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NEW YORK — With Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé Knowles, Jessica Simpson and even U2’s Bono giving traditional designers a run for their money, the line between fashion and the power of the image is more blurred than ever.
But when it comes to mapping out an image, the pros have a simple piece of advice to young, fledgling designers: remain true to your vision and point of view, and try not to emulate the philosophy of others.
In the third and final installments of a seminar on the “Business of Fashion” on Tuesday, panelists offered career advice and insights into image-building and its importance in today’s market.
The seminars, organized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and supported by Gen Art, are part of the CFDA’s efforts to help its younger members and those beginning their careers get an insider’s perspective on important industry issues.
“How many people in this audience own an iPod or know someone who owns an iPod?” Trey Laird, president and executive creative director of Laird & Partners and the evening’s moderator, asked the audience, which almost unanimously raised its hands.
“Now, how many of you own a Dell DJ or know someone who has one?” he continued, to much milder results. “The difference is that one made an emotional connection and one didn’t…and the main reason most own an iPod and not a DJ is image. It’s a concept that can be somewhat abstract. It’s a cumulative process that takes place over years. Every single decision you make for yourself goes into forming your image.”
The panelists were Reed Krakoff, Coach’s president and executive creative director; Dawn Mello, president of Dawn Mello & Associates; designer Zac Posen; fashion consultant and former Harper’s Bazaar fashion director Mary Alice Stephenson, and Lynn Tesoro, founding partner of HL Group.
The panelists shared their early experiences in the business and gave their advice on how a young designer can best work on bringing across their message in magazines and other media outlets. When polled on which established brands had a point of view and image that consumers instantly recognize, Krakoff picked Hermès, Mello went for Ralph Lauren and Coach, Posen chose Lauren and Martha Stewart, Stephenson highlighted Coach, Dolce & Gabbana and Target, and Tesoro picked Coach, Prada and Apple.
“Every single thing we do is a chance to enhance the image of the brand,” Krakoff said. “For us, it has to be genuine…it has to be real.”
Mello advised the audience of budding designers to work with young editors who are always looking for new talent and approach fashion directors at stores. “You will face a lot of rejections, but you get there eventually,” she said.
Posen, who is often lauded for his media-savviness, said he was able to create buzz with editors in London before he even had a collection. “I realized that there is great interest in designers and I needed a point of view,” he said. “I was giving models clothing from when I was 16. It was all by word of mouth. It’s a very saturated market, but you have to have a point of view.”
Tesoro concurred, “The best thing a designer can have is a strong point of view and having a presentation for 10 right people is better than a show for 50 wrong people.”
Celebrity placement is growing increasingly important as it effectively influences consumers and their views of a designer.
“Look at Derek Lam,” Stephenson said. “Barbara Bush wore a trenchcoat [at the inauguration] and, voilà, people in America know his name. Most celebrities love working with young designers. As a young designer, use all your resources.”