Saudi Women to Drive Up Luxury Car Sales?

Manal Al-Sharif, arrested for driving in protest in June, 2011, loves her Lexus

Pardon the pun, but as Saudi women continue to fight the religious edicts that prohibit them from driving, luxury automotive brands are jockeying for position to reap the benefits that ‘equality’ and the well known love of luxury brands in the Middle East country may soon appear.  While there is no specific law that prevents Saudi women from driving, their position as minorities doesn’t allow them to open bank accounts, apply for a passports or even go to school without the permission of a male family member.  However, earlier this year, a well known Saudi blogger, Eman Al Nafjan, decided to take a stand by creating Women2Drive 17th June, a program encouraging women to drive on June 17th, 2011,  in support of promoting and encouraging King Abdullah to pass legislation allowing women the right to drive (he has gone on record saying such legislation is not far away). In fact, Women2Drive 17th June has a very active Facebook page, gaining significant attention and traction from national, and international audiences:

One of those audiences is luxury car manufacturers.  After all, Saudi Arabia has no shortage of disposable income (understatement of the year) and with a new market likely to soon emerge (no woman wants to share a car with her husband after all), the demand for high end vehicles has the potential to skyrocket, similar that what has taken place in China.  With the economy growing by leaps and bounds, Chinese women are increasingly taking on jobs traditionally held by men. Along with these jobs come hefty paychecks, ones that are being taken straight to the Maserati and Ferrari dealerships.  Among Chinese ultra luxury car owners, 25 percent are women, three times that of their European female counterparts.  Global management consultant firm, Bain & Co. draws many parallels between China and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in particular) in their shared desire for luxury goods and the sheer mass of wealth.  So much wealth, the Middle Eastern market, worth €4.1bn in 2010, is likely to grow 10-12 percent by 2013.  That is a lot of money to spend on Jaguar, Bentley, Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Come to think of it, it might be a good time to reevaluate stock positions in the automotive market, especially in the luxury and ultra-luxury sectors, wouldn’t you say?

The Irony of Lady Gaga: Fashion and Her Little Monsters

Mother Monster. Fashion Icon. Total Wierdo. Musical Genius. World’s Most Powerful Celebrity. There are many titles that trail Lady Gaga like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe.  No matter what you may think of her as a person, her music, what the world is coming to if she is the most powerful celebrity we’ve got, or her fashion, Lady Gaga inspires millions around the world and more importantly, drives action, all by simply being who she is.

In a recent interview held in New York during Fashion Week, Lady G said she thinks the reason she resonates with so many people is because she is who she is. She is not different on stage than she is sitting on her couch in her apartment in New York. She has no filter.  She says what she wants and doesn’t care if people don’t like it.  She is only concerned with voicing what she feels at the moment.  Must be nice. Us mere mortals have to worry about everything we say because God forbid we offend anyone, even unintentionally.

The genius of Gaga lies in the fact that having the world’s largest stage and having no auto censure, she could have made many gaffes and been ridiculed for them by the press and everyone else, yet, that hasn’t happened.  She speaks thoughtfully, even deliberately, and hasn’t been caught in too many contradictions, or even negative thoughts.  Either she is sincere in her effort to spread of message of love and acceptance or she is the queen of self-control.

Gaga has often stated that one of her goals in life is to ‘encourage the youth, or people of any age, to find who who they really are and simply be that person. Find a way for people to love themselves more and stop judging others because with true love and acceptance comes authenticity’.  Sounds beautiful, even poetic. However, those who most adore Gaga (her fans, affectionately known as “little monsters”) don’t seem to heed her message. After all, what they appear to take away isn’t a message of being themselves, but rather, trying to be her.  A few illustrations to drive home the point:

Imitators, Fans at Gaga’s concert at the Staples Center in LA.

Japanese Fans

New York, New York

Cigarette glasses. The most copied fashion moment

Although there are millions of other examples to show, you get the point. The question is, why is the woman who most promotes authenticity and self-acceptance also producing the most look-a-likes around the globe?  It is arguable that she inspires people to feel free.  She is a free pass to do, what under normal circumstances, people wouldn’t dare for fear of judgment. And frankly, with the excuse of “hey, its a gaga costume”, no one is saying anything other than, “Oh my gosh, I love your outfit.”

