Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Life in the last two weeks was relatively uneventful except for a week's trip to Taipei for a workshop with RICHARD FREEMAN. He's a great teacher but frankly, after this, I won't be attending any yoga workshops soon.

He is living proof that yoga (and perhaps living in Boulder, Colorado) keeps you young. Wouldn't you want to look like this if you were over 60 and can easily do a back bend?

Meanwhile, life in the NEXT TWO WEEKS will probably be even more uneventful as we retreat to the French Alps, also known as our bunker in case the world goes into chaos which means we need to start stocking up on guns and ammo. Notice all that land where I can plant vegetables in case of famine in the free world. (Think: escape plan for 2012--or thereabouts...) Plus our dogs can enter France without quarantine.
I did read some very interesting ideas, apropos for today's life in the international fast lane and/or characters of dubious backgrounds and financial sources of which the world has more than the environment can handle:
(From my favourite media cheat sheet, The Week of 13 June 2009)
"Changing your accent is like using tinted contact lenses: pointless, odd and everyone can always tell." -India Knight in the (London) Sunday Times
To the (London) Times from NWP Cole, London
On British English (but applicable to any culture)
"...When a country abandons its own language, it abandons its identity and culture...far more worrying is the loss of our cultural independence to the United States."
And one final book recommendation before we break for the summer: Pharmakon

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Chanel HK invited their VIP customers and the media to screenings of Anne Fontaine's (could she also be of the white shirt fame?)"Coco Avant Chanel". The HK office had three screenings--the first at 2:30 and the last at 7PM for clients who all came in their Chanel finery mostly from the new collection (this is HK afterall). The media screening was at 5PM and despite torrential rains, many people showed up. From matrons to media, everyone was clad in their own interpretation of how to wear Chanel.

Wasn't Oscar material (the film, I mean) but it certainly had the 'best-dressed' movie attendance. This is the controversial poster banned in France (because they have embraced a non-smoking law that also seems to apply to posters) but used in Asia, the last stronghold of smoking.

YES, We got given Coco Pops (corn). Isn't this cute? Of course we had a choice of sweet or salty. They also put a bottle of fizzy water in every seat but without a Chanel bottle holder which they did last time at the couture.

And this is what we got for braving the rains---a sample of Chanel No5. I think the taitais got a nicer gift (of course!) which I think could have been a pillow or large scarf because they had huge bags! Ah--what money can buy!!
(Meanwhile, those who attended the Tiffany's lunch received--get this---a single, miniscule diamond on a chain)
My movie review:
The movie is good but not great, meaning I don't think this is going to win any best picture or best screenplay awards. BUT the film wins by sheer marketing genius. Even if it was not bankrolled by the Chanel company (but they lent them the apartment and clothes) and the set-design was not spectacular because of the period of her life this film covered, it will be a blockbuster in cinemas simply because---WHO DOESN'T OWN AT LEAST ONE THING FROM CHANEL--even if it is just a lipstick? Now that's the market.
(Another personality doing a movie 'about fashion' is Tom Ford)
Take note that the movie title is Coco AVANT Chanel which means the beautiful clothes we know and love don't come out until an hour and half into the film. Meanwhile, you can go through your wardrobe and decide what to wear when the clothes get better which is after the billiards scene. They get even better after Boy Capel dies but by that time it will be the end of the film and the parade of clothes comes down from the mirrored stairway.
Lessons we all can learn from this film aside from independence and hard work:
1) Straight guys don't really care what you wear except perhaps if they are French. In fact, if you dress like a tomboy, they'll probably like it better. (See Boy Capel's reaction to Chanel's early versions of her polished look we know today)
2) A wealthy man is useless if he doesn't let you spend HIS money. (The HK Chinese have a term for this "A safe without the key") Notice that Chanel left the manoir of Etienne Balsan in the same ratty suit she arrived in. Clearly he added nothing to her wardrobe.
3) It's usually better to be a mistress because you get the man (sometimes) and the money (all the time) without the social responsibiltiy. On their first weekend away, Boy Capel takes Chanel to a haberdashery and notions shop to buy fabric. This is probably akin to getting a new dress from Bergdorf's (NOT from the Fifth Floor).
4) Marry for money and it will be very hard work 24/7.
Marry for love and it will be heartache..if not most of the time, eventually.
You do the math. Just make sure you have a key to the safe.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


The sad fashion truth that has China entranced.

More models from the most un-chic of brands. Perhaps like many brands we love today it will be so unchic, it becomes chic.
VERY UNLIKELY. As the company is still private, an IPO is more likely.

Montagut's flagship at the Grand Canal Shoppes (I hate the spelling!) in Macao (where else!).
It may even be the 'choice of high rollers."

