Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fashion's Abusive Step Father

I've been bitching and moaning about the way Kellwood Company handled the separation with Kimora Lee Simmons for months now and I hadn't considered that this is actually a systemic problem--a situation even worse than I realized. I watch a lot of fashion documentaries and biopics. I love them. I think fashion designers have some of the most imaginative minds among us and I love having the opportunity to either see what makes them tick or to see them in action.

This past weekend, I decided I'd finally watch Valentino: The Last Emperor. It had been in my Netflix queue for months and months, but I ended up watching it on Showtime On Demand. It was an absolute feast for the senses. The fashion was intense and emotions were extremely raw. But, what struck me most was the way in which Valentino Garavani was treated throughout the film by the goon from the Marzotto family (Yes, he's handsome, but I don't want to hear it!). The Marzottos owned a majority stake in the company at the time the film was being produced and Matteo Marzotto, aforementioned goon, was President of the Valentino fashion house.

It was very obvious that there was a power struggle underway between the older Valentino and much younger Marzotto, who was over Valentino's shoulder constantly throughout the film, even going so far as to offer suggestions about the designs, which I thought was a horrible insult. During one scene, Marzotto laughs with the film crew stating [about Valentino], "He's like an old lion. He keeps trying to roar. Trying to say something, but nothing comes out." It was so disrespectful. Even if he didn't think that they'd include it in the film, he should've had more respect for the man who did so much to shape the fashion world.

I don't want to review the whole damn documentary, but I have to give you some context for what I'm getting at with the title of this post. So, I'm watching this power struggle play out, rife with disrespect, and it occurred to me that Valentino was being treated that way because he was an old man and Marzotto wanted him gone. Much in the same way Kellwood Company seemed to have bullied Kimora Lee Simmons out of Phat Fashions because she's a woman of color...and they wanted her gone.

The one big difference here is this. As it turns out, the filming of the documentary coincided with the 45th anniversary of Valentino Garavani's reign. Without hesitation, at least on camera, it was understood that there should be a celebration like no other to commemorate the occasion. Now, of course Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino's long-time partner, probably had a lot to do with making sure that things were done properly, but the fact that it did occur speaks volumes about Kellwood Company's dismissive attitude towards Kimora and the buyers of the Phat Fashions brands. She'd been there for over a decade, having made a mark all over this globe, and...nothing? Just "change the locks" and then treat buyers of the brands like idiots? As though we wouldn't notice the freefall in quality?

Another small difference is the fact that at least Marzotto and subsequent majority owners Permira, made a legitimate attempt to improve the Valentino brand....well, sales at least. These assholes have damn near run this thing into the ground and they've done it almost overnight! I checked the Baby Phat twitter account tonight and they've lost over six thousand followers in the last few months alone. Those numbers are going to keep dropping as more people learn that Kimora is no longer heading up the brand and why.

But, at the heart of all of this rambling (yes, there's a point) is the fact that the fashion world is being taken over by investment groups, who get a thrill out of taking fashion houses and flipping them like row houses in so many large urban cities. Except the majority of them are like sturdy, reliable, and highly valuable, old brownstones in Manhattan that just need a little work done to them to restore them to their full prior glory.

Sun Capital Partner's takeover of Kellwood Company reeks of the ridiculousness of this thing--have bankers and investment heads tell designers how to do what they do best. I'm sure maintaining a fine balance between unbridled creativity and the need to ensure that sales remain solid is tough, but what draws people to a brand is the creative flair, not that it has a great revenue sheet.

There was a very telling statement by a woman in the film, Valentino: The Last Emperor, who proclaimed that investment firms are taking over much of the fashion world and subsequently turning once iconic brands into poorly made, mass-produced offerings, focusing solely on sales and taking all of the heart and soul out of them. It's very unfortunate.

Of course, the majority of the populace can't afford a Valentino gown, but the very existence of those gowns affects us all. It's art, and who wants to live in a world where a visit to the Louvre yields a look at a paint by numbers version of da Vinci's Mona Lisa completed by a guy working on his PhD in Calculus? I, for one, do not. Fashion deserves the same amount of respect, instead of this knocking around it's been getting from these abusive stepfathers in the business world. --Sugar

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