18 June, 2024
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Kirstie Clements: Study fashion? Why bother now that luxe labels value celebrity over skill


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It was announced this week that celebrity music producer Pharrell Williams has been appointed men’s creative director at Louis Vuitton, luxury’s biggest brand.

To most of fashion’s seasoned and cynical insiders, the decision makes sense.

Journalist Lauren Sherman posted her reaction on Twitter saying, “At this point, it absolutely does not matter who designs LV clothing”.

Dana Thomas, fashion journalist and author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, agreed. “It actually never has, since clothing has always made up such a small slice of sales–single digits. It’s window dressing, literally,” she tweeted.

Phooey to expertise

The brilliant documentary series Kingdom of Dreams, currently showing on Stan, explains the motivation and the machination behind the big luxury conglomerates and how fashion designers, real ones who studied and know how to cut and sew, have almost become superfluous to these behemoths.

Living, breathing, formally trained designers come with egos, opinions, and, most importantly, talent. But as we have seen with so many of them, from Tom Ford being fired to Alessandro Michele’s swift exit recently at Gucci, they are seen as entirely dispensable.

It seems the fashion industry and the entertainment industry have become so entwined that a wealthy musician with a broad audience, albeit one with great personal style, can helm a fashion house and no-one blinks an eye.

It must feel somewhat disheartening for all those aspiring young fashion students working away at college to see that being a celebrity is the quickest way to get into the atelier.

The ever-ruthless rag trade

What the big fashion houses will do to sell more handbags is ruthless.

I was saddened to hear that Le Castiglione, a wonderful old-school bistro on the rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, is closing, as the owners sold the site to Gucci Group, which plans to knock it down and build a Gucci flagship megastore. There is already a giant one several hundred metres down the road and a few in other locations – but no, no, pull down a retro Parisian landmark.

Le Castiglione, or Le Casti as it was known, was a favourite with the fashion crowd for more than 30 years, with its plush red velvet seats, potted palms and long marble bar. Fashion people would flock there during show season, either picking at a salad or, for those of us who needed carbs, ordering the famous Casti burger with its thick yellow creamy sauce.

On a trip to Paris last year, I went to Le Casti, ordered a burger and a glass of Sancerre and happily sat by myself, watching the world go by. It makes me sad to think it will now be a Gucci store, directly opposite a Louis Vuitton boutique. I can see those in Singapore, Sydney, Milan, Seoul, Tokyo, at any airport. No chance of snuggling into a cosy banquette to eat tarte tatin on a rainy afternoon if it’s a shop.

France is famous for rejecting Starbucks and putting controls around McDonald’s, but I don’t see how the proliferation of cookie-cutter luxury boutiques is any different. If dismantling the soul of Paris is what it takes to sell accessories, then that’s not luxurious. It’s soulless.

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