Belinda Seper is one of the most respected fashion retailers in Australia. Before her retail career, she was a model, which overlapped with being a soldier. While an unusual career arc, it’s is no more unusual than a fashion editor I know who doubles as a trapeze artist or the chef in my local café who is also an acrobat. Small and lean, he moves with the feline grace of someone you imagine, yes, could manage back flips while up on a high wire although, personally, I have never seen him doing anything more complicated than flip a steak while frying an egg. As for Seper, early multitasking involved stripping back a weapon while applying nail lacquer. (Ok, I’ve exaggerated. She used to do one, then the other. But that doesn’t take away from the fact she was the fastest shot in her battalion. And had the best manicure.)
One of my most valuable life lessons came from Seper, who once shared her motto, ‘Never forget the six Ps’. These spell out ‘Prior Planning Prevents a Piss Poor Performance’. I have to say, had I learned that motto from a puritan American and it had been the five Ps, it would not have stuck. Right now, I am grappling with the eight Ps, which might be familiar to you; ‘Prior Planning Prevents a Piss Poor Powerpoint Performance’. What a lot of prep to find 87 images to back up a 45 minute speech! Especially as I never actually said yes to this. (Didn’t it start as a panel discussion and just chatting for a few minutes?).
The subject is the arrival in Europe of the Japanese designers, which I am a little too young to remember personally. However, having read all the contemporary reports from the early eighties, it seems the Australians were among the rare few who were not ‘frightened’ or ‘shocked’ by the radical ideas of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. I can find no Australian reports urging readers to run for the hills, or indeed the bunkers. The French talked of the invasion of the ‘yellow peril’ and judged the debuts of two designers who have turned out to be among the greatest of the last quarter century as “Hiroshima, sans amour”.
There will be Q&A afterwards, so I am trying to be superprepared, although that will probably translate as staying up all night and then not having time to have my roots done. As a rule, which alas I always seem to break, fashion people are groomed, immaculate. But, until recently, the best you’d expect of many of them as public speakers was that they’d hide behind the lectern, mumble a bit, then slink off stage. But media training has changed the game irrevocably – to the benefit of all.
I was at the International Herald Tribune’s Luxury conference in London recently (it’s in Sao Paolo next year – exciting!), and not only were all the thousand or so delegates chic, but the immaculate speakers – designers and CEOs – gave precisely calibrated performances, never straying off brand message. They were all way too prepared to risk falling off the tightrope.
Bar one. Paul Smith, the British menswear designer, spoke off the cuff (he had a few slides, but they got muddled). He said that his failsafe for public speaking is to bring a rubber chicken, which he then pulled out and brought the house down. So I’m thinking, what if the laptop fizzles or the audience react like the French in 1981 and, at the sight of a tattered dress, duck for cover? Although I realized I was taking the eight Ps too far when I caught myself eyeing up a friend’s new kitten and wondering where they kept the travel basket so that, if the speech goes bellyup, I can let the cat of out of the bag.
International fashion editor Marion Hume is based in London.
From waste to ‘want one’
By Marion Hume
Can you be both glamorous and good? This was a constant refrain in the fashion world last year, as morality faced off against luxury, ethics against “it bags”. But while it is easy to ask the questions, it’s very hard to arrive at any answers.
What is ethical, anyway? Does it mean purchasing from marginalised communities keen to enter the fashion chain? But what about the carbon footprint? Perhaps it means that a percentage of production is done by those disadvantaged? But is that acceptable or cynical? Is it ethical to buy something that keeps artisans in work when a corrupt government is skimming a percentage off the top? To avoid that, should one shop local? But how far away is that? Help!
With such a swell of greenwash to wade through, it’s easier to buy nothing at all. Yet that’s not the answer either, as it could have a devastating effect on those to whom fashion represents one of the few possible entrees into the world of global trade, as well as on those working much closer to home.
And so, starting now, this is our new year resolution: we’re going to take a clear, balanced look at luxury fashion from an ethical standpoint and try to assess how it stacks up, product by product, month by month. No handbag will be perfect but some will be more perfect than others, some will involve acceptable trade-offs and many may surprise you. To begin with, some ground rules:
1. Whatever is featured must be desirable. “Pity purchasing” is pointless if garments end up in landfill, those who made them abandoned by backers.