I wonder if Mother Monster would be more proud of her fans if they stopped dressing like her, dismiss their fears, embrace creativity and put on what they think is awesome and daring.  In the bigger picture of fashion and identity, the same question takes on more power given the larger context.  Each season, billions of dollars are spent (and earned) on developing fashion trends, accepted ways of dressing common among the masses, and every Susie, Linda and Tom embraces them in their own way.  But isn’t this the opposite of being oneself? Trying to look like everyone else?  Where does the line get drawn between being authentic, having personal style, and participating in the fashion trends promoted by designers, editors, bloggers and retailers?

What do you think?  Send over your comments and we will post them.

Until next time, be you. Be great. Or, just try to emulate someone you think is.

The Devil Wears… Zara? The Changing Face of Luxury

Well she might as well be because Prada is slowly evolving into a ‘luxury’ brand that won’t be able to affix the desired “Made in Italy” label to its goods and instead, will feature that same ‘Made in China’ label so many of Zara’s products carry.  Although the brand has an established reputation for its unique design vision and superior quality (Marc Jacobs recently went on the record that Prada is the brand he most respects and wears himself), and even got top billing in 2006’s box office success, The Devil Wears Prada, leading to a massive increase in brand awareness and social relevancy as to its relationship with high-end fashion.  However, it recently came to light that Prada is upping its outsourcing of production to developing countries with less expensive labor.  Having already shifted a portion of its material sourcing to China and India years ago,  citing the parallel quality of fabrics and findings as those from Italy without the corresponding hefty costs, the brand shifted 20% of its production of products ranging from bags and shoes to clothes for men and women to China this past July and recently announced similar plans to further outsource production to India.

What impact with this shift have on Prada’s positioning as a ‘luxury brand’?  It depends on the definition of luxury.  If it is all about limited quantities and exclusivity, then origin shouldn’t make much of a difference to the bottom line. After all, the same 400 bags will hit the market and fashionistas, fashion editors and rich ladies who lunch will  be pulling trump cards to get one.  However, if luxury is defined by scarcity and the level of quality, then the discussion becomes much more interesting.

If beauty is in the high of the beholder, then so is quality, at least in principal.  Why? Because quality is not a set value, its a subjective one. given the element of perception.  A fabric’s hand (how a fabric feels when you touch it) denotes its quality, the softness of a leather indicates its worth,  how many stitches a garment has will affect how it fits, thereby directly influencing our opinion of its quality (the higher stitch count, the better fit you usually will get.  This is why clothes from economically priced stores like H&M and Old Navy rarely fit well) and it’s also the reason ‘Made in China’ has become synonymous with ‘cheap crap’. As the largest global exporter of low cost goods, the association between Chinese goods and “low quality” is a strong one.  Now, slap that label on this $1540.00 handbag and people aren’t going to pause before putting down the credit card?

Prada designer Miuccia Prada, doesn’t think they will.  When asked what effect the shift of production will have on the demand for her products, she said any change will be negligible because branding is about consistency and  “Chinese production is extremely high quality ” and a “Made in India” label translates to luxury in the mind of the consumer”, similar to that of  Italy.  Hmm, not sure I would stand behind those statements but for them to be proven true, the Prada customer has to care less about the origin label inside the bag than the brand label on the outside. After all, that is what everyone else sees; the aspirational triangle.  What value that triangle has is where the value really lies, whether its made and sewn on in Italy, China, or India.

Things That Don’t Pair Well: Porn Creep and Teen Fashion

Unlike Bert & Ernie, peanut butter & jelly or Tom and Jerry, some things just aren’t better together.  At the top of that list is porn culture and America’s youth.   Its everywhere you look, from movies to toys (Bratz dolls outfits for example reek of sexual references) to fashion advertising.  Urban Outfitters, an apparel retailer popular with teenagers and young adults recently got sued by the parent of a fifteen year old model whose image ended up on a t-shirt the retailer designed and sold to adult men.  Although some models may believe being featured on t-shirt is a sign they “made it”, neither this model nor her parents were (they are suing UO for $20 million). Considering the pose and the fact that she was fifteen years old at the time, their discontent is pretty justified:

The model pose

The t-shirt

Sure, many may ask what kind of parents allow their daughter to even take a picture like this on set.  Having produced many fashion photo shoots, I can say first hand that there are always pictures that get taken and are not used for a myriad of reasons.  This is one of those pictures.  The real issue shouldn’t be how the picture got taken, but rather how in the world the Urban Outfitters merchandising team ever let a t-shirt like this get into its stores?  Clearly the retailer stated it did not realize the model was only fifteen, but that is hardly the point. More interesting is figuring out how we have gotten to a place of such desensitization that the appropriateness of an obviously young girl in an extremely sexual pose screened onto a men’s t-shirt is not questioned.

