Another Edun- Janice Sullivan – AFR Magazine

AFR Magazine | April 2011

Another Edun

by Marion Hume 

As if the fashion business is not tough enough, Janice Sullivan must also meet Bono and Ali Hewson’s lofty aims for a niche eco label they founded to help lift Africa out of poverty.

There are times when I’m sitting with a Chief executive, who is completely ‘on message’, brilliant at expressing the ‘pillars’ of the brand and at talking through an impressive bottom line, yet I’m thinking, “Yes, but you could be selling paint.” There are other times – rarer these – when I meet a CEO who is perhaps more tentative at first, yet utterly equipped for the unique challenges of the fashion business. A latter case is Janice Sullivan. As she puts it herself, “I come from the back room. I’m hands on. I am all about product.”

Sullivan, an immaculate New York honey blonde in her mid 40s, does not have an expensive MBA. Instead, she has a roll-up-your-sleeves understanding of the logistics of making clothes and accessories in any part of the world. She knows her fabrics; she can tell at a glance how many you can cut of this and how long it is going to take to add beading.

“I started out in production; [was] then in product development; then in merchandising, then took over sales,” says Sullivan, who grew up on the Jersey shore looking across to Manhattan and whose career in New York City, until 18 months ago, involved switching back and forth between Calvin Klein and Donna Karan as she climbed the ladder at two iconic America brands. She was president of Calvin Klein Jeans when Mark Weber, who helms the LVMH business in the US, (which these days includes Donna Karan), asked her to take on a considerable challenge. She is now the CEO of Edun.

In contrast to her past employers, Edun is a minnow; a niche eco brand where the numbers for an item might be 200, rather than 20,000, even 200,000 at Calvin Klein. Since 2009, this eco brand has been 49% owned by the luxury giant LVMH. You will certainly have heard of the pair who founded it in 2005, given they are rock star Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson.

To begin with, Edun received spectacular press, way more than the usual start-up because the world’s media was keen to get up close with Mr. & Mrs. Hewson. Edun garnered renown as the go-to made in Africa label (this even though the majority of product was sourced in Turkey, India, Peru). The mission became the message; that the 53 nations of Africa have way too small a share of the world’s trade (just 3% for 2010) and that producing in that vast continent went at least some way to levelling that inequity.

Ali Hewson, a political science graduate, proved every bit as forceful as her husband at delivering facts and figures about poverty, the numbers of people in sub-Saharan nations decimated by HIV/AIDS and how buying clothes could help. The brand’s mantra, “We carry the story of the people who make our clothes around with us,” was compelling. But while the fashion business worships at the altar of celebrity if that is going to shift stuff, it is neither charitable nor forgiving. Late deliveries, inconsistent quality and lacklustre clothing lead retailers, initially so enthusiastic, to drop the line. It has been reported that the Hewsons pumped US$20 million of their own cash into Edun to keep it afloat while they shopped for an expert partner. LVMH acquired its stake for US$7.8 million.

While the timing was great for Edun, it was also good for LVMH, whose arch rival, PPR/Gucci Group, includes Stella McCartney, a brand that has moved from being perceived as, “the awkward [run] one, by [an] animal rights activist who won’t use fish glue, let alone leather”, to a sustainable, ethical, luxury brand that chimes precisely with the zeitgeist. LVMH needed an eco brand and to get one that could promise rockstar power to the front row (just as the daughter of Paul McCartney can) cannot but have added to the appeal.

The acquisition seemed the signal good times ahead. Sullivan was appointed to steer the brand; Sharon Wauchob, an Irish designer based in Paris, was hired to create a laid-back, modern fashion signature. (As to Wauchob’s nationality, she made clear on the first time we spoke that, “Not everyone Irish knows Bono”. She got the gig based on her achievements, having never before met the Hewsons). LVMH brought business expertise: the ability to help a small company with IT, customs clearance and such like.

Then Bono and Ali Hewson followed the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Keith Richards and Mikhail Gorbachev by appearing in a “Core Values”  Louis Vuitton advertising campaign, which also name-checked Edun. Invites went out to a glamourous party to fete the collaboration and to showcase a Louis Vuitton “Keepall” bag,  featuring a slick cow horn charm, made by an Edun supplier in the slums of Nairobi. Profits from the bag, as well as the Hewsons’ fees, went to African causes.

Yet not for nothing is there an old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Last September, The Wall Street Journal came out with a damning article headlined  “Out of Africa, Into Asia”, containing the revelation that, since joining with LVMH, most of Edun’s clothes are made not by the poor of Africa but in highly mechanised factories in China. The story went round the world.

The WSJ piece was fair (the online version has a few clarifications, but no significant corrections), yet the ramifications of it have been unfortunate. While I was working on this piece, a leading style journalist mentioned she was working on a piece about producing in Africa but “not featuring Edun; they make everything in China.” (To clarify further on the goods that are made in China, this is no longer synonymous with sweatshops; LVMH has stringent codes of compliance for its factory partners).

There were further reasons the WSJ story, its contents cherry picked and reprinted by global tabloids, garnered such traction. Some of this was due to Bono bashing, given he is a divisive figure. Some of it was due to a rare chink in the otherwise impregnable armour of the mighty LVMH (which is rarely criticised and also spends enormous amounts of money in the media advertising its brands).

“I think it is unfortunate some people put a lock on the brand,” says Janice Sullivan carefully. However she then acknowledges, “because of all the press, because of Bono, there was a high level of expectation to not only have a beautiful collection, but to tick all these boxes in terms of sustainability, in terms of where things are made.

“But I think to go forward, you take it carefully and make sure you deliver. You want to make sure you have controlled growth. Our commitment is to make sure we grow the percentage of our line that we produce out of Africa. But it will never be everything.”

Depending how you cut it, 41% of Edun’s production is currently Africa, however this includes the Edun Live line of blank T-shirts, which are bulk-purchased by bands and brands as tour merchandise and are separate from the fashion offer. Also wrapped into that African percentage are items made in Morocco and Tunisia- North African nations that, (Tunisia’s current political turmoil not withstanding), are industrial suppliers to legions of fashion companies.

