Late & Great: Arthur Cinader

The New York Times: The late Arthur Cinader “decided to start J. Crew in the early 1980s while running the Popular Merchandise Company, a business, founded by his father in Rye, N.Y., that used a catalog to sell affordable clothing and home furnishings directly to consumers … The new venture took the word “crew” from the water sport and affixed a J in front because it was thought to be graphically appealing … Mr. Cinader empowered his daughter, Emily Scott, to conceive of the company’s aesthetic and oversee the design of its apparel while he focused on the financial side of the business and on marketing through the J. Crew catalog.”

“J. Crew opened its first store at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, followed by stores in San Francisco, Chestnut Hill, Mass., and other places. The segue proved successful, and by the mid-’90s the company had several dozen stores collectively generating revenue in excess of $500 per square foot … The success of the company owed much to Mr. Cinader and Ms. Scott’s scrupulous focus on their target demographic: affluent, high-achieving people who wanted to signal a certain pedigree with their fashion choices, but not one so stuffy that they would think twice before associating with it.”

“Articles in the business press over the years have described J. Crew’s niche as one notch below Ralph Lauren and one notch above retailers like Gap or the Limited. While the company’s first catalog featured photographs from the Weld Boathouse at Harvard, J. Crew marketed itself to the man or woman who might have attended any college or university and simply wanted to evoke a hint of the Ivy League.”

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Amazon: A Bad ‘Hood For Luxury Brands?

The Wall Street Journal: “Amazon is courting companies across the retail spectrum, but one sector is still mostly holding out: the world’s club of luxury brands. Swatch and others in the luxury industry say Amazon’s online marketplace undermines the strict control they say is key to maintaining a sense of exclusivity—and keeping prices high. While some makers of luxury products have decided to join Amazon, many of the industry’s biggest players—including Swatch, Gucci owner Kering, luxury-watch maker Cie. Financière Richemont SA and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE —are staying away for now.”

“The absence of high-end products has hampered Amazon’s push to be a force in the fashion industry, despite years of working to expand the merchandise it sells officially though its website. Adding luxury goods would help Amazon boost margins and build loyalty among customers of Amazon Prime, its premium service favored by higher-income shoppers that offers faster delivery and other perks, according to former executives familiar with the company’s shopper base.”

“One of the biggest worries for these luxury companies: The difficulty of segregating their product listings from the rest of the goods sold through the site. That means a $5,000 suit from luxury Italian menswear company Brioni, a subsidiary of Kering, can appear next to a $200 suit from Kenneth Cole.” Jean Cailliau, executive adviser at Paris-based investment bank Bryan, Garnier & Co., comments: “That contradicts the essence of luxury selling and shopping, where the product is the product also because of its environment.”

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Maximalism: Ugly Design vs. Minimalism

The New York Times: “If you have read a design magazine or, really, ever been inside a house with a subscription to one, you will be familiar with the words: midcentury, modern, minimalist, Scandinavian … Ksenia Shestakovskaia, for one, finds it all unbearably boring. She was working as a textile designer in Berlin when she came to see that simplicity and marketability had overtaken creativity … So she left her job and started spending time on eBay, browsing furniture listings and collecting images of her favorite pieces. Some may call it killing time; Ms. Shestakovskaia thinks of it as research.”

“Her findings first surfaced on her Instagram account, @decorhardcore, a stream of furnishings that could be described as ’80s glam meets ’90s kitsch meets grandma’s tchotchke cabinet.” Jonas Nyffenegger, 30, “and his friend Sébastien Mathys, 31, created Ugly Design, a collection of found images that form a counterargument to minimalism, as well as everything you might learn in graduate school. Their interests extend into fashion, and recent posts on Instagram include ripped jeans patched with raw-meat-printed fabric, and a toilet that also happens to be a giant high-heeled shoe.”

“Ms. Shestakovskaia disagrees with the idea that maximalism’s appeal comes from its inherent ugliness.” She comments: “I struggle with ugly and horrendous and heinous, but strange is really good.”