Have any of you boys, girls and gheys heard of MONTAGUT?
I have but it's been at least 30 years since I heard the brand uttered and at that time it was in extremely un-chic situations. Think Chinese diaspora family dinner with Montagut pronounced as "Monta-gute..."
That scene was certainly Botox years away from our lunch today at Shiro with a luxury brand representative and a fashion editor. The editor did not even KNOW the brand let alone the fabric it is known for: silky nylon jersey (fil-lumiere as the company labels it), a material that no self-respecting company would even use for disposable underpants today.
HONESTLY, CAN WE TALK? I promise you'll end up laughing like I did (guffawing would be a better word) upon the mere mention of the brand. But the ones who have been laughing all the way to the bank for about 30 years has really been Montagut and their Chinese partners.
HOW DID SUCH CHIC PEOPLE END UP HAVING SUCH AN UN-CHIC CONVERSATION? Remember, we were NOT discussing taste or style but business.
Everytime you discuss industry records or the business of fashion, you will for sure unearth something so unbe-fuckin-lievable that convinces you the fashion world is one of contrasts and indeed on another planet.
We were talking about the state of the luxury goods business (what else does one talk about these days since we can't be buying a bag every week) and about China's second-tier cities. Very good business I have to report because the brand we had lunch with had a fur trunk in Tsingtao and instantly sold TWO ("I'll buy one if you buy one") furs for 700,000 HKD each (that's 100,000 in worthless USD). These women had their hair done once a week for 1500 USD. In Tsingtao.
Yes, Mei-Mei, there is a Santa Claus but he is in a second tier Chinese city.
Of course from Tsingtao we had to move into a worse 'hood, Urumji, smack in the center of the Siberian Pole of Inaccessibility (I'm not kidding--Google it!) where they are opening a luxury mall with LV, Canali and Cartier among the big names.
Then I had to mention an interview I did years ago with a fashion executive who told me that she knew of a brand that sold 30,000 polo shirts a month in Guangzhou. Second tier (but maybe first by now) My guess was it was Hugo Boss because like Ferragamo, they were first movers in China, coming in very early and have emerged winners in sales and brand recognition.
BUT NHHOOO--I was WRONG! It was MONTAGUT and someone at lunch had the figures! Montagut came into China at the same time as Pierre Cardin (and I mean the mushroom PC label and not the couture when they posed on the Great Wall) and look at where they both are now.
Apparently Montagut, with over 3000 points of sale in greater China alone (take that LV and Chanel!), has two collections--one made in China and the more expensive one that averages at about 100 euros which is made in France. YES! They can't make cars in France anymore but they can stil make fil-lumiere Montagut shirts.
They also have fashion shows which feature men and women in the polo shirts. The women parade in shorts with heels and a visor for a 'sporty' look.
In the eyes of many Chinese people, the polo shirts were associated with wealth and romance as its Chinese brand name means "charming dream". Its flower logo added more to the romantic feeling. ....At that time, there were not many western goods available, and the Montagut polo shirt was one of the first high-class items that could be brought there.
I know you fashionistas out there are thinking this cannot be reality but it is! You kids have to get out more like to second-tier cities. Let me leave you with a great story typical of the old Chinese diaspora in the Philippines that epitomizes the popularity of Montagut.
The brand, together with Lacoste (at least they are trying to resuscitate themselves) and Pierre Cardin, was looked at as an expensive brand so much so that when Chinese weddings with their multi-page gatefolded red and gold invites called for 'formal attire,' many Chinese guests would not show up in tuxes or Barong, the Philippines national dress but Montagut!!?? Why? Because it was expensive and imported and expensive and imported from France(!)=formal.
You can take the boy out of China but you can't take the Chinois out of the boy.


