When you have the First Lady of the United States of America as your number one fan and ‘un-official’ brand ambassador, Anna Wintour as an outspoken ally and you have a CEO dubbed as the Man Who Dressed America, what could ever go wrong for you? Well, perhaps not much a few years ago when J.Crew was at its peak in the retail industry, when it climbed up so astronomically high all the way to the sequined-bedazzled summit, it literally looked down on other retail brands such as GAP, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Loft and many others as the reigning Queen or King (whichever term is more appropriate) in the mass fashion industry.
Fast forward a few years later to now, the declining sales and the huge backlash from formerly fiercely (more like cult-ish) loyal customers of J.Crew and notably, its crowned Fashion Princess Jenna Lyons. The once hugely envied retail brand is now struggling with dismal sales in the last couple of years and is currently facing a dilemma of turning things around. Which, shouldn’t really be a problem for the company as not too long ago, it did exactly that when current CEO Mickey Drexler (widely known in the industry as the “King of Retail”) took the helm in 2003 to turn things around for the then troubled company. The question is, with screaming headlines (see below) from the Washington Post that tells a story of a brand that missed the mark one too many times, will J.Crew be able to come back on top again?
While J.Crew may be the one currently on the hot spot in danger of losing a lot of its massive following, this problem with the retail industry is certainly not an isolated one (ALL Futureshop abruptly and with no prior warning just closed shop in Canada last week!) . There have been a number (a huge one in fact aside from a BIG LOSS with Target Canada) of fashion brands who has closed shop – JACOB, MEXX, etc. – or has announced that they are closing shops in the next year or two – Smart Set, Ricki’s, Cleo, Bootlegger, etc. – due to heavily declining sales and eventually, bankruptcy.
THE PROBLEM WITH RELYING ON FASHION BLOGGERS AND FASHION ICONS
This may sound like a counter-argument to the very thing we do here in the blog (and I, for one, am not a big fan of talking myself out of a business deal or brand collaboration) but I believe that the industry has reached a state of over-saturation. I strongly believe in the power of influencers such as fashion icons, celebrities, fashion bloggers in helping set or promote the trends. Every major fashion week from Paris to Milan, from New York to Toronto has its own set of ‘fashion denizens’ parading the latest collection of whichever brand has paid them to do so and the front row is a living billboard, a visual reminder of the newest trends, it-bags, shoes and accessories. But does this actually set the trend for the masses and not just for the few fashionistas and bloggers within the industry itself?
Moreover, does this fashion peacock-ing (trust me, this word exists!) translate directly to sales in-store and online?
While there are obviously concrete evidences that influencers have contributed to the actual bottom line, the question, and I suspect the answer is very much hard to quantify (yes, J.Crew saw 64% increase in their online store after Michele Obama sang its praises in an interview with Jay Leno but do we have more tangible evidences such as this?), is how much of that ROI can really be attributed to fashion bloggers, or say, Marissa Webb (who’s running Banana Republic’s new look make-over with the appropriate hashtag line: #thenewBR) and especially, Jenna Lyons with her massive cult-like following.
UNREALISTIC OUTFIT COMBINATIONS
In relation to the above-mentioned point, the concept of aspirational fashion seemed to have gone overboard lately. While it is admirable to look up to haute couture or highly unusual fashion combinations, these bizarre outfit ensembles have bordered beyond the practical and the real. The Art of Layering is indeed an art of its own but like certain forms of arts, it also seems utterly useless at times. Yes, it’s freezing in Canada and we could probably really use a great layering technique but I hardly think stuffing 3 layers of multi length sweaters under a faux-fur vest and an over-sized unbuttoned tweed jacket held together by a cashmere eternity scarf, topped with sequined slouchy beanie is the fashionable answers to our eternal winters.
Sometimes, too much is just too much. Is there no longer elegance in minimalism. Whatever happened to simplicity is beauty.
PRICE DOES NOT EQUAL QUALITY OR LONGEVITY
Perhaps all the above points are simply matters of personal preference but this third point is something I’m sure we can all agree. Now more than ever, it seems that a number of retailers have raised their prices YET lowered their quality. Take for example J.Crew’s very pricey basics – plain shirts that are virtually discernible from lower-priced alternatives. This exact reason has been touted as why a lot of retailers have been suffering from lower sales in the last few years. That and of course tough competition in the retail industry, especially with online giants such as Amazon and E-Bay giving traditional brick and mortar stores a run for their money.
Obviously, the problems faced by the retail industry in not solely related to price and quality but also to wearability, versatility and longevity. It again goes back to whacky outfit combinations that seem to rule fashion weeks and street style in the world’s most fashionable cities. There is no doubt that these kinds of trends inspire copy cats and followers but the problem is, these only translate within its own fashion bubble and not to the rest of the world.
This is the trouble when trendsetters fail to set the trend in a more massive way. Case in point, J.Crew’s very troubled last few quarters, which seems to be the beginning of the end of both Lyon and Drexler’s fashion mojo.
The impact and influence of fashion bloggers and runway / street style superstars like Jenna Lyons, Marissa Webb, Anna Dello Russo have been tremendous – albeit on other bloggers and fashion observers. But to the rest of us?
I don’t know… I’m still catching up.