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Chance v. Swift: Sincerity v. Authenticity

David Brooks: “It’s interesting to compare Chance the Rapper’s new song with Taylor Swift’s new song … The former stands out from the current cultural moment; the latter embodies it … The first thing you notice in comparing the Chance the Rapper and Taylor Swift songs is the difference between a person and a brand. A lot of young people I know talk about ‘working on their brand,’ and sometimes I wish that word had never been invented.”

“A person has a soul, which is what Chance is worrying about. A brand has a reputation, which is the title of Swift’s next album. A person has private dignity. A brand is a creation for an audience. ‘I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams,’ is how Swift puts it.”

“The second thing you notice is the difference between sincerity and authenticity. In Lionel Trilling’s old distinction, sincerity is what you shoot for in a trusting society. You try to live honestly and straightforwardly into your social roles and relationships. Authenticity is what you shoot for in a distrustful society. You try to liberate your own personality by rebelling against the world around you, by aggressively fighting against the society you find so vicious and corrupt … rebellious authenticity is the familiar corporate success formula, and sincerity, like Chance the Rapper’s, is practically revolutionary.”

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Crocs: A Divisive Shoe for Divided Times?

The Washington Post: “Crocs, perhaps the most polarizing shoe of our time, is making a comeback. The company’s signature foam clog fell out of favor a decade ago, but now it is a star reborn on Twitter and beyond: On the runway, in the pages of Vogue and on feet of people who feel a little funny about it but can no longer resist.”

“The turnaround is no accident, analysts say, but rather the result of four years of strategic changes, following a $200 million investment by private-equity giant Blackstone Group in 2013. Since then, Crocs has closed hundreds of under performing stores, done away with unpopular styles and shifted its focus back to its classic foam clog, which sells for about $35 and accounts for nearly half of the company’s sales.”

“Crocs now come covered in glitter and emblazoned with Minnie Mouse, Spider-Man and Batman. The company — which markets its shoes as slip-resistant and easy to clean — has also found a niche among medical and restaurant workers. Its Bistro line, for example, includes clogs covered with eggs and bacon, sushi and chili peppers … Company executives recently began noticing that people were buying a dozen pairs of clogs at a time, all in the same color. It turned out, they said, that high school and college sporting teams were buying them to wear before and after competitions. Many of those students had worn Crocs as children, and were now rediscovering them.”

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J. Press Store Revives Its Yalie Roots

The Wall Street Journal: Preppy clothing retailer J. Press said it is trying to ignite U.S. sales by opening a store in the Midtown Manhattan building that houses the Yale Club this October … The proximity to the Yale Club represents a homecoming of sorts for J. Press, which began by selling ties, belts and odd trousers near the school’s New Haven, Conn., campus in 1905. The brand is known in preppy circles for its embroidered collegiate logos and cocktail-themed accessories such as needlepoint martini-themed cuff links.”

“The move near the Yale Club is one of the biggest investments for the brand in a long time, according to Jun Murakami, chief executive officer of Japanese company Onward USA, whose parent owns J. Press. He added the Midtown space is expected to generate 25% of total U.S. sales. Mr. Murakami also said he forecasts 30% of J. Press’s sales will be generated online in the near future, and the company hopes to increase that number to 50% by relaunching its website and boosting its presence on social media.”

“Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, believes J. Press has a ‘tremendous opportunity’ because the brand is still strong with U.S. consumers.” He comments: “The challenge is that they’re climbing up a hill selling tailored clothing in a casual environment. But there are times when the younger generation needs to get that job or go to a wedding, even in a less dressy world.”

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Saks 5th Wellery: Luxury Prison-Style Workouts

Business Insider: “Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store in Manhattan has become, at least temporarily, a wellness paradise. The store has dedicated an entire floor to athleisure-focused shops and offerings like workout classes, salt rooms, and even vitamin guru services. This collection of shops make up The Wellery, which will be open at Saks through October. During your shopping experience, you can get your nails or eyebrows done, take an intense workout class, or find products that are tailored to a health-centric lifestyle.”

