Thursday, September 8, 2011

Put your turban on, it's time for tea.

      Fashion Week starts in New York today. Do you know who Eleanor Lambert was? You should. She was considered "fashion's first lady".

       In his new book reviewed in the New York Times, "Eleanor Lambert: Still Here", John Tiffany explains that she was fashion's first publicist. She originated New York Fashion Week in 1943, in the Plaza Hotel. She established the Coty Awards that same year, and went on to create the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the International Best-Dressed list.

        Ms. Lambert ran a public relations company, often having her staff convene a 9 a.m. at Kenneth's, the salon in New York where she had her hair done three times a week. She recognized talent, and told the world about Bill Blass, Halston, and Norman Norell. During fashion week, she served macaroni and cheese, baked ham, and meatloaf to 200 fashion editors in an open-house buffet in her home. Later in her life, the government hired her to promote trade, with international fashion shows.

        The mantra she stuck with all her life was "Get your look and stick with it". I certainly understand the value of that. I still have sweaters from college.

         What interested me about this mantra is how it applies to branding. Companies should "get your look and stick with it", too.

         Chanel is particularly careful about this. The packaging, the advertising, even the products the company produces evoke a singleness of authorship. All great brands stay contemporary, not by changing but by evolving and broadening.

        J. Crew can be depended on to introduce new products all the time. That's part of its success. But it doesn't have an identity crisis doing so, and its customers don't have one, either. Everything is in character within the scope of the J. Crew mentality. Mickey Drexler, the company's c.e.o., is way too good a merchant to change that on a whim.

        During the years the VW Beetle was being advertised with ads in the same format week after week, month after month, and with the same Brooklyn-wise tone of voice, their agency was frequently asked when the campaign would change. The ad agency always had the same response: "We'll change the ads when Volkswagen changes the car". And they did, but not before.

        That's the lesson of branding.

         Eleanor Lambert's look was a turban that went on every afternoon, before tea. I don't know what mine is yet, but when I do, I'm sticking with it.

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