Capitalism: That Word We Don't Like To Use In Fashion

Earlier this week, Fashionista brought up an important issue about the business of fashion and the common struggle for younger, emerging designers and labels to gain funding from outside investors. Citing Altuzarra's recent injection of capital from the fashion conglomerate Kering as an exception to the rule, Fashionista goes on to explain how venture capital doesn't come as easily to a designer—no matter how talented or promising—as it would to something like a new tech start-up.

The words investment, funding, backing, financing, even capital, all get tossed around liberally enough when we talk about the non-creative aspects of fashion design, but there's a word we tend to omit: CAPITALISM.

Ultimately it's what we're talking about when we talk about the business of fashion, especially when it comes to investments and funding. Most of us, myself included, consider these elements from the point of view of the designer, but capitalism is what drives the point of view of the investor—and all too often, we ignore that other half of the equation. Generally one makes an investment with the expectation of a return (otherwise those funds would be called a gift or a donation), and that's what capitalism is. Many of us don't like to use that sort of filthy language because we'd rather focus on the more romantic, creative attributes of fashion and its designers—the clothes, the imagery, the fantasy and the fun of it all—but if you think about it from the side of the investor (and let's pretend, for the sake of an easy metaphor, he or she is some uninspired, styleless moneybags with no exposure to fashion, or any favorite designers, or what have you), then that makes perfect sense: At the end of the day, the investor cares about the bottom line.

This week Banana Republic announced that in addition to naming Marissa Webb as its new creative director, parent company Gap, Inc. would also be investing in Webb's namesake label. Webb, no doubt proved her mettle as a designer while overseeing the womenswear division at J. Crew, so this is a pretty major score on Banana's part. For Webb, this is no small achievement either, yet you have to wonder how her hands will somehow be tied to the Banana Republic brand and its best interests over those of her own, now that it's providing her with funding. Will this money, and her new position affect her ability to design her own collection with the same kind of freedom and vision as before? It could.

Similarly, last September LVMH took a minority stake in Jonathan Anderson's label, J.W. Anderson, at the same time that it hired him to assume creative direction at the Spanish leather goods house Loewe. Sure, LVMH believes in the potential—and profitability—of Anderson as promising young talent, yet its interests in the revival and success of Loewe are probably greater. It's an unsavory aspect of fashion we don't want to think about, but it would be naive to ignore.

This is perhaps the same case regarding Altuzarra's funding from Kering, which owns labels like Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent. If anything, this past year and a half has seen a dizzying game of musical chairs, with designers moving over from one house to the next. And there's no guarantee that kind of flux won't continue or happen again in the near future. Given Kering's stake in Altuzarra, one has to wonder: if Kering were to call on Altuzarra to take over (or even collaborate short-term) at one of its other brands, would he feel pressured or obligated to do so? Probably. In this regard, he's not so much an exception to the rule of young designers receiving funding as the subject of trend forecasting.

Hemingway

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