“One of the most intense activities at The Wellery is a prison-style boot camp run by the boutique fitness studio ConBody. The studio’s founder, Coss Marte, developed the classes during his time in prison. The $30 classes include resistance exercises using body weight and are taught by formerly incarcerated trainers … On a more relaxing note, the Breathe Salt Rooms provide a holistic treatment that claim to have a healing and detoxifying effect on respiratory conditions and the skin … You can also sit through a guided meditation while having your nails done at Sundays, a salon that uses nontoxic nail polishes.”

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LVMH: A Winner in Real-Life Retail

Axios: “LVMH, the French conglomerate and owner of brands Louis Vuitton and Sephora, had a 15% rise in first-half 2017 revenue, and that did not come by running fire sales — profit was up 23% … LVMH’s success is a reason for traditional retailers to despair as much as hope. The secret behind LVMH’s success is near total control of products from conception through manufacturing and sales, the opposite strategy of traditional mass-market retailers that largely act as middlemen and little more.”

“Next to Louis Vuitton, LVMH’s most important brand is Sephora, the beauty retailer that has been gobbling up market share in the $22-billion cosmetic retail industry. Customers interviewed by Axios raved foremost about the in-store experience, with freely accessible samples of any product absent any interaction with a salesperson. If shoppers want help, these customers say, Sephora’s staff is knowledgable and eager to find them the right look.”

“LVMH is demonstrating one formula for making a success of brick-and-mortar retail. That does not mean it can rest: Even high-flying luxury retailers like Louis Vuitton must constantly innovate as e-commerce matures and offers more products and more ways to buy them.”

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Makeup Alert: The Danger is not Cosmetic

Jane E. Brody: “When you wash your hair, clean or moisturize your skin, polish your nails, or put on makeup, deodorant or sunscreen, do you ever think about whether the product you’re using may do more harm than good? Maybe you should. Thanks to a lack of federal regulations, the watchword for consumers of cosmetics and personal care products should be caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware.”

“A current case is a classic example … When in 2013 the agency received 127 reports of adverse effects from a single line of hair-care products called WEN, it discovered that the manufacturer, Chaz Dean, Inc., had been sitting on more than 21,000 complaints of hair loss and scalp damage associated with the products’ use. A class-action lawsuit filed by more than 200 women against the company and its infomercial producer Guthy-Renker was settled last year for $26.3 million. Yet the company claims that WEN hair care products are ‘totally safe’ and continues to sell them.”

“Unlike drugs, cosmetics can be sold based solely on manufacturers’ tests (or no tests at all) and claims for effectiveness and safety. Even the ingredients don’t have to be filed with the government. (Only color additives require premarket approval.).” Former FDA Chief Dr. Robert M. Califf comments: “It’s not known how much of these chemicals is absorbed through the skin and what effect they may have over a lifetime of use. The right studies of health effects have not been done.”

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Cult of Queue: The Thrill of The Wait

The New York Times: “Theolus Jackson slouched against the stanchion separating him from the entrance of Supreme, the streetwear emporium on Lafayette Street in SoHo. He had registered on the company’s website to pick up a ticket assuring him a spot near the head of a line that by 10 a.m. that day spooled around the corner toward Broadway.” He comments: “Most of the time I have my music, so I’m not bothered. I come every week — I like the vibe — and I just chill.”

Jeff Carvalho of Highsnobiety explains: “These kids don’t come to go into the store. They want to be in the line. The line is the new community. When 200 to 300 kids are lining up outside of a store, it’s because they want to be part of something.”

“Today, the queue is partly a resellers’ market: energetic young entrepreneurs snapping up wares in multiples, then flipping them at soaring markups on eBay or selling them for pocket change to finance their own buys … For many others, though, the wait itself is sufficient reward.” Noah Callahan-Bever, the editor of Complex, observes: “The death of the shopping center has created this void in kids’ lives. It’s being filled in part by this society of kids, some known to each other only from the internet, all of them into this niche product that acts as a social identifier. For them, standing in line for a T-shirt or baseball cap is a way of telling the world that you know about something that not everyone is hip to.”

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