2. We will analyse products using the “measuring sticks” of the Ethical Fashion Programme of the International Trade Centre (a joint body of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, for which I am a consultant) which focus on “People, Profit, Planet”, ie workers’ rights and impact on the environment.
3. The place where an item originates – which is not the same as the “made in” line on the label – does matter. Components often cross countries.
4. The key to ethical behaviour is transparency, but we understand that fashion thrives on the idea of magic and there is a compromise to be reached between the two.
Exhibit A: The Hermès “Petit h” collection, including a leather necklace (€760) secured with a Kelly bag fastening and sporting hooks fashioned from teapot and coffeepot spouts, and a leather deer.
The brainchild of Pascale Mussard, who, as a member of the Hermès family, is both among the richest women in France and a proud skinflint (even as a child, her catch phrase was “ne le jetez pas, cela peut toujours servir” or “don’t throw it out, it might be useful”), Petit h is an occasional collection (from €56) of UPOs (Unidentified Poetic Objects) made by company artisans using materials otherwise rejected in Hermès’ quest for perfection. The dumbbells, for example, are weighted by crystal with little bubbles that for tableware would be unacceptably flawed; the jewellery hangers are perfect porcelain spouts from teapots with some microscopic non-conformity; the jewellery itself is fashioned by a saddler from the leftovers on his bench; and the deer is from Birkin bag offcuts.
Because Hermès is careful to maximise all materials, there is little “waste” to play with, so Petit h collections are rare. The next, launched this spring, is destined for Japan only, so a few lucky Tokyo residents will be able to bask in the warm glow thrown by lamps fashioned from a stack of coffee cups rejected for their slightly wonky handles but brilliantly repurposed.
W Magazine | January 2011
WILD AT ART
Tasmania’s provocative Museum of Old and New Art is professional gambler-turned-passionate collector David Walsh’s riskiest bet yet. Marion Hume reports.
Warning: this article contains explicit language-and would contain a lot more if David Walsh were being quoted absolutely fucking verbatim. Listening to some of Walsh’s rants, you’d be inclined to think he’s some foulmouthed comedian. But as it turns out, he’s just Tasmanian. He’s also a multimillionaire, a serious art collector, and, as of this month, the proprietor of the largest private art museum in the southern hemisphere, the Museum of Old and New Art.
MONA, as it is known, will be open to the public on January 22, with free admission. The trick is getting there. First, one must travel to Tasmania, a large and chilly island to the south of mainland Australia, from whence the most famous export is probably Errol Flynn. Next is a 40-minute catamaran ride up the Derwent River from the capital of Hobart, after which visitors enter a 50-year-old modernist house perched on a cliff, descend a spiral staircase, and arrive at MONA’s literally cavernous galleries: 62,000 square feet spread over three subterranean levels.
Walsh made his fortune as a professional gambler-being, as he puts it, the “1-in-200 million who can beat the odds.” During the past 30 years, he has developed a high-tech probability-crunching system that he uses to bet on horse races. How it works exactly, Walsh won’t reveal. In fact, he won’t even admit to being rich: “Some people think a couple hundred million dollars is not a lot of money,” he says.
Some of Walsh’s winnings are invested in a boutique winery called Moorilla; he also owns a beer-brewing enterprise, Moo Brew, and a destination restaurant, The Source, situated on the same peninsula as the museum. For the past two decades, however, his primary passion has been art. He’s amassed a highly individual collection on which he has lavished some $100 million (although how much anyone else would have paid to own Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye’s excrement-producing installation, Cloaca, is open to debate). As the name of his museum suggests, Walsh’s tastes run from the ancient (Roman Empire mosaics and Egyptian sarcopagi) to the cutting-edge (Jenny Saville’s monumental paintings of female flesh and Stephen J Shanabrook’s sculptures of suicide bombers rendered in chocolate). And despite saying he does not have the body for it, Walsh also posed nude for Andreas “Piss Christ” Serrano.
