Fashion today – thoughts on retail experience revolution and the empire of top models and bloggers

This is a learning diary for my all-time favourite course so far at Aalto Business School; Consumer Behavior, Retail Experience & Fashion. It was taught by Finnish marketing guru and professor of practice, Pekka Mattila. Oh how I wish that all professors were so passionate and proficient on their subject 😉

 

Fashion today – thoughts on retail experience revolution and the empire of top models and bloggers

Sonja Hannus

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I found the connection between style and fashion one of the most interesting topics discussed during the course. For me, fashion is time-dependent; it appears and disappears over time. It has to change in order to trends be considered as fashionable. The moment counts – when the trend becomes accessible for everyone, it is already out of fashion. Interesting question is who decides what is in fashion – who are the influential forerunners. For me, it is the ones who have acquired a status of power and appreciation strong enough – followers trust when these people claim something to be in fashion. Most likely it is those people who attend the fashion shows; editors, “IT girls”, bloggers and so on. Of course the designers create the fashion, however, they do not have the power to make it fashionable before these influential individuals absorb it and share it to bigger audiences by wearing or creating content of it.

Style then, is more personal. Wearing fashionable items from head to toe might not be stylish; it is how you combine elements and make them fit and look on your body. It is about expressing yourself or what you want to be through clothing and accessories, manners, other people, your environment and beyond – everything that relates to one’s essence of being stylish. Elements and pieces may change from day to day depending on occasion, time of day, mood and so on, but it does not necessarily need to change in order to be stylish. Style can be both following the trends in fashion, or remain timeless by using same pieces, cuts, fabrics and colors from year to year.

1.0 Fashion & digitization

Digitization in fashion is fairly recent yet constantly increasing phenomenon. Brands need to decide how and to what extent they will take part. Innovative forerunners will gain competitive advantage. Burberry is one of the foregoers in the industry in using information technology to share information for bigger audiences. The brand has built a retail theatre to its flagship store in London. This way they can streamline fashion shows held during fashion weeks for global audiences. This has enabled to increase audience from a venue that takes in 1500 people to 650 000; the heritage maintains yet innovative design and service experience is applied. This can be defined as service & communication innovation. (Alexei Gloukhovtsev)

Professor Eunju Ko from South Korea told us about social media trends in Asia. Most memorable thing for me was the attractiveness of Asia as a business market. China has 600 million social media users, major social channels being Weibo, Wechat, RenRen and Kaixin. I feel confident that new social media channels will arise and eventually compete with Facebook as well like they always have with Facebook. Asian people are intrigued by products and services that Western people use; utilizing Asian social media channels in advertising, for example, could be a great channel to break through in the Asian market.

2.0 Retail Experience under a revolution

I found concept stores in South Korea an interesting phenomenon. Concept store is a store designed to appeal a certain segment of consumer – retail store that goes beyond selling products but instead appeals to a general sense of lifestyle. A concept store typically has a single vision for the group it is appealing to.

CASE:

Inspired by this, I wanted to plan a concept store that would fit the needs of consumer in the segment I myself belong to. My segment would be an urban young woman who loves cities but is critical in the environment where to spend time. Too crowded places are a no-no and they hate anything targeted for masses and love personal boutiques when it comes to any products and services. Their favorite pastime is eating (healthy and fresh), exercising, and spending time with friends over good cup of coffee & raw cake, glass of wine and so on. Environment is super important: interior and atmosphere needs to be cozy, not too bright, not too loud or crowded. I think that this segment is actually not THAT niche but rather growing constantly. Ideal concept store for this segment would consist of, with the reference store:

  1. Healthy & organic grocery store: fresh juice press, quality coffee, fresh & takeaway deli (Wholefoods)
  2. Sports clothes store; yoga wear, run, gym clothes and equipment: (e.g. Nike, Lululemon)
  3. Gym, yoga, sauna and space to exercise (Equinox club)
  4. Fashion stores with chic, urban, high quality yet not too pricey clothes (from Zara to Filippa K style)
  5. Cozy restaurant with healthy yet delicious food and cozy interior (Lundberg, Café Kokko, Favela, Sandro in Helsinki)
  6. Library: With books about lifestyle, self-development, business, psychology, philosophy, nutrition etc.

If this were not (for now) possible, cluttering these types of stores would be ideal, as consumers of this segment enjoy the concept. Although this concept could not be directly applied globally, I still think this segment exists all over the world; to some extent it could be copied, with adoption to fit the needs at the location.

2.1. Brand image & Storytelling

For a luxury brand, succeeding to create and maintain desired brand image is crucial. Louis Vuitton has done innovative marketing through storytelling videos that characterizes a city as a person (When Hong Kong is a woman), which I found awesome. I also found interesting to learn that Vuitton is never present at airports, as they do not want consumers to make a last minute purchase. This makes sense; when consumer makes a spontaneous purchase, he/she is more likely to regret it, which then affects on their brand image, either consciously or unconsciously.

