because I have been both…I only tried to write on behalf of two cultures I know. It took me the whole month to wrap it up in a non-emotional, non biased☺ form and shape… Without a further ado…I will try to describe the shopping habits in Russia and Australia. Generally, there are ways we shop and they could be categorised as

1) Couples shopping – married (first wife), de-facto

a) Russia: Generally, Russian men could be stingy but they would be  embarrassed to admit to it. Usually, during husband/wife shopping, the  stronger part would whisper to the wife, of how difficult the life is, and that  he might lose his job tomorrow, that they (the family), would not be able to  go on holidays in Turkey, that the mortgage payments would be made  impossible because of this single shopping bag, that life would stop and  sun would never shine again.

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b) Australia: Generally, Australian men would tightly hold their wives’ hands when passing the shops. Some would think it is out love, some would think it is out of control☺ Sometimes, the wife is “allowed” to enter the shop on her own, without a wallet… 5 minutes after inspecting the goods she would come back with a line –“ I will come back when I am on my own.”

Sometimes the women would just fly in and come out with – “I have a table waiting (at the café)”; “my hairdresser’s appointment is in 5 minutes” (I know perfectly well, that this particular hairdresser could wait for another 10 minutes). The best excuse I ever heard was – “I left my 1 year old at home – he is there by himself!” I did not know whether to call a  police, or just let it go as the best invented excuse ever☺. I took a second  option.:)

As much as Sydney is a champion of excuses, it is, at the same time, a champion of expenses. To afford a decent rent or a mortgage in Sydney, a couple or a single person would have to earn 100k per year. There would be no dreams of going to Turkey with the expenses like this. I tend to agree with the husbands, – only if they did  not whisper – “How many shoes, bags, dresses, would one person need?” In my opinion, it is a very wrong thing to say to your wife…

Well, well well, after all of the  obstacles tackled, and the the holy of the holiest is reached in the form and a shape of a cash register,– the husbandless (for 1 hour) wife would say, – “Please do not wrap it, I will put it in the boot of my car/in my bag and will  bring it home unnoticed”. Sadly, I have been there, and I have done this. There are beautiful exceptions, though in every  culture… I noticed, that most Asian Australians would usually shop together and the husband would help to choose the clothes for his wife. He would insist on buying more than she would choose. Do they buy more than the others? I think, the result is still the same, but the backdrop of the  marriage is different…

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2) Couples shopping – second marriage

For all cultures, however, when the couple is in their second marriage, at least one of the partners learns the mistakes of the first marriage, one of the partners will mellow, and will become more generous towards the other half, and will finally realise that not everything should be about control. Hard lesson though…

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3) Shopping with the mistress

a) Russia

Generally, Russian men could be stingy, but they would be extremely embarrassed to admit to it at the presence of a mistress. They would not be able to tell a mistress that they might lose their job tomorrow, that this long awaited business trip to Paris would not happen, that the diamond ring in Place Vendome would be lonely without its rightful owner. In most circumstances, mistresses have their own credit card. In most circumstances, Moscow shop managers have separate files for the wives and the mistresses. God forbid them to have the wires crossed over ever…

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b) Australia

In Australia we are much more moralistic than in Russia…I am sure, affairs do happen, but the blatant shopping in the same city?!!! Never…, but let me think…:)

4) Shopping overseas with your better half.

a) Russia

Generally, Russian men are very generous when overseas. The credit card payments are far away, Bacchus is pouring champagne even for breakfast, lots of mistakes could happen, but restraint is not one of them…

b) Australia

When we go overseas, we are all penny pinching, wives including. The savings on Chanel bags are heavily outweighed by the price of the tickets… Sightseeing, excursions thats where we are generous – we need  it, we live so far away…En plus we are a very curious nation…

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5) Shopping overseas with your sinful half

a) Russia

The sky would be the limit. There are no immediate family in the vicinity of 5000 km, the phone is not working properly, the time difference and the roaming charges allow only for 5 minutes calls to immediate family. The diamond ring in Place Vendome finally claims its rightful owner.

b) Australia

We are led to believe it does not happen ☺

6) Shopping with your girlfriends – the same for all the cultures

Usually, young and unruly girlfriends culture is no Sex in the City. Beware when shopping with the friends. Will they tell you the truth? Maybe…If its an ugly straightforward truth. None of us could be Natalia Vodianova, therefore, the truth is almost always not pleasant. The truth gets better by the age. We soften up and become kinder to each other.

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7) Single women shopping on their own;

a) Young women working hard and still living with their parents.

Usually they are very generous to themselves, life is young and good, there is always somebody to prop them up without any judgement passed;

b) Women working hard and living on their own.

The lesson learnt is very hard – when living away from the parents, expenses become exponential, she would become very careful with the money and with her spending habits.

c) Single and successful women.

The spending is limitless. There is no control from anyside. She has lost weight, she has joined the gym. Every time she tries on things she thinks about sending her selfie to her ex…☺ Does she? Maybe not, she just found her main object of desire, – herself.

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That was my weak attempt to generalise our shopping behaviour. It does not matter whether the country has more of the feminist history, than the other (Russia has had women working in the mines, women performing brain surgeries, women-famous mathematicians for the last 120 years). The question of co-dependable spending is quite complicated. I had a young Saudi Arabian woman in the shop, who shooed her husband out and told him to get some coffee and wait for her outside. He was smiling. Go figure! I think the answer still lies in the areas of control, quantity of money, and wisdom to know that money is not the solution to all the problems, …but the true love is.

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When we first visited Korean Fashion Week in Seoul in 2009, the experience was similar to Taipei Fashion week of 2014, with the only exception that Seoul is a major hub city in the world, and Taipei is more provincial and quaint.

We were met by the interpreter in Hotel Rivera, which is pronounced by Koreans as Ribera, to do with [b] and [v] sounds mixed in Korean language.

It was an OK hotel, but predominantly Korean speaking, which did make our life a bit difficult. We did not know that the interpreter was like a spy for the fashion week). They had to report how many shows we missed and why. At the time it was important to see the shows, more important than to do a buy. On the following morning, the bus picked us up and we went to the location.

In 2009 Seoul (Soul Fashion Week) was held in the Seoul Trade Exhibition & Convention at Hangnyeoul station, the event comprised the Seoul Collection (a catwalk show featuring leading designers in Korea), Generation Next (featuring selected promising local designers), and Seoul Fashion Fair (with a focus on the presentation of only13 designers). There were lots of delegates who were invited season after season and who did not buy anything. It was a free trip, free accommodation (I should not have whinged). We were real buyers, we tried to buy and we could not. In the front rows apart from the buyers and the press (VIP seats) were the faces of pensioners (free tickets) and officials who were nodding off during the shows. I must explain that in Korea the first seats are given to the pensioners and disabled, the second turn goes to the children, the third turn to the tourists and only then to the ordinary Koreans. As much as this feels fair, as a general rule, officials were a bit out of place at Seoul Fashion Week. Unfortunately, the government suits who were sitting in big boardrooms then and commanded large amounts of money for Seoul Fashion week, generally liked to engage in promotion for promotion’s sake. Unfortunately, the government officials, preferred girly, pretty, feminine fashion, of 50 years ago), and there was nothing for us to buy for our style women’s fashion. The problem was even deeper than the style of fashion itself.