The recurring themes of MONA’s collection are sex (the most overt example being Greg Taylor’s 141 life-size porcelain figures of female genitalia) and death. New Zealand artist Julia deVille has been commissioned to create a vessel for funereal ashes, making it possible for art lovers to remain at MONA for all eternity. And Walsh has purchased the right to film 66-year-old Christian Boltanski in his studio 24 hours a day for the rest of his life. Images will be transmitted to MONA. The longer the Frenchman lives, the more the piece will cost. Walsh, an atheist, wants to encourage exploration of “secular death”. “Why does death have to be seen as a religious event?” he asks. “Whenever I hear the phrase ‘It’s just part of life,’ I want to puke.'”
A few feet from MONA’s cliff-top entrance is a cube about three stories high, which Walsh was forced to build to house an Anselm Kiefer installation. “I had no choice, otherwise he wouldn’t sell it to me,” says Walsh. “What annoys me is that if he were a lesser-known artist, I would have been able to push him around, but because he’s big….” A contrarian to the extreme, he hates having to acknowledge he is part of the art system he despises. “Artists are arseholes, art dealers are arseholes, art collectors are arseholes, because human beings are arseholes,” he says, adding, “very few people buy art to look at it. It’s all about making a statement about yourself.” Even the work in his own collection is not immune from his contempt. Among his holdings is Jake and Dinos Chapman’s sculpture Great Deeds Against the Dead, yet he says of the British brothers; “Anyone who thinks their art is great is a fuckwit. They’re fuckwits who don’t understand they are the victims of their joke and that’s what makes it interesting.”
Walsh’s intent in opening a private museum is not philanthropic-as you might have guessed. “Philanthropy is doing what people want done for them,” he says. “While some might find MONA stupid, offensive, or a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it’s not going to change lives like bowls of rice.” And while contemporary art fans will no doubt be drawn by Walsh’s blue chip holdings-he owns Basquiat’s Skin Flint, a Damien Hirst spin painting, and Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary (best known as the painting over which Rudolph Giuliani sued the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999), cultural education is not his goal, either. His sole aim, he says, is enjoyment. “When kids go to Disneyland, they are not trying to judge the quality of their experience,” he says. “I’m trying to create a sense of wonder so that visitors can allow themselves to have fun rather than trying to be smart.”
To defray some of the museum’s costs, there’s the likelihood of increased sales at Walsh’s
nearby winery, brewery and restaurant. And above ground next to MONA are eight art-filled glass-and-metal accommodations in which visitors willing to spend $950 a night can sleep-or not. “We expect people to do a fair bit of shagging,” says Walsh, who hopes guests will be inspired by the collection’s strong sexual content. “Really, art is about human engagement,” opines Walsh. “It’s about going back to being young, trying to get laid.”
Net-a-Porter. Natalie Massenet
The AFR magazine December 2010
by Marion Hume
Ten years into the life of the web’s most successful high- fashion salon, former journalist Natalie Massenet’s Net-a-Porter is fast growing and fabulous
Natalie Massenet makes me feel like an idiot. Not because this woman who changed the way we shop isn’t charming. And heavens, she’s chic in her teeny white shirt layered over a long T-shirt and leather leggings, rolled up today because cropped is so this season. No, the reason is because she was so right and I was so wrong. You want some numbers on that? How about 3 million unique users, 171 countries, 1,000 employees, annual sales topping more than £300 million and – here’s the zinger – the company was acquired by Richemont, the world’s second-largest luxury group, in a deal valuing Net-a-Porter at £350 million. And it was me who thought, “I hope she doesn’t give up the day job.”
Massenet used to be a fashion editor. One morning more than a decade ago we were standing in the aisle after a Paris show and she told me about her notion to sell designer fashion over the internet, which sounded nuts because, of course, women always want to handle and try on the clothes first, don’t they? But what makes my own lack of vision considerably easier to bear is that, back then, Massenet was only looking for my interest, not my investment. Imagine how idiotic those who passed on that opportunity felt in April when the Richemont deal went through. As to those who did see the light, some were to be found packing boxes the day after multiples of millions hit their bank accounts. It was a Saturday, but staffers showed up anyway to prepare for moving offices. Massenet, who pocketed £50 million, was busy vacuuming.
