THE END OF “HEISEI” AND THE BEGINNING OF “REIWA”. THE BIRTH OF “CONTEMPORARY FASHION” AND “MACROSCOPIC FASHION DESIGN”

01 May, 2019

 

The original text of this article was published in Japanese on April 26, 2019 on fashionsnap.com. on fashionsnap.com on April 24, 2019.

 

April 2019. The era of “Heisei” is coming to its end as the world’s women’s fashion week go toward the direction of the next season. We want to look back on what happened in the fashion world during the 30 years of Heisei-era (1989-2019)1)Regarding Japanese Imperial Era, this Wikipedia article is well-summarized: “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_era_name”.

Without doubt, the most dramatic social change that has occurred over the past three decades are the transitions of the information infrastructure, such as the internet and social media. In the field of fashion, one of the notable event during the 3 decades is the birth of many star brands. On the other hand, the birth of new financial capital led by LVMH2)LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton SE owns BERLUTI, CELINE, DIOR, EMILIO PUCCI, FENDI, LOUIS VUITTON, GIVENCHY, KENZO, MARC JACOBS, RIMOWA, and THOMAS PINK. There are many others such as Le Bon Marché, a department store. Related company L-CATTERSON invests in a wide range of businesses including restaurants, real estate, and leisure. The recent investment in GINZA SIX became one of the most talked-about topics last 2 years among the luxury industry of Japan. and KERING3)KERING S.A, the former PPR entered the fashion industry after acquiring PRINTEMPS, an iconic luxury department store in Paris, in 1991. The company was founded by François Pinault. Currently, the second generation François Henri Pinault is the representative. The company owns BALENCIAGA, BOTTEGA VENETA, GUCCI, SAINT LAURENT, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, etc. on the market is an important event every fashion insiders to remember. These capitals immensely apparent and expanded with strong momentum behind the scenes. We want to consider the next future by tracing the past three decades of fashion, which can be called “The era of upheaval”.

 

The Beginning of the Heisei

1989 was a year with the condensed cultural history. Some readers may recall that Japan was at the peak of its economic bubble. During the 1 year, the Wall of Berlin collapsed, the footstep of the end of the Cold War started to echo. It was this year that “Japan Bashing by the U.S” was triggered when Mitsubishi Estate took control of Rockefeller Center on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, New York. With huge sums of money backed up by the bubble economy, a number of Japanese capital acquired the symbolic assets of American capitalism. 4)In 1989, Japan was at the peak of the economic bubble, the time when Japan received the most attention from the world. At the end of September 1989, SONY acquired Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, and in October of the same year, Mitsubishi Estate took over Rockefeller Center in New York, which triggered Japan bashing. At the end of the year, the Nikkei Stock Average reached the highest record, 38,957.44 Yen, which is still unbreakable as of May 2019. In November, Shintaro Ishihara, who ran for president of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Akio Morita, the chairman of Sony Corporation, released an essay titled: “The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals.” 1989 was also the year that Haruki Murakami, now one of the most world-famous writer, made his American debut. He made his American debut with the publication of “A Wild Sheep Chase” in October.

It was around this time that a new wave of contemporary fashion in Paris, inspired by COMME des GARÇONS, began to pop up in front of Paris fashion scenes with the momentum generated by designers from Antwerp and London. Some of the readers may remember that Japanese leading fashion capital invested in American designers to build a new contemporary fashion brand in the 80s.

DONNA KARAN, which is currently under the US G-III apparel group after LVMH, established her brand with investment and dedicated support from Tomio Taki5)More information on Tomio Taki’s investment can be found in the following books:“Manage, Tomio Taki who built DONNA KARAN (2000)”., the former president of Takihyo Corporation based in Nagoya. As for MARC JACOBS, which is currently under the LVMH umbrella, has established a brand based on investment by Onward Kashiyama Corporation which also supported Jean Paul-Gaultier from the beginning.6)Danna Karan established the brand in 1985, and Marc Jacobs established the brand in 1986 with investment from the Japanese capital. In the 1980s, the money of Japanese funds went to the United States at the timing that all the properties and investment projects were priced at high prices. Undeniably, most of these investments end up in significant loss. We think that if the Japanese capital of the 80s had been invested in Franch luxury industry or retails instead of the United States, the current landscape of the fashion industry would have been drastically different from the situation what we see now.