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The problem was with the sizing and the prices too. Korean designers were eager to sell abroad, but for exuberant prices. You could feel it was their only chance to get ahead. The only brands suitable for western women were at the time Kuho (Chiel industries-Samsung), Time and Mine, System (LG), which did not participate in Seoul Fashion week, but were widely available at the luxurious department stores.

We found few brands among men’s fashion, namely Songzio and General Idea.

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In general, Seoul Fashion week was exclusively for Korean speaking people at the time. There were Korean celebrities, Korean press, none of the English speaking media including the bloggers were invited.

A little bit of history:

Korean fashion industry has been on the international scene for a long time, but as an export industry since after the Korean War. Many from the fashion industry already know that South Korea has been a major exporter of high quality textiles for decades already. It is still very slow in producing top end designers well known on the world runways.

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You must remember, that until the early 1990s, South Korea had essentially lived under military dictators, the 1st of them, Park Chung Hee, had banned fashion shows outright after his takeover in 1961 as part of austerity measures designed to weed out as negative elements of bourgeois society. South Koreans are still wrestling with the challenge of untangling the civil society from government control.

Since our first fashion week in Seoul to the last one in Spring 2014, a lot of things have changed. The buyers and press, are now staying at W hotel, the shows are at DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza), one of the most futuristic locations in the world. The male and female designers are plenty, the government officials decided to share the fashion week with the KFDA (Korean Fashion Designers Association).

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But…for the likes of Anna Vintour or Emanuelle Alt to come to Seoul Fashion Week…It needs to be enough knowledge spread there by medium-level fashion media outlets doing stories on Korean designers and the street. And to get to that level, Seoul fashion Week needs to have enough English speaking bloggers and journalists doing stories on Korean fashion and “Soul” fashion week to generate the basic information in the “ether”. The biggest problem for the Korean fashion industry is the same problem as for the country as a whole. South Korea is a pretty insular culture, both online and offline. There is a lot of information about Korean fashion designers on the Internet, most of it in Korean. Korean cultural assumption is such that non-Koreans do not care about Korea anyway. Even the international events information is mostly in Korean. Combined with the fact, that Korean language is one of the most difficult languages in the world, Korea is still the country with the big Non-English speaking padlock on the outside, and with the most hospitable people on the inside.

“Soul” Fashion week, in my opinion, deserves to be one of the 5 major weeks in the world. It only needs to be “seasoned” with the English interpretation.

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I always thought, if another week would have to be added to 6-7 days of Paris Fashion Week, I would had needed direct champagne line going straight to my head, feeding my brain 24×7. That and the constant buzz, and, sometimes purely Brownian motion of designers, buyers, fashionistas, journalists, bloggers, people to be seen and people not to be seen ever…All of this creates the feel of madness after which one needs to sleep for few days, somewhere, in the soundproof room…

The fashion week usually starts with preparation. Your PA would make your appointments and would also make few mistakes, resulting in you flying from one arrondissement to another within a minute.

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It usually continues with arrival to Paris, naturally…As much as anybody dreams Paris, Aeroport Charles De Gaulle is a bit of a shock and would be better fit for the city like Moscow. Warsaw or Berlin,  than for the City of Lights. It is plain and  grey. It could be sunny and hot, it could be rainy and cold, it could snow outside, inside of this airport the colour is always grey. If it was intended to turn off the visitors, it did not work…

Upon the exit from the airport, the reality throws you another curved ball – Parisian Taxi Driver…Parisian Taxi Driver will not speak any English and will not take credit cards. When you give him a big tip, he will say “Thank you” in English without a tinge of an accent. You spend 10 Fashion week seasons dreading taxi drivers in Paris, and Paris in all totality, until you come up with a unique idea of hiring your own driver. You quickly realise that this decision is blessed by heavens. It changes your impression of Paris forever, for the better. You start to smile and notice that the world is smiling back to you.

Designer showrooms…

The first morning of the fashion week starts from 5 minutes before the appointment, because you sleep in. Forget the breakfast, nobody in Paris has breakfast anyway and here you go.

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5 appointments per day mean 2 hours spent on each appointment. You have to really concentrate on the sizes, silhouette, the preference in colours for Russia or Australia. Sometimes you really have to concentrate, because your designer friends give you so much champagne) Sometimes, you have to interrupt the appointments for the fashion shows of the designers you buy or are lured to buy.

Fashion Shows…

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The fashion show is an animal on its own. It is a good manner for a designer to start later. The more important this designer feels about him/herself, the later is the show. Rick Owens shows usually start 1.5 hours later, John Galliano (before his famous escapade), used to start 2 hours later than scheduled. It is interesting that Junko Shimada shows were always on time (and she is one of the famous remaining couturiers in Paris). It is imperative to be sitting and to be seen in the front row. For the buyers and bloggers it is not a problem. There is also the pressure to be photographed and not to look exhausted or fat)… It starts to take its toll at the end of the day. Champagne is always handy and it comes handy before or after the show.

Trade Shows…

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To make the story really complicated there are very important shows outside the designer showrooms and outside the designer shows. They are called Trade Shows and they are split between Tranoi and Premiere Class. Tranoi is owned by the owners of L’eclaireur (chain of the very good concept stores in Paris), by Hadida family, namely by Armand Hadida. It takes place in Palais De La Bourse and in Carousel Du Louvre.  Tranoi started in 2002. You need two full days to visit those locations and to make the orders.

The other Trade Show is called Premiere Classe and its usually held in Jardin Des Tuileries. It is very good for the buyers of shoes, bags and accessories. Champagne is served during lunch, afternoon tea and, I am afraid for breakfast. Premiere Classe started in 1989…

Two Fashion Weeks Per Season…

To make the story even more complicated, there is another fashion week in Paris end of June/start of July and end of January/start of February. It is for Haute Couture and Men’s collections. I am afraid, that people who attend four of those fashion weeks in Paris are completely champagne dependent.

A Little Bit of History…

Long before Fashion Weeks became, what they are today, fashion reigned, as you may have guessed, in the salons of France. The concept of the fashion presentation dates back to 1858, when Charles Fredrick Worth first developed the concept of showing his clientele a pre-prepared selection of original designs (a collection). Furthermore, he shocked high society by showing his designs on real, live women (models) for all to view. Both were highly novel ideas at the time.

In 1868, Worth helped create the Chambre Syndicale de la Confection et de la Couture pour Dames et Fillettes, a trade association whose mission was to develop the French fashion industry. One of the most noteworthy functions of the association was to legally regulate the phrase “haute couture” – meaning it could only be used by registered members of the Chambre Syndicale. The organisation also set a minimum number of looks for those designers who were granted membership.

The tradition of bespoke fashion presentations in private residences or in a designer’s salon for aristocratic clients continued in France into the 20th century, securing France’s reputation as the fashion capital of the world. As the trend grew, the presentations became more and more grandiose, engaging all of the senses in a full experience of photography, music, sophisticated staging and sets. Designers started calling them fashion “fêtes”, and thus, the basis of the modern fashion show was set. As the world looked almost exclusively to Paris for fashion inspiration, international fashion magazines from around the world filled their pages with chic styles being shown at these fêtes.
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The course of fashion history changed, however, in 1943. With World War II at its height, fashion journalists were unable to travel to Paris for fashion inspiration, with the shows being cancelled due to the Nazi occupation in France. In an unprecedented maneuver, a fashion publicist named Eleanor Lambert seized this opportunity to divert the attention of the fashion industry from Paris to America, in order to enhance the reputation and prestige of local American designers on the international scene. She invited all of the journalists to New York instead, arranged shows, and advertised that “Press Week” was coming to town.

