The intimate relationship between music and fashion in today’s popular culture is no secret. But what perhaps isn’t widely known is that the head of one of the nexuses of that relationship — MTV Networks — actually started in...
The intimate relationship between music and fashion in today’s popular culture is no secret. But what perhaps isn’t widely known is that the head of one of the nexuses of that relationship — MTV Networks — actually started in the fashion business.
Tom Freston, chairman and chief executive of MTV Networks, ran a clothing operation out of India and Afghanistan for eight years in the 1970s. "Long before the Taliban was putting women in burkas in Kabul, we were there copying their peasant look and selling it to Bloomingdale’s and Bendel’s," said Freston, who returned to New York and joined the company that would become MTV in 1980. "I went from Kabul to cable and never looked back."
And that early training has come in handy. For as Freston outlined in his keynote address, the challenges and opportunities facing the apparel industry are analogous to those he faces at the helm of MTV Networks, a company which now includes such diverse media outlets as MTV, MTV2, VH1, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, TV Land, TNN and CMT.
"Both [fashion and music] are big influencers on each other, both good and bad, and both perpetually face the big issues of how do you stay relevant? And how do you stay slightly ahead of the curve in an era of accelerated change? Today a pop singer can be washed up by the time he is 21, and a must-have T-shirt can be a household rag by the time the summer is over."
For Freston, one of the key requirements for succeeding in this kind of environment is building strong brands. "A brand is a big advantage in a time of rapid change," he noted — especially considering the fact that an average digital home now boasts more than 170 cable channel choices. "Our business is based on the very simple premise of building loyal relationships with specialized audiences by obsessively knowing them and creating unique networks that appeal to them and have a cohesive feel, attitude, style and environment."
How does MTV know which tactics will help burnish its brand and keep it abreast of audience tastes? Research plays a crucial role, said Freston. "When I talk about research I can often feel creative people beginning to cringe," he admitted. "But I believe research is not antithetical to creativity, but is actually a great help to creativity these days when your cycle is shorter and you have to design your business to reflect that."Through field research, focus groups (more than 300 this year alone) and even hypnosis ("We look at brain-wave activity while people are looking at certain music videos," explained Freston), MTV is relentless in its quest to understand what makes its target audience tick, on issues ranging from sex and politics to family, shopping, food and entertainment. "We cast a wide net because if you cast wide enough you might catch something that you might not otherwise have thought of." And how to account for the runaway cross-generational success of characters like SpongeBob SquarePants? "People like a sponge as a character," shrugged Freston.
One of the most important topics of MTV’s research is understanding the demographic bulge known as Generation Y, who are the 60 million Americans aged 10 to 24. Some key pointers to think about when addressing this audience? They tend to harbor widely different attitudes and belief systems than their Boomer parents, but at the same time view their parents and teachers (along with God) as personal heros. A conservative, pragmatic, spiritual generation, Gen-Y is less promiscuous then previous generations. While the teen years tended to be angst-filled for their elders, today’s adolescents are enjoying this portion of their lives. For many Gen-Y members, traditional family structures aren’t as important and their tolerance of minority groups, such as gays, is high. (This may have something to do with the fact that racial and ethnic minorities now make up about 36 percent of the population, and are growing.)
For marketers, it’s important to remember that Gen-Y is incredibly comfortable with new technology as well as highly media savvy. "They have been barraged with messages and advertising since the day they were born and as a consequence of that they have very sensitive B.S. detectors," explained Freston. "So the tough news is they can be a hard sell. The good news is that if you have something they like, they are basically eager consumers. They believe in the consumer society." Some of Gen-Y’s favorite purchases? "Authentic experiential cool" brands like Krispy Kreme, Kiehl’s, H&M, In-N-Out Burger, and personalized ring tones for their cell phones.
