LIFE

The business of fashion

By Elis Kiss

«Fashion is about persuading people that items that don?t have to be replaced, have to be replaced,» said British journalist and author Colin McDowell in a candid speech recently in Athens. 'Lust for fashion is a completely artificial thing.'

Turning this lust into sound business was the subject of the inaugural Fashion Business Forum which took place on January 17. Organized by Marketing Week, it was the first of its kind in Greece.

McDowell, a longtime fashion commentator and industry insider, treated his audience to a number of designer stories, from Tom (Ford) to Marc (Jacobs) to Alber (Elbaz), giving his audience a glimpse of the kind of world that he has been inhabiting over the last 35 years. He also offered some insight into the state of the field today, commenting on the emergence of China -- both as a manufacturer and a client of fashion. ?People who articulate fashion these days are the stylists and the photographers, they are more important than designers,? noted McDowell, who described fashion as something which gives people confidence while protecting them from the rest of the world.

The conference brought together international and local industry experts, a team of eager fashion bloggers, very few fashion journalists and a small number of Greek designers. Attendance seemed to reflect the overall state of the local fashion system, which is defined by a general lack of synergy and structure.

Though Yannis Tseklenis has now spent some 20 years away from fashion, his experience makes him an authority on Greece?s missed opportunities in the field. In his speech, he traced the country?s history in textile manufacturing, describing how in the 1970s and 80s, local production units worked on high quantities of garments for global apparel brands. Especially in the 1980s, he said, the country was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, but instead of creating synergies with local creative talent and developing Greek designer brands, manufacturers just kept taking orders from abroad, acting as ?price takers? and never turning into ?price makers.? He also shared a tip given to him by prominent international fashion players many years ago: Greek fashion ought to make good use of the country?s light and warm weather conditions, in other words, it should focus on so-called ?resort.? Established fashion industry business models and their current relevance were the subject of William Plane?s keynote speech. A British investment banker with Savigny Partners, a boutique advisory company specializing in luxury goods, Plane talked about today?s hot brands -- think Burberry and Lanvin -- but also designers like Tory Burch and Phillip Lim who have made a fresh splash in the industry. He further noted that fast-fashion chains are increasingly gaining credibility, with companies such as H CEO and co-founder Panayiotis Gezerlis and fashion product manager Christina Lardikou presented buldoza.gr, while Alexis Ballas, CEO and co-founder of fashinating.com, talked about the up-and-coming website which provides a system of online shopping personalization.

Nopi Romanidou, managing director of fashion marketing agency Ally, presented an online survey of Greek women consumers. The survey was conducted on behalf of the Athens University of Economics and Business and pointed to a number of interesting facts: For instance, 18 percent of those who participated noted that they spend no more than 50 euros on fashion every month. The survey?s results showed that female consumers have a slightly negative stance toward fashion, they are interested in good aesthetics, that expensive, well-known brands are not on the top of their list and that what is really important to them is having the right information regarding trends and what?s available in the market.

Acting as a curtain raiser for more events of its kind in the future, the Fashion Business Forum turned into a platform for much needed discussion. Perhaps the biggest news to emerge from the conference was that it happened at all.

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