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Monthly Archives: August 2017

Shopping in Hong Kong

Mr. Zhao, who is from Beijing and works for Morgan Stanley in New York, was ushered into a plush alcove with gray carpets and a poster of a Ferrari, a nod to Hublot’s branding partnership with the Italian carmaker. After a saleswoman wearing black gloves displayed the intricacies of the watch’s sapphire dial and matte black ceramic case, he said that he planned to buy it.

“The watch tells you I’m 26,” Mr. Zhao, who wore shorts and a black T-shirt, said of the model from Hublot’s Spirit of Big Bang collection. He said that he liked both its simple look and classic undertones, and that it would complement the two dozen other watches — each worth around $50,000 — in his expanding collection.

If he wore a more traditional timepiece, he added, a friend might ask skeptically, “Why do you have your father’s or grandpa’s watch?”

Mr. Zhao’s choice to shop in Hong Kong — for years a global leader in retail watch sales — is in some ways a throwback to an era that analysts say is coming to an end. Wealthy people from the Chinese mainland are traveling more widely overseas and increasingly shopping at home, they say, making this semiautonomous Chinese city less essential as a retail destination.

But Mr. Zhao also represents the future: He is part of a new generation of wealthy mainland Chinese men — one with more varied watch tastes than their elders — that industry experts say is now coming into its own.

The country’s older generation of watch buyers was less sophisticated and had little brand awareness, she added, citing one of the findings in a recent report on what her agency called China’s “mass affluent males,” issued in partnership with Jing Daily, a website that covers the country’s luxury industry.

Ms. Hou said the shift required brands to have a new “product logic,” advertising through social media and emphasizing the uniqueness, authenticity and craftsmanship of their watches.

Some watch brands and fashion companies already are adapting well, she said, but many others — especially ones that primarily cater to older Chinese buyers — have been slow to catch on. “Now is really a time to refresh the whole watch category to see who will survive” in the Chinese market, she said.

As for Hong Kong, it “was once the place where Chinese consumers would come to shop,” said Luca Solca, a luxury analyst at Exane BNP Paribas who is based in Switzerland. “Now they can buy in China or elsewhere when they travel.”

The Chinese government has been reducing official import duties on some luxury goods, including watches, and cracking down on people who buy such items overseas and then don’t declare them to airport customs inspectors on their return.

The global drop in demand for Swiss and other watches has been especially significant in Hong Kong, which lost its status as the top Swiss watch market to the United States last July. Swiss watch exports to Hong Kong fell 33 percent in the first half of 2016 compared with the same period of 2011, according to a September 2016 study of the Swiss watch industry by Deloitte, an American accounting and consulting firm.

While all five major watch markets — Hong Kong, the United States, Switzerland, mainland China and Japan — reported import declines in 2016, the downturn in mainland China’s imports of all watcheswas the most moderate, at 1.6 percent year over year, according to a recent study by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

And 2016 sales totals for Swiss watches in mainland China declined just 3.3 percent, buoyed by 9.1 percent growth in the second half of the year, the study said. (In contrast, Hong Kong sales of Swiss watches declined 25.1 percent last year.)

“Business is growing dramatically — double digits — for most brands in mainland China,” said Julien Tornare, chief executive of Zenith Watches, “when it’s kind of stable in the rest of the world.”

To nurture that growth, said Jules Boudrand, Deloitte’s head of corporate finance advisory for western Switzerland, there was a clear need for Swiss watch brands to engage with younger audiences across the entire Chinese market and adapt to their changing tastes. He noted that some brands were now advertising through WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app, and recruiting young Chinese celebrities as brand ambassadors.

Ms. Hou of Carat China said some fashion companies were taking a similar approach to their watch marketing. A good example, she noted, was Louis Vuitton’s recent announcement of the 27-year-old Chinese singer Lu Han — a former boy band star — as a brand ambassador for the Tambour Horizonsmartwatch that it debuted in July.

Kings Lau, a Deloitte analyst who specializes in southern China, said that young Chinese buyers were especially interested in “affordable luxury” smartwatches with personalized design features. “For the young, it’s more and more important that their watch provides an identity” rather than a marker of social status, Mr. Lau said.

Deloitte says that it defines the “affordable luxury” smartwatch category as starting at around $300 and including the Apple Watch, the Tag Heuer Connected and Frédérique Constant’s Horological Smartwatch.

At Tag Heuer, the core customer base in Greater China (a sales category that includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) are still people 35 to 50 years old, said Leo Poon, the company’s general manager for the region. But its number of 20- to 35-year-old buyers has roughly doubled since 2014, now providing about 20 percent of the region’s sales at storesas well as more than 55 percent of all online sales.

 

Fashion Little Cartoon Characters

Meet Snoopy as Alexander Hamilton. Dressed by Paul Tazewell, the costume designer for “Hamilton,” he is half of one of the 64 Snoopy and Belle doll pairs dressed by various designers for a traveling exhibition that arrives today at Brookfield Place, the shopping complex in downtown Manhattan. It will remain in New York until Oct. 1.