Around the same time, there is a significant movement on behind the scenes in Paris that tied in with the current trend of contemporary fashion, but it is not widely discussed in the industry often. 1989 was the year that Bernard Arnault, the current owner and chairman of LVMH, won a dramatic merger and acquisition, became the chairman of LVMH.

 

The origin and mechanism of the designer casting drama

The appointment of new designers for luxury fashion labels became a hot topic not only in the industry but also for consumers. A sort of “outsourcing system” of the role of rebranding and product development, under the name of “artistic director” or “creative director”, became the system only after the success of Karl Lagerfeld in the 60s.
Karl Lagerfeld (1933 – 2019), who passed away in February of 2019, became the designer of FENDI in 1965 and succeeded remarkably in the rebranding. After Karl Lagerfeld rejuvenated CHANEL, the brand which had stagnated for more than ten years since the founding designer Gabriel Chanel’s death, the casting of trending designer became the winning way of the rebranding of the label. This system itself is a very pervasive way nowadays; however, Bernard Arnault is the one who has refined the structure and updated it to a more modern one.7)There is also a capital-side strategy of casting up-and-coming designers for investment rather than high-profile trending designers. Also, there have recently been cases in which in-house designers have been selected as creative directors such as the case of Alessandro Michele for GUCCI.

The company of Bernard Arnault was initially in the construction and real estate investment field. After acquiring Christian Dior and French department store, Le Bon Marché in 1984, he joined in the luxury fashion business. More we know about the industry, more difficult to see the history of this conglomerate without surprise.
In 1989, Bernard Arnault appointed Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, one of the most prominent Italian designer at the time. Upon the success of the reboot of this historical luxury fashion label by casting, Arnault picked next designer John Galliano to keep up with the trend of contemporary avant-garde fashion design in 1996.

In 2000, Arnault appointed Hedi Slimane to start the Dior’s men’s division, Dior Homme8)Dior Homme became one of the leading men’s luxury label in the early 2000s. and for LOUIS VUITTON, which was originally a bag brand, Arnault appointed Marc Jacobs 9)LVMH held a majority stake in Marc Jacobs. Marc Jacobs himself became the creative director of women’s wear division LOUIS VUITTON until 2013. Please refer the following LVMH historical timeline at thefashionlaw.com to transform it into a luxury fashion brand beyond bag label.
Alexander Lee McQueen, who was recently featured in the documentary film “McQueen”10)Official information: https://bleeckerstreetmedia.com/mcqueen, was a prominent young designer in 90s, but soon after LVMH appointed him as the creative director of GIVENCHY, his name rode on bull trend.

Not only casting and investment of the designers, but LVMH also invested in the source of designers themselves. Many of the designers who currently serve as creative directors for the LVMH brand are alumni of the London’s prestigious school Central St. Martins in which LVMH has been investing for years.

Besides, the investment by LVMH is not limited to designers and brands. Many of the designers who currently serve as creative directors or staffs for the LVMH are alumni of the London’s prestigious school Central St. Martins in which the company has been investing for years. As designers continue to emerge from the school into the industry, the school is a steady source of talent and potential investment target. Continuous supply of human resource to the industry enables the company’s strategic growth, and also the competition among prestigious designer schools will sustain the quality of human resource supply and metabolism, in the end, these situations strengthen the position of the investor itself.