There are Main Four Fashion weeks now – three of them preceding Paris (New York, London, Milan). For the buyers, Paris fashion week is still the best venue, since almost everybody from New York, London, Milan shows comes there with their collections.

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Paris is a very hectic place at the time, and if you are a tourist, just wait for another 5 days to feel fully welcome in this beautiful city. All decent brasseries and restaurants are fully booked and the Right Bank is teeming with all fashion week characters. The places to be seen and eat well are Les Flottes in Rue Cambon, Le Meurice Restaurant in rue Rivoli, Les Jardins Du Marais in uber trendy Le Marais. The places to drink champagne and to be seen doing so are Costes Hotel, Pershing Hall, Experimental Cocktail Club, where you can say goodbye to mojitos and margaritas, since it is a proper mixology bar.

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That’s not it, of course, for Paris fashion week. I failed to mention the friendships you forge, the encounters with people from all over the world. Paris fashion week is a like a little World Global village of like minded people. I dread it every time, I miss it all the time…

A bit thirsty now, in desperate need to reach for this long stemmed glass of perfectly cold champagne…

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We, humans, come into this world with certain branding – family name, ethnicity, nationality, religion. Then, some of us, attend private kindergarten, private school, prestigious University… Most of us enter corporate life, or join a family business. We go to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples. We get admitted to the hospital, we die at the end of our life. All of the stages in our life are accompanied by the new flag, new branding, new logo. Even the funeral agencies have logos(…

Logo is not only an artistic image – logo has the power to put us where we want to be in the society, in the world. I am not talking about golden arches of MacDonald, not about so called identification logos.

When we are in public schools (I apologise for the English/Australian discrepancy), the meaning of the logo is more about our own achievements (especially, when we get to selective schools). Private school logo says more about achievements of your parents. Whatever it is, its still a club where the entry is regulated by the tickets stamped with the logos.

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I studied the history of fashion logos for some time, and was not surprised to learn, that the founder of Gucci, called Guccio Gucci worked as a lift operator in a very famous Savoy in London at the beginning of the last century. He came up with the idea that even the rich people in Italy then needed something to enter the club they were not allowed to enter – the aristocracy club. Thats how famous Gucci’s monogram was created – it instantly infused his clothes and accessories with aristocratic flavour.

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Most certainly Ralph Lauren from Odessa immigrant family in Brooklyn would have many dreams about polo games and polo clubs. Maybe their doors were closed for him too?

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Coco Chanel, of poor childhood, with lots of dreams and aspirations.. Maybe, she also knocked on the doors which did not open for her? It seems that the founders of great brands dreamt about something they could not get – their logo might have represented the ticket to the sacred places of their dreams.

Therefore in my opinion, people who buy logos are buying tickets to the theatre of their dreams, sometimes to the theatre of life, to the club closed to them. The logo consumers are sort of saying – “the only items which are value for money, have logos, because they place us in accordance with the price we pay. Therefore, Guess and Coach will put us in the gallery in this theatre, Gucci or Chanel might give us a front row.” This ticket has a price, but there is no price tag for the place on the stage, or in the holy of holiest, behind the curtain, among the people we worship and want to be like them. Does it not make them wannabes?

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In the post soviet Russia, logos have had the mental price tag for many historical reasons, mainly for the absence of its own aristocracy, for the absence of its own self esteem. Russia, therefore, became one of the biggest consumers of fashion logos in the world. Even the layers of post soviet society started to get its shape in accordance to the money paid for the entry tickets.

Meanwhile, all over the world September 11 became the historic landmark for the fashion consumers, because it marked the start of anti-logo movement. Suddenly, it became unfashionable to be glitzy rich, to look like nouveau riche and to wear expensive logos. The new wave of consumers started to boycott the logos, willing to dress not in accordance to the brand, but in accordance to their own taste. Bottega Veneta for example created the motto – “When your Initials are enough”.

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Many of self sufficient people realised, that wearing logo, also meant free advertising for the logos. Those people started the movement, called now “Discreet Luxury”, they wear cashmere sweaters and expensive shoes sans logos, while they can afford very expensive yachts and private planes. They could buy art, they could do whatever they want to do.  Even if they cannot afford any of the above,  they could still afford to be themselves. This movement in the world faces many obstacles, due to enormous advertising budget the logo brands allocate to all channels of media.

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The future of Discreet Luxury movement depends on the proportion of people with individual taste, with their own opinion. What matters, these people have emerged, their discreet society is becoming bigger, their presence is becoming more noticeable, the membership in their society is becoming more and more prestigious.

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Suburban Mega Malls could be coming to your neighbourhood.

http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/article/8889119/suburban-mega-malls-could-be-coming-to-your-neighbourhood

I think, I became addicted to the Current Affair on Channel 9, or, rather, when I hear the word “shopping”, while having my first glass of wine (two is the limit)), when Current Affair is on, my ears strain, like the ears of a wolf, hearing the bleating of the sheep in a distance. My eyes start seeing red, and as far as my muscles are concerned, they are ready to run a marathon.

The program starts – the head of AMP shopping, the editor of “Shop till you Drop” Magazine, together with all the shopping experts from Australia assure us that huge mega malls would be the future of Australia. Soon, we might have skating rinks inside these shopping mega malls and swimming pools and whatever we can imagine to make us to spend a day or two there… well, the prototype would be Dubai and Durban.

Those experts also mention, that the best international brands like Uniqlo and H&M would be joining forces to become part of those new developments. The prices would be low and affordable. Images of Zara, Chanel, Gucci, H&M and Uniqlo are filling the screen to confirm the variety. The narrator of the story cheerfully says, that one could buy the best quality things in Uniclo for negligent prices, and get the whole evening outfit in H&M for 100 dollars. Australian consumer would finally have an access to the best brands on the planet.

I am getting confused – and I did not even finish my first glass of wine:

Are Chanel or Gucci going to drop their prices to match those of H&M and Uniqlo to become low and affordable? Or Chanel and Gucci are not going to be part of those mega malls?

Since when, Uniqlo and H&M became the best quality international brands? My cashmere sweater from Uniqlo lasted me exactly two days, before it started to peel. In my opinion, it is a disposable fashion, not comparable with the quality of the best international brands…

Who is the judge of what are the best brands for Australia to have an access to?

As a matter of interest:

Is LOWE coming to Australia?Is COS coming to Australia?Is Chantal Thomas, coming to Australia, perhaps?

Are Petit Bateau, Roberto Verino, “The Other Stories”, Dries Van Notten, Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Hussein Chalayan, Kenzo, Goyard, Pomellato constitute the part of the best brands invasion?

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No, of course not. High Street Fashion is coming to Australia and, please, don’t tell us, they are the best brands in the world.

The program also mentions, that the best restaurants and the best food imaginable would be present in the future malls. From my own experience and my own knowledge, four hatted restaurants left Westfield Sydney shopping centre, since this centre opened its doors in 2010. I would confidently say that none of those restaurants would be brave enough to repeat the shopping mall experience.

Since Westfield is going to follow AMP in its giant mall construction race – new Miranda Shopping Centre, I have only one question? How do we know where we are in those malls without going simply mad?  Are we in Miranda? Macquarie? Bondi Junction? Why do we need the repetition of a much of a muchness?