“Snoopy & Belle in Fashion” is a reimagining of a similar exhibition that was hosted by the Louvre in 1984 and featured miniature outfits made by Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani and Oscar de la Renta. It is also the most blown-out version of fashion’s long-term obsession with cartoon characters, a trend that seems to grow more prevalent every year.

Think back to Givenchy’s Bambi sweatshirt from 2013 (the one that was priced at $1,375 on Net-a-Porter), Coach’s Mickey Mouse-inspired bagsfrom 2016 or Alison Lou’s growing series of emoji necklaces, bracelets and rings (a gold, diamond and ruby kissy-face pendant goes for $9,680).

Jeremy Scott has dominated the oeuvre for seasons, making references to SpongeBob SquarePants, Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, Shrek, Betty Boop and more in his collections for his own label and for Moschino. During London Fashion Week this winter, designers riffed on the Powerpuff Girls, the Pink Panther and Hello Kitty; and earlier this summer Marc Jacobs unveiled sweaters embellished with a grinning Mickey Mouse.

According to Edited, a company that tracks analytics at more than 90,000 brands and retailers, the number of clothing and accessory items related to Disney that are sold online rose by 150 percent between the first half of 2015 and the first half of 2017. Pieces related to Mickey Mouse grew by 84 percent during that time period, and anything from the emoji universe grew by 502 percent.

“Nostalgia is a huge deal at the moment,” said Katie Smith, a senior analyst at Edited. “In the stories these products evoke, there is an escapism that’s reassuring, particularly in the current climate. The characters go through tough experiences but always come back to a good place.”

The names of designers involved in the Snoopy and Belle project read like a dream fashion week lineup: Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Dries Van Noten, J. Mendel, Kenneth Cole, Tracy Reese, Rodarte, Dsquared, Opening Ceremony, Monse and Oscar de la Renta. The final two were added especially for New York.
Both Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, the founders of Monse and the creative directors of Oscar de la Renta, were already fans of Peanuts.

“I bought Fernando a giant Snoopy book for Valentine’s Day,” Ms. Kim said. Mr. Garcia said his Instagram profile picture had for long been an image of Pig-Pen, another Peanuts character, until Eva Chen, the head of fashion partnerships at Instagram, asked him to change it.

Ashley Biden, who designed a Snoopy and Belle pair dressed in aviators, hoodies, Dr. Martens (for her) and Timberlands (for him) for her social-justice-focused label Livelihood, said that Snoopy is a universally loved character. “Everybody in this group of designers remembers growing up with Snoopy and the cartoons,” Ms. Biden said. “Back then it was a simpler time, and the messaging, especially through cartoons, was about love and kindness and following your dreams.”

Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., said that nostalgia can serve a healthy purpose during times of change and upheaval. She said that transformational or transitional periods can be personal (a death in the family, a breakup, a career change) or shared (a terrorist attack, an economic crisis, an election).

“Nostalgia helps keep you connected in terms of your self-identity,” Dr. Batcho said. “It connects you to your own past through the continuity of self.”

When we wear symbols of nostalgia on our clothing, we make it easier to connect with others around us, she said. “Making it public is a way of saying, ‘We all need to chill.’ Everybody needs to take a deep breath and remember what is best, and the ideals epitomized by childhood, especially cartoons, where all the problems are solved by the end of the episode, where good and evil are easy to tell apart.”

For the designers who participated in the Snoopy and Belle collection, the motivation may have been much simpler. “A fashion designer has to be so serious because so much rests on the collections and how much perfume they’re going to sell,” said Jeannie Schulz, the widow of Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon

Fashion Finds Solace

The clothes, too, were understated and unfussy: hand-woven sweaters, trench coats in tweed and suede, corduroy slacks, brown blazers. Backstage, Prada talked about intimacy, about the idea of going from big to small: from ‘‘the big deal of fashion, the big deal of art, the big deal of everything — to the opposite.’’

One of fashion’s foremost thinkers and bravest aesthetes, particularly when it comes to masculine attire — a few seasons ago, she dressed men as bedazzled golfers in cartoon-print berets and rhinestone cleats — had pointedly ditched outré design and focused instead on the humble, the simple, even the ho-hum. And Prada wasn’t alone: The rise of the unremarkable is the most newsworthy story of the men’s wear season. In Paris and Milan, designers shrugged off the extraneous and the extreme and reined in their aesthetics, focusing on the functionality of the clothes.