On the plus side and perhaps galvanised by press scrutiny, Edun has pledged that its fashion sourcing in the poverty belt of sub-Saharan Africa will rise to over 60%  by 2013. The highly visible fashion portion which started out as 15% of the collection, is expected to expand to 40%, and with steady attention, each collection should benefit from the transfer of skills needed to achieve these goals. Already, new collaborations are being forged; with The Crochet Sisters, a sisterhood of nuns and young girls, many of them refugees from Zimbabwe, who live and work in a safe environment in Nairobi; with a small company in Cameroon making sneakers and ongoing, with MADE, the Nairobi accessory company that provided the charm on the Vuitton Keepall bag.

Janice Sullivan is a realist. “This is made in Asia,” she says, fingering a fluid silk dress that wraps and ties over the body. “The fabrics are most likely Asian. These are African” she says, pointing to beads of recycled copper adorning a handknit. “I think Edun can be the next big brand but in a different type of way. But right now, it’s about getting it right so we can grow.” Desirability and reliability have to come before any mission.“You can have a great story, but your product has to deliver, it has to be desired by people, it has to be right and on time. And you have to do it over and over again.”

Those who frame Edun’s  sourcing of the majority of its offer outside of Africa as some kind of ongoing failure lack an understanding of the logistics that Sullivan is talking about or of the challenges of producing in the sub-Saharan region, home to some of the most disadvantaged people on earth. “As we grow more confident, we will expand our capacity in Africa,” Sullivan says. “But I don’t want to overburden, overwhelm. I want to make sure we concentrate on good, strong pieces we know we can execute, and get them done.”

“Overburden” “Overwhelm” are well chosen words. The challenges of producing in the developing world are legion. I know of this because I serve as a consultant to the UN agency, the International Trade Centre, on its global Ethical Fashion Programme, which encourages top designers to consider marginalized community producers among their suppliers. (Edun is not currently involved with the programme).

As you can imagine, it is not easy to produce high fashion in a Kenyan slum where the population density is 23 times that of Manhattan; neither is it so in war-torn rural Uganda where there are almost two million ‘Internally Displaced Persons’, refugees in their own land because of 20 years of civil war. Add to these, such externalities as lack of a reliable power supply and the need to get workers, especially women, home before dark, (which mitigating against the possibility of overtime).

It is surprisingly expensive to source among the poor. Just one equation; in Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia, water and education are provided free by the communist regime, meaning the living wage is $3 a day. In Kenya, slum dwellers must pay even for access to drinking water, meaning their living wage is $4 a day – that extra dollar at source significantly upping the end price of a product. Currently Edun sources in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar and the West African nation of Cameroon.

But one would safely assume that an ethical brand like Edun would be 100% organic, wherever it was producing, right? Wrong. Pesticides kill some 20,000 cotton growers a year from accidental poisoning, while a further million suffer ill health, according to Pesticide Action Network. This is compounded by the devastating effect on the environment. Edun has a noble commitment to organic cotton and has been a key force in the establishment of The Conservation Cotton Initiative (CCI) which enables displaced farmers in Northern Uganda to get the tools and funding they need to return to their land.

Appearance fees donated by Bono and Ali Hewson in the Annie Leibovitz-shot Core Values campaign were donated to CCI  facilitating the hiring of TechnoServe, a specialist in rural enterprise, The result has been that the number of farmers being helped has risen from 800 to 3,500, (the target is 8000).  Last season, Edun purchased 15 tonnes of this cotton, enough to make some 10,000 T shirts. “We use organic materials whenever possible,” Sullivan said last year, “but it’s not easy”.

Things just got harder- 2011 is an election year in Uganda and President Museveni is distributing free pesticides to farmers. “We’ve decided to push a people agenda rather than the organic agenda,” says a sanguine Sullivan now. “We’ve switched our efforts to teach responsible farming and how pesticides can be used sparingly. Yet she remains upbeat. “These are the kind of complications Edun is willing to embrace in order to thrive and grow. Inconveniences are not insurmountable. They require patience but that pays off if the result is something special.”

Sullivan, a working mother of 15 year old twins, who is also stepmom to her husband’s 15 year old son, says she was ready for a new kind of fashion challenge. She is glad Edun is about forging long relationships around the world. But for Edun to fly, the clothes have to be great. While designer Wauchob has made as many visits to East Africa as she has been able (she has a young baby), she has resisted offering African styles or prints, choosing instead to use her time there researching what it is possible to make.

Hence black crochet skirts, little fringed vests, which are bang “on trend” while the offer sourced elsewhere includes utilitarian parkas (wise, given winters seem to be getting harsher in the Northern Hemisphere fashion cities), snug chunky knits, floaty-long woven skirts and reconstructed Fair Isle patterns in rich earth tones. In other words, clothes that are not chasing youth but can be worn by grown up women such as Hewson, whose style signature is “great pants, layers and a good jacket” and Sullivan, who needs to look like she means business, but not to look “corporate”.

Sullivan is quick to praise the founders. “A lot of great ideas come from those outside the industry…What appealed to me [when I joined] was the idea that we’re all in one world now, and you can’t remove yourself from the process any more. Fashion is a big influencer. I’ve worked for some very big brands. This is still a small brand but I think it has a lot of power.”

Certainly, there is no way Edun could have come so far, so fast without the Hewsons, who remain very much involved. “I’m incredible impressed with how extensively they had already made in-roads, particularly in Uganda. It made my job a lot easier stepping in,” says Sullivan.

Star power continues to create magic. While last season, Sullivan apparently had to reign in Bono’s ambitions for a fashion extravaganza, telling him, “We are having a fashion show. Show is the second word. Fashion is the first word.” This season, he’s helped to lift menswear sales by wearing Edun, as has fellow band member The Edge, during U2’s South African tour.  As for womenswear, REM’s Michael Stipe, Hugh Jackman, Helena Christensen and Christy Turlington sat in the front row at the New York show in February.

But neither a sprinkling of stardust or a good heart is enough in the tough business of fashion.  “It’s got to be great. No one cuts you slack. I can’t put out something that looks half way, there’s no such thing as ‘we’re almost there’,” says Sullivan. “It’s always about what I can show you now that’s great.” She pauses. “Take those black skirts made by the Crochet Sisters. We’ll do 600 of the skirts,  400 of the fringed vests. No, make that 2,000 units, I’m sure we’ll do that.”

