Friday, 24 October 2008

Absolut's House of Masquerade

Trust Absolut Vodka to do the ultimate pop-up store!

The House of Masquerade launched with a decadent dressing up party in London's hip Shoreditch last night - and what better way to get in the party spirit than trying on a few vintage looks with Absolut cocktail in hand?!

For five nights only Absolut has teamed up with London vintage boutique Mint and British illustrator Daisy de Villeneuve to create a pop-up store and bar experience where guests can peruse the vintage rails, get one-to-one styling advice and listen to DJ sets from hip London music and performance duo The Broken Hearts.

It's the quintessential pop-up store brand experience space - mixing shopping with socialising for extra brownie points among London's jaded fashion and bar set.

With a new red sequin zippered Absolut Masquerade gift pack as launch pad, the pop-up store space aims to update the concept of Masquerade for the modern era, where the possibilities of being yourself and expressing your personality are more important than ever before. Absolut aims to bring this to life through the House of Masquerade, where guests on launch night were given free reign to try on almost limitless outfit combinations and be photographed in the ready made Absolut photo booth.

With masquerade and burlesque as the dominant themes for the evening, party goers rocked a whole host of vintage looks - and the fun continues until Monday.

House of Masquerade from Absolut Vodka, 68-72 Redchurch Street, London E2. October 24-27.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Take-away retail

I was historicizing the pop-up retail concept with a colleague the other day and he claims they began around 15 years ago with 'gypsy' stores that popped up along Oxford Street when retail outlets became empty in the last recession. The gypsies moved in, popped up Sale signs in the window and a new instant retail hit was born.

Comme des Garcons became a main protagonist of the pop-up concept as we know it today with its far flung guerilla stores only open for a year and then disappearing without trace. I remember a minion once covered the Glasgow CDG space for me, I think it was one of around 12 locations all over the world. They were always opened in desolate hard to find places and then closed again without much fanfare - very CDG, very anti what pop-up as marketing tool has become.

Now many retail ideas later we have moved on to the Pocket store concept from a more mature and dare I say commercial CDG operation. It focuses on all the brand's best sellers - from the Play collections to the perfumes to the mini-leather goods in a small, compact and not unbijoux-like retail box space. It's full of things you want to put in your pocket in fact. And now there are two of them in CDG's second home of Paris. And if you can't get there get a feel for the Pocket store concept in the Dover Street Market ground floor.

I can't help but think of a recent and significantly connected retail trend: the bodega store. Hidden away in a bonafida bodega in Boston is a hip sneaker and limited edition sports gear store Bodega, masquerading behind a colourful retail exterior selling toilet tissue and crisps.

Meanwhile super-size US value chain Target saw this clever marketing idea and jumped on it big-style, doing its usual media-frenzy, attention grabbing, pop-up store concept during New York fashion week in September. Not one but four Target Bodegas popped up in Manhattan offering shelves full of pick-me-up and consume-me food, drinks, snacks, accessories and clothing from its wealth of discount price merch. New Yorkers swarmed like flies. And so another innovative retail concept was burned in hell.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Fashion aggregators

I like today's Business of Fashion post: Can fashion bloggers be trusted online authorities? Of course! And yes us fashion bloggers are here to stay - speed is everything in today's fast fashion world and a quick scouring of the blogs is the fastest way to garner opinion.

That many of the major daily newspapers have chosen to add blog entries to their style pages only serves to back up the importance of speedy, considered opinion. Who can live without their seasonal dose of Cathy Horyn's hugely respected On the Runway blog, or's guest bloggers - for your daily dose? Speaking of which IMG's access all area's Fashion Week Daily diatribe from the front row is the industry must read. Way ahead of the pack was Scott Schuman with his roving lens and the design studio standard blog The Sartorialist.

And so the newer, faster, live-er offerings from the likes of Racked (you really killed it) or New York Magazine's The Cut and apparently now everyone else in between from Twitter or Flickr to MyitThings and Style Observer via the American Express backed portal Inside The Tents.

However this is nothing new. It's what the wire services such as AFP, Associated Press and Reuters have been providing for years. Back at my old job as a bona-fide fashion hack we used to scan the wires in the morning but it was exclusives that made the cut. I guess that's mostly the problem: all this aggregating of fashion opinion that's out there isn't even fact. There's a lot of dross out there and people are happy to put their name to it on-line. Quantity not quality has become the mantra in pursuit of the daily post. Maybe bloggers should consider themselves as online commentators (even journalists) and think of something original (whoa exclusive?!) to say if they bother to post?

