Friday, November 21, 2008


If you thought the fashion world was just about ramp shows, anorexic models and tell-all movies, you’re obviously a jurassic-era relic; fashion rocks for business like nobody’s business!!!

‘The Devil Wears Prada’ was a delightful novel and an interesting film to watch too. It was the story of a young woman, a naive graduate who is hired to work as the second assistant to the powerful editor of a fashion magazine called Runway. The editor, Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep), is ruthless, merciless and tough-as-nails. The young girl, Andrea Sachs (played by Ann Hathaway), does what it takes to please her boss. She changes her lifestyle, dressing style, loses weight, changes her attitude, her behaviour... everything! Till, in the end, she realises that life is made up of choices and she can choose a different life too. It’s widely reported that the book (and later the movie) was a thinly veiled true life story of Anna Wintour, the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue and was written by her former personal assistant at Vogue, Lauren Weisberger. This is not the first time that a character in a movie is based on her. In Ugly Betty and Prêt-à-Porter (a 1994 film), there were characters based on her. Some even claim that Johnny Depp’s look in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were based on Anna Wintour!

The woman is powerful. She brought back Vogue from near obscurity to the helm of the fashion world. She is today as much an institution as the magazine itself. She creates and cripples trends. She is the most powerful face of fashion. When she wears a particular designer’s clothes, it means something. When her magazine features a designer’s collection, it catapults them into the limelight. She is powerful, influential and revered. While the rest of the industry suffers in a weak newsstand market, Wintor’s Vogue enjoyed an upswing of single copy sales, rising 4.6 percent in 2007. Her magazine has a circulation of 1.3 million; and in 2006, under her, the Vogue family of magazines generated $500 million in advertising revenues. If you need to learn about the business of fashion, you need to just watch Ms. Wintour. She maybe a devil... She may or may not wear Prada... But she knows the world of fashion and controls it within her well-manicured hands; and in today’s time, it’s important to understand this business.

It’s time to dress-up for business

Fashion is big business today. Fashion has become global and every country is using this opportunity to unleash its creativity and its unique cultural aspects. China is using fashion to show to the world that it’s not just a source of cheap labour. Fashion is now the new way to relate to and compete with other countries. The best way of showcasing fashion of a country is through a ‘Fashion Week’. A fairly exhaustive survey revealed that there are today about 152 Fashion Weeks being held all over the world, from Pakistan to Milan, from Fiji to Liberia. It’s always some or the other Fashion Week somewhere in the world.

There’s more to fashion weeks than lissome models, skin shows, wardrobe malfunctions and anorexia. It’s a place for some serious business too. Wills, the main sponsor for the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion (WLIF) has seen that its sales have grown by 30 percent after its association with the event. After being associated with the event, it introduced a designer line in its stores, which now accounts for 15% of its sales.

In India, everyone knows that two things will always work – cricket and films; but today, it’s become very, very expensive to be associated with either of them. The third option, which is not yet so expensive, is fashion. So, last year when Nokia had to launch its new mobile phone called the Prism collection, it did so with a show by designer Rocky S. Nokia’s GPS enabled N82 handset was launched in association with Wallpaper, the iconic international design, fashion and lifestyle magazine. The campaign featured Wallpaper fashion editors equipped with the new handset and sharing their experience of what it’s like to be in the fashion capitals at show time.

It’s no more the elite fashion crowd that’s associated with fashion and fashion weeks. The New York Fashion Week this time saw the likes of OfficeMax, Blackberry, & Google as sponsors and front row guests at the shows. If, till recently, those were influential editors like Anna Wintors who decided the course of events, today they share the limelight with financial executives, investors and bankers, who play a big role in shaping up brands.

Fashion Weeks are big business for not just the fashion houses and fashion magazines but also for their organisers. IMG was started years ago by McCormack as a sports management company and he soon become the most powerful man in sports. Today, his company is one of the global leaders in the management and production of fashion weeks. It owns and operates most of the world’s important fashion events – from Lakme Fashion Week (of Mumbai) to Mercedes-Benz Fashion week (of New York & L.A).

In 2006, IMG bought the Australian Fashion Week too for $2 million and also entered into a $1.25 million five-year partnership with Australia’s Ministry for Tourism, Sports and Recreation. It’s no more just designers who are shaping the world of fashion, but some serious business people, and even the governments of certain countries.

Corporatisation of fashion

The world over and in India too, the fashion fraternity is realising that it cannot do without the active participation of corporates. So, FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) has increased the space devoted to Business Centres and given them more than 100 stalls in the Fashion Week. It’s also helping in designer-corporate tie-ups. Fashion Weeks provide an opportunity to attract venture capitalist to the fashion industry. Without this, growth is not possible. After all, fashion is not just about skimpy clothes and glamour models. It needs professionalism. Plain talent can take you a certain distance, but well-managed talent is what makes one successful.

So, today Rohit Bal etc. have professionals running their companies. While in the west, big fashion companies are listed on stock exchanges too. According to KPMG, the designer-wear fashion industry in India is estimated to grow to Rs.10 billion by 2010. Indian fashion industry is miniscule compared to international standards but it has a strong potential for growth. Corporates should find ways to derive mileage from this industry.

As you watch in awe the stunning Kangana Raut in Madhur Bhandarkar’s latest film Fashion and as you smile and cry with Priyanka Chopra and realise how cold, harsh and ruthless this world is, don’t forget this is one industry whose glamour has the world glued to it. When you plan your next marketing campaign, see how you can associate with and profit from this magical world of fashion.


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