One of my editors asked me what she should wear as a guest for a society wedding in Bali. The celebrations would cover three days (at least!) and she did not want to spend a lot of money but she had to look good enough to socialize next to the Matthew Williamsons and Alice Temperleys hanging on social X-ray bodies.
Because it is going to be a wedding at a beach resort known for its Gypset (gypsy jet-setters) residents and visitors, wearing something unpretentious, comfortable and hopefully colourful (and printed or beaded) would be a great choice for every occasion (rehearsal dinner, cocktails, reception, morning after breakfast). Plus you don't need to match shoes to your dress because any sparkly pair of slippers will go with everything.
Personally, I don't like to spend very much on beach attire except on Eres and Wolford swimsuits whose cuts and expensive fabric I feel an 'older' body could benefit from without looking matronly. As far as cover-ups and cocktail attire are concerned, I don't believe in making a splash in Matthew Williamson, Roberto Cavalli, Alice Temperley and similar brands simply because I think their products have no value for money because they can easily be knocked off on the cheap by TopShop and HnM and no one will be able to tell the difference. (Williamson and Cavali have since produced cut-price collections for HnM. SEE??? Wadiditellya??) The most I spend for resort wear is on Pucci because I can understand the value in their printing cost.
I should know. I used to work in a business where my bosses would come to the office bearing a 1000 USD Versace top and say, "Make this for 50 dollars." (This was in the 80s-early 90s before HnM and TopShop had world domination)
It is more difficult to produce a simple, well-cut garment in a good fabric than one that is covered in prints, sequins and ruffles because every pull, every missed stitch, every pucker will be revealed in a garment that needs to be so exact and simple. That is why Jil Sander, Japanese labels and Martin Margiela are still in business. A lot has to be said for precision.
Of course there is something to be said for Dries van Noten whose collection, although covered in sequins and embroidery, has yet to be knocked-off on the cheap. Any production person who looks at his line will tell you, "It will be hard."
The science of textile printing has come a long way since the beginning of seven-screen Pucci or Hermes prints. Of course, print quality will never be the same but who is really looking? HnM and TopShop have produced wonderful prints that can pass for the choice of jet-setting hippies.
Consider the prints above by Sara Harnett (not exactly TopShop prices) as a new way to do resort or beach. Not quite sickly floral, not quite hard graphics but statement-making. Similar prints should flood the High Street soon.
What I love to wear (and many will disagree with me) in tropical resorts AND TOWNS are cotton kurtas. There are available at different price points and in Europe and America, even on the streets. (I get mine from mandarinorangeclothing.com or Madhu Pallo: madhupallo@netvigator.com who does private sales) I wear them when I visit less dressy cities such as Manila, Jakarta, Singapore, Phnom Penh because a) I look fabulous in prints and/or sequins, b) I keep cool and c) I always look 'dressed' even if all I did was throw on a colorful top and white trousers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Being part of the international fashion media, I shouldn't be saying this but perhaps the game is up for the luxury goods business (long reputed to be the next bubble after China and dotcoms).
Witness the empty shops in most financial and shopping capitals (not to mention numerous brand name store closures in Russia) and you will feel that the stratospheric prices and certain brands' questionable quality are going to have to come down. SOON. Like this season's sales, perhaps?
(Meanwhile, my retail sources tell me business in poorer economies like Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia are bouyant thanks to an established niche market of the wealthy, powerful and perhaps corrupt and un-chic. But who cares as long as there is a market!)
With Lacroix filing for creditor protection, dahling, and Veronique Branquinho zipping up, the outlook is not looking much better for revered fashion houses. Throw into that the boardroom squabbles (Dontallela's shade of tan? Dark orange, darker tangerine?) at Versace with its own image and not to mention business management problems. LV has also halted the construction of yet another Tokyo flagship.
Of course, as an editor and a brand PR manager and I discussed over lunch last week, it's not that people will not spend. They will just be more cautious of what they are purchasing. The public will always want to buy SOMETHING. (Usually something cheap that's why Uniqlo of Japan is reporting profits and stealthily bracing itself for world domination)
The question is, how much longer will this love affair with luxury last and who will be the winners?
Just as I was thinking about the state of global luxury retail, I find this in today's FT: (I have enlarged key sections for the internet-generation's reading impaired):

Japanese fall out of love with luxury
By Michiyo Nakamoto in Tokyo
Published: June 2 2009 19:17 Last updated: June 2 2009 19:17

Japan’s trend-chasing office workers and ladies who lunch are giving up Louis Vuitton handbags and Chanel jackets for Zara dresses and Gap jeans, making what was a favourite market for luxury manufacturers into one of their biggest headaches.

The downturn is forcing customers in Japan to scale back purchases of luxury goods, accelerating a long-term shift in consumer attitudes, according to a report by McKinsey, the consultants.

“This is not a blip. This is a long-term shift in the market,” said Brian Salsberg, the author of a McKinsey report on the Japanese luxury goods market, the world’s second largest.
Sales of imported luxury goods suffered a 10 per cent drop last year to Y1,064bn ($11.1bn), according to a study published on Tuesday by Yano Research, a Japanese market research group.
Yano Research forecast that the market would shrink further this year, falling below Y1,000bn to nearly half the peak of Y1,897bn in 1996 and then shrinking to levels last seen 20 years ago before it entered its era of strong growth.
LVMH, the group with brands ranging from Mo√ęt to Louis Vuitton, reported an 18 per cent drop in sales in Japan in yen terms in the first quarter.
While luxury sales throughout the world are being hit by the recession, Mr Salsberg said that the implications of the latest slump for Japan were likely to be more serious and long-lasting.
Japan became the world’s “only mass luxury market” in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Japanese consumers saw ownership of a Louis Vuitton bag or Hermes scarf as a middle-class rite of passage.
But the growing confidence of shoppers in mixing and matching cheap and expensive products, coupled with competition from a growing array of luxury services such as spas and expensive restaurants, have robbed the brands of their hold on such spending.
Mr Salsberg said the brand makers, which created “a luxury bubble” with “a ridiculous number of store build-outs”, bore some blame for their predicament. He warned that they risked repeating the mistake in China.
China was the “growth story” for luxury but if makers flooded the market with stores as in Japan and people were able to buy such goods on every street corner, “the industry is going to destroy itself” there, he said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009