And with just 2000 units – not 20,000, not 200,000 –  a community of women, many of whom have fled the violence of war to find unlikely sanctuary on the edge of one of the most dangerous slums in the world can work, eat and stay safe until next season’s order arrives.

Royal Ways with Austerity chic – Australian Financial review

AFR | April 2011 

Royal Ways with Austerity Chic

by Marion Hume 

There’s much chatter about how a wedding dress big enough for Westminster Abbey and the world’s TV can also be in keeping with the current make-do-and-mend trend. 

Austerity Chic: that’s the term being bandied about to describe a forthcoming royal wedding of which, even if you are the staunchest republican, you cannot be unaware. Wills and Kate are doing a buffet, we hear, but there’s much chatter about how a wedding dress big enough for Westminster Abbey and the world’s TV screens can possibly also be in keeping with the current make-do-and-mend trend.

I’m guessing that the royal couple have advisers they can call on in such circumstances, but they could still learn a trick or two from my friends A&M and N&M, as both these couples have recently scored 100% on the Austerity Chic wedding monitor of my own invention.

I doubt W&K – as I shall henceforth call them, for balance – can manage to pair things back quite the way A&M did; their invitation consisted on him saying “Can you meet me at the Civic Centre on Tuesday morning?” -and there he was on the steps, in the suit he was given 15 years ago when he first came to England and got a job as a silver service waiter.

The ring was his mother’s, the bridal car – this will explain the initials – had been borrowed for a test drive from a swanky dealer, the pictures were taken outside Kenwood, one of London’s grandest wedding venues although we didn’t go in, the champagne was concealed in my handbag and the cake was a pile of meringues bought from a local cafe. As for the dress, it was in shades of oyster and chocolate, chosen by a woman who rarely gets new clothes to be worn again. All in all delightful and in the nicest way, spectacularly cheap.

N&M’s wedding was on a bigger scale. Hundreds packed the church and later, a scruffy music venue which had been transformed with elbow grease and ropes of circus lights into a magical place. The groom’s dad is of Welsh heritage, so we kicked off with cups of tea, rounds of sandwiches and slices of Victoria sponge cake that he and his side of the family had made that morning. Mother-of-the-bride is from Sierra Leone, Mother-of-the.groom from Barbados. I’m prepared to wager that the African & Caribbean buffet they cooked up later, and which the bridesmaids ladled out, will outdo W&Ks for flavour – even with all the organic produce from Prince Charles’ farms.

Another bet I know I’ll win is on the dancing. Posh ‘Hoorays’ tend to be commendably enthusiastic but really bad dancers, in contrast to N&M’s celebration where Granny-of-the-bride cleared the dance floor out of respect when she did her moves wearing flame orange robes, a vivid head scarf and a jaunty fedora hat atop it all. The bride’s dress? Cocktail length and one of those rare ones where you think “she really could dye that and wear it afterwards.”

But how can you do “Austerity Chic” when you are marrying the heir to the heir of the throne?  Kate’s dress has to be sort of grand; companies such as 9th generation silk weavers, Stephen Walters & Sons, keep going in part because of royal trade, but (please) there has to be less of it than there was of Di’s gown. Dyeing and reshaping is not an option for what is, after all, a future historical artifact, but then, that’s austerity points scored for the guarantee of a second life, viewed under glass. Where Kate’s outfit-to-be is all set for maximum points on my Austerity Chic wedding monitor is in the jewels department. After all, the ring A gave M was only second hand. And those royal tiaras get hauled out and remodelled generation after generation.

So overall, W&K may score higher than you might expect, familiar as they are with the Austerity Chic mantra; Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.

The Zara Juggernaut – Australian Financial review

The Zara Juggernaut

AFR Magazine | April 2o11

by Marion Hume 

Spain’s remote corners are good at revolutions, from the gastrenomic one that began at a Catalonian country restaurant called El Bulli, to the fast-fashion phenomenon that sprang from the wilds of Galicia to conquer the malls of the world.

Given I have travelled across Europe to discuss a miracle, how fitting that the man I’ve come to meet is called Jesus. My pilgrimage has taken me to Spain’s North West, to Galicia, which is as far as you can go from the castanet cliche of the sun-backed south. For this is not the Costa del Sol, but the Costa del Muerte, the coast of death. At the very tip of the landmass, clinging like a barnacle to a rock and battered by sea spray, sits the little city of Coruna and just beyond it, along the rugged coast, Arteixo, a town of just 5,000 souls. Yet it is here that a global fashion phenomenon is headquartered.

If you track the markets, you may know of Inditex, which has experienced the kind of growth that makes you wish you could turn back time to the March 2001 IPO and scoop up some of the 40% equity floated on the Madrid Stock Exchange (60% remains with the founding family). Inditex, born in the late 1960s on an investment of just 30 euros (yes, E30, or 5,000 pesetas as it was in the old money) is now worth more than E 32 billion ($44 billion). So I’m looking forward to asking a man called Jesus Echevarria, the chief spokesman for the company, how that happened.

But first, I need to find him. The taxi arrives at a huge industrial estate. Sorry, what was that? Reception is across that courtyard, then down into the underground car park? When that turns out to be correct, the message is clear: no unannounced callers welcome here. Next, I take the lift up to reception, where a young woman in a headset greets me, then escorts me into a glass-sided lift. We rise up through blank, shiny floors that give no clue as to what happens here and then I wait alone in a boardroom, long enough to gaze out the window and realise that every 30 seconds, another huge truck pulls out from the loading bay down below and drives away.

“Hello! Sorry to keep you waiting. Coffee? I am Jesus,” says a man in a suit, bearing what is, in Spain, a relatively common name. He’s going to tell me more about a name that’s also pretty common, wherever you live in the world. If Inditex, which stands for Industria de Disena Textil might not mean much, have you ever heard of Zara? In the unlikely event you have not, brace yourself. The global fast fashion force is, at last, coming to Australia this month, a full decade after company scouts began arriving to study locations and logistics. The brand will open two stores, the first in Westfield Sydney with Melbourne to follow. “Thank God we won’t be a third world fashion country any more,” is how one Sydney fashion fanatic puts it.

