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Atelier Jolie, Coperni robots, and competing fashion growth scenarios
How massification is pushing luxury fashion towards craftsmanship and memes
Welcome to the Sociology of Business. For those new here, in my last analysis, Kulturindustrie, I wrote about the four major types of the current cultural output. Subscribe below, find my book The Business of Aspiration on Amazon and find me on Instagram and Twitter.
Earlier this month, Angelina Jolie announced her new venture. Called Atelier Jolie, it is meant to give the fashion makers - tailors, pattern-makers and artisans who actually make the clothes - a platform for collaboration with anyone with a design idea.
Riding on the belief that we are all creative, and that creativity is the highest form of self-expression, Jolie gives the global reach to the practice as old as time. Local tailors used to be how all clothes were made. Leather, silk, wool weavers, artisans and craftsmen were selling their creations in the local markets.
The difference from the luxury fashion system is that neither of these groups had a brand associated with them. An artisan, skilled in weaving horse hair or wool or silk, sells their creations at a margin much lower than they would under patronage of a brand. Despite their skill and heritage of their craft, artisans’ creations are not considered luxury, much less fashion. They are souvenirs.
Regardless of how Jolie’s venture pans out once it’s launched, it represents a growth model for luxury fashion. Demna, chastened by a recent scandal, is now all about tailoring and craft; Hermès, Chanel, and other luxury houses have long been reporting the dearth of skilled artisans and craftsmen. Hermès started their own craft schools to train the next generation as the existing ones went into retirement. Attractiveness of going into craft for young Western people is however limited as they still prefer white-collar, service jobs. This may change. In the meantime, there’s plenty of those globally who don’t lack motivation or skill, but access and exposure.
Separately, there are high-end tailors making clothes as expensive as Hermès or Chanel, and serving a small and secretive but lucrative club of private clients, who want something that only they have. The more obscure and unique, the better, against the backdrop of the modern mass luxury fashion.
Mass luxury fashion, propelled by LVMH, is currently the dominant growth model. It is marked by the manic global store openings, aggressive growth targets, globalization of supply and production, collaborations, celebrity, trendiness and hype.
To stand out in the mass luxury fashion today, brands take their branding to the extreme. Extreme branding has often very little to do with the a brand’s identity or aesthetic territory; it has also little to do with the actual design direction and seasonal collections.
Extreme branding aims to elicit an extreme reaction. Packaged to be attention-grabbing and shareable, extreme branding most often exists in the form of physical or digital memes.
Neither artisanship nor extreme branding have the actual brand systems behind them; both exist on their own, in the cultural contexts outside of the luxury fashion (the former is the domain of ethnography; the latter, the domain of popular culture).
The most likely scenario of luxury fashion’s future growth is a bifurcation between the two. In the US, Bode, having originally worked with deadstock with US tailors and craftsmen, has since expanded its network to manufacturers and artisans in Romania, Portugal, Italy, India and Peru. It is easy the image Hermès or Chanel replicating Jolie’s model with a global branded network of Hermès or Chanel artisans; it is equally easy to imagine Gucci, LV, Coperni and others doubling down on meme marketing. Both models generate economic value; only one of them also creates social, cultural and ecological values.