Monday, January 26, 2009


Last year saw the first panel discussion hosted by African Fashion International on the global recession and it's impact on the fashion industry.......
I thought it was a brilliant start to the fashion week and a great initiative given the economic climate and that everyone is scaring each other with impending doom and gloom scenarios.........right down to the cash bar in the VIP lounge and soggy Nik Naks on offer.....;-)
Anyway be that it as it may it was a great start to something which could turn out to be something finally worth anything to designers. Off course I really think that many of the panelists had some great takes on the current situation and offered great perspectives on the global impact of the economy.......included in this was the usual brain flexing dull as bricks factual blah blah which clearly had gave some the fashionistas in attendance a half glazed, deer with headlights type of simply flew over their heads and kicked the living daylights of the person behind them.
For me it was really interesting but I sat there wondering whether any of these people were offering any practical solutions to the fashionistas who awaiting with bated breath for the panacea.........the promise of a future lined in silk and edged in mink. Again I found it interesting bar the regurgitation of some boring rant on the quotas etc etc and some trend person who spoke about the shoulder of the Balmain jacket (see my blog on Paris Fashion Week) - the good Lord only knows how a trendforecaster could look at the last Spring/Summer (ready to wear) collections and base predictions moving forward..........should we not be looking at Spring/Summer 2010 already and be assessing how they would impact on us commercially - her observation was as about relevant to the discussion as an ostrich would be to a Japanese tea drinking ceremony! One thing I would have agreed on was her constant mention of the word 'relevance' (see below for explanation)!
What I found interesting was that most people were predicting the end of luxury brands......yeah right.......and were implying that Chanel should go Walmart! Luxury brands stand the test of time.....its their thing and most of them whilst cutting back on retail expansion, jobs or their ad spend......don't really cut their price. Consistency even through adversity is what makes them brands that withstand the test of time, Madoff scandals and recessions.

Moving on though I did find some of the points that were made exceptionally relevant to our current situation. What we did forget is that to a large extent many of the fashion businesses in SA are SME's and have the ability to adapt to market conditions and demands far more easily so there are ways to try and combat the effects of a recession. Most of these businesses are not in such great shape to begin with so this compounds problems.......
What would have been nice is if people had practical suggestions/ideas that fashionistas could use in the daily operation of their businesses.

For me I had a few things but since we gave air time to more statistical jargon I never got to say what I wanted to say so here goes:

1. Spend on your brand

During a vibrant and growing economy consumers spend without question. Having an unclear brand position, while not the most ideal situation, therefore is not as risky as during a recessionary period such as the one we are encountering. In times of growth and expansion, the brand’s weakness in the marketplace is less obvious, as consumers tend to be more forgiving and are not so price-conscious. When times get tough however, consumer spending habits change dramatically. With negative news percolating from all media avenues the consumption fear sets in and they require much further motivation for spending. In recessionary times, consumers, not only spend less overall, but they become far more selective in how they spend. They gravitate away from brands that fail to provide a clear, meaningful, relevant and emotional engagement.

Conventional wisdom suggests that in times of recession it is better to tighten the belt and cut costs and most companies immediately cut their marketing and branding efforts. For me this is when opportunity presents itself. When others are cutting their spending and loosing the emotional engagement with customers, it will pay in the longer term to spend on the brand.

2. Spend on brand relevancy

The brand spend doesn't always mean monetary spend in every case. It is about generating a buzz around the brand and with the present day technology such efforts can be choreographed much easily than one can think. Think of online marketing for instance......the internet! A word-of-caution however for those over eager brand managers. When you create and open these new avenues of communication understand the limitations of it and the manner in which customers will engage in it. History of such communications is littered with companies overdoing it and in turn failing to become relevant. Relevance is extremely important to luxury brands and therefore you should tread carefully. During economic slumps it is the best time to build this brand relevance as it will entrench these brands long term. So ask yourself a simple question is whatever it is that you intend doing relevant to your brand.......does imbue the core values upon which your label is built on? Does it differentiate you in the marketplace and emphasise your unique selling it RELEVANT to your business? If yes then proceed.......

3. Avoid the SALE mentality

The increasing 'Wall-Street' driven short-term mentality to outperform competitors everyday is another pitfall associated with most marketers. I do not believe that there is a single business out there that can do this. Remember that proverb 'every dog has its day'. This is how simple it is. You cannot outperform the market everyday and every time. It catches up on you. In recession times short-term focused marketer go on sales promotion overdrive. This has a direct impact on the brand erosion and consumers get confused as to what the brand stands for.

Instead of sales promotion spend on engagement. Make your brand relevant. Cement the position of your brand in the customers' minds. Stop the sale mentality. However, simple and logical this may sound, most marketers who are continuously involved in operational thinking miss this and kill their beloved (mostly by the consumers) luxury brands.


This season is inspired by Victorian novelist Sir H Rider Haggard, with particular reference to his ‘lost world’ novel “King Solomon’s Mines”. With origins in Durban, moving inland and then to a ‘lost world’ type civilization loosely based on the Zulu Kingdom. Whilst the collection is not solely based on the novel, the descriptions and impressions of the book by Victorian society in 1885 is what captured my attention. The impressions of African cultures and the perceptions of London society at that time were triggers for this collection. Whilst not devoid of racism in anyway the book was seemingly less racist then many books of this genre to follow it. One thing that was evident is that he portrayed the African characters as having pride in their culture and even went as far as elaborating on the beauty and allure of the African female characters in the novel.

So with this in mind my collection is inspired by a singular theme ‘African pride’. I wanted to design a collection that showed various elements used in traditional cultural dress but with a new take to it. The collection is based on fluid fabrics which really are an antithesis to the often rigid fabrics used in traditional dress or the animal hides that form part of it. Soft silks with hand painted detail done in freehand and animal prints lend a strong African/Tribal element but hopefully not in a trite way. Mother of pearl buttons, cowrie shells and other elements are used as embellishment but in combination with modern Swarovski components. Bronze finished chain mail, Chantilly lace, silk chiffon and
This season the focus on the collection is evening dresses that are simplistic in silhouette but are embellished richly. I wanted the collection to not look like traditional garments but more couture and delicate. I wanted this to be a wearable collection which had great aspects of craftsmanship to it and artistic merit. The end result was collaboration with a great African accessory designer based in Paris, Mikael Kra. Mikael listened to what I wanted and interpreted some of my crazy sketches into beautiful pieces together with designing some special pieces for the collection. Mikael has designed collections for luminaries such as Azzedina Alaia in Paris and I have for the last ten years waited for an opportunity to work together. I am thankful for his time and the effort he took to get inside my head to understand what I wanted!

I would be amiss in not mentioning a South African fashion luminary, Dicky Longhurst (one of the reasons I am a designer today) who painstakingly hand painted silk taffeta inspired by the rich cultural mix of Durban.
This season is about colour for me. Africa is not always about disease, poverty, dictatorships or crime……….its about celebrating the cultural diversity and the pride we share despite whatever adversity we have. This is what I wanted to show in Paris this season……….we are capable of so much more. ‘Eau Sauvage’ was perhaps a cheeky title for the collection but it was a really jab back at those who often think so little of what comes out of our continent and those on it who think that anything not out of Africa has to be better!

Special thanks go to Catherine Le Sueur of the Bead Merchants for her assistance and unconditional support in contributing to this collection with her wealth of expertise and amazing selection of beads from all over Africa. I look forward to great collaborations with you!

Photographer: Simon Deiner