Inditex is probably the biggest fashion company in the world; probably, because it depends on how you measure (there are mega retailers that sell lots of everything, including clothes, although this may not count as fashion). Inditex sells 700 million units per year globally. Within the empire, Zara is by far the most dominant brand (63.8%) and its sales for 2009 (the last full year available) were E7,077 millions. In 2005, Inditex overtook the Swedish fashion giant, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M); in 2008, it overtook the US one, Gap. Of the more than 5,000 stores Inditex has around the world about 1,700 of them are Zara boutiques. The parent company employs over 100,000 people belonging to more than 140 different nationalities.

The Zara name includes womenswear, menswear, children’s wear, homeware, accessories, perfume and now, zara.com. Yet the other Inditex brands are hardly tiddlers. These comprise Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho and Uterque, are names which don’t exactly trip off the tongue, but each does significant business around the world. Uterque for instance has some 80 stores in 16 countries. though heaven knows how people pronounce the names in any of them. In contrast, the name Zara works brilliantly because it is pronounced the same in every language bar one. (Ironically, that one is Spanish, where it is pronounced “Tha-ra”).

The choice of this convenient four letter word is however entirely accidental. Back in the ‘60s, the son of a railwayman called Amancio Ortega teamed up with his brother and his brother’s wife and started a business manufacturing shirts and nightwear (the best seller was a pink bathrobe for women). The wholesale business boomed and, in what would prove a turning point, Ortega realised that control, though at this time, not necessarily easy money- lay in owning stores in order to oversee the complete vertical process.

Had the company remained a manufacturer, it would doubtless be out of business today, as others have pulled production out of Spain in search of cheaper deals in Bulgaria, Romania and beyond. Instead, in 1975, Ortega opened a little shop in La Coruna  – it is still there today – and decided to call it Zorba, as in Zorba the Greek. But the owner of a nearby bar of the same name saw the signage go up he protested. Ortega agreed to change it but, because you need costly moulds to make three dimensional store front lettering, he needed a name which could be made in the moulds already cast. So they repeated the “a” and Zara was born.

You are not about to meet  Amancio Ortega, because the 75-year-old founder has never given an interview. Thus the 9th richest man in the world is far less known than those who sit above him on the Forbes rich list, such as the Mexican telecom titan, Carlos Slim Helu, Americans Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Larry Ellison, the steel magnet Lakshmi Mittal and LVMH’s Bernard Arnault. Before the internet and camera phones, Amancio Ortega was never even knowingly photographed, but then a few pictures appeared online and now Inditex provides an official portrait. Apparently, there’s no mystery  about why this twice married father of three doesn’t speak in public, he just doesn’t chose to. He didn’t even show for the Inditex IPO.

Although it has just been announced that he will move aside at the shareholders’ meeting in July 2011 and the current second-in-command, Pablo Isla Alverez de Tajera, will become both chairman and Chief Executive, Isla is unlikely to be much more available. “He does speak twice a year, at the AGM and the shareholders’ meeting. But no, we don’t expect him to do more,” says Echevarria, who remains the only company voice. So what is the secret of success? ““Maybe because we are on the edge, not at a crossroads,” he says. “We are here alone, which allows us to concentrate. But there’s more.”

A silent CEO is just one of the many ways in which one of the world’s most dynamic fashion forces is different. This is a story of going zig when others go zag. Beyond the obscure location on the edge of the Atlantic, and the odd fact that Zara spends almost nothing on advertising (most fashion brands factor in  a minimum of 4% of turnover a year), nothing Zara actually does is done how others do it, to the point that the company became a subject of a Harvard Business School study which could be titled “Doing everything upside down.” (In fact it is called something so boring, such as “Inditex case study,” that I didn’t write it down).

Most fashion companies work like this; there are the designers. They design. There is a show. Meanwhile fabric is ordered for those designs, takes ages to arrive and then factories start to make the designs; the designs are advertised and the customer goes into the store to find them. At Zara, however, the customer goes into the store, sees a white jacket and says she’d prefer it in cream. If a couple more customers do that, two weeks’ later (perhaps less) there it is. The store is the centre piece and constant drops of new fashion to keep the customer coming back to see what’s new.

There is no Zara “style”, instead there a multiple styles, all of which disappear fast, so you won’t find everyone else wearing them. If a look doesn’t sell, it is pulled. There is , however, an innate Spanishness, which is to say, Spanish women, whether Castilian from Madrid or Catalunyan from Barcelona or Galician from Coruna, tend to have a proud bearing which they want flattered by tailoring; thus Zara’s jackets tend to be somewhat sexier, curvier of cut than others at these prices.

Because the vast geographical spread of the 5,000 Zara stores, a small production run is 30,000 pieces, leading to both economies of scale and the guarantee that hardly anyone you will ever bump into will have what you have. Stores order twice a week and the logistics that make that possible are astonishing (Think factory floors the size of way too many soccer pitches, full of clothing items flying around on tracks suspended from the ceiling and then ending up in specific cardboard boxes on which the store destination is already encoded. Those working in the warehouses move about by bicycle because the distances are so huge.)

As to why it has taken Zara so long to enter the Australian market, the company has been studying it for some time.  “For Australia, we had to be convinced we could give our excellent service to a customer in the Southern Hemisphere,” Echevarria says. “We have 250 womenswear designers specifically thinking of the Northern Hemisphere and then the others of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, where of course we have shared heritage and language (as for Brazil, Galego, the regional language of Galicia, has similarities with Portuguese). We knew we couldn’t do last season’s clothes later for Australia, so we have been sending the design teams many times so they know what will work and at the right moment. It has taken us a long time to be ready because we are Zara and we know people expect us to get it right.”

Fashion folk love Zara, for its style and its speed. (From factory to store in 48 hours and the aim is to do that even for Australia). For those of us who like to poke our noses into company CSR (corporate social responsibility), Zara and parent company Inditex are popular too.

More than 50% of its offering, comprising most of its fast-fashion pieces, are made in factories it owns in Spain meaning it can guard against the kind of scary labour practices that haunt fast fashion. But as with all fast fashion (not specifically Inditex), once offshore, things are harder to police, this compounded by shoppers having come to expect low prices. Generally, campaigners and trade unions are alarmed at the cost of workers of a decade of deflation in clothing prices. But all Inditex’s 1,237 contracted suppliers are governed by the company’s External Manufacturers and Workshops Code of Conduct and it has also forged strong partnerships with international union bodies.

