A look at the world of fashion to understand the state of the art and in what direction it is evolving
Fashion is a canary, it is that bird that the miners brought to the mines and which, in the case of poisonous gases, with its death represented the moment to escape. Here, for the economy and culture of our country, fashion is just that: a precursor of change, because it boasts a sensitivity to accept changes, as well as to inspire them. To believe in this metaphor are Riccardo Pozzoli and Giuseppe Stigliano, co-authors with Philip Kotler, of the book Onlife fashion. We met them to understand how fashion is able to read the renewal in the light of the pandemic.
What phenomena have affected the fashion industry in recent years and what has changed after Covid?
Stigliano: The pandemic has changed the rules of the game in many sectors, also bringing important transformations to fashion. In the world of fashion, understood as the high-end fashion sector (haute couture and luxury fashion, ed), in the pre-Covid period we had identified five forces that continued to influence this industry even after the pandemic: acceleration, understood as the speed brought about by the transformation digital but also due to micro forces within the industry; hybridization, or considering a new balance between offline – where the store is the temple of the brand – and online, evaluating whether it is necessary to be on all digital touch points or only on some; disintermediation, thanks to digital technology that allows you to skip some intermediaries by having a direct dialogue with the end customer; sustainability, therefore the maturation by many companies of how to consider sustainability in a hypersegmented sector and with what economic returns; democratization, of the desire for luxury that appears much more accessible even if in reality it is not concretely so.
Pozzoli: The pandemic has been an exponential curve for some of these forces, such as hybridization, digitization and democratization. Much, however, depended on the mindset of companies prior to Covid. Those who were not prepared for digitization or disintermediation saw slices of the market stolen from new generation players ready to distribute in the correct way, to build a different relationship with the consumer, beyond the physical presence with the ability to know how to entertain and serve digitally. I think, however, that in the next few years we will return to a scenario that is not particularly different from the one before Covid: there has simply been an acceleration of some phenomena that we would have seen otherwise perhaps in five years. Sustainability, for example, was a crucial issue before the pandemic and we later realized, after a series of reflections, that it is even more important.
Can fashion marketing keep up with the speed of change?
Stigliano: No, marketing fails because people’s expectations evolve more than companies’ ability to innovate. I’ll give you an example: people have a smartphone, download an app from a new social media such as Clubhouse and “enter” it. When they have already digested the phenomenon, companies are still trying to understand which strategies they can use for that social network. This is because marketing strategies in companies undergo many steps up, at times, to be distorted – waterfall approach – or to become obsolescent. In the high-end segment, I no longer believe in marketing understood as making people want things, it should be making things people want, i.e. listening to the web, interpreting trends, anticipating them, being that canary that intercepts trends and perhaps contaminates other sectors. Traditional marketing in the fashion sector, carried out with market research that defines target segments based on socio-demographic criteria, segment and decide which products to impose with a media hype, in my opinion no longer keeps pace and perhaps never existed. …
Pozzoli: Paradoxically, in the world of fashion, marketing, in the traditional sense of the term, is more present today than years ago. In the past, fashion was made up of visionary people who had a sensitivity towards the market and were so far ahead that they could predict well before the market understood what it would like. Today this approach has been lost: in the last 15-20 years of the history of consumerism we have moved from the concept of top down, where elites of visionaries define something and impose it on the world, to a concept of horizontal consumerism, where sharing reigns. . It is the result of social networks where, to be relevant, you do what your audience likes. What is the right balance between continuing to dictate trends by trying to guess them and listening to the public? Answering this question will be one of the great challenges of fashion in the coming years. Although it must be remembered that fashion and luxury cannot exclusively follow the trends dictated by the market, this phenomenon is the antithesis of the concept of luxury.
In horizontal consumerism, the dynamics of intermediation change. The new intermediaries are the influencers. And in the future?
Pozzoli: Influencers are the conseillers of the future and at the same time they represent what fashion magazines have always symbolized for the world of fashion. Instagram, for example, has included the checkout functionality with which every influencer can tag products and sell them directly. Paradoxically, to find products à la page I no longer have to go to Colette’s in Paris, just open the Instagram account of the trendiest influencer, look at her looks and buy the products directly without even leaving her social profile. They are a new media, a new way of telling and reaching people, who have undergone transformations over time: 10 years ago there were fashion bloggers, today there are super celebrities who tell about the family, the children, the dog, etc., tomorrow brands will be influencers. Think of Chanel which has over 45 million followers on Instagram: it is clear that it does not need influencers to communicate to its audience, indeed they are the influencers who would like to be shared by Chanel. A paradigm shift …
Stigliano: It is difficult to think that formulas such as influencers will disappear to the extent that their job is to be a shortcut both for brands that need to reach large numbers and for people who want to choose what to buy in a context where supply is greater than demand. In a crowded market, we will always need curators.
Are there business models that are effective in fashion or do you need to create new ones?
Pozzoli: The business models of the last 40 years are no longer current. In the world of fashion, strategies can no longer have a focus on the product, but on content. Beyond the brands that have focused on a positioning of exclusivity, all the others will have to reinvent their business model by looking at virtual reality communities where, by paying an entrance fee, experiences will be at the base. People will want to be part of virtual communities where they can read a brand’s magazine or watch exclusive videos made by a brand’s media house. After all, the world of fashion and luxury has brands in which people want to reflect.
Stigliano: This will have an impact on other sectors by influencing the development of services around the products to make an end-to-end experience live.