Fashion labels' reliance on big names is a double-edged sword

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 10:28am

What's in a name? Quite a lot, it seems, if the fashion industry is anything to go by. Last week two famed designers had their moment in the spotlight.

First, Swedish retail giant H&M announced a deal with easy-chic French designer Isabel Marant - a continuation of the high-low collaborations that have changed the game on the high street. Madonna, Karl Lagerfeld, Maison Martin Margiela and Commes des Garcons have all knocked out HK$500 tops and bottoms with the retailer.

In the contemporary and designer fashion segment, it was Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu who made headlines as the new artistic director of Hugo Boss womenswear and accessories. Appointing a famous name to head the brand's flagging women's lines is both a creative and a marketing-driven choice.

The young Wu has been based in New York and is already a darling of the American fashion world, championed by the likes of Anna Wintour at Vogue. With friends in high places, he has managed to dress American First Lady Michelle Obama at several major events, including both her husband's inaugurations.

Wu's designs, noted for their elegant femininity, luxe fabrication and a modern touch, are just the thing to spice up Hugo Boss' somewhat staid offerings for women. Those glamorous gowns that he is famous for, not without a hint of edginess and sparkle, could help to save the women's label from its dated "work-focused pant suit" reputation.

It's no secret that the German label is also largely reliant on a Chinese clientele, having just thrown a huge catwalk show and after party in Shanghai. Its many lines and more accessible price points have big potential for attracting the mainland's middle class.

Wu, one of the generation of big name Asian-American designers, is indeed a coup for the brand. His appointment has caused a stir on the mainland, and internationally.

Appointing a big name creative is the direction that nearly all fashion houses are going in, even those that seemed content with just a design studio. Celebrities are now part of the game, for better or worse.

Storied men's tailoring houses have followed suit. Ermenegildo Zegna held out for as long as possible until last year appointing Stefano Pilati as head of design. Gieves & Hawkes snatched up Jason Basmajian, formerly of Brioni, after the Fung Group's Trinity bought it.

But as much as a big name injects fresh talent and media interest into a brand, the fallout can be intense when that name leaves, as those at Christian Dior know all too well.

And this month it's bad news for Mulberry with Emma Hill deciding to leave the brand. Although exactly why and when has not yet been announced, Mulberry shares tumbled on the news - a precarious situation that no doubt sends a wider message to the industry.