As to its eco friendliness, the message at HQ is demonstrated by a vast wind turbine soaring overhead. Being fortuitously positioned in a place that is both windy and sunny means much of the energy needs can be generated on the spot. In addition, Echevarria in intent on showing me how energy that would otherwise leech out and be lost has been redirected into the steamers that iron every garment. He is especially proud of the battered state of the cardboard boxes packed with goods for stores all over the world. These are reused and reused before being eventually recycled, he tells me.

Commendably Zara has gone far with its store design. Not only does every store turn its lights off for Earth Day,  the latest opening, in Rome, aims to be the first ever fashion store to achieve the platinum standard certification, a seal of sustainable architecture that is one of the most demanding of its kind in the world. The company is working to make all stores eco efficient and older sites are being retrofitted. Echevarria is reluctant to let me take away a CSR report because it runs to 311 pages and this company hates to consume paper. Plastic bags are oxo biodegradable, meaning they break down to a small amount of biomass within two years, while traditional plastic bags take more than 400.

By studying the small print of  the 22 pages concerning Inditex and society, I learn that the company has made emergency gifts in the multimillions in response to the earthquakes in Haiti and Sumatra,  multiple gifts (of hundreds of thousands of Euro) to community and NGO projects in Cambodia, Morocco, Mali and beyond and that it builds some of its Spanish stores under its “for&from” project, which aims to make it possible for those with severe mental disabilities to join the workforce. So far, so good.

Where Zara does raise ire is when it comes to design, as in its appropriation of other people’s ideas. The model is only possible because both the design team and the customer is strongly inspired by the creation of others- who are neither acknowledged nor paid. While the likes of Topshop have overcome this criticism by supporting both London Fashion Week and British designers from deep pockets and H&M does high profile hi-lo collaborations with designers-most recently with Alber Elbaz of Lanvin- Zara does not.

Hussein Chalayan is just one originator who has seen the result of hours and hours of his labour hanging with a Zara label. Not that the fast fashion shopper, looking for something fabulous at a good price, cares a hoot. In the past, some designers actually used to be happy about Zara using their designs. Before the internet put every style on instant view, Inditex used to send teams around the world with a shopping spend that was legendary. I know of one French fashion label that used to factor in the Zara spend, not minding because Zara was mass and they were high end. Otherwise, designers have tended not to take on fast-fashion brands because altering a sleeve or changing a stripe tends to make clothing copyright cases notoriously difficult to prosecute. Not for nothing has Daniel Piette, then the fashion director of Louis Vuitton described Zara as *the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world”.

In February, Inditex brand Stradivarius was forced to U-turn after teenage style bloggers complained that images they had posted of themselves online had been reproduced rather too faithfully on the front of T-shirts. “It would have been no problem if they asked me,” one blogger told The Guardian. The article suggested that designers working in the vast studios at Inditex may be resorting to the internet to search out images of cool hipsters because of the pressure they are under to hit targets on the number of designs they produce each day. Zara alone is thought to produce some 40,000 designs a year.

While there’s a joke now that there’s a Zara opening somewhere every week, it was far from an overnight success. Ortega was 39 before he opened the first store, but after that it was as if he was making up for lost time. Stores opened at a heady pace, first in Spain, then Portugal. Location was always key – indeed the only Zara store not in a prime location is the first. The company launched itself in the US at a site bang opposite Bloomingdales on Lexington Avenue in 1989 and then on rue du Rivoli Paris in 1990.

The big question though- once Sydney and Melbourne are trading, once other sites across Australia are ear-marked for the Inditex brands as is also happening in South Africa- is where next.  There are already more than 150 Inditex stores in China. Central and South America are conquered and the company has posted its flag all over South East Asia. But once New Zealand gets Zara (no plans yet revealed) where else is left? Especially as the global shopper can go to zara.com?

The answer may well be hidden away in a secret bunker in one of the vast buildings at Arteixo. Echevarria escorts me past extra security and then we walk into a vast empty space, with a heavy industrial curtain to the rear. He pulls it back enough for us to pass through and there is a whole Inditex street, of fully kitted out stores, none like you have seen before,  including a whole new look for Zara women and Zara mens (think “more like Prada” and “more like Gucci” respectively).

But I suspect there is more. The night before my official meeting at Inditex, I have met up with an old friend who has connections deep inside the company. “There’s something completely new,” she tells me. So will the empire keep up the march, with another concept entirely. Tantalizingly, at the end of the secret Inditex street, there’s another curtain, but Echevarria steers me away. “We are thinking all the time of new concepts,” he says. But can’t he tell me more, given I have come all this, way? “We are always thinking,” he says, then adds “lunch?”. This being Spain, it’s past 3pm and I am, it has to be said, ravenously hungry. So Jesus and I head off for bread and fish and wine, Galician style. Whatever might be the next miracle, for now must stay  a secret.

South Australia – On A Grander Scale – Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair | April 2011 

On A Grander Scale

Forget your Rough Guide. What you’ll really need is a Thesaurus because the landscapes of South Australia will soon have you racking your brain for alternative to “huge”, “amazing”, “awesome” and “wowee”.

 

By Marion Hume

Do not go to South Australia because you want to climb the Harbour Bridge, watch the sun rise over Uluru or find Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef. None of these are in South Australia, where you can’t even crack a convict joke in the state capital of Adelaide without someone pointing the sugar tongs and reminding you that there was never any of that transported unpleasantness around here — it was free-settled in accordance to an 1834 Act of His Majesty’s Parliament. But do go to South Australia, because it will blow your mind.

One and a half times the size of Texas, think of it as a perpetual version of the artist James Turrell’s Bindu Shards, the mysterious hi-tech installation that packed them in at London’s Gagosian Gallery in late 2010 — except out here you won’t have to clamber inside a metal pod in order to witness Technicolor dreams so intense they’re freaky. You’ll feel utterly alone as dawn breaks over the Finders rangers and they pump up the lights. Sure, waking up on the other side of the state line at Uluru (Ayers Rock if you’re not keeping up) is impressive, until someone slurps from a Thermos. But what’s different here is you can’t capture this on a postcard because the immensity makes it photographically impossible.