Many brands use storytelling video ads. Chanel has done great job in this for years for number 5 perfume. They recently launched a new one with top model Gisele Bündchen. It manages to tell a love story in just 3 minutes. A beautiful lady, looking flawless from the beginning, yet natural first, for few moments thinks that her husband is leaving her as he exits their apartment. Then she finds a love note from him. She enhances herself with Chanel lipstick and perfume. She goes to model for a shooting, looking perfect, after which she drives to a theater/bar where they meet. Love and passion is a strong emotion that appeals to its audience. The couple is flawless; consumer feels that she can relate to the lady in the video and find herself madly in love and be loved by wearing this perfume. Effective, in my opinion. (http://youtu.be/8asRWe5XNw8)

gisele

2.2. Research methods – Experiences of doing ethnography

Ethnography is a research method in which you as a researcher dive into people’s daily lives; watching, listening, asking questions. It is about experiencing the same your target does. Powerful methods are video diary and mystery shopping. Our guest lecturer Elina Koivisto gave us some tips: “You are the most important research instrument than anyone else/other tool. Use your brains! Do thinking, go beyond obvious.”

I enjoyed doing ethnography at Lumi – brand managers should always do it in their store. Although I at first thought that Lumi has done great job in branding their ecommerce and mortar and brick, I only after doing ethnography realized that there would be a lot to do in order to enhance brand performance. Our main recommendations was to strengthen storytelling in both online and offline stores. In mortar and brick, this would mean adding Lapland related elements such and pictures and materials to create an illusion of being in a forest. Other recommendation was to improve the online shopping experience. Adding personalization and automation to the site by identifying the user (reference amazon.com) is a good starting point.

2.3. Social shopping experience and affect of environment

Should stores try to influence the kind of customers they attract? In my opinion, of course they do. Each business needs to segment the market it is operating in, and target to this segment. Especially luxury brands are highly sensible to their perceived image by consumers. If inappropriate consumers end up to the store, the target customers (stylish, wealthy and influential) might downgrade their opinion about this brand, and shift over to a more exclusive brand.

Social environment of a store is important. Luxury brands are controlling the shopping environment by allowing only a certain amount of people into the store at once. The amount in is important to consider – too much is often distressing but to be the only one at store might be as well. Easiness of entry to store is also important – sometimes people might not step into a small boutique if they are afraid of getting too much attention, perhaps if they feel that they are not target customers, or simply because of getting staff’s full attention. This might be beneficial for the store, but often is not (loosing customers). Also, Word-of-mouth is more important than ever – consumers trust what they hear of the brand from their friends. Thus customer service and flexibility is increasingly important.

I personally think that creating amazing experiences for consumers is the future of retail. Brands doing this well will succeed. For example, a luxury brand needs to consider the online shopping experience: home delivery option, ordering online but pick up from mortar and brick and so on. Beacons would be a good way to identify customers and serve them accordingly. For example, when the customer makes an entry to the store, iPad would notify the sales lady, and show customer’s shopping history. She could then serve the customer based on this. This is just one simple idea; brands need to come with innovative solutions that fit to needs of target consumers. The North Face is doing great hob with their current campaign, encouraging consumers to explore the lands around them. They did a campaign where they took people who stepped into a taxi in New York City, for a full day adventure. Activities included surfing in the Rockaways, mountain biking and kayaking in Utah (link here). This is the core of future marketing. It is always a brand dependent process.

3.0. Fashion as a system & language

For me, fashion is self-identification and a way to express yourself. It is signaling your identity, values and moods through your appearance and your environment – physical location, company (other people), home interior and so on. It is the elements and ways you choose to make yourself unique. Fashion goes beyond clothes and wearable.

Besides the actual products, luxury brands sell the luxurious feeling among the product. Each luxury house sells their unique image with each of their product. For example, Hermes Birkin bag is a piece that for its carrier is not just a functional hand bag, but it let others know that she belongs to a certain elite that not everyone can belong into, she has power. Brands create these communities with certain features. However, also luxury brands sell smaller pieces that are expensive but still accessible for wider segment. For example, a young woman who can’t afford Birkin bag could purchase a Hermes bracelet and that way feel as part of the Hermes “community” – luxurious, stylish and iconic.

3.1. Reproduction of roles in fashion systems

There are at least two phenomena that I’ve been thinking about already before being aware of the definition fashion system. First, is the way fashion bloggers shape the fashion system nowadays. Top fashion bloggers have created a multimillion business around their blog; they travel around the world, attend the fashion weeks in first row, visit luxury brands’ showrooms and villas and show their experiences and outfits through photos and stories in their blog. They have millions of followers, which motivate brands to provide them with any pieces they wish to wear for visibility. And not just any kind of visibility, but styled in most amazing setting, wore by reader’s favorite bloggers. Brands have acknowledged the power of bloggers. This correlates with the fact that print magazines are loosing audience, who are shifting to real-time, online environment. Also, chains such as H&M and Zara have noticed the power of bloggers. They can produce and offer similar pieces that a blogger has wore in just couple short weeks.