Urban Outfitters isn’t in the boat alone.  A few years back, Abercrombie, well known for the sexual and suggestive nature of its advertising, sold thong underwear embellished with phrases such as “eye candy” and “wink wink”.  At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be such a big deal,  especially because if the same design was sold at Victoria’s Secret. In this case,  girls all over would be snapping them up for bachelorette parties. But, they were sold at Abercrombie, and for girls  age 10-14:

If questioned, its fair to say the majority of fathers would probably take issue to their ten year old daughters wearing thong underwear, especially given its roots in sexual fetish apparel, but what is more alarming is that retailers have apparently forgotten parents’ role as the gatekeepers for their childrens’ purchases and perhaps parents themselves have forgotten.  If life is so busy that  parents aren’t paying attention to what their kids are buying Saturday afternoon at the mall, or simply chose not to contest a purchase because fighting with moody teens can be exhausting, or there may be bigger issues with more dangerous consequences to deal with, we as a society might be well reminded that most floods aren’t caused by a tap left on full force, but rather by a faucet not fully shut off, that drip by drip, fills a sink, overflows, and floods the bathroom, at which point, the damage is done.

An Exclusive Preview from NYFW: Color Your Closet for Spring/Summer 2012

As always, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week NYC went by in a blur. From early morning shows (only Tory Burch holding her first ever runway show could rouse the elite fashion group to be at Alice Tully Hall at 9am), to afternoon presentations and dinners lasting late into the evening, fashion is the breath of the city for an entire week.  After all, this one week helps set the fashion agenda for Spring Summer 2012.  Designers reveal their inspirations to editors, buyers, boggers and stylists alike, all of which work together to help determine what trends will go from the runway, into the stores, and ultimately into all of our closets.  Although there were many trends that seemed to capture many designers, we are focusing on color today and boy was there a lot of it on the runway.  Unless you lived under a rock, orange dominated the color palette this summer and its dominion will continue another season.  However, its reign may be challenged by acid yellow, the new bright “it” color favored by many designer shows we attended including Carolina Herrera, Christian Siriano, BCBG and Nanette Lepore.

Nanette Lepore brings the Rubik cube to life

Christian Siriano mixes dramatic with a simple, silk striped t-shirt

Katherine Hepburn inspired paper bag- waisted pants were a big hit at Siriano

Even the “ladies who lunch” get in on the trend at Carolina Herrera

so good, but even better walking away:

BCBG colorblocks brights with nuetrals

If you find yourself intimidated by the extreme saturation and all over color, don’t fret.  You can still form part of the color trend by selecting accessories to offset a basic outfit.  Here is the inspiration to get you started:

Although we don’t recommend matching shoes, belts and handbags all to the same color or fabric, the above option does show you numerous ways to brighten up a subtle dress to make the maximum on-trend statement.

Fashion Police Alert: GQ Ranks the Worst Dressed Cities

Long gone are the days when one’s concern for the city they live in is limited to real estate prices, employment numbers and school districts.  Apparently, we also now need to find time to worry about how we all look and dress (please note the primary concern is that starting something directly implies it currently isn’t happening. Exactly when did we all go lazy and stop caring about how we dress and look?)   Men’s lifestyle magazine, GQ, released its ranking of the top ten worst dressed cities and folks, it aint pretty.

Topping the list is Orlando which should not be a surprise to anyone. I mean, when was the last time you saw a nice, well-dressed family picture taken with Mickey at Disney?  Probably never.  Disneyland is where bad fashion goes for its day in the sun. The Floridian city is also home to snow birds, flocking to the warm weather to escape the winter temps from the North.  Each January they arrive to the Tropicana state with their pasty legs, sun visors and daily uniform of golf shorts, Tommy Bahama t-shirts, socks with sandals and capri pants. It’s like a retirement home 24/7.

Apparently, similar style choices makes Maui the #2 worst dressed cities (their contribution of Hawaiian print button down should be sufficient to keep it at the top for decades to come.

Well, those and grass skirts on extremely overweight men.

In a bit of a surprise, Vancouver, Canada ranks third.  The reason? Lululemon.

The activewear brand first introduced its yoga pants to Vancouver women in 1998 and it seems, they haven’t taken them off since.  The retailer has been widely successful in the past decade winning over women all across North America who believe its acceptable to actually never get dressed and instead bum around in comfortable, expandable pants that can go from the gym, to Tim Hortons, to Holt Renfrew and back home again.  The GQ editorial staff rather dislikes slovenly spandex pants (yes, even the cuter cropped versions), and we agree. Any pants that contain more than  2% lycra should be relegated to activities related to  vinyasa or brikam.

