Fashion industry will remember 2015 as the year in which the Italian company Yoox merged with Net-a-Porter – the UK giant of e-commerce -, for Dolce and Gabbana’s controversial statements on traditional family, Givenchy’s show in New York open to the public, Balmain x H&M and so much more.
But 2015 is also the year in which Alessandro Michele was appointed Gucci’s Creative Director – which is the bravest choice that the CEO Marco Bizzarri could make since the former creative directors were named Tom Ford and Frida Giannini. When this Spetember Gucci announced the launch of their new boutique concept, I was really surprised by the strong media interest. And I’ll tell you why, after a short introduction.
In an era in which fashion bloggers are the supreme trendsetters, deciding what it’s cool and what it’s not, the impression is that fashion brands are losing their influencing power. Teenagers – who are the main audience of fashion bloggers as well as a high spending segment – didn’t have the luck to see a designer called Giorgio Armani telling women that they could wear a jacket and emancipate from men, or another one called Gianfranco Ferré giving a whole new meaning to the white shirt.
We consider ourselves lucky if we meet Chiara Ferragni at a party and manage to get a selfie with her. It is impossible to deny that the whole industry is re-shaping itself around these new actors. Don’t misinterpret me, changes are always welcome. Without change there would be no future. But how far are brands willing to go to gain more Instagram followers? Do they really know what the long term impact of these choices will have on their image? Are brands getting too focused on these dynamics that they lose the long term perspective?
You may now be wondering if this is somehow related to Gucci’s new store concept. The answer is YES, and let me explain how.
What Gucci did wasn’t just redesigning a store. [The brand] made a strong statement, sending a message to the whole industry. After appointing an unknown designer to guide one of the most prestigious fashion houses in the world, the choice of changing the concept of the boutique it’s like saying: “Hey, this is who we are now! We decide it, and no one else can say a word!”.
And Gucci is not the first brand who realised that, in order to build a sustainable business, investing in the new media is not enough – even though it’s essential. Brands still have to take care of their traditional channels – and there is no doubt that your boutique tells to your clients who you really are.
As a matter of fact, Gucci’s experience is not an isolated case. If you go back to 2008, you’ll find out that what’s going on in the Florence-based fashion house is not far from what happened to Valentino: the founder and creative director Valentino Garavani was forced to step down, and the appointment of Chiuri and Piccioli as creative directors (after just 1 year of guidance of Facchinetti, who also stepped down at the end of 2008). Since then, things have being going well at Valentino, and revenues experienced a substantial growth. But the revolution didn’t stop there: in 2012 Valentino partnered with the British architect David Chipperfield in order to rethink entirely the store concept. Why? Because the old stores weren’t in harmony with the new brand image!
Deciding to change a store concept isn’t an easy decision for anyone, especially for a globalised brand – either from operational and brand image point of view: when you have to change 30 or more shops spread worldwide be ready to give up on economies of scale. Furthermore, it’s not always easy to communicate to people what you are doing and it may take some time for them to accept those changes.
But a boutique is not just a regular store. It is the window on the soul of a brand. It is the place where customers experience, feel, and breathe what the brand is trying to tell them. There must be harmony between the store and the products, otherwise rest sure that you’re wasting your resources.
And if I couldn’t convince you with these two examples, then think about Michael Kors. Almost every fashionista has at least a MK bag or wallet. But why did he gain so much popularity? For the quality of it’s products? You know that’s not the reason. The only reason behind the exponential growth of this brand is that, thanks to its store concept, it is able to deliver a luxury experience at the price of a premium product. Whenever you enter a Michael Kors boutique you enter in a super luxurious environment, but then when you check the price tags you don’t think of how long you will have to starve to buy that amazing leather bag with a big MK tag attached to it.
So, whenever a brand is trying to make a strategic decision which will impact its long term brand image, maybe partnering with a fashion blogger isn’t the right decision – even though it’s the easiest one. They should learn from Valentino and Gucci and start from rethinking the way they’ve been doing business – even though it may mean changing what they have done for the last 30 years.
And now check out some of the latest boutique openings:
1. Givenchy’s new store in Milan, opening in September 2015
2. Alexander Wang’s flagship store in London, designed by belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen – opened in August 2015
3. Saint Laurent’s store in London, designed by creative director Hedi Slimane – opened in February 2014
4. Viktor & Rolf’s first flagship store in Paris, designed by the french studio Architecture & Associés – opened in December 2013.
Who’s gonna be next?