Why don’t the best shopping destinations in the world have those giant malls?

Why none of the mega malls are present in New York, Seoul, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Madrid, Tokyo, Milan, Rome, London?

Because they are soooo yesterday…

I understand the bit about Durban and Dubai. It is almost nothing to do there, outside of those malls (I hope I am forgiven).

But why Sydney, with its beautiful blue skies, with its three days of rain and its three days of cold weather per year, why Sydney deserves this mega mall invasion? Why not to support what we have, and try not to lose what we tried to build for many generations?  Why should we lose historical Transvaal Avenue in Double Bay with its little white cosy houses/shops (120 years old) like Belinda, Marni, Mihal Negrin, newly born Timaginarium…

Why should we lose Macleay Street with Becker and Minty and Macleay on Manning and Grandiflora in Potts Point?

Why should we lose Darling Street, veering through Rozelle and Balmain? It has so many shops and cafes of beautiful variety? Is Mosman destined to die? Does William Street in Paddington have its use by date?

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Please understand, I am not against giant shopping malls, designed for people living in remote areas. I am against the giant shopping malls, so close to what we call Sydney CBD.

I am against the shopping malls, which negate individuality, and promote uniformity.

I am against the shopping malls, which push local unique operators out of business.

There is always another way to do it – for example, there is another shopping centre in Sydney, designed by Japanese architects in Central Park, Ultimo – it is functional, compact, and it is simply nice.

None of the local traders suffered as Central Park shopping mall appearance…

Uniformity is USSR – I don’t want to go back there luxury or no luxury…

Well, it seems that my affair with the Current Affair is not finished yet.

To be continued…)

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When I got the invitation to Taipei in Style Fashion Week I was over the moon. Taiwan for me, was always the land of electronics, nano technology, but fashion?

Taiwanese fashion was a complete enigma.

It was not something, which would come easily to my mind.

From what I learnt in history – I also imagined the island of Taiwan in permanent state of uncertainty and resistance to Chinese rule. Maybe, but when 2 planes landed from Shanghai and Beijing at the same time in Taipei airport? When there is one plane per hour flying from Hong Kong? I started to have serious doubts.

Fear, resistance – no! Uncertainty of the status quo, – maybe…

We arrived very late in the night and we did not see the city – it simply looked ordinary. In the morning,  we did not have an opportunity to see it again – we walked for what felt like eternity in the sauna of the local weather. Mild spring of +40 degrees and humidity of 100%, made my asthma come back sneezing and wheezing, until the miracle of Ventolin came with Chinese language instructions.

Taipei Fashion Week for the first time invited international buyers and it was held in the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.

This location has transformed through history since 1937 as the “Taiwan Sōtokufu Tobacco Monopoly Bureau” during the Japanese colonial time, and after restoration, it was taken over by the Taiwan Monopoly Bureau and renamed the “Taiwanese Provincial Tobacco and Alcohol Monopoly Bureau Songshan Plant”.
The concept of an “industrial village” was employed during the initial development of the Songshan Tobacco Factory, and besides the production line, the benefits and needs of the plant’s employees were also taken into consideration for the design of the site. With its large open spaces and courtyards, the site was a pioneering design for industrial plants at that time.
Its architectural style belongs to the genre of “Japanese Early Modernism”, with emphasis placed on horizontal lines, simple classic shapes, and refined workmanship.  Since nobody told us about the most beautiful surroundings of the Fashion week, I assumed it was a school, which could not be further from the truth.

Well, back to the Fashion week.  As the potential buyers/bloggers we had to give a survey of 20 booths. As every new Fashion week it had one big handicap – the prices were unjustified. Most of the shoes and accessories were produced in Mainland China, most of the styles were last season. It was quite disappointing.

The shows were very long and sometimes were accompanied by the famous Taiwanese singer starting and finishing the show. The styles were not very original, the quality of the garments were not at the top of the quality chain ((. In general, I thought Taipei in Style fashion week was a budding rose, which will become beautiful in time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-qOjd7kb1o

We made lots of trips to the city, to see what the shopping was about. The architectural style of Taipei is very similar to one of Tokyo (with the exception of Taipei 101, the tallest building in Asia). Many of the shops, as usual, were packed inside the shopping malls, with the standard structure of food in the basement, cosmetics and jewellery on the ground floor and the fashion starting from the 1st floor.

The fashion shopping is more about ecologically friendly materials and less fashion, more save the planet, style, so to speak.  Fashion shopping is simply not very fashionable. Maybe there is a similarity to Sydney, where people do not care how they are dressed and the shops are a reflection of this? Even Japanese Takashimaya did not have an eye catcher. It was based solely on Taiwanese products, without one line of Issey Miyake (huge disappointment for meJ).

HTCs, the native Taiwanese mobile, electronics, multilingual bookshops were very impressive. I bought some skin care, which was solely nature based – I will give you my verdict later. I am sure it will be excellent.

If you ask me whether I want to attend Taipei in Style again, I would definitely say yes. I remember how Seoul Fashion week evolved from something simple and not very sophisticated to one of the most sophisticated fashion weeks in the world. I am sure, that Taipei in Style will evolve too.

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Merci was created in March 2009, in the heart of the historic Haut-Marais district. The founders, Bernard and Marie-France Cohen, realised that Paris lacked a place which brought together the best in fashion, design, household goods, and friendly eating options.

First time I visited Merci to meet its owner Madam Marie France Cohen.

I heard about the new Concept Store, cooler than Colette and “more inventive” than L’Eclaireur. We met to discuss the charity I was running at the time The Sound World Australia – thesoundworld.org. We were helping deaf disadvantaged Armenian kids, now we are concentrating on the other countries.

Madame Marie France Cohen just sold her very successful children’s clothes business Bon Point. Her husband and herself started something absolutely different – a project, based on charity (all profits of Merci are going to charity) and most of the garments were produced in a ethical way. The lucky recipient country is Madagascar in most cases. Marie France and I had almost Sydney breakfast in Merci library (rarity in Paris), – soft poached eggs, sourdough bread, salted butter, endless cups of tea. No vegemite. No coffee in France. No good coffee in France.  When we finished, Marie France paid (in her own shop!!!)

We exchanged our ideas, said our goodbyes and rushed – I was dying to see the shop. The library itself is a beautiful corner with lots of books, café and bottomless chairs and sofas where you can fall asleep and wake up and leaf through the books again.

The shop is very beautiful in its industrial presentation and I know now that from Isabel Marant they “progressed” to more luxurious YSL and Stella MacCartney. I felt I had to buy something and I bought Annik Goutal perfume not available in Sydney. I left it on the counter and forgot it there. In two days it was un-retrievable. I had to show my credit card statements, which I could not even print in my hotel. Well, I thought, it was my double charity and so be it.

Whenever I am in Paris, Merci is waiting for me, either for favourite breakfast, for little things which would not eliminate the Earth in 1000 years, even for the hope that my bottle of Annik Goutal is still waiting for me on the counter.

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The term conspicuous consumption was first introduced by an economist Thorstein Veblen.

Writing in the much poorer world of 1899, Veblen argued that people spent lavishly on visible goods to prove that they were prosperous. “The motive is emulation—the stimulus of an invidious comparison which prompts us to outdo those with whom we are in the habit of classing ourselves,” he wrote. Along these lines, the economists hypothesized that visible consumption lets individuals show strangers they aren’t poor. Since strangers tend to lump people together by race, the lower your racial group’s income, the more valuable it is to demonstrate your personal buying power.

