Designer Collaboration Wish List #2: Vionnet for St. John

Depending on your age, your reference to French fashion brand  Vionnet is most likely quite different.  Founded in 1912 by Madeleine Vionnet, this French brand is most well known for the designer’s bias cut and creating a fluid, flattering and body-skimming look that moves with the wearer.  Unlike other designers in the 1920’s and 30’s, Vionnet did not believe that a woman’s body should be manipulated by the clothing she wore and therefore refused to include corseting, padding or binding of any kind in her designs.  Her choice of fabric was also unusual, preferring crêpe de chine, satin and gabardine to the natural fibers of cotton and wool that most other designers were using.

Madeleine Vionnet was a pioneer of her time (and would still be considered one given the recent legislation introduced to Charles Schumer to protect fashion designers) in that she was one of the first in the fashion industry to fight for copyright laws by forming the first anticopyist Association (L’Association pour la Défense des Arts Plastiques et Appliqués) and implementing a fingerprint label system to authenticate her designs and models (each garment included a print of her right thumb).   Despite having revolutionized female fashion both in Paris and America, having such leading ladies as Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn wear her designs, Vionnet closed the label in 1939 and some twenty years later, donated most of her designs to the Museum of Fashion and Textiles in Paris.

Vionnet vintage dresses at Paris Museum of Fashion and Textile

After decades of lying dormant and suffering a revolving door of management companies, the powerful Matteo Marzotto announced the acquisition of the label in 2009.  Known for the wonders he produced at Valentino (watch The Last Emperor and you will get a good idea of how powerful this man really is on the European fashion scene).  Under the leadership of designer Rodolfo Paglialung, whom previously spent close to a decade at Prada, Vionnet is experiencing a resurgence as evidenced by the  recent surge of key actresses embracing the brand.  Here are a few of the best recent Vionnet moments:

Carey Mulligan in Vionnet.  Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Rachel McAdams in Vionnet at Sherlock Holmes premiere in London, England

A pregnant Natalie Portman wears Vionnet to the Palm Springs Film Festival Gala. *Photo Courtesy of Splash News

On right: Leighton Meester in Vionnet at People’s Choice Awards, 2010

As you can see, the fashion forward, high profile group of actresses whom have embraced the brand positions it very well to create a desire among the rest of us normal people whom often attempt to emulate their style, but cannot afford it! Requirement one for a successful collaboration.

So, now that we have the designer determined, lets talk about the brand(retailer) to create the perfect match- requirement number two.

I have selected St. John for many reasons.  First, it is an American brand soon to celebrate its 50th anniversary (yeah national brands!).  Second, its founder, former model Marie St. John understood the value of quality and simplicity more than most of her peers. Both qualities are as important today as they were in 1962 and are sorely missing from most fashion today.  Finally, although Marie was a visionary and created a brand from zero and grew it to over $150 million in sales at its height,  the St. John brand committed the error of having tunnel vision and chased their ever-aging demographic and as result, became quite dowdy and old looking, completely losing the youthful aspect the brand was born with.  Thankfully, company leadership realized the problem and tried to rectify it by revamping its design program to include more modern styling and even spent the big bucks on Angelina Jolie to serve as the face of the brand.  Here is one of the advertisements featuring Mrs. Brad Pitt:

Hmm.  What is this ad for exactly? If I had to guess, I would say a tightening night cream for the neck.  Call me picky, but if you pay the likes of Ms. Jolie to be your brand ambassador, maybe you should, I don’t know, actually feature your product as the focus of the advertisement?  St. John, chief executive officer Glenn McMahon stated that Ms. Jolie’s contract was not renewed in 2010 as she “overshadowed” the brand.  Well, Mc Mahon should have thought about who his customer is and how likely she is to be on the Jennifer Aniston side rather than the Jolie side.  Let’s be honest, many women see Angelina as a freak (she did carry a vile of her ex-husband’s blood around her neck) or a homewrecker (that W spread depicting her and Brad Pitt as a couple while he was still married to Aniston was not the best timing). In short, I doubt the St. John customer personally identified with Angie.  Somehow, she seems a bit classier to me.  This brings me to my final reason for selecting St. John- its worst enemy is its misguided publicity/marketing campaign (it is also a pretty easy one to fix).

So, how does this work?  Vionnet brings its unusual prints, wonderful color palette and most importantly, its bias cut to ratchet up the modern quotient of the St. John Knit collection which tends to only use primary colors and very straight silhouettes.   Executive women today are not as constrained by the need to “dress like a man to be respected” as they were decades ago. They can embrace their femininity and color without sacrificing their careers.  With Vionnet for St. John, I would even go as far as to say that some pieces should be casual enough to be used on weekends. Gasp! St. John be worn outside of a board room?  I know, I know, crazy, right? Actually its genius. St. John can take a page from J.Crew’s book and learn to dress its customer for every occasion in her life.

Another argument for this collaboration is that it would support the brand’s goal of reaching a younger demographic, one that can also grow with the brand and provide a future revenue stream. To do this, the correct celebrity brand ambassador is essential (five words: Heidi Klum and Ann Taylor), so my suggestion would be Jennifer Connelly.

Jennifer is in her early 40’s, beautiful, talented, a mom, a wife (married to fellow A Beautiful Mind actor Paul Bettany), and has a refined and classy personal style. In essence, she is someone who the St John customer can identify with and aspire to. Also, being an ex-model and having served as the face of Balenciaga a few seasons back, she is guaranteed to know how to “show clothes” (position her body in photographs to make the clothes the feature, not herself), so upstaging the collection would not be a problem in this case.

So, have I convinced you on the Vionnet and St. John collaboration?  I am telling you it would be killer.  Honestly, St. John should be paying me for this lead…..

One response to “Designer Collaboration Wish List #2: Vionnet for St. John

  1. Pingback: Warp and Weft: Joan Vass & Chico’s Designer Collaboration | Up My Ali

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