But it should be remembered that in the run-up to Net-a-Porter’s launch in 2000, the appeal of a vast selection of skilfully curated designer pieces, available for purchase 24/7, and arriving at your door tied with a bow, did not seem the no-brainer it does today. The internet’s promise of low operating costs and high profits seemed so tricky to translate to fashion back then. When Massenet launched with an £850,000 war chest raised from friends and private investors, better funded start-ups were crashing and burning around her.
She succeeded because she understood that it was about indulgence and that geek side was nothing more than a sideshow. Although she is recognised as one of the world’s leading internet entrepreneurs, her big idea was a simple wish – that the things she loved in magazines could pop off the page and into her wardrobe. The beauty is that Massenet has always insisted hers is a service business, a fashion business, hence, from day one, packages done up like a special gift are part of the transaction. (Customers are able to request a discreet brown paper bag instead, where verbiage on the inside reads, “Psst… Your shopping’s safe with us”).
Today that shopping can also be less expensive, following the launch, last year, of the Outnet, which sells past seasons’ designer fashions. From January, the first global menswear online retail destination, Mr Porter, opens its virtual doors. with labels including Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Lanvin and John Lobb. Add to this new technologies that mean no shopper has even to sit at a desk any more. Net-a-Porter’s sophisticated iPhone app means you can shop as you go about your day. For the iPad, there’s the interactive online magazine, updated every week, in which every item is available to buy.
Before Massenet and I meet up to chat during Paris Fashion Week, I head to west London to check out the new offices (she’s not there, she’s already on the Eurostar). Somewhat ironically, these are located on the top floor of a Westfield mall, thus right above the bricks and mortar competition. To say Net-a-Porter’s 3,000 square metre London HQ is impressive is to underplay the wow factor. You enter through vast black lacquer doors, so you feel literally as if you are walking into one of the sumptuous black boxes that are the brand’s signature.
Peppered over acres of dark carpet are white leather sofas; then there’s a gigantic video screen projecting the latest from the catwalk. And that’s all before a cheery, “Hello!” from a receptionist seated behind a desk so bristling with awards – ‘One of 100 best companies to work for’, ‘UK’s Top Places for Women to Work’, ‘Entrepreneur of the Year Award’ – that you can hardly see past them to her.Behind another black-lacquered door, battalions of gorgeous young men and women called ‘visual merchandisers’ scurry around with armfuls of clothes as photographers (plural) snap scores of treasures on both static mannequins and living models. The scene is intensely fabulous. But not as fabulous as what’s around the corner, where everything opens out into a vast open-plan cathedral, lit by natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows and a brace of truly splendid Murano glass chandeliers. Hundreds of people sit on Eames office chairs at white desks, including the tech team, who sit up in the mezzanine area. It’s all so 21st century.
Everyone, of course, is at a computer and some might just be shopping – come payday, apparently, the office is stacked with black boxes containing this season’s must-haves from Chloe, Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs, or packages containing last season’s ‘chiconomic’ finds from the Outnet. “How people multitask, and whether people [should be] shopping [at] work, it would be hypocritical for me to say,” comments Massenet when we meet up. (She even furnished her weekend cottage entirely online).
“People are on Facebook, they’re on mobile phones, they’re Twittering and carrying on 20 different conversations at the same time, and they’re shopping, and they’re getting things delivered to the office. But they’re getting the job done. So as long as the results are there, how they [personally] manage their time is up to them.” No wonder Net-a-Porter wins all those ‘cool place to work’ awards and that the HR department receives thousands of unsolicited resumés every month.
When Net-a-Porter first launched, every time something was sold, someone jumped up and rang a bell. Today, the item, and the location of the customer flashes up on yet another big screen, the images changing constantly while the ticker running underneath, when I glanced at it, read £455,443. Since when? “That’s what’s been sold this morning,” I’m told, and it’s still before elevensies. “It gets impressive once New York wakes up.”