And finally a word about the newest fashion aggregator: Distill. Edited by fashion historian, journalist and general know-it-all Colin McDowell, Distill presents a digested read of the style and fashion press from all over the world, offering a shorthand guide to what and who are in fashion, and how those trends are being captured and covered. A fashion magazine to rival and trump all the others no less. As McDowell says: "It's such a brilliant idea, I was a little peeved I hadn't thought of it myself." Still I must say, it's better than the zillions of posts pertaining to be fashion commentary out there that don't really say much at all. Is this a modern day, on-line version of Emporer's new clothes syndrome?

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Paris fashion houses are like banks - who to back?

Seeing the merry-go-round of designers (good and bad) at the Paris houses over the last week or so has made me think that they are like the ups and downs of the global financial market and so now the question is - who to back?

On one side you have the risk investments: most are new, some are hot and some are so cold they're out.

So with the possibility of high return we have Hannah McGibbon at Chloé - solo and back at the helm after sharing the golden years with Phoebe Philo, this time around with a girly fresh summer's day mood; Christophe Decarnin at Balmain - all bling and rock chick fabulousness; Olivier Theyskins at Nina Ricci - lost in a romantic Edwardian dance of flowing dresses and flyaway fabrics; Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy who is carving out quite a name for himself at the house especially this season with his take on "Western Bondage"; Esteban Cortazar at Emanuel Ungaro, who is relatively new to the house but a bit lost in a Southern Belle ruffle bubble; Stuart Vevers at Loewe - all hardware and serious grande dame accessories; and unfortunately for Alessandra Facchinetti it was a very short tenure at Valentino (how last season is that, already?) who was replaced just hours after her second collection by the long standing house accessories designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Picciol. Facchinetti, who was fired via the press no less, was on the way to being a modern, elegant and contemporary shot in the arm for the house but where was the courage in their conviction? Too much intrinsic value placed in the creator's vast archive of design and not much else is the answer. A similar fate happened this season for Ivana Omazic at Celine, who after a more respectable four season tenure at the LVMH house so beleaguered by unsuitable designers it seems, sent out a credible bourjois tribal last collection, and knowing her fate to boot, was replaced by the probable sure fire hit of Phoebe Philo.

But looking forward for a fashion-land nano-second, just this week there was news of beauty giant P&G re-firing its fashion house Rochas with ex-Halston designer Marco Zanini at the helm of a Gibo-backed label. Meanwhile outside bets are being taken on where the considerable talent of Giambatista Valli will end up? Valli's vintage prom dress fest of a show, drew in a packed social-set front row this season and he is surely waiting for the right offer. Previously connected with Valentino rumours, he didn't get the job but then with all that Facchinetti bad blood floating around the Rome atelier, the promotion of the new creative directors seems like it was always going to happen.

And on the other side you have the safe bets. The old guard rule the successful Parisian houses with an iron creative hand and not to mention years of experience. The fact that some of them have, this season been accused of playing it safe only goes to show their wealth of talent - maintaining a credible house signature as well as pan-global appeal.

From Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga - who can do no wrong with his vision of sci-fi couture (despite his runway-only-production collections), to Alber Elbaz at Lanvin who keeps on re-inventing modern glamour and want-it-now eveningwear meets daywear that women lust after. That he attempted to say "Bonjour Saudi" with a sparkling and colourful range of bejewelled dresses and shoes in preparation for his new Middle Eastern backers only goes to show his attitude to embrace the new and keep the cash tills ringing. John Paul Gaultier is another genius designer turning equestrian heritage and understated luxury into an ever louder shrill at the cash tills for Hermés. His take on gaucho cowgirl will blaze across the retail desert for spring. And what about commercial king Kaiser? The retail dream that is Chanel continues a very real and global appeal for the Paris wardrobe of choice. This season's homage to the House of Chanel and all its manifestations was a message that this fashion label is unlikely to be touched by the economic downturn - everyone still wants to dress in Chanel non? And let's not forget the king of couture John Galliano at Dior. His RTW collection for the house has to be the jewel in LVMH's global crown. This season's offering of tribal chic will appeal from Moscow to Dubai to Shanghai and every other luxury-conscious fashion capital that respects his particular take on conspicuous consumption that maintains its relevance in the global credit crunch.