 

TIME IS DRIVEN BY INCENTIVE AND PROFIT

Ryoma Sakamoto, a Japanese revolutionary in the 19 century, said, “Time is driven by incentive and profit, not by argument”.11)坂本龍馬 – Ryoma Sakamoto, is one of the most important historical figure who overthrows the Tokugawa Shogunate in the late 19th century: Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Romulus Hillsborough (1999) This proverb echoes intensely.

The situation of Fashion Week has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The first fashion week is founded in New York in 1943 by Elenor Lambert12)The brief timeline is available in Fashion Week Online: https://fashionweekonline.com/history-of-fashion-week, the system of fashion week has been an excellent system for designers and brands to showcase their presence through fashion media and journalists. In other words, fashion week was a platform for designers to raise the brand value and gain momentum to expand their business, but its role is gradually changing with the emergence of the internet and the evolution of social media.

Let’s talk a little bit about a different industry: In San Francisco, the holy ground of technology, where a small emerging tech company is pitching a daily basis to the potential investors. Every time a startup gets a funding round or an M&A exit is rumored, it gets a lot of attention in the city. In recent years, as financial markets booming and investment dollars flooding the market, there are many startups which are founded for the short-term goal, “Start-Up-To-Sell”13)Let’s call this tendency as “SUTS”., trying to sell themselves to a big company such as GAFA as soon as they can. In fact, there are many successful examples of this “start-up-to-sell operation” during the three decades. 14)GAFA refers to four tech giants: Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. In 2012, Facebook paid about $800 millions for Instagram, which had no revenue and just had just about ten employees. It is a postmodern form of the new American dream. We think more and more fashion brands are looking for a similar type of exits in the fashion industry.

As the times are driven by incentive, we see similar trends in the fashion world recently. In recent Fashion Weeks in Paris and London, we can find clever designers utilizing runway as a stage for “pitching to capitalists rather than branding or appealing to consumers.”

In this postmodern age, where every image is transmitted and propagated at high speed, the investment target from the capitalist’s point of view is not just brand as the corporation, it rather the designer, individual who potentially create value and the potential community associated with the brand.

 

TWO SIDE OF THE SAME STORY AND THE BEGINNING OF NEW ERA

Looking back on the history of fashion, we find out that there are two stories on the same line during the 30 years of Heisei. The first story is about the birth of avant-garde “contemporary fashion” coming from Japan, and the emergence of several powerful independent brands. In other words, this is “the story of the front side” of history which is often talked about in the media. The second story is “The Story Behind”; it is about the birth of “macroscopic fashion design” invented by new investors and capitalists who entered the fashion industry through M&A and by casting of talents. In 30 years, French capitals such as LVMH and KERING have grown to be like GAFA in the fashion world. Moreover, the role of the vast majority of designers has changed. The last three decades was the era where these two stories were plied together in a single thread.

Currently, there are moves emerging from the Middle East and China to join the “The Story Behind”. From the Middle East, Qatar-based Mayhoola took over BALMAIN and VALENTINO15)Mayhoola is an investment firm owned by the Qatari royal family. The following article by THE FASHION LAW is informative Mayhoola: “A Major Luxury Conglomerate in the Making” October 13, and from China, Fosun Group took control of LANVIN in 201816)The tendency of Fosun Group to invest in symbolic assets seems to be reminiscent of Japanese investment to the U.S during the bubble economy. However, the future of the geopolitical situation of fashion may change significantly depending on how far such capital can penetrate the dominance of European investors and American investors. You can find the group’s information on Asia Nikkei. Please check FOSUN GROUP website.. Outside of fashion industry, Chinese companies that grew up behind the Great Firewall are now attracting more attention from around the world than Japanese companies did back in 1989 and enlarging their dominance in the West side of the world.
We now feel the heat generated from the enthusiastic energy of Europe to counter this trend from outside. Now that the Heisei era is over, a new era has begun, in which the two stories in the same thread continue.