Tuula Vintage (tuulavintage.com), for one, is travelling around the world, combining street wear with luxurious pieces, however nowadays mostly too pricey for average consumers. Yet she always provides links (though paid) for similar pieces in street wear stores. This is the nature of this business. Professional photographer shoots their pictures so the posts can be equal in quality with a fashion magazine editorial. In my opinion, top blogger creates fashion by wearing a certain outfit in certain time and place. Readers know that this certain blogger has a sense for style as they have followed her for years already. The reader will therefore take it for granted that this outfit is fashionable, rather than if they just saw it wore by anonymous face in ecommerce store (or would never even discover these pieces/style). Posts are often accompanied with a little story of why the outfit was chosen for that specific time and place. Referring to Roland Barthes, iconic structures, which make image clothing would be the blog platform, high-resolution photos and the beautiful bloggers. Written-garment then would be the story of the post.

MKJessicaStein2

Chiara Ferragni, a former law student in Bocconi University, is one the most influential bloggers and fashion names with her blog The Blonde Salad. Last week, she joined the private jet from New York to London with Victoria’s Secret angels, to capture the moments and share them in social media. This of course is beneficial for the brand as Ferragni has millions of followers in Instagram and in her blog. (theblondesalad.com)

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Another phenomenon I’ve been thinking about for some while already is the power of Instagram and to be specific, power of certain individuals there. Top models today have millions of followers there and they gain these followers by showing their daily life, which “normal” people are extremely interested of. Via Instagram they know in real-time what their idols or sources of inspiration are doing. This is very recent phenomenon – top models today are not as mysterious as Tyra Banks or Kate Moss used to be.

I find it interesting that the more personality top model has got, the more popular she is. Cara Delevingne (world’s most followed top model, age 22, 8.8m followers in Instagram) has established such a strong and favorable reputation that she can do whatever she wants and the brands will remain hunting after her as her market value is so high. In my opinion, she has reshaped the fashion system in this way. Instead of judging, Head Designer for Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld is joining the rebellious and goofy actions of Delevingne. Of course by saying anything, I don’t mean that Delevingne or similar names would associate themselves with drugs or such – as opposite, influential individuals are promoting against campaigns for human rights whenever they have a chance. They are aware of their power and will use it to promote ‘the greater good’. Being a strong and even weird personality will not affect brands’ interest towards Delevingne – when browsing any Vogue, I notice that she is the face for most (literally) brands: Chanel, Mulberry, Burberry, H&M, Topshop, Zara, D&G, Fendi, Stella McCartney, Oscar De La Renta and so on. Also, she is not afraid to post “ugly” pictures of herself. “STOP LABELING START LIVING” is her slogan – and the entire world seems to love her. The photo below is posted by Cara herself on her Instagram account.

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4.0. Fashion as a power structure

According to Veblen, fashion as a power structure means that people use resources to transmit a higher social status than others. For assignment IV, we watched the film La Grande Bellezza. Throughout the film, I was intrigued by the setting of the main character being always in outfits that were considered to the last detail, that were timeless, well tailored and fitted. Also the ladies of upper class were stylish; they used colors, fine fabrics, tailored cuts, and beautiful dresses with prestigious accessories. The ladies clearly had their own styles that let them express themselves. Outfits were never too sexy but always feminine and beautiful. Lower class ladies dressed differently – outfits were revealing and a lot of make up was worn.

Creative Director of Costumes, Daniela Ciancio, put it this way: “I’m very tied to the idea of the classic male. I like the elegance of the classic man, but not too formal — elegant, classic, but still young. Above all, it’s based on the quality of the cut and fabric.The world around Jep has lost that elegance; he’s the only one who still has this elegance in the film.” I think this holds truth. The time of the film is clearly current time – MacBooks and iPhones are present. People in the scenes at city dress very casually – men are wearing t-shirts and shorts. However, Jep is always stylish. These kinds of men are rare these days, everywhere.

I enjoyed analyzing style present in Blue Jasmine as well. Presentations held by our classmates were very interesting – I would have never spotted (at least at first watching round) that Jasmine was wearing her Birkin bag in every scene besides the last one, when she was having a break down. Also, the usage of Chanel jacket in situation where she needed extra confidence was interesting. Jasmine’s style was flawless – feminine, appropriate, beautiful, timeless. An observation I made while watching the film: When Jasmine and her sister were shopping at Prada (or some other luxury shop), her sister spotted a little yellow bag, which Jasmine encouraged her to buy. However, Jasmine would’ve never bought this bag herself though it was Prada. This made me think about the fact that not everything is stylish (to the ‘style icons’) though they are luxurious. The true upper class ladies wear often neutral colors, fine materials and timeless pieces.

5.0. Conclusion

I have discussed some content of our course that I found in particular interesting and thought raising. I enjoyed the course a lot and truly feel that it has made me see many things in a different way for good. So far, I have actually thought that I am not interested in studying fashion whatsoever. I now realize that fashion is so much more than I have traditionally thought, and I find the history, sociology, psychology and philosophy related to it extremely interesting.

References

Tuulavintage.com

Theblondesalad.com

http://creativity-online.com/work/the-north-face-see-for-yourself/38114

Roland Barthes, The Fashion Systems

Lecturers: Professors Pekka Mattila, Alexei Gloukhovtsev, Elina Koivisto, Eunju Ko

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