So this research has implications beyond race. It ought to apply to any peer group perceived by strangers. It suggests why emerging economies like Russia and China, despite their low average incomes, were such hot luxury markets of yesterday and today. Rich people in poor places want to show off their wealth. And their less affluent counterparts feel pressure to fake it, at least in public. Nobody wants the stigma of being thought poor. Veblen was right.

What is happening to conspicuous consumption in China now?

It is somewhat ironic that so many stores sell authentic luxury brands in a country, that many consider to be the largest manufacturer of knockoffs of those same luxury brands. Yet.s the obsession with luxury brands is real; in fact, China is the driver of growth for many global luxury brands.

Over the long-term, luxury consumption in China will likely continue to follow two paths, one hewn by the early adopters—the mature, seasoned shoppers—and another by the emerging newcomer. The seasoned shoppers will look to reflect their individuality, knowledge, and class through less conspicuous heritage and niche brands that impress those “in the know,” yet do not raise red flags in public. Anti-corruption laws adopted in 2012 fuelled a rapid and more widespread move towards less ostentatious luxury items. The consumers become more ‘discerning’ as they look for niche brands. Indeed this is already occurring amongst more sophisticated customers in emerging markets.

The stage of new wealth, where opulent displays of wealth and logos are commonplace, may be replaced quickly with a stage where consumers are less concerned about whether their peers recognise their material possessions, as they become confident with their own knowledge about luxury.

The normally upbeat world of luxury goods, buoyed by Chinese demand, has been a little more sober and serious in recent months as slowing earnings at fashion houses and watch ateliers make as many headlines as their latest collections.

Pessimists felt slightly vindicated late last year when Burberry shocked the markets halfway into the financial year with news that it expected 2013 sales and profits to slow and come in below expectations.

Hermès also gave everyone the jitters when it announced that its first-quarter growth in 2013 was the lowest since 2009, the height of the recession. The company’s 10.3 per cent sales growth for the first three months of this year, driven in part by the popularity of Birkin bags in the mainland, was unexpected and it only partially masked the 5 per cent sales decline in its watch division.

The biggest luxury conglomerates, from LVMH to Kering (which owns labels such as Gucci and Balenciaga), Richemont and the Swatch Group (which owns Omega and Breguet, among others) all reported significant slowdown.

After years of double-digit growth, luxury brands now realise Chinese demand is finite. Some hope the downturn is just a blip. The more proactive companies, though, see the beginnings of a trend and are preparing themselves for the impact.

This is particularly the case when it comes to fashion. As a result, brands with a small retail footprint in mainland China have benefitted, as more sophisticated, affluent consumers have turned to brands that attract less scrutiny among colleagues and the general public. Yesterday’s Louis Vuitton lover is today’s Alexander Wang aficionado.

The emergence of the concept stores

Once the land of ubiquitous Louis Vuitton bags, China is now a place where the wealthy are undergoing a shift in fashion sense, moving away from the big brands of yesteryear and toward niche designers, snapping up clothes and accessories from a growing crop of concept stores and boutiques that speak to the individual among the masses.

Mostly nestled in the twisting, narrow lanes of the hutongs of the city’s ancient Gulou district, concept stores such as Hong Kong’s INK Beijing, the most recent addition to a small but growing number of high-end multi-brand concept and design stores that includes Wuhao I.T. and 10 Corso Como Shanghai,are offering customers unique, quality brands from China around the globe, and a new shopping experience that emphasizes original designs and ideas, tailored to individual tastes.

There is a certain Chinese consumer that has become disinterested and disillusioned in China’s soulless mall culture and is seeking something more unique

This shift in the consumer tastes of the wealthy, from LV to niche brands, began about three years ago, and began changing in earnest about a year and a half ago, says Shaun Rein, founder of the Shanghai-based Chinese luxury market research group, China Market Research. “It’s less about bling and more about experiencing something,” he says. A trend, he says, that is at least somewhat linked to Beijing’s heavy pollution last winter and growing health concerns.

“I know it sounds crazy,” says Rein. “But a lot of customers told us ‘who cares what I buy if the water and air is going to kill us?’ So at this level, they are really starting to think about what’s important in life. And who they are, and how they are going to express themselves.”

This, compounded by president Xi Jinping’s continued crackdown on corruption, means that brands that signify conspicuous consumption and gift-giving, such as LV or Omega are likely going to see rough times ahead, he says. “It means brands can’t … just be high-priced and showy,” he says. “They have to start targeting more individual consumers.”

It looks like the heavily labelled Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags, may have some competition in the Chinese market. As the more sophisticatedyounger generation are looking for products and brands that are distinct, different and understated.The wealthy older generation Chinese consumers are looking to stay away from flashy luxury items, and prefer something more subtle and discreet. So how does that shift the Chinese fashion and luxury market?

Consumers don’t want to be seen as just the ‘new rich’, they want to display that they have taste and they want a product that is different, something that will make them feel special. Just as Western brands have made their move into the Chinese market, concept stores are now slowly making a move into the market. But we are not talking about just any concept store, most of these boutiques are combining design with exclusive and unique fashion brands and a limited inventory, so merchandise can change faster and new products can hit the store more frequently. These types of high-end, and exclusive multi-brand shops, already have a history in Europe, and North America, and in China, it is a trend that is only getting started. One of the biggest signs pointing to an acceptance of concept stores in China, is the opening of 10 Corso Como, The idea of the shop is to join culture and commerce and to blend art, music, design, and fashion into one shop. The Shanghai store certainly did not disappoint, with a consistent flow of new emerging designers and offering a mix of fashion, design and art to create a destination shopping experience. The shop is designed by the world-renowned painter, sculptor and concept artist, Kris Ruhs. So just a trip inside of the store is a must.

Why the shift to concept stores and niche brands?

So, why the rise and shift in consumer preferences? Simple, Chinese consumers are becoming more educated, well-traveled and with the recent political crackdown on gift-giving and banning of advertising on luxury products, they are shifting away from flashy luxury gifts. There are more conspicuous consumers that are out on the prowl to find a different way to flaunt a luxury item and to express themselves through fashion. A new emergence of sophistication is shifting the landscape in China and individualism is also becoming a big priority.

An Appreciation for Emerging Designers

Not only are some of the most distinct and exclusive designers moving into concept stores, but emerging luxury brands and niche brands are quickly becoming the Chinese consumer’s preference. These ‘so called’ niche brands are entering the market and being well-accepted by the local Chinese consumer. So what exactly is a niche brand? Well, it is certainly a brand that is on the smaller scale, not well-distributed and not well-known in the mainstream. A niche brand will have one strong focal point and will focus on their biggest core strength, and that is what the end-consumer will appreciate and come back to. Results seem to show that retail sales year over year have increased by 12.4% in 2013, while Luxury sales may have slightly decreased, consumption is still on the rise in China but have decreased slightly year over year due to political factors and the availability of e-commerce platforms in China.Chinese consumers have increasing access to new brands, trends and the next big emerging designerjust by browsing the e-commerce platforms that are now available in China. This new exposure is bringing awareness to young Chinese consumers, which is just one factor aiding to the growth of niche brands and the experience of shopping in a concept store.