 

We look forward to reader’s comments and feedback. Please send us e-mail to info@kleinstein.com

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1. Regarding Japanese Imperial Era, this Wikipedia article is well-summarized: “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_era_name”
2. LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton SE owns BERLUTI, CELINE, DIOR, EMILIO PUCCI, FENDI, LOUIS VUITTON, GIVENCHY, KENZO, MARC JACOBS, RIMOWA, and THOMAS PINK. There are many others such as Le Bon Marché, a department store. Related company L-CATTERSON invests in a wide range of businesses including restaurants, real estate, and leisure. The recent investment in GINZA SIX became one of the most talked-about topics last 2 years among the luxury industry of Japan.
3. KERING S.A, the former PPR entered the fashion industry after acquiring PRINTEMPS, an iconic luxury department store in Paris, in 1991. The company was founded by François Pinault. Currently, the second generation François Henri Pinault is the representative. The company owns BALENCIAGA, BOTTEGA VENETA, GUCCI, SAINT LAURENT, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, etc.
4. In 1989, Japan was at the peak of the economic bubble, the time when Japan received the most attention from the world. At the end of September 1989, SONY acquired Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, and in October of the same year, Mitsubishi Estate took over Rockefeller Center in New York, which triggered Japan bashing. At the end of the year, the Nikkei Stock Average reached the highest record, 38,957.44 Yen, which is still unbreakable as of May 2019. In November, Shintaro Ishihara, who ran for president of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Akio Morita, the chairman of Sony Corporation, released an essay titled: “The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals.” 1989 was also the year that Haruki Murakami, now one of the most world-famous writer, made his American debut. He made his American debut with the publication of “A Wild Sheep Chase” in October.
5. More information on Tomio Taki’s investment can be found in the following books:“Manage, Tomio Taki who built DONNA KARAN (2000)”.
6. Danna Karan established the brand in 1985, and Marc Jacobs established the brand in 1986 with investment from the Japanese capital. In the 1980s, the money of Japanese funds went to the United States at the timing that all the properties and investment projects were priced at high prices. Undeniably, most of these investments end up in significant loss. We think that if the Japanese capital of the 80s had been invested in Franch luxury industry or retails instead of the United States, the current landscape of the fashion industry would have been drastically different from the situation what we see now.
7. There is also a capital-side strategy of casting up-and-coming designers for investment rather than high-profile trending designers. Also, there have recently been cases in which in-house designers have been selected as creative directors such as the case of Alessandro Michele for GUCCI.
8. Dior Homme became one of the leading men’s luxury label in the early 2000s.
9. LVMH held a majority stake in Marc Jacobs. Marc Jacobs himself became the creative director of women’s wear division LOUIS VUITTON until 2013. Please refer the following LVMH historical timeline at thefashionlaw.com
10. Official information: https://bleeckerstreetmedia.com/mcqueen
11. 坂本龍馬 – Ryoma Sakamoto, is one of the most important historical figure who overthrows the Tokugawa Shogunate in the late 19th century: Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Romulus Hillsborough (1999)
12. The brief timeline is available in Fashion Week Online: https://fashionweekonline.com/history-of-fashion-week
13. Let’s call this tendency as “SUTS”.
14. GAFA refers to four tech giants: Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. In 2012, Facebook paid about $800 millions for Instagram, which had no revenue and just had just about ten employees. It is a postmodern form of the new American dream. We think more and more fashion brands are looking for a similar type of exits in the fashion industry.
15. Mayhoola is an investment firm owned by the Qatari royal family. The following article by THE FASHION LAW is informative Mayhoola: “A Major Luxury Conglomerate in the Making” October 13
16. The tendency of Fosun Group to invest in symbolic assets seems to be reminiscent of Japanese investment to the U.S during the bubble economy. However, the future of the geopolitical situation of fashion may change significantly depending on how far such capital can penetrate the dominance of European investors and American investors. You can find the group’s information on Asia Nikkei. Please check FOSUN GROUP website.