However, for Freston, research is only one component of successfully moving a creative business forward. "At best, it gives you a map of the terrain and you still have to figure out where you want to go and how you are going to get there, and at the heart of that comes good guts." One glaring example of research’s limits is MTV’s current runaway hit, "The Osbournes," which could hardly have been predicted through a study, noted Freston. He added that is why another key is to find people with great instincts.Another important factor in remaining relevant in the television and fashion worlds is flexibility. MTV has learned to quickly cancel programming that has lost its cultural relevancy. "We’ve learned not to try to get another season out of an idea once it started losing its creative value or popularity," said Freston. (On a program note, Freston said he was as surprised as anyone when Sharon Osbourne announced to Barbara Walters that she wanted to end "The Osbournes" after the current season. "I said ‘Jesus Christ, she’s not supposed to say this.’ I know, with people like the Osbournes, to enjoy their unreliability in certain ways. She could walk out at any minute." But Freston added that when he spoke to her shortly after the broadcast, Osbourne recanted, and the show will go on.)
Of course, the ever-changing terrain of the fashion and television worlds can be a daunting environment. "It highlights some of the frustration that some of us have on our jobs — that you really can’t enjoy a moment of success and celebrate because you have to think six to twelve months ahead when that success is probably going to be out of date," said Freston. "But that’s part of the excitement and challenge of our business."
EXCLUSIVE: Two and half months after John Targon, cofounder and codesigner of Baja East, was hired as creative director of the contemporary division at Marc Jacobs, he has left the company, WWD has learned. Marc Jacobs International, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, confirmed Targon’s departure in a statement: “John Targon is a talented designer and we appreciate the work he has done here. Ultimately working together did not make sense for the brand and we wish him the best.” Read the story by @jessiredale, link in bio. #wwdnews
@theluxurycollection is officially launching a collection, tapping Sofia Sanchez de Betak for the capsule. Over 30 styles will be featured in the Chufy x The Luxury Collection, debuting next month at Bergdorf Goodman, The Webster, FiveStory and more. De Betak, known as “@chufy,” drew inspiration for the collection from her trips to Japan in the past year #wwdfashion
@lhd, founder and CEO of @thewebster, has teamed up with @lebonmarcherivegauche for the European launch of her ready-to-wear line, LHD. The launch will come with an exclusive pop-up opening today that’s set to run through May 20. Located on the second floor, it carries her debut Miami-themed resort collection, launched in November as see-now-buy-now. #wwdfashion
@longchamp, which marks its 70th anniversary this year, just opened its biggest U.S. store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. On the lower level there’s a floor-to-ceiling display of the brand’s iconic Le Pliage bag – in all of its different colors, shapes and sizes. Customers can also have their product personalized in-store by imprinting names, initials or emblems. #wwdfashion (📷: @ericmtownsend)
“Whenever I’m in that place of sound and music, I don’t have fear or nervousness…This album has a lot of themes of courage and boldness and I want to be the soundtrack for people’s lives. I’ll be so happy if [my songs] evoke strength in people, which I know music has done for me,” says @kimbramusic of her newest album “Primal Heart.” The New Zealand-born singer sat down with WWD to talk about her music, newest tour and connecting with hear fans — read more on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
Luxury handbag resale company @rebagofficial is planning to sell a rare collectible for $70,000: the @hermes White Crocodile Himalayan Birkin. The exclusive Birkin sold for about $100,000 in 2008, when @davidbeckham bought one for his wife @victoriabeckham to add to her collection. Read more about the rare Birkin on WWD.com #wwdaccessories
With her costume pearl necklace and what-you-see-is-what-you-get style, Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday at age 92, was a straight-shooter from start to finish.
Born Barbara Pierce in New York City, Bush served as the 37th first lady, as well as the country’s second lady from 1981 to 1989. In addition to being part of the longest presidential marriage — 73 years — Bush also had the unlikely distinction of having one son, George W., become the 43rd president and another son, Jeb, run unsuccessfully in 2016. Having served as second lady during the Reagan administration’s two terms and lived all over the world during her own husband’s ascending political career, Barbara Bush made it clear that literacy — not fashion — was her priority. Read more from Rosemary Feitelberg’s obituary on the late First Lady in WWD.com, link in bio. #barbarabush #wwdnews
Western and ’90s trends have influenced denim for fall 2018. Think raw, dark and coated jeans mixed with bold prints and tough leather. #trendtuesdays #wwdfashion (Styled by @thealexbadia;📷: @ryanplett)