June 8, 2016

FASHION ELITISM AND THE ZOOLANDER-IZATION OF LANDS’ END:

The friendly catalog-based clothing retailer known for unimaginative (I say classic), rarely updated (I say tradition-minded), boxy (I say unconstraining) apparel is these days in the grip of a fashion-forward Italian CEO named Federica Marchionni, and here the error of Lands’ End’s current path becomes apparent. Lands’ End is based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, and should not be run by an Italian, someone who is fashion-forward or, especially, someone named Federica. Lands’ End is as unpretentious as a Ford-150. It should be run by someone named Mitch or Phil, and, no, I do not mean Mitchell and especially not Phillippe. Marchionni is given to describing the company’s proudly fashion-backward line as “ugly” and asks in meetings, “Who would wear that?” Dark rumors abound that Lands’ End will be buying ads in the September issue of Vogue, that celebrity photographer Bruce Weber will be doing shoots for its products, that weird-looking asymmetrical dresses that appear to have been splattered with blood by abstract expressionists will be the new focus of the company’s line.

This is as dire a situation as Budweiser being bought by Belgians. Indeed, it’s far worse; it’s as though Budweiser stopped making beer and reintroduced itself as an appletini manufacturer. Marchionni, whose previous bonehead attempt to inject sophistication was to ally the brand with leftist politics, must be fired immediately before Lands’ End turns into some sort of hideous would-be Pucci of Wisconsin.

I suppose it could be worse — William F. Buckley was asked for his ID by a 19-year old clerk at venerable Abercrombie & Fitch in 2001, because their catalog was suddenly “kind of porny inside,” as the young clerk gushed to the then-76 year old Buckley.

After it was purchased from Marks & Spencer by Luxottica scion Claudio del Vecchio in 2001, I watched Brooks Brothers eventually go through the same trend as Kyle Smith describes of Land’s End. In the early days of his acquisition, del Vecchio seemed to upgrade to overall quality of the menswear from the Marks & Spencer period and reintroduced several items from Brooks’ classic menswear collection. Concurrently, their catalogs began to feature several older (i.e. 40-something) models instead of the usual Zoolander types. (I wasn’t the only Brooks regular to have a serious crush on Roxanne Gould back then). By 2009 or 2010, gone were the older models from Brooks’ catalog and in was the goofy “Black Fleece” line of clothes, which seemed designed for stick-figure Derek Zoolander – or perhaps Pee-wee Herman. Those of us who are longtime Brooks addicts felt more than a little alienated, but I guess a high-end multinational fashion firm knows what their doing.

Which brings us to: “Ralph Lauren Is Closing Stores, Cutting Jobs as Sales Slump.”

Fellow Insta-contributor and Glamour maven Virginia Postrel called it in 2014.

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