Men’s wear has long tended to be quieter than women’s, of course. Since the late 18th century and the so-called great masculine renunciation, when men jettisoned jabots, brocades and embroidery in favor of somber wool suiting, men’s clothing has been generally less flamboyant than its female counterpart. Two revolutions — the Industrial and the French — made an idle, indulgent, aristocratic life considerably less desirable than it had formerly seemed. High fashion remained an arena where peacocks could flourish, and at certain labels, they still do. But more and more, high fashion follows the world’s general mood and collective cultural shifts — so it’s no surprise that designers find themselves drawn toward the plainer, simpler and more everyday. ‘‘Human,’’ ‘‘simple,’’ ‘‘real,’’ as Prada put it.

The turnaround has been best epitomized by the recent shift in Demna Gvasalia’s collections for Balenciaga. For spring 2017, he referenced priests, popes and Mafiosi, with silhouettes tugged tourniquet-tight or jutting boldly out, and bright-colored jackets cut from the same damask that covers walls at the Vatican, falling from wide, angular shoulders of linebacker width. It was a lot of look. For winter, an abrupt volte-face: sweatshirts, jeans, hoodies and loose, workaday suits, in fabrics made to hang easily around the body. Gvasalia was inspired by corporate dress, he said, by the reality of what men wear every day. There were even a few looks with a new Balenciaga logo, clearly based on the wave motif of Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.

 That seemed like a gimmick. But it also illustrated an undeniable truth — that we’re living in a moment in which politics have become omnipresent in everyday life and casual conversation. Even European fashion hacks — the type that don’t usually get involved in the intricacies of American elections — understood the reference. The clothes themselves, too, are easy to understand in this context: The extreme upheaval of normalcy has sent designers scrambling after it, hankering for the unexceptional in a confusing, often terrifying new era. In uncertain times, the familiar and long-trusted become objects of lust. When the world is falling apart around you, you just want to wear a cardigan.

There are historical antecedents for this. In the 1980s, when the radical policies of the ’70s were replaced by Reaganomics and the conservatism of Margaret Thatcher in the U.K., we got Christian Lacroix’s archaic follies of crinolines and corsets, and the anarchic vibrancy of a nightclub scene that gave birth to Leigh Bowery in London and, later, to New York’s club kids. Fashion was a form of rebellion, with excess serving as agitator and provocateur, a backlash to conservative security. Then, as Black Monday crashed markets and the gulf war unfolded, uncertainty took hold, and designers found minimalism. With everything going on in the world, clothes were the last thing people wanted to worry about.

Of course, what seem like unexceptional clothes are, in fact, exceptional, if in subtler ways. Prada’s sweaters are cozy, handmade, naïvely decorated. They are garments that focus on the experience of the wearer, making them intensely personal.

Dress for Dystopia

In his debut dual-gender collection for Calvin Klein last February the new chief creative officer announced that his show represented “the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself.” It was a big claim (albeit effectively realized), but on Thursday, for his sophomore effort, he took it a step further.

“It’s about American horror and American beauty,” he said in his show notes; the dream turned nightmare. The immediate interpretation of that one is easy — let no one say Mr. Simons, who is Belgian, shies away from current events — though the designer chose to approach his subject at a more oblique angle, through the American fantasy factory that is Hollywood. Because, like the movies, “Calvin Klein is an American institution.”But what does that mean at a time when many people now say they don’t recognize their country? That Mr. Simons is willing to offer an answer is both risky — and a little presumptuous. But it also reveals the level of Mr. Simons’s ambition. He’s attempting no less than a redesign of American identity: one in which, if it works, a number of the alienated electorate may see themselve

Mr. Simons’s America is an America of the mind, rooted in the Midwestern prairies and resonating coast to coast by way of Stephen King, Sissy Spacek, Kim Novak and “Twin Peaks,” with stereotypes (cowboys! cheerleaders! lumberjacks!) just twisted enough so the references teeter on the tightrope between mythology and cliché. It is multilayered and riven by dualities, male or female no matter. And it is increasingly complex in its iterations.

An installation by Mr. Ruby, the artist who is Mr. Simons’s quasi-muse, of brightly colored yarn pompoms, dangling axes redolent of “The Shining,” tin buckets and swathes of fringed silk dangled over the heads of Trevor Noah, Mahershala Ali, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paris Jackson, Kate Bosworth and Brooke Shields. And out came two-tone satin cowboy shirts with contrasting satin trousers or pencil skirts, branded patchwork quilts, jeans and jean jackets with paint rolled over thick on one side.

Also virginal cotton nighties splashed with black-and-white prints from Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, and a riot of slightly queasy-making color in knit vests and contrasting trousers and silver-tipped cowboy boots. Midcentury silhouettes — the full skirts and tiny waists and trapeze cuts that have been part of Mr. Simons’s design vocabulary since his stints at Jil Sander and Dior — rendered in camper-tent nylons also were used for the oily shirts under men’s tailoring, gathered and puckered with rucksack strings. Matching tops and pencil skirts were made in rubber and given an industrial Ohio factory stamp, and party dresses trapped white lace flowers under transparent vinyl or silk under a scrim of black net. There was a woman-as-mop evening moment, which looked better than it sounds.