Natalie Massenet is 45. She was born in LA to a former Chanel model from Britain and an American journalist father to whom, she says, she owes her independent spirit. An only child, her parents split when she was 11 and, unusually, she was raised by her father. Data seems to be emerging to suggest entrepreneurs are often oldest children; often an only child, and the majority have witnessed their parents divorce. “I guess all those experiences have added up to make me the person that I am,” shrugs Massenet, “although, of course, I can’t tell you how I would have turned out differently.”
While Massenet’s young years included time spent in Paris and Madrid, where her father was a foreign correspondent, he scraped together the finance to send her to a smart private school in LA in her teens. There she witnessed how casually girls could spend and determined to be the architect of her own financial fortune. Her first summer job, before going to UCLA where she studied Japanese, was at a mens clothing store in the Beverly Centre, LA, where the other shop assistant was Lenny Kravitz.
After entering fashion journalism, Massenet moved to England for love, having met a French financier called Arnaud Massenet, who spent a decade building stock at Lehman Brothers only to see it disappear overnight when the firm went belly up in September 2008. The couple’s two daughters were born at the busiest possible times; Isabella, now 11, arrived during the first round of funding for Net-a-Porter, her gestation roughly equal to the time it took the geek-squad to prove that, technically, Massenet’s idea could work. Ava, who is now four, came along as the American launch was rolling out. When asked by other women for advice about setting up their own businesses, her prepared answer is this: “Find a husband who supports you; a perfect nanny and forget about any social life.”
By now we’ve found time to get together, just before the Valentino show, to talk business. So onward to the Outnet, which in just one year matched figures it took Net-a-Porter five to achieve. “It’s a different customer,” explains Massenet of a woman who wants, but perhaps cannot afford, this season’s designer clothes. “The Outnet is not saying ‘Come and get this stuff because it’s cheap’. We’re saying, ‘Come and get the most beautiful designer clothes from previous seasons that still have relevance’. We’re educating a new consumer who, instead of buying high-street knock-offs, can get the real thing at a quality that’s going to last.”
To expand its reach, the site recently hosted an anniversary sale where everything was £1 or $US1, “which was absolutely crazy. It was a meltdown all over the world with people posting themselves on YouTube and going into a panic.” The Outnet’s in-house fashion team scour the world for the coolest clothes at a price.
As for Mr Porter, what it won’t be when it launches in January is Net-a-Porter for men, because Massenet’s belief is that while women usually love to shop, men usually hate to. “Yet they want to look good; they want approval; they want their colleagues and friends to know they’re wearing the right things. But they don’t shout about it.” Massenet promises Mr Porter will be “a very private experience. And the fact that the internet is so systematised, and its functionality, speed and efficiency allow you to transact all over the world; it’s about service, and it involves a computer.” At this, she allows herself the faint smile of someone who knows it will be a sure-fire hit. As for the equivalent of Net-a-Porter’s black box and tissue paper? “You’ll have to wait.”
The deal with Richemont, whose especial strengths lie in menswear (Dunhill) and watches (Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cartier, Baume et Mercier, to name a few) may appear to give a nice synergy to the upcoming Mr Porter. But Massenet insists independence will be maintained. “If Dunhill were no longer interesting, we wouldn’t be carrying it,” she says boldly. But, on the distaff side, surely alignment with Richemont means that the other luxury giants, LVMH and Gucci Group, many of whose brands are sold on Net-a-Porter, are less than pleased? “We are enormous partners [with them],” she counters. “If anything, it strengthens our relationship as the business is growing; our audience is growing; our buying power is growing and they’re very happy to know that I’m not going anywhere.”
What is moving is fashion itself. Massenet senses an ‘end of an era’ moment, given, “the consumer is now watching all the shows; they’re just not being let in the front doors. It’s like Bastille Day; they’re going to come and burn down the gates and it’s really exciting. Retailers moan about consumers not going into shops. Well, invite them to the show and they’ll shop right then and there! Look at Burberry selling straight from the runway, as we started with McQueen, with Halston, with Roland Mouret.”