It’s as if the Zen principles of the Japanese garden have been turned upside down. Every rock in the foreground could be a mountain in the distance — your brain can’t compute the dimensions of the empty space in between, especially without the migratory herds of the African plains on which to lock your viewfinder. Still, look down and there could be a king brown snake, dull-looking but deadly, about to slither up under the axle of your car.

To explore here is both a sensory pleasure — such a cluster of world-class wineries — and a tease. Let’s say you are doing a quick edit of your digital snaps. What you see are Alpine slopes. Where you are is on a bluff bleached by the sun where the pines have shed their needles. Then there’s your ears, which hear the crackle of footsteps on a frosty lawn while your eyes spy kangaroo-paw prints on the salty crust of what was once the ocean floor.

But before we get into the outback, just an hour or so out of Adelaide is the Barossa Valley. Most of its early settlers were Lutherans fleeing religious persecution in Prussia, who thoughtfully stuffed some vines in their bags as they decamped from South Australia.

If you intend to sample the Shiraz, you must stay at The Louise. No you must stay at The Louise — Australia’s drink-driving laws are among the toughest in the world. Then you can also experience the delight of an outdoor shower, before dinner at Appellation, where grilled wagyu mignon wrapped in prosciutto with bacon crumble and creamed white beans convinces you that it is justly renowned.

Another day, another valley of vines, although there aren’t many wineries like Sevenhill Cellars, which has the lay market and the church trade stitched up (the latter is shifting from reds to whites to save on laundering the alter cloths). North Bundaleer, built at the end of the 19th century, sits where the Clare Valley ends. This gracious homestead was built for George Maslin, a sheep farmer made good, so there’s a ballroom under the corrugated-iron roof.

Of course, this being Australia, some things are just odd. So you don’t blink when a bloke looks up from under the brim of his Akubra and says his semen price is $60 a dose. He’s talking about his stud ram. And the man in raggedy trousers, leaning on a gate forged out of an old iron bedstead? He only looks like a Depression-era portrait by Dorothea Lange until his iPhone beeps with the Tokyo trading price for sushi-grade abalone, for which he owns a brace of offshore dive licenses. After hours on a bullet-straight road, you’re in a pub and the waitress reappears, cradling a small goat, to offer condom pie for afters. Ah, that would be quandong, a native plum.

Arriving into the little former railway town of Quorn feels like high noon in the Wild West, due to its streets as wide as a movie set-which is what is has been since Maureen O’Hara showed up in the 50s, followed by Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in the 60s, and then Mel Gibson, who shot scenes for Gallipoli here in 1980, back when he was still beautiful.

There was a camel in Gallipoli; in fact there have been camels in South Australia since 1840. Today there are over a million feral dromedaries roaming the country, descended from those that hauled anything from telegraph cables to the sleepers for the Ghan railway — “Ghan” being short for “Afghan”, a catch-all term for Muslim cameleers. Surnames deriving from Muscat, Yemen and Iraq pepper South Australia. Look hard enough and somewhere you’ll find camel pie.

Arkaba is one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia-Which also include The Louise, the divine Capella off the coast of New South Wales and the new Saffire in Tasmania, as well as Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, of which more in due course. It’s a spirited initiative to trump the successful superlodges of New Zealand. Arkaba’s owner, Charlie Carlow, heir to the earldom of Portarlington, explains: “We are not trying to recreate hotel rooms with mini-bars. Here you just help yourself to drinks- it’s like staying in someone’s home. This is an early settler property, and the original owner had some kind of eating house or pub-there’s an Eating House Creek nearby. Graveyards on the property tell of heroic failures.” The bedheads are made of old fence posts, bed-side tables are glass-topped wool bales and communal dining is round an old wool-sorting table.

Most of all, though, at Arkaba it is possible to get some perspective on the landscape of the rugged Flinders Ranges.

Every August since 1856 professional or “gun” shearers have shown up to work at the Arkaba woolshed, which looks just like the one in Tom Robert’s 19th century masterpiece, Shearing the Rams, a painting that defines a certain strand of Australian art that is at once masculine and misty.

Collectively, the traditional inhabitants of the Flinders Ranges are known as the Adnyamathanha, the hill people. But even the ancient Aboriginal tribes are, in geological terms, johnny-come-latelys in a wonderland that dates back some 1.8 billion years.

Further north, things get more exciting as they get younger (about 550 million years). Because so few people kick about in the Ediacara Hills, no one picked up the key to life until 2003, after which Ross Fargher, whose family own the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna, left his fossil lying on the porch until a palaeontologist realised it beat that of the next oldest vertebrae by 30 million years. No wonder David Attenborough gets breathless when he visits.

When I was editing Vogue Australia, I sent a fashion team to the Prairie Hotel, where the time is always beer o’clock and there’s fancy fayre like wallaby shashlick and emu-egg frittata on the menu. They drove out into the middle of nowhere and just at the model was striking a pose a voice hollered, “Oi! I’ve just raked that!” And then Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel appeared to shoot a scene for Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke.

Take a small plane south and meet me on Kangaroo Island. You’re still in the same state, but it’s too far to drive unless you’ve got time on your hands.

So you’ve ticked off the African Safari big five? Pens at the ready for an Aussie Noah’s Ark, because this island, eight miles offshore from Cape Jervis, is a natural life raft for endangered creatures, including the Australian sea lion- the world’s more threatened pinniped- and the glossy black cockatoo. It is also where the Heath goanna is making its last stand. Then there’s the New Zealand fur seal, the Tammar wallaby (the wallaby and the kangaroo are cousins) and Koalas (never, please, “koala bears” they’re not bears), which are increasingly rare on much of the mainland- but look, there’s one now, in his furry pyjamas.

How adorable are the waddling squadrons of fairy penguins! As for mail-order queens, genetically pure K.I bees are in demand by international apiarists. But just because there are no foxes, no rabbits, to destroy this Antipodean Galapagos doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can kill you. “Gotcha!” hisses the tiger snake, and you sincerely hope it’s joking- one bite and, without antivenom, odds on you’re a goner.

