CULTURE

Politics, branding and the crisis

Could Greek protests against austerity measures affect global fashion in two years time? In what ways might the Arab Spring determine what color lipstick you might be wearing next year?

As global consumers move from ?why not?? to ?why?? the fashion and beauty industries are showing a renewed interest in world affairs and the way they affect desire and spending, according to Sean Pillot de Chenecey, alias Captain Crikey.

De Chenecey, whose research consultancy focuses on trend analysis, consumer insights and concept testing, was among a group of local and international speakers sharing thoughts and experiences during a one-day conference on fashion and beauty organized in Athens recently by Boussias Communications. ?Next Season: 2015? explored the field of trend-forecasting and its importance in global fashion and beauty developments, while also taking a look at the local state of beauty and apparel. The two worlds have never felt so far apart.

Politics and branding is one aspect of de Chenecey?s business, and he told his audience that a general lack of hope and a younger generation looking at increasing unemployment, austerity vs growth and social unrest are reflected in the fact that today?s protesters are also today?s consumers.

Spotting, determining and analyzing consumer behavior is part of the job of analysts working for leading online trend-forecasting firm WGSN. Speaking in Athens, Mujde Abdis Guclu, WGSN country manager for Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, revealed a number of winning trends for the spring/summer 2013 season, which included cagoule tops and bomber jackets. The WGSN analyst has also singled out asymmetric knits and scuba elements in footwear.

In a cyberspace-connected world, online interaction triggers business, communication and emotion.

A global recession coupled with natural disasters have led to a sense of modesty in the beauty sector, according to Lan Vu, founder of forecasting beauty agency Beautystreams, and Michael Nolte, the company?s creative director. At the conference, Vu and Nolte offered a glimpse of what?s coming up next in the makeup department. Consumers are in search of more security and in the beauty sector this might translate into demand for more enduring and natural products, according to the Beautystreams experts, who noted that textures for the 2013-14 makeup season include dense mousse, silky oil and shades like ?political pink? and ?idolic indigo.?

Senior Planet Retail analyst Isabel Cavill gave an overview of the European retail sector, noting that the continent?s aging population is reflected in the way savvy consumers are currently benefiting from price wars. At the same time digital business is developing in diverse ways, with Cavill noting that tracking online activity is leading retailers to adopt to demand through the rise of mass customization and subscription-based sites, for instance. Brands need fewer brick and mortar stores these days, said the analyst, who also noted the development of temporary pop-up stores. On the subject of Greece, Cavill noted that retail will emerge stronger in the future, while the rise of e-commerce will shake up the local market as well.

The challenges facing brands which are looking to find their social media voices was one of the aspects in the presentation given by Style Coalition founder Yuli Ziv. An Israeli-born online entrepreneur who settled in New York nine years ago, Ziv witnessed the emergence of social media and its potential with regard to the fashion industry and proceeded by carving a career out of encouraging brands to embrace it.

?It took fashion longer to come along, they didn?t want the outsiders, this is essentially an anti-social world,? noted Ziv in Athens, adding that when it comes to social media, ?everything is personal.?

Through networks such as Twitter, for example, brands can show their human face said Ziv, quoting pro-women?s empowerment designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who once posted on her Twitter account that ?lying about your age is denying who you are.?

According to Ziv, the importance of online input is reflected in a recent short film produced by jewelry and watch powerhouse Cartier, for instance. ?L?Odyssee,? caught the attention of some 15 million viewers on YouTube and though people can?t buy Cartier products every day, ?they can consume content every day,? she said.

While the event?s international guests kept a business-as-usual stance, it was hard for local participants to appear unaffected by the country?s morose market climate.

A connoisseur of both local and global apparel affairs, Vassilis Masselos offered a concise account of the local market?s recent history, including the so-called ?bubble? era, or as he put it, the days of ?lobster pasta.?

As the CEO of Nota Lingerie, president of the Hellenic Fashion Industry Association and former president of the International Apparel Federation (IAF), Masselos did not paint a pretty picture of what could be lying ahead, noting that if a miracle did not keep the country within the eurozone, Greece?s status could slide to seriously underdeveloped. What is needed for salvation? Reforms and allowing the creative powers to act and reconstruct Greece.

?Local consumers don?t understand quality, they understand the brand,? said Masselos, adding that during the ongoing crisis, luxury brands have slipped out of reach, while premium brands have taken over the spot in the apparel market pyramid as consumers are spending less and are in perpetual search of sales and discounts in order to maintain some level of their past lifestyles.

What does ?made in? mean in an increasingly globalized world? A discussion on the ?made in Greece? issue led to a heated panel debate pitting brands which have moved their production abroad but maintain the design process locally, against firms which continue manufacturing in Greece.

Taking part in the conversation that raised more questions than answers were Masselos, Pantelis Avramidis, managing director of Attrattivo, Nikos Kafkalas, CEO of the Kafkalas Fashion Group, Rita Attalla, designer-founder of Ratt, and Efi Sarlani, owner of Danoff. Despite differences in opinion, the public discourse on what is plaguing the local apparel market was somewhat refreshing. Let?s hope it continues.