Where it is certainly going to get tougher is staying ahead of the game. When Massenet set out on her online journey, she was speaking a new language. Now, her four-year-old is learning how to spell on an iPad. “A website is to e-tailing what a bricks and mortar store was to retail 10 years ago. If we don’t diversify, we’re going to fall off a cliff,” Massenet acknowledges. “Our customer has already moved away from her desktop. She’s in the back of a cab, on her mobile phone. In a few years’ time, if she has some sort of holographic projection in her bedroom, that’s where we need to be.”
Massenet admits her personal challenge is to be fast enough, but not too fast. “I’ve learned to respect pace and do things beautifully and I realise that not everyone within an organisation wants to operate at the speed of light,” she says, before quickly changing tack. “We’ve got plans stacked up for the next 10 years. I’m thinking of five right now and one of those is an entirely new business.” For one terrifying moment, I think she’s going to tell me more. I’m relieved that she doesn’t for, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to fail to get one great idea may be regarded as a misfortune, to fail to get another – well, you’d have to be an idiot, wouldn’t you?
The AFR Magazine December 2010
Story by Marion Hume
What is old is new again, and the advantage for me, racking up fashion years (which multiply at twice the speed of dog years, by the way) is that I’ve been round this circuit before. What’s the biggest trend right now? The seventies. Where did my fashion consciousness awake? Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive and wearing leg warmers.
In the 1980s, some fashion wag dubbed the ‘70s, “the decade that style forgot”, which stuck, although it was wrong. In fact, the ‘70s were rich and diverse. In just ten years, I dressed my teens through hippy, glam rock, disco, punk and then, at last came chic, as captured with the ultimate ‘70s movie “American Gigolo” (it came out in 1980, but it was made in 1978).
Paul Schrader’s movie, which opens with a scene that succeeds in making even the Los Angeles freeway look glorious, wasn’t a hit in Kyoto, Japan or, if it was, Akira Isogawa – who despite still looking annoyingly youthful was very much alive in the ‘70s – managed to miss it. So, on his recent trip to London, I felt duty-bound to re-rig the video recorder (how clever to have kept that hidden away) and soon we were listening to the soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder and I was trying quite hard not to sing along to Blondie’s “Call Me”.
Much has been made of the scene in which Richard Gere prances around like a latter-day dandy (or, to be accurate, just like the male hooker of the title role), matching “griege” shirts with beige ties as if that were hard.
This is the fashion world’s no. 1. favourite movie clip and certainly, I will never forget watching it WITH Richard Gere (gray around the temples, even more handsome) at the Giorgio Armani retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York a few years’ ago. When I say I watched it with Gere, there were only four people in a room at the museum in which the high points of Armani’s movie successes were being projected on a vast screen. Alas, I must concede that Gere is unlikely to reminisce about me being there, but watching him watch himself was a thrill all the same.
But I realised, re-watching the celebrated scene with Isogawa instead that the familiar version has actually being clipped; this to omit the opening where Gere scrapes his finger through a mountain of cocaine and rubs it vigorously into his gums before he begins the Herculean task of working out what he’s going to wear. Since 1978, there have been moments at Armani shows when a little lift would not have gone amiss, but despite all you hear about us drug-addled fashionistas, I’ve never seen anyone go that far since.
While Gere gets the glory, actually, it is Lauren Hutton who fascinates in the movie now. Hutton began the ‘70s as both gap-toothed girl next door and the world’s first supermodel and ended them (lucky her) kissing Gere and wearing satin blouses which look so utterly “now”. While Gere’s outfits changed menswear in what was then the future (think of a Hollywood agent in the ‘80s and you’ll imagine him wearing a beige Armani suit), Hutton’s outfits were a sartorial lament to a softness that was already disappearing and has taken 30 years to return. In between, womenswear has had a harder edge, starting with the “me me me” styles of the ’80s.
Why is softness back? It’s partly due to the achievements of a band of women who prefered dungarees when Hutton was wearing grey silk and who manned the barricades to fight for the equality we all now enjoy by law. Today’s designers – many of them women – are, largely, the first generation to be the children of working mothers and they are working mothers themselves.
Hence the 70s looks at Celine, Chloe, McCartney. But who I wonder, is going to reissue the fabulous soft trench coat Hutton slips off in the movie? We’ll have to wait for next season’s shows for that.
