Journalism and Fashion Retail
Summary by Lindsay Blanchard
The fashion industry today is huge and has taken many people as its victims. It is no wonder that many books have been written on the subject recently. A strong influence in the textile department at URI, Linda Welters spoke to her students about three very interesting fashion publications. The first discussed was The End of Fashion: The Mass Marketing of the Clothing Industry written by Teri Agins in 1999. Welters also talked about Michelle Lee’s Fashion Victim: Our Love-Hate Relationship with Dressing, Shopping, and the Cost of Style, which hit stores in 2003. The last piece of fashion journalism talked about was an insert from the March 6, 2004 issue of The Economist magazine titled “Rags to Riches: A Survey of Fashion” written by John Andrews.
Teri Agins, author of The End of Fashion, is a senior special writer at the Wall Street Journal who has covered the business side of fashion since the late ‘80’s. She finds that there are four mega trends in fashion today. The first trend is that women began “letting go of fashion” in the 1970’s as pants became a prominent staple in women’s’ wardrobes. People have also stopped dressing up, Agins believes, with dress down Fridays in the workplace. Jeans and sneakers are now a staple part of just about everyone’s closet. Another mega trend Agins has noticed is how people’s fashion values have shifted. Today it is more than okay to wear high-end garments with bargain pieces. The fourth trend Agins sees in fashion today is that top designers have stopped taking risks with what they produce, and instead they are going with what is safe because there is so much money riding on the success of their creations.
The entire book reflects Teri Agins’ view that the fashion business has been a constant competition for marketing since the late 1990’s. She writes about designers including Ralph Lauren and his “wannabe” Tommy Hilfiger, as well as Emanuel Ungaro who is selling his brand to a large corporation. Chapter 5 of “The End of Fashion” is solely dedicated to Marshall Fields, the first department store in Chicago, in 1852. The store’s hey day was in the 1970’s and early 80’s with the growth of malls. Bloomingdale’s and Marshall Fields were strong competitors at this time and were both known for their extravagant parties and entertainment for the wealthy. Eventually, the store lost business to new categories of retailers including discounters, off-price retailers, and catalogues. It was then sold to the Dayton Hudson Corporation in 1990, which changed the retail strategy of the company. They shifted the emphasis of the store from exclusivity to a more modest category, offering coupons and more sales. Its new competition are the specialty chains such as the Gap Co., and the department store conglomerates Federated, May Co., Dillard’s, and Nordstrom’s. Since 1999, the Marshall Fields Company has seen huge growth. In 2001, Dayton Hudson changed its name to Marshall Fields, giving the 21 Hudson’s stores and 19 Dayton stores the established name. Today the company is owned by the Target Corporation who is in the market to sell it for big money.
The second piece of literature that was noted by Welters was Michelle Lee’s Fashion Victim. Welters explained that Ms. Lee has written for many top fashion magazines and is currently the senior editor of Glamour. In the book Lee uses her humor to tell the reader of the ten commandments of the fashion victim, my favorite of which reads, “Thou shalt be a walking billboard”, which refers to the overabundance and ever so noticeable appearance of labels and names on anything and everything. Michelle Lee also dubs the term “McFashion” in her book, comparing the fashion industry with the fast food industry. Just like McDonald’s can be found in every major city around the world, many specialty stores like the Gap are also ever present around the globe. McFashion refers to these retailers who carry safe styles in large quantities at affordable prices. They, like fast food restaurants, make it easy and fast for the consumer to be able to obtain what they offer in an environment that is comfortable and entertaining. All of the McFashion chains are so carefully planned and well marketed at their headquarters that customers know exactly what to expect in one of these stores. The problem with McFashion, Lee says, is that we are “stuck on a fast track to Dullsville”.
The Economist insert “Rags + Riches” was the last fashion publication that Welters informed us about. The author, John Andrews, has worked for The Economist for 22 years and written about 25 subjects other than fashion. Andrews believes that “fashion is a very serious business” and reflects so in his article. He places three world fashion centers at Paris, Milan, and New York; with Paris in the lead because the French support the industry with subsidies and through the government as it is a large part of their economy. Mr. Andrews also brings to our attention two new young designers from New York, Zac Posen and Proenza Schouler. Posen, 23, got his big break when Naomi Campbell wore one of his dresses to a star studded party. He now sells his designs to 50 stores and believes that he can quadruple this. Proenza Schouler is a pair of designers who came up with the name by combining their mothers’ maiden names. Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, both 25, are graduates from the Parson’s School of Design. Hernandez interned for Michael Kors and McCollough for Marc Jacobs before they joined together.
Each of these three pieces of fashion journalism is an interesting read. They offer valid information and insight from accredited professionals into the fashion industry. I strongly recommend and suggest them to anyone who is in the industry, or hopes to be someday.
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