 

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To rephrase Geoff Whitlam Dismissal speech – “Long Live Cara&Co but we wish all the best to Westfield”

During 2.5 years we got again in the best 5 concept stores in the world and well, our restaurant, something we did not have in Moscow got a very prestigious Gault Millau award – 3 hats
Its nothing more to say, but to show you the beauty of Cara&Co Sydney. See you in New York
 
 
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I must admit I am biased – 10 Corso Como is my favourite concept store (after Cara & Co, of course). In my opinion its one of the most beautiful and organic.

First time we went to Corso Como it was in 2006. It was an OK concept store where somehow I felt obliged to buy one of the Prada “Polo” shirts, which became instantly small on the highest points of my chest. It always happens 5 minutes after the purchase. The shop was not so special, the collection was mostly Prada, café was very good.

To be specific, any good Italian food in Italy washed down with a good Italian wine consumed al fresco style is immaculate.

What struck me as the most beautiful part of this one storey old and new building, was Libreria , not the Library, as it had been introduced into Russian. It is a bookshop in Italian. It sold mostly coffee table books and lots of books about fashion and art. It was in the most beautiful conservatory style corridor building, where the light was eternal and the books were tastefully presented.

Historically 10 Corso Como is a shopping and dining complex in Milan, Italy. It combines outlets that show and sell works of art, fashion, music, design, cuisine and culture. It was founded in1990 in Milan, Italy, by gallery owner and a publisher Carla Sozzani.. Is it enough to create the most famous concept store in the world? Lets see. Carla Sozzani was editor-in-chief for some of Italian Vogue’s special issues..

Sozzani left Italian Vogue in 1986 and was appointed by Alexander Liberman as the American Vogue‘s editor-at-large for Italy.

Sozzani launched Italian Elle in 1987. As editor in chief, Sozzani worked with photographers Steven MeiselNick KnightPeter LindberghJuergen Teller and the illustrators Mats Gustafson and Francis Berthoud.[6]

In 1989 Sozzani met American artist Kris Ruhs, beginning a collaboration in both their lives and work.

Sozzani has had an enormous influence in the world of fashion. What she started as the first concept store in the world was a combination of impeccable taste and the status in the fashion world. We haven’t visited Milan for a hefty three years – we arrived there for negotiations with Pomellato. They said that, 10 Corso Como was not going so well in Milan, and suddenly it was like an explosion  – Samsung Group, its Fashion subdivision Chiel, invested in 10 Corso Como, Seoul.  We were present at the opening of 10 Corso Como in Seoul and yes, we finally felt – it came, what Carla deserved and that would be her future, not on the shaky European GFC infected ground.

When we attended Fashion weeks in Seoul everybody was saying, look, 10 Corso Como is losing money and only because of the daughter of the President of Samsung it was kept alive. Gossips are the worst type of propaganda, gossips in the fashion world are worse than poison.

Not only 10 Cosro Como prospered in Seoul, it opened three shops of different varieties, luxury, 10 Corso Como in Cheogdam, 10 Corso Como in Avenuel (my favourite – the books selection is immaculate), and discount 10 Corso Como in Garosugil.

Amid the cruellest gossips when we were buying Delvaux or Antonio Marras in Paris, 10 Corso Como teams from Seoul arrived in numbers of 5 for each buy. It could not be that bad)). It made me happy.

10 Corso Como Shanghai (2000 square metres) opened on 14 September 2013 at 1717 Nanjing West Road at Wheelock Square.

The logo for 10  Corso Como and all consecutive store designs were created by American Artist Kris Ruths.

One thing I completely forgot!

In 2002, 10 Corso Como opened in Tokyo in partnership with Comme des Garçons, designed by Rei Kawakubo and Kris Ruhs, which makes it related to Dover Street Market.

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I’m one of those people who can’t live without shopping. Even after becoming a professional shopper (and not that long ago, either – only 7 years back) I still naively hoped that I might be able to kick this habit that is so bad for one’s wallet. But nothing of the sort. Do drug dealers ever go off drugs? Are there any owners of cigarette companies who aren’t smokers? The jury’s still out on those two, but with shopping it’s actually not quite all so bad. When you’re out shopping that highly elusive feel-good hormone, dopamine is produced. Nobody’s measured the actual quantity, but I reckon that it compares only to your first kiss. At least, that’s how it is with me…

What does it mean to go shopping on your travels? When you’re travelling you’re less inhibited about parting with money and buying clothes as you completely forget about the inner landscape of your wardrobe (oh, how convenient!) and what’s to be found there. You stick all your purchases on your credit card, meaning that you don’t actually have to pay until later. The Euro or the dollar begins to sound like your own currency, which only resurfaces when you see the prices converted back into it on your bank statements. Husbands are off their guard and afraid of looking stingy when they’re abroad. In short, there are plenty of reasons why shopping should be enjoyable. So how do you find your way around once you’re inside a shop? How do you go about shopping so as not just to take advantage of the sales, but to get something unique and give your wardrobe a proper makeover?

As far as handbooks go, I’m very keen on the Luxe pocket city guides published in Hong-Kong. They speak with the voice of the characters out of ‘Sex and the City’ and their discernment and recommendations are spot-on. There’s just one problem – the guides that have so far been produced in this series, are mostly about the cities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Having racked my brains on what to do, I decided to start from the recent basics. Chloe Sadchev, one of the most famous fashion bloggers in the world wrote an article for www.dualshow.com. In August 2013. The site does not exist anymore.

Chloe Sadchev does.

She choose 5 best concept stores in the world:

1. Dover Street Market, London

2. 10 Corso Como (Milan, Shanghai, Seoul)

3. Cara&Co (Sydney, Moscow)

4. Opening Ceremony (New York)

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What is really a concept store – they have been breeding like rabbits since start-nineties, and anything now, starting from one designer store, or one philosophy store or one simply store is called a concept store. Not so fast….

In late 1990s some European retail traders developed the idea of tailoring a shop towards a lifestyle theme, in the form of “concept stores”, which specialised in cross selling without using separate departments and separate tills. One of the first] concept stores was 10 Corso Como in Milan, Italy followed by Colette[ in Paris and Quartier 206[7][8] in Berlin. Several well-known American chains such as Urban Outfitters, Australian chain Billabong and, though less common, Lord & Taylor adapted to the concept store trend after 2000. In a peculiar way concept store is what slow food is to 30 minutes dinner preparation. Its slow shopping, the customers can linger for hours without being harassed by the loud music with the rhythm “Buy, Buy, Buy now!!! Or Run Away” They are not harassed by the sales people, pushing the customer to buy, but are very happy to explain, to teach, because its so much to look at, and they know you will come back.

And now we can start

Dover Street Market :

I have been to London many times, and for many reasons did not visit Dover Street Market. Either its position was too obscure for me or it was too obscure for the taxi driver.

I remember, it was the beginning of the middle of September 2008. London was sunny and friendly. GFC started to scream from the Internet, from all TV stations, it caused me indigestion and a huge credit card bill. Rouble and Aussie fell to the bottom of the food chain. When flying to London from Moscow on BA I took a glass of champagne for eternal bravery, came to Mr Gorbachev sitting in the first row and thanked him for “letting my people go”(we left USSR as refugees in 1988). He was a bit surprised, but I guess worse things happened to him before. In another words, everything was so unpredictable, that the visit to Dover Street Market was inevitable.