What to give the fashion person who has everything? Say you were Italian designer Domenico Dolce wondering what to buy for Stefano Gabbana, for example, or Gabbana wondering what to give Dolce, who already has a yacht. Where might you start?
The growing trend among fashion powers looking for the ultimate trinket is to search for something sporty. We’re not talking a fleece hoodie; we’re talking a team.
To wit: Dolce & Gabbana recently treated each other to 15 muscular men in satin shorts otherwise known as an Italian boxing team that competes on the WSB international circuit and will henceforth be called Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder.
“For the first time, a sporting team will carry our name. This is the beginning of a new adventure for us,” say the designers, neither of whom boxes. Of course, the team will also get a snazzy new kit.
This is not a sporting first for the designers. Dolce & Gabbana has a three-year agreement with Chelsea FC to kit out Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and the rest of the squad with official suits, and has created the “Dolce & Gabbana Lounge” in the West Stand at Stamford Bridge. It is more stylistically flashy than it was in its previous incarnation as “the Armani Lounge”, as that earlier sponsor filled the space with muted pieces from the Armani Casa range.
Giorgio Armani was not the first fashion designer to see the literal appeal of the physical – Jean Patou dressed Suzanne Lenglen, a glamorous French tennis star, in the 1920s – but it was Armani who mined the marketing relationship between style and sport, starting in 1995, when he declared footballers “today’s new style leaders” and invited David James, then Liverpool goalkeeper, both on to the catwalk and into his Emporio Armani underwear advertisements. Other players, notably David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, have joined Team Armani since, the latest in the posse being tennis world number one Rafael Nadal. Armani also owns Armani Jeans Milano basketball team.
Which is why it would be such a struggle if you drew him as your “Secret Santa” recipient; ditto Diego della Valle, Tod’s chief, who already owns the Italian football team Fiorentina. And what on earth would one buy Sergio and Pier Luigi Loro Piana of the eponymous brand? They’ve already treated themselves to a polo team. (Surprisingly, the Polo man himself, Ralph Lauren, does not have a team of his own, though instead he sponsors the Black Watch team captained by Argentine international and Ralph Lauren model Ignacio Figueras).
Meanwhile, Hermès launched a show-jumping competition, the Saut d’Hermès, at Grand Palais in Paris in April, and Zegna has its own ski resort.
Look deeper and it’s hard to find a designer not involved with sport. Emilio Pucci was an Olympic skier before he created his own line, which includes skiwear; Paul Smith, who sells bikes as well as suits, was a boy racer at the Beeston Road Club in Nottingham. Stella McCartney is charged with designing Britain’s look for the the 2012 Olympics, and Donna Karan has a long-term sponsorship arrangement with baseball’s New York Yankees.
“The marriage is natural,” says Karan. “DKNY and Yankee Stadium are quintessentially New York in spirit. Both are a part of our culture, our streets, our collective consciousness.”
Hugo Boss, however, is the company that has basketball sewn up, working with the Knicks so that during games at Madison Square Gardens, interactive voting is tallied up on the huge screens in categories such as “best-dressed fan”. Boss is involved in so many sports – from golf to tennis to sailing to soccer – that it’s hard to keep track. “And don’t forget we’ve been the sponsor of McLaren at Formula One for 30 years,” says Philipp Wolff, senior vice-president.
So what’s in it for them, besides love? Ketty Maisonrouge of Columbia Business School and president and co-founder of the Luxury Education Foundation explains: “The sports teams selected by the fashion houses are increasingly appealing to men, which follows the movement of a certain masculinisation of fashion, as fashion houses go after this historically less-tapped market. Men feel more confident caring about themselves and their appearance, and fashion brands want to make men even more comfortable with this interest by selecting sports teams that are considered highly masculine.”
Thus even brands where you think “No, never” have been bitten by the sports bug. The late Franco Moschino, who died in 1994, was a joker, not a jock. Yet which brand has just signed a deal with Aironi, the Italian rugby team formed to take part in this year’s Magners League and Heineken Cup? You guessed it.
“I’m proud that a rugby team chose Moschino to dress its image around the globe,” says Rossella Jardini, Moschino creative director. Consider it their gift to the brand.