Harajuku, Japan ranks fourth and here is why:

If you require further explanation as to why the above is not acceptable, we urge you to google Coco Chanel and her ethos for appropriate dressing which include  “less is more” and “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Maybe there are no computers in Japan and that is why these girls didn’t get the memo?

Good old Boston rounds out the top five fashion offenders mainly for its unconditional love for Uggs, leggings and hoodies and other styles popular with the ever present collegiente population that dominates this city.

Everyone should learn and repeat “leggings are not pants, leggings are not pants” because not even super skinny or fit girls can pull this style off.

For the complete list of the worst dressed cities, click here

Berlin: Fashion Destination. Plus, Where to Go When You’re There

Quick word association game:  Fashion.  What comes to mind?  A favorite trend? A specific designer?  A celebrity whose style you admire and try to emulate? Or maybe a city like New York or Paris where fashion is an essential component, driving life and energy through its cultural lungs?  All of these would be logical options and if the German government has anything to say about it, Berlin will be the next obvious answer.

Although Dusseldorf has long been the commercial hub of Germany, Berlin is the cultural capital of the country. Bursting with artists, journalists and musicians, fashion seems a logical platform for the city to demonstrate its unique, unexpected and forward-thinking young talent.  This was precisely the idea when the city government founded the official Mercedes Benz Berlin Fashion Week in 2007, which has since consistently grown to be the world’s fifth largest show with over 120,000 attendees for the 2012 Spring Summer show held this past July.

In addition to the more established brands showing on the official calendar,  Berlin’s talent is so deep and varied, additional events are held throughout the city during the same week, providing the necessary exposure and access to the brands international journalists and buyers are interested in.  For example Bread & Butter, the international trade fair for street and urban wear, and PREMIUM, a stage for exclusive collections of various labels, together accounted for incredible growth representing more than 1500 brands and seeing upwards of 100,000 visitors.

Premium market in Berlin

One of biggest draws for a government to create a sustainable and successful Fashion Week program is the revenue it can create for the community.  Mercedes Benz  Berlin Fashion Week alone brings in 119 million euros as calculated by the Investment Bank Berlin (IBB)  in addition to creating close to 700 jobs, 50% of which are permanent. For a country that bears the weight of being an economic pillar for the rest of the Eurozone (a role it shares with France) even while GDP posted close to zero in August, Chancellor Merkel has to be relying on each city pulling its weight by converting its talents into revenue.

Convinced?  Your next chance to check out the official Fashion Week wont be until July 2012, but you can start organizing your agenda with our top picks for the best places to dine, dance and debauch in this edgy German city:

Courtyard Kantine

Kantine, photo courtesy of T magazine

Featuring a menu of pan European dishes made from locally sourced ingredients such as sand pike and schweinebraten, chorizo and crispy, flavorful vegetables; restaurant owners Merin and Gary are cool, hip, twenty-somethings, popular with the art and fashion crowd alike.  Given Kantine’s insider status, we recommend you call ahead to get a reservation. Kantine, Joachimstrasse 11, Berlin

Afternoon Delight:  After a long day of shows, a glass of champagne and oysters can really hit the spot, especially before the many post parties that go on  into the early morning hours.  Head over to Fishtake Zu Copernick, Berlin’s premiere raw bar.

A Dining Experience:

Designed by Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel), its no wonder Schlosshotel is the choice destination for fashion editors, models and celebrities alike.  It also houses one of the best restaurants in the city, Vivaldi.   Having served as the meeting point of Berlin’s upper crust in days past, Vivaldi now draws a diverse crowd, all in search of a true dining experience featuring regional ingredients prepared in a modern, young and fresh approach. Brahmsstraße 10 D 14193 Berlin, Germany
T +49 (0)30 / 895 84 0

Dance the Night Away:

Cookies Berlin

What began as a weekly dance party held in a different location every week has now transformed into the best nightclub in Berlin. If you are lucky enough to get into Cookies on either Tuesday or Thursday night, you’ll be treated to a live performance from top national and international artists and DJ’s.  Cookies has a cult following with the cool crowed, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself writhing on the dance floor next to the blonde catwalkers you saw strut the runway earlier in the day.   For a complete schedule of upcoming artists, visit Cookie’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cookies-Berlin/35577668480