Let me start from only two bad things. First was the smell, the shop smelt with cheap café food. I also did not like the layout – 6 floors with very small landings/rooms, similar to the size of the Soviet apartment. Everything else was black/white perfect. In short, I was not in awe of the layout, I was in awe of the collection.

Piloted by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons fame, this place is cutting-edge and super-cool. A minimalist, functional interior – steel beams, brick walls. All of the designers displaying their wares are encouraged to adapt the space to suit their collection, which means that the interior is often as dynamic as the range of clothing. The designs on display won’t be for everyone – this is high fashion, not high street fashion – but even if you’re not there to buy, walking around this construction-site-come-shopping-centre is a rare treat. The shop sells understated luxury, what we call nowadays “non-conspicuous” luxury Don’t be fooled by the ‘market’ name tag – prices here aren’t exactly cheap and any attempt to haggle them down will result in a few raised well-plucked eyebrows. I wish Sydney retailers would be able to do the same exercise with their eyebrows…Maybe they are not so well plucked.

See you in Milan, Shanghai, Seoul

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There’s one thing that has always astonished me, and that it why it should be that in Russia, where there is always everything in the way of jewellery, even if it’s more expensive, it’s always difficult to track down antique jewellery from the time of Queen Victoria? It’s understandable that it should be difficult to find Art Nouveau jewellery – all the jewellery from that time perished in the furnace of the Revolution and as for Art Deco jewellery by that time the USSR had shut its borders and for the very same reason there was no Liberty or Moderne jewellery to be had. Yet I failed to understand what Queen Victoria had done to displease Russia and how. But again history comes to our aid – Queen Victoria was still a girl when she came to power in 1837 and left this world and her office simultaneously in 1901. This period in Russo-British relations was marked by the so-called Great Game, the struggle to master the sphere of influence in Central Asia and in the Middle East. During this period in history the Crimean War took place, Russia annexed Turkmenistan, there was a war in Afghanistan and several other conflicts between the two countries. It is because of this almost century-long enmity that one of the most important styles in world jewellery – the Victorian style – is missing from the collections of Russian jewellers.

It was said that Queen Victoria had two passions – a passion for her husband, who passed away prematurely, and a passion for jewellery. Not one monarch before and after the reign of Victorian has been so closely associated with a style of applied art created during her rule, in part in the art of jewellery. Antique jewellery from the time of Victoria is still wearable, it lies in the caskets of English-speaking great-grandmothers in countries of the British Commonwealth, it can be bought in antique shops in Sydney, Cape Town, Delhi, Auckland, London, Boston… Essentially it was jewellery from that period that first attained the status of applied (saleable) art and became decoration, losing the ritualistic, religious and ceremonial character of jewellery of preceding eras.

There are three distinct stylistic periods that can be defined in the period of the Queen’s rule. The first is the Romantic Period, lasting from 1837 to 1860: a very young Victoria becomes queen and marries Prince Albert for love (a great rarity). This period of happiness (as a result of this royal union nine heirs to the throne were brought forth) was characterized by romantic symbolism in jewellery – by golden patterns made up of hearts, anchors, snakes and kisses. Why patterns? It all came down to economy, of course – England’s gold reserves were running low, goldsmiths had to use the material sparingly and so executed their work in the form of filigree or interwoven ornament, hollow-bore bracelets and intricate chasing. All of this created the illusion of volume and made the items appear massive. During the era of Romanticism various different precious and semi-precious stones were used – pearls, turquoises, coral, blue zircon, pink topazes (they would turn pink as a result of being overheated), amethysts, peridots, aquamarines, garnets, sapphires, vulcanite and so on. There were tacit ways of deciphering the language of jewellery from that time – the language was made up of the symbols in the engraved patterns and castings, of stones and outlines on enamel:

JEWELS & FLOWERS AND THEIR MEANINGS

ITEMS MEANING
RUBY PASSION
DIAMOND FIDELITY
EMERALD HOPE
AMETHYST DEVOTION
PEARLS TEARS
BUTTERFLY SOUL
A DOG FIDELITY
A WISHBONE A WISH AND HOPE
IVY FRIENDSHIP
A LIZARD PASSIONATE LOVE
ARROWS LOVE
A FLY HUMILITY
FORGET ME NOTS TRUE LOVE
LILLY OF THE VALLEY UNEARTHLY MEEKNESS
ACORN LONGEVITY OR FIDELITY
PANSIES I’M THINKING OF YOU
PETUNIA ANGER
YELLOW POPPIES SUFFICIENCY OR ABUNDANCE
SWEET PEA PARTING

 

Contemporary etiquette proscribed the wearing of diamonds during the day; it was regarded as vulgar. Nor were unmarried women allowed to wear them – diamonds were only given as a present to wives as a guarantee of future fidelity. In 1861 the Queen’s beloved husband, Prince Albert, dies. The age of romance in styles of clothing, jewellery and interior design came to an abrupt end. It gave way to another epoch in style and jewellery – the Mourning Period. In the absence of the necessary psychiatric help the entire country was plunged into mourning – mourning became fashionable and large-scale. The country put up funeral bracelets, jewellery made from jet(black amber), black glass and black onyx.

Jewellery pieces became massive, hair from the beloved would often be woven into it as a memento. Since mourning had become large-scale, the production began of jewellery that was affordable for the masses, made not just of 18-carat, but also of 14- or 9-carat gold, and not just with precious but also with semi-precious stones. The Mourning Period coincided chronologically with another phase known as the Grand Period. By this time the sovereign of the seas had gathered even more strength and got back on her feet – gold was discovered in America and Australia. Gold jewellery becomes truly massive – the methods of the master craftsmen of antiquity began to be used in its production. Jewellery was made with enamel in the Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman styles, souvenirs brought back by English travellers were incorporated in lots of pieces – bracelets were incrusted with bits of lava from Pompeii, stones from the ruins of the Colosseum and so on.

I have a bracelet with a minimal amount of gold and with bits of lava with have cameos carved on them – in style it bears comparison with the old Egyptian bracelets that are so successfully copied in Jerusalem these days. In 1853 diplomatic relations were established with Japan and India and ethnic motifs and styles appear: ‘Japonaiserie’ manifested itself in the form of representations executed in enamel in a Japanese style; there were signet rings bearing Indian miniatures. Thus did the Industrial Revolution and the spread of colonialisation begin gently to wipe away the traces of mourning in the Victorian style of that time.

In 1880, when everyone, including the Queen herself, had got fed up with mourning, the Aesthetic Period began.

Thank heavens, diamonds started to flow from another colony: South African diamonds were so high in quality that there was no point in setting them with other stones. The quality of the material, the purity of the stone and the skill of the jeweler were valued more highly than the complicated designs of the Romantic Period. By this time the Queen was over 40 and 40 was not then “the new 20” and it has come to be called now. Forty meant that Queen Victoria had grown old, lost her looks and put on weight – the Queen’s daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, the Princess Diana of the 19th century took centre stage. Competition arose between the old and the new. The Queen and the Princess experienced the same feelings towards each other as Elizabeth II and Princess Diana. There was a division of spheres of influence in style: as before, the Queen dictated the style of domestic interiors, design, hats and hair. The Princess exerted a huge influence on the styles of jewellery and clothing. A so-called sub-style of Princess – subsequently Queen – Alexandra was created. In the last years of the rule of Queen Victoria the production began of jewellery made from white gold with diamonds and pearls. On an official photograph from that time Princess Alexandra has been captured wearing a necklace of numerous ropes of pearls It was said that the value of this necklace was equal to the cost of the unique first American skyscrapers. What would you have chosen – pearls of a skyscraper? In 1901 Queen Victoria passed away and out of English life and the most stable period in the history of the British Empire came to an end.