And so to the four-headed penis of the male short-beaked echidna, which isn’t enough for the female that looks like a porcupine but makes like a princess as she leads up to eight randy chaps on a six- week Animal Magic excursion called an echidna (love) train, at the end of which only one gets a shag. About 24 days later, mama lays an egg, which she wiggles up into her pouch, where it stays until it hatches into a puggle. It’s knowledge like that which makes you wish Trivial Pursuit had not gone the way of the Victorian parlour game.

Egg-laying monotremes are the oldest surviving mammals on Earth, and if that isn’t enough to get an island named after you, blame Captain Matthew Finders, who was starving when he and his men landed in 1802 and threw roos in the pot. Nicholas Baudin, who made landfall that same spring, was French, so he nabbed a kangaroo to parade around Paris- though he (the Frenchman) only made it to Madagascar before he died. Both explorers must surely have been surprised that they encountered no Aboriginal people on an island seven times the size of Singapore. Nor has an Aboriginal skeleton been found since. Tools dating back 16,000 years suggests that whoever did live here was fending off marsupial Godzillas- possums and wombats the size of rhinos- so may have made a dash for it over a long-gone land bridge.

I won’t be surprised if you already know about Southern Ocean Lodge, given it has won just about every travel gong going since it opened in 2008. Why will be particularly clear if your billet is the exhilarating Osprey Suite, with its peerless glass-walled views over the pounding surf. You’d expect this game-changing luxury lodge, which slithers almost invisibly down a bluff, to be eco-this, eco-that. It is also near-carbon-neutral, what with crab-meat omelette for breakfast, line-caught snapper for lunch, and dinner’s oysters followed by South Rock lamb, all locally-sourced. The Henschke Julius Riesling, however, had to travel from the Barossa Valley.

You’ll be glad it did, and you did, as you stand at sunset, glass in hand, for kangaroos and canapés and a mob of roos bounds across the horizon.

FIN! – Australian financial review

Fin!

AFR | May 2011

By Marion Hume 

We used to fret that the internet would render fashion shows obsolete. While the opposite is the case, it’s us, the professional audience, whose days must be numbered.

There’s no such thing as “fashionably late” in a world of live streaming.

Time was when, if the invitation said 4pm, you could dawdle over to a cafe near the venue, enjoy a cup of tea, or, if you were feeling full-on fashionista, a glass of champagne, yet still fret that, by turning up before 5pm, you’d be revealing yourself as a rookie who was frightfully keen.

Today, 4pm means in your seat at 3.45 pm or the designer’s PR will be SMSing frantically. It means sitting up straight and slapping on your catwalk smile by 3.50pm, then it’s lights down, music up and a huge screen running a countdown as viewers in Dubai, Hong Kong, Los Angeles are welcomed to start “shopping the show”. You can buy the coats at Burberry, to arrive months later, in 150 countries, as they are appearing on a catwalk in London. What you can’t do is bribe your way in once a show has started – as I discovered at 4.01pm. Opps.

Lesson learned. Over in Paris, I got to Louis Vuitton so horribly early, I had to sneak off for a coffee so as not to linger with the kids who snap the arrival of the front row set for their blogs. The Vuitton show was staged at the Cour Carree du Louvre, as it has been for several seasons now, but just to make things interesting, they changed the point of entry. Cue scores of people, myself included, who glancing over and, seeing no line yet, relaxed and ordered another “cafe creme”.

People may think we fashion folk are so dumb, we can’t walk and chew gum, but let me tell you, once I realised entry was via the gate around the corner, I was sprinting, texting to friends in five inch heels to “move it from the café, now!” and thinking how HUGE the Louvre is, all at the same time. True, I couldn’t remember exactly which Louis had extended the old chateau of Francois Ist until it became a palace that seems to take up half of France but I did keep wishing he’d put in more cut-throughs. Luckily, I was in my seat when the show started, but as it featured women in handcuffs, I got hot under my feminist collar all over again.

Those of us who watch fashion shows for a living are increasingly questioning what they are for, (although kinky handcuffs, are, you have to admit, a whole new product category to brand). The truth is dawning, chillingly, that shows are no longer for those on the seasonal schlepp from New York to London to Milan to Paris. We used to fret that the internet would render fashion shows obsolete. While the opposite is the case, it’s us, the professional audience, whose days must be numbered. “Shopping the show” online still requires skinny girls (one of whom, this season, is a boy) walking up and down in the clothes to click and buy. The vast lobby of net-a-porter, the pioneer of luxury online, is dominated by a gigantic screen showing designer shows. The Burberry website, the Burberry stores, feature more catwalk footage. The equation of “1,000 seater show staged like a rock concert + clothes to click on now” is key to how this British brand has become a GBP 5.1 billion fashion megalith.

But what of the 1,000 people who are invited to attend? What purpose do we serve, now that anyone can go to London’s Piccadilly Circus and watch the Burberry show, simultaneously, on a 32-metre digital screen? (As I did)  What is the point of fashion critics now the public, on twitter, on apps, shopping as they go, votes on what’s fashionable now? As for those of us who go to actual shows (if we are not locked out, at 4.01pm), how long before they just paint us in by CGI?