Mind you Louis Vuitton has to be mentioned in the same breath for global aspirational appeal - Marc Jacobs maybe the darling of New York fashion but his RTW collection for the house put a final celebratory line under the season in one of his most successful, widely appealing and wholly Parisian yet still sublimely luxurious collections for the label for some time.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Designers play it safe in Paris & bon anniversiare!

The early part of Paris Fashion Week has seen a few designers playing it safe by feting their well earned anniversaries as part of a celebratory show.

Maison Martin Margiela added fuel to speculation among the fashion media that the designer may hang up his mysterious creative persona at the house (bought by Diesel's Renzo Rosso five years ago) by sending out a retrospective collection celebrating 20 years of MMM. The collection was pure Margiela and of course was largely put together by his talented team. As Maria Luisa told me at her new boutique launch later on this week: "Martin is an exceptional designer and I have been a big fan of his work since he started out - but now he has reached a stage where he can do what he wants - his fashion house is in very capable hands and for an artist such as himself I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to pursue other creative avenues. It's a loss to the industry but after selling your business, well you would try something new wouldn't you?"

Meanwhile British designers Mark Eley and Wakiko Kishimoto showed their second collection for French house Cacharel with a lavish show celebrating the label's 50th anniversary. The first half of the presentation was full of models who paraded in easy, breezy summer dresses and pyjama-style slacks in upbeat shades of mustard, turquoise and purple, some featuring printed or crocheted motifs of migrating birds for a retro tinge. Then, in a surprise finale, dozens of models emerged in the label's vintage Liberty floral print cotton shirts and dresses, before taking a bow with 76-year-old founder Jean Bousquet. "We wanted a show with a newness, a new direction of the next 50 years with us as a starting point, and also to celebrate and embrace the need and desire for the vintage aspect of the fashion world, so they can live in harmony," Eley said after the show.

And surely the most elevating 'feel-good' moment of the week has to be care of Sonia Rykiel or more specifically her daughter - Nathalie - who helped her mother celebrate 40 years in the business with a show at the Park of Saint Cloud. The rampant show was full of Rykiel classics such as striped lurex sweaters and slinky silky dresses - true Gallic charm and gamine chic. And in a surprise gesture Nathalie had invited a handful of designer friends (Paris family really) including John Paul Gaultier, Martin Margiela, Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Charles de Castalbajac to create homage designs to the iconic Left Bank designer. How sweet is the knit-it-yourself-while-wearing dress by JPG and the red fringed hair and face print dress by JCDC. Ahh tres chic and bon anniversaire indeed.

The French chic set

Parisian fashionistas have that certain "gamine-ness" and look effortlessly chic whether in Saint Germain or the hip Marais area. They are an inspiration and while all eyes are on the runways it's the French labels that embody this spirit that retailers are homing in on.

Of course French department stores have known about the likes of Les Prairies de Paris and Madame a Paris for ages but now the French chic set of labels are multiplying and going overseas.

The Paris trade show Tranoi is an excellent place to hunt for these new Parisian spirit labels, hot new one Heimstone is setting the cash registers alight at Selfridges and Henri Bendel, where fashion director Ann Watson says it's "super cute" and she loves the peek-a-boo cut out detailing on the signature dresses this season. Eurythmic is another newbie, set up by ex-Paul & Joe founder Frank Albou - check out the light as silk print blouses, shirt-dresses, come-hither knits and strict tailoring.
Another fresh looking brand that has been around for years is Le Mont St Michel - I loved the Riviera-chic breton knits and tiered Liberty print mini-skirts.

Many of this set hail from the Paris garment district, Le Sentier in the 2nd arrondisement. Names to watch on the Paris "high-street" include Maje and sister brand Le Sandro, Zadig & Voltaire and Ba&Sh.

But really it's that certain je ne sais quoi of Paris rock-chick meets gamine elegance that is in the DNA of these labels. Check out these girls on the stands at Tranoi - tres chic! The French have been quietly honing this new wave for several seasons but it's time to share! Let's hear it for the likes of Julia Restoin-Roitfeld or Lou Dillon who have garnered enough international press attention to make us all want to look tres chic.