Over the course of this period the Industrial Revolution occurred, new colonies were established, the country became more liberal. Great Britain became not just sovereign of the seas in the full sense of the word; the achievement of that age was also the raising of applied art to the level of fine art for the first time in British history. The Victoria and Albert Museum was the first museum of applied art in the world. Even today jewellery of the Victorian age is still to be seen. It became so popular that it is still being copied today (what a shame that the Queen did not patent her style as Tiffany would have to pay a pretty penny for the copyright) and bijouterie is still being produced in this style by Mikhal Negrin in Israel, among others. Bracelets of 9-carat pink gold with a check lock can cost upwards of $2,000 if they are genuine antiques and up to $300 if they are brand new reproductions. But it doesn’t matter how much they cost; what’s important is that they are united by the same name, the same era and the same great history.

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In South Korea there are 16 public holidays scattered throughout the calendar year but everyone has just one week’s entitlement of annual leave. The per capita income of the population of Korea has recently started to overtake that of Japan. Koreans don’t get to call a place their own until around the time they retire – in Seoul property is even more expensive than in Tokyo or Sydney. Have you guessed what I’m driving at? If you’ve got cash to spare, you’re in no hurry to become a mortgage slave and you can’t take a proper holiday lasting at least a month, then what’s left to do? The answer’s simple – you go shopping. I’ve never had to queue to get into a shopping centre before – not even when the new Westfield opened in Sydney – but I did at the entrance to a Shinsegae mall. At three in the afternoon on a normal Saturday. And now, let’s get down to brass tacks…

There’s shopping in Seoul to suit all tastes and budgets, even if the latter is measured in loose change. And if that really is the case then head for the so-called night market known as Doota-Dongdaemun Market for cheap shopping on a grand scale. This market is spread across eight floors, including some subterranean ones. But though the goods on offer might be cheap and even if the designers are students of design rather than household names, they’re anything but run-of-the-mill.

The children’s floor is worth a special look. As you watch people buying children’s clothing by the kilo at prices not to be found anywhere else on this planet, it’s hard not to feel sharp pangs for a child – or, at a push, a grandchild – of your own. You’ll be in raptures at the abundance of colours and the wealth of fantasy. The contrast with the drabness of the clothes that I wore during my own childhood in the Soviet Union brings tears to my eyes. Mind you, to be blunt about it children’s clothing in Australia isn’t exactly hot on quality or good looks either. But at this market you’ll find both in spades.

Shifting up a rung on the shopping ladder to shopping malls, I have to say that this is the most popular form of shopping not just in Seoul, but throughout Asia-Pacific and Australia, to say nothing of the USA or Canada. Once you get pulled into this world of shopping, then that’s it – there’s no way back! It’s impossible to resist the lure of the crowds, the 15-percent discounts and the euphoria that comes from being a consumer.

There are four ‘brands’ of shopping malls – or rather, shopping cities – in Seoul: Hyundai, Lotte, Shinsegae and Galleria. In each of these shopping cities there are Duty Free sections, where you can register your purchase as tax-exempt at the till, rather than having to run the gauntlet of bureaucracy to get your money back. For Japanese who are flying in (they account for the lion’s share of visiting shoppers) or Koreans who are flying out Duty Free cities have been built not far from Incheon airport.

You can easily find your way around all the shopping centres with your eyes closed – on the ground floor at street level make sure you don’t miss the Korean-made skincare products for facials. They’re really cheap, really good quality and really effective. When you make a purchase you get showered with presents. The best known brands are Isa Knox, Ohui and Hera. They’re not quite up to the standard of Botox, but they’ll iron out your wrinkles for at least half a day. And they certainly are up to the standard of the most expensive and most heavily hyped European brands. You can breeze through the clothing departments on the other floors, apart from the third or fourth floor, where Korean brands such as System, Time, Mine and Kuho are to be found, the last of which belongs to Samsung. The first three of these brands are fairly classical in style, but spiced up and with a flare to the cut that is peculiarly Korean – bolder geometry and less of the zaniness to be found in Japan. Kuho is based on almost the same principles, but is a shade wackier. Top quality and incredibly varied materials are used – for instance, a dress might be made from the thinnest sheepskin combined with cashmere or knitwear.

But if you’re a fan of brands that are household names then hold back before you splash out in one of the downtown shopping malls. I’ll let you in on a little secret: twenty kilometres outside Seoul that is an entire outlet city, where they’ve got absolutely everything, even the really big names, only from last season and sometimes at a tenth of the price. They’ve even got the brands that never appear in the sales or on discount. The city is called Chelsea and it’s owned by Shinsegae, who back in 1929 opened the first department store in Korea. They’re old hands at this game.

And now for the holiest of holies – the boutiques and the discount stores. There’s a boutique for enlightenment – all Koreans love it and it’s called Boon The Shop. It’s located in Cheongdam-dong (Seoul’s equivalent of Potts Point in Sydney – the property prices are off the top of the scale) and it is owned by Shinsegae, which means that there are also franchises of Boon in their chain of shopping centres. Why do I say that it’s for enlightenment? The way the space inside is used is beautiful, but very unusual. There’s the now slightly wearisome combination of wood, glass and metal. The prices are astronomical, which can’t be explained by the customs duties – the brands aren’t Korean and you’d find them in any other major city. But the service is amazing – they’ll accompany you to the lift and bow to you at great length when seeing you out.

On the lower floor of this boutique there’s an exhibition space, empty except for a sculpture in the vein of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’. There’s a slightly unappealing smell of fried food coming from the neighbouring cafe.

A stone’s throw from Boon The Shop there are two more shops that are worth a visit: Koon, which is grungier and cheaper, and Gallery Mui – beautiful design and good, decent brands.

Walk another 500 meters and, as you come out onto one of the main streets of the local answer to Potts Point, you’ll come across a cousin of Milan’s Corso Como 10. This concept store has exactly the same name but is owned by Samsung, while the design comes from Prada, who tried and tested the formula. This shop is run by the favourite daughter of Samsung’s C.E.O. and while it has yet to turn a profit, it’s already made its mark on the retail map of Seoul as it was the first concept store in the city. The design of its Milan counterpart is undoubtedly more interesting, but you have to give its creators their due as the choice of brands, the merchandising and everything else has been done to the highest standards. There are never any sales in this shop, but take heart – on Garosugil Street in Sinsa-dong there is an outlet store for Corso Como 10 where you can indulge yourself to your heart’s content. The street itself, each side lined with closely spaced gingko trees, looks like it could be somewhere in Europe. There are loads of restaurants, bars and interesting shops of kinds of different stripes to be found there. Go and spend a few hours hanging out there and browsing, you won’t regret it.

And just what could there be to regret, in any case? Take your time, because you’ll always find an excuse to go back to Seoul. The people, the service, the Koreans’ sense of humour and their good nature will stick in your memory, as will their unique culture, historically isolated from the rest of the world, and their ability to create something beautiful from the most unexpected forms and textures. It’s not for nothing that in 2010 Seoul was made a UNESCO City of Design.

I almost forgot – you can and will need to take a break from shopping in yet another place brought to you by Samsung – the Samsung Museum of Modern Art…

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