Friday, 28 May 2010

The Louis Vuitton Ban

Here’s some news that you will not read about in any fashion publications, or on their websites: two days ago the British Advertising Standards Authority banned the latest Louis Vuitton advertising campaign in Britain, on the grounds that it falsely suggested that Louis Vuitton’s products are handmade. The two adverts, entitled ‘The Young Woman with the Tiny Folds’ and ‘The Seamstress with Linen Thread and Beeswax’ featured photographs of serene looking models (stylised almost to look like figures from a Vermeer painting) pretending to make Louis Vuitton products. The accompanying blurb asked such rhetorical questions as “What secret little gestures do our craftsmen discreetly pass on?” before concluding “Let’s allow these mysteries to hang in their air. Time will provide the answer.” Please excuse me while I gag.

Granted, the job of marketing at Louis Vuitton must not be an easy one. Here we have a luxury brand which charges high prices and places a premium on quality (even if their products are not hand stitched), but which offers little in the way of scarcity: for a luxury brand, Louis Vuitton products are manufactured and sold on large scale, and of course there are countless more imitation products in circulation. Across the world the Louis Vuitton monogram is recognised as an aspirational status symbol (and let’s be quite frank, a lot of the customers who buy Louis Vuitton – even genuine products – could not exactly be termed ‘high end’), but at the same time the brand also caters for a much smaller wealthy elite, who purchase the ready-to-wear clothing, the shoes, and the large travel cases and trunks. Keeping both these distinct groups of customers happy, while upholding the image of exclusivity (in the face of mass consumption and imitation) which supports the whole operation, and thus justifies the high prices, is surely no simple task. Ogilvy Paris, which produces some of Louis Vuitton’s advertising, has come up with inventive campaigns, like this one, and the ‘journey’ campaign (which featured Catherine Deneueve, Sean Connery and, bizarrely, Mikhail Gorbachev), in an attempt to lend the brand an otherworldly, sophisticated air.

What I really want to discuss, though, is the stranglehold (intentional or otherwise) which Louis Vuitton has over the fashion media. I’m not so interested in whether or not the adverts were misleading (for what it’s worth, my main gripe with them is that they are utterly saccharine and sentimental), but more that not a single British fashion magazine’s website reported the news of the ban, while most national newspapers and many blogs did. Despite being a big fashion story, there is absolutely nothing about it on the websites of Vogue, Elle, Dazed and Confused, Harper’s Bazaar, Love, or 10 Magazine. Only Grazia mentioned the ban, but choose safely to side with Louis Vuitton by branding it “ludicrous.” Instead, all of the aforementioned websites have been preoccupied – obsessed, even – with the news of the recent opening of the new Louis Vuitton store (sorry, “maison”) on Bond Street in London. The amount of coverage which has been dedicated to the shop opening is unbelievable: you would be forgiven for thinking that the Second Messiah had just popped up on Bond Street, not just somewhere new to buy handbags.

Louis Vuitton is the flagship brand of the vast LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey) Group, which turned in a profit of €1.755 billion in 2009. Dior owns about 40% of the group, and Bernard Arnault (the seventh richest person in the world) is the Chairman of both companies and the CEO of LVMH. Other brands owned by LVMH include Céline, Givenchy, Kenzo, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Emilio Pucci, and Donna Karan. LVMH also owns Acqua di Parma, the perfume operations of Dior, Givenchy and Kenzo, Tag Heuer and Dior watches, the jewellery operations of DeBeers, Fred and Chaumet, and the Moët, Krug, Dom Pérignon and Veuve Clicquot champagne brands, to name just a few of their operations. As you can imagine, the Dior-LVMH group provides fashion publications with a significant proportion of their advertising revenue, by taking out ads in their glossy pages (and also online). For this reason, fashion publications will go to great lengths to say the right things about, and include the right pictures of, Dior-LVMH products, not just as a favour, but for fear of getting less advertising money from Dior-LVMH, or in the hope of getting more. If a publication is deemed to have given a brand insubstantial or unfavourable coverage, it is not uncommon in fashion for that brand to impose ‘sanctions’ on the publication, be they the withdrawal of advertising pages or the relegation of editors to less favourable seats at the shows. LVMH has, in theory, a huge amount of leverage in this area because of the number of brands they control, so for anybody who works for a fashion publication there is a strong incentive to portray their bands in a favourable way.