Cut From A Different Cloth – Finantial Times

cloth1

Financial Times | March 2011

Cut From A Different Cloth

by Marion Hume

Last September, I had a telephone call from Pier Luigi Loro Piana. He heads the family business that bears his surname – an Italian textile group with 135 stores in prime addresses, including London’s Bond Street and Avenue Montaigne in Paris. One of its coats can cost £5,000, a sweater £500.
This sixth-generation family firm is led as a job-share between Pier Luigi, 59, and his brother Sergio, 62. While both run the business, the younger brother also searches worldwide for the best raw materials that can be turned into yarn.
Loro Piana wanted to tell me about a new project. He had found a community that makes a fabric that cools down the wearer (perfect for the humid cities that are home to the emerging ultra-rich). This, he said, was new to the west, yet legendary in the Asia – but the know-how to weave it was almost lost. Just one isolated community was left with the skills to make it, and they live on houses on stilts on a lake. I was spellbound. He wanted me to go out there with him, to take a look for myself. Then he told me the village was in Burma.
There are many reasons to avoid doing business in Burma. It is run by a repressive military junta, practically unchanged since 1962. Sanctions were first imposed by the US in 1993 and the European Union in 1996. The EU extended its measures in 2007 after anti-government demonstrations led by monks in Burma were quashed by force.
Reporters without Borders ranks Burma 171st out of 175 countries in the world in its Press Freedom Index (only Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea fare worse).
Although trade in textiles with Burma is not barred by the EU, almost nothing is allowed into the US from Burma. (It makes an exception for teak, when used in decking by American boatbuilders.)
Loro Piana is aware of the moral dilemma of doing business in Burma. In an e-mail to me, he wrote that by finding out more about the country, “We can be more sensitive … Our venture is directed to the … ‘informal economy’ represented by the majority of the local population, and mainly supported by agriculture and craftsmanship.”
I said I would not even consider such a visit until Aung San Suu Kyi was freed. The Burmese opposition leader had endured almost 15 years of incarceration. Then, last November, she was released from house arrest. I recognise that this alone does not make Burma a place to visit lightly. And so I canvassed activists and correspondents based in the region, and was pleased that they felt, as I did, that I should now go to Burma, if offered the chance. (Still, such is the sensitivity of the subject that most of my contacts were unwilling to be quoted on the record.)
Mark Farmaner is a director of human rights group Burma Campaign UK, which has called for targeted sanctions against the regime. Of the Loro Piana project, Farmaner says: “In principle, we have no objection to this. There was never a call for total sanctions against Burma. It is always about targeting the generals and their business cronies.”
So I accepted Loro Piana’s invitation to inspect his “miracle fabric”.
I have been a fashion journalist for 20 years – some of them at the Financial Times – but two years ago I also took on a consulting role with the Ethical Fashion Programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint body of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation. My role is to forge links between the best-known labels and the poorest people of sub-Saharan Africa. In my visa application, I wrote “fashion consultant”. However, I also have a US journalist visa in my passport, which the Burmese embassy held for weeks and returned, visa granted, with departure only days away.

It is 10am and Loro Piana looks somewhat rumpled. We had arrived in Rangoon (renamed Yangon by the junta, which also renamed the country Myanmar) the night before, and this morning we had flown onwards to Helo, in eastern Burma. Now we’ve just travelled a further hour by bumpy road. Yet Loro Piana’s jacket, a prototype made of the fabric we are here to see, looks pristine. “See – it doesn’t need ironing. Unlike me,” he jokes as we clamber into a longboat. We pull out of the reeds on to the expanse of Inle Lake, ringed by mountains. The Intha people subsist by fishing and by growing vegetables on floating gardens built using bamboo and lotus flowers. It is those lotus flowers, or more accurately, their stems, that are made into the magical yarns.
We arrive at a thatched house standing on stilts, the kind imitated by watery five-star resorts across Asia. Access is via a rickety pontoon of bamboo poles and wobbly wooden stairs. Once inside, the co-chief executive of a company with a €480m turnover squats down on the floor next to a woman who is extracting sappy filaments, each about one metre long, from lotus flower stems – which is a painstaking process. Another woman rubs the filaments together at extraordinary speed. A third woman sits spinning yarn using a contraption made from wooden bobbins and an old bicycle wheel. Loro Piana scrunches the finished yarn in his hands.
It is his second visit to Inle Lake. He first came a year ago, having learned from a Japanese friend that lotus flower cloth was still being woven here. His friend urged him to save the craft from disappearing forever. The textile baron instantly saw the potential of the Nelumbo nucifera that grows here: it is, among other astonishing properties, featherlight, “slubby” in appearance (like linen), wonderfully cool and also of a good natural colour. Some 26,000 stems are needed for one blazer.
There are, at most, just 300 Intha people who know how to harvest the wild lotus flower stems (they must be pulled from the water by hand – never scythed, which kills the root). About 200 others know how to extract the filaments and process these to skeins, which must be done within 24 hours of picking to prevent deterioration. Lotus flower robes were once worn on ceremonial days by the most senior monks, but they have had to find a cheaper alternative.
When Loro Piana first came to Burma, the fabric was being made into pricey scarves for the few tourists who visit the country. On that first trip, he guaranteed to purchase all the fabric. “This is a key point in the success of the project,” he says. “We commit to buy, not from time to time, but everything. We pay in advance.”
There are four looms operated by women using foot treadles. This involves passing shuttles under the warp threads, back and forth by hand – but they can do so for no more than four hours a day, which equates to about an inch of cloth. Loro Piana is not pushing for more production, mindful that it might force the youngest teenage girls into working at the looms rather than attending school.
Is Loro Piana exploiting these workers? The UN calculates that the living wage for a manual worker in Burma is $1.20 per day. Those working here are skilled. My guess is that they earn at least five times that figure. However, as the project is in its first season, there are no reliable records of pay yet.
There is a whiff of change in Burma – not regime change, but the feeling that the country, so rich in rubies, oil and teak, is about to re-open for business. Thai entrepreneurs are pushing for road development along the two countries’ shared border.
Still, the Burmese officials who granted us visas knew what we were doing in the country – at no time were we “off radar” – we were accompanied at all times by an English-speaking official guide.
The position on sanctions is still complicated. In a speech to the World Economic Forum in January, Suu Kyi said Burma needed ethical foreign investment, but a report from the National League for Democracy, the party she leads, recently concluded that sanctions should remain in place for the time being.
In Burma itself, strangers can be bold, despite the dangers of speaking out. “Our government has a suicidal policy, if I may speak frankly, of stopping people from coming here. Thank you for ignoring it,” someone told me in Rangoon.
Loro Piana admits that he was not especially clued up politically before he began working in Burma. Now, though, his project is helping a few more communities to join the lucrative fashion value chain. The indications are that they will be properly rewarded for doing so, and in decent working conditions.
As Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK puts it: “This is the kind of trade, working with ordinary people, preserving traditions and culture, and paying accordingly, that we support. It is the large-scale, low-wage element of the clothing sector that is a problem.”

Was I right to go there? I think so.

“These are delicate times,” Loro Piana says to me. “But I believe what you have seen is positive and it opens your eyes.”

Minding your P’s and P’s – Australian financial review


It seems Australians were among the rare few who were not ‘frightened’ or ‘shocked’ by the radical ideas of Yohji of Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.

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” – Financial Times

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.

Wild At Art. W Magazine.

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-squillian -AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW

NET-A-SQUILLION
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?

Fashion Journalist and Ethical Consultant