This creates a raw deal for us, the consumers and readers. Except in pieces by a few newspaper journalists, whose publications do not rely heavily on LVMH advertising money, you are never going to find anything in the fashion media other than the most mild, guarded criticism of LVMH brands, most of all of Louis Vuitton itself. The critics on Vogue’s Style.com, for instance, depressingly reserve their wrath exclusively for young designers and brands which control minimal advertising budgets. You will find that magazines often give pride of place to LVMH-Dior products (again, especially to Louis Vuitton ones), and shoot editorial images with head-to-toe LVMH brand outfits. This is partly why I am so bored of, and disillusioned with, fashion magazines and hardly buy them any more. LVMH-Dior are big enough to send expensive freebies to magazine editors and to entertain them at lavish parties and events too, all of which helps to ensure that the coverage they receive remains glowing. I don’t have many magazines to hand here, but the latest edition of 10 Men contains a 14 page spread exclusively of (boring) Louis Vuitton clothes. I wonder why they didn’t choose another brand – perhaps one more in keeping with the vibe of the magazine? It is a story which is repeated with other big brands, like the PPR group ones (Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney…), and large independents like Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, and Prada/Miu Miu. Magazines are conspicuously not bound by the same ethical codes as newspapers are when it comes to how their coverage is ‘influenced.’

This is not a criticism of LVMH (good for them for being so large and successful, and for still turning in a profit in this tough economic climate, even if their products and advertising are sometimes not to my personal taste), or of any other big fashion company, but rather of the system itself, which has evolved in fashion. It seems to me that there is something deeply wrong with it, and the biggest losers are us, the consumers of both fashion media and luxury goods.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Futuro

Futuro is a flying-saucer shaped house made of fibreglass-reinforced polyster plastic, which was designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, and which was first produced in 1968. It is one of my greatest design obsessions, and I thought now would be a particularly good time to blog about it because fashion seems to be starting to shift back towards a 1960s aesthetic (The Fashion Editor At Large recently blogged about this). Futuro houses are based on what Suuronen called "pure mathematics": they are spheroids, with the key ratios represented by π. The first Futuro house was developed as a ski cabin for a school friend of the architect; the brief was that it had to be "quick to heat and easy to construct in rough terrain." Futuros can be heated to room temperature in 30 minutes, even in cold climates, and they consist of 16 elements which are bolted together. The houses could be dismantled and reassembled in two days, and helicopters were used to transport pre-assembled ones to remote locations.

Futuro was shown at the Finnfocus export fair in London in October 1968, and shortly afterwards the design gained worldwide prominence and the popularity of Futuro soared, with units being exported worldwide for both personal and commercial use. They were manufactured in Finland by a company called Polykem Ltd., which specialised in neon lighting and plastic domes. Sadly extremely few Futuros remain in good condition today anywhere in the world; I just love the design, the 1960s Space Age optimism of it, and the way it sits in natural landscapes looking so incongrous yet strangley complementary to the surroundings.

The information and the pictures in this post are all from the excellent book Futuro edited by Marko Home and Mika Taanila (Desura Oy Ltd, Helsinki, 2002; ISBN: 952-5339-13-0):

Click all images to enlarge.

This is just fantastic:

Inside, with the central fireplace/grill:

I love how their elevated stands make them look like UFOs which have just landed; "first came the egg, then came the egg-cup," Suuronen said.

Futuro living:

Futuro postage stamp:

The book also has details of other futuristic plastic homes, like Venturo:

And the 'House of the Future' built by the Monsanto Company in 1957:

The book is really worth buying. As well has having lots more imagery, and a lot of text in both English and Finnish about all aspects of Futuro, it comes with a DVD with some brilliant footage from the 60s.

These are some stills from the DVD:

Such a shame this was never built:

I love how the entrance stairs drop down, and are then pulled up again once you're inside:

All images and information in the post are from Futuro edited by Marko Home and Mika Taanila (Desura Oy Ltd, Helsinki, 2002; ISBN: 952-5339-13-0).

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Thursday Fashion Pics

Just another random selection from my imagery files.

1. Miu Miu Spring/Summer 2010 editorial (source: ?)
2. Still from Beyoncé's Why Don't You Love Me video.
3. Street style.. always love some glamourous turban/headwrap action (source: Hanneli)
4. ? (source: ?)
5. Carine Roitfeld (source: Jak & Jil for Style.com)
6. Shot from Fräulein by Ellen von Unwerth
7.
That infamous Gucci by Tom Ford ad (source: ?)
8. See (2)
9. Spring/Summer 2010 Jean-Paul Gaultier bags (available from Colette).. very cool, and quite unexpected for Gaultier (I would have guessed Gareth Pugh)
10. Prada spring/Summer 2010 transparent shoes (source: Stockholm Street Style)

Previous 'Fashion Pics' posts:
25 February 2010
29 November 2009
14 June 2009
15 May 2009
13 February 2009