When the fashion press converged on The Crowne Plaza in Rosebank for SA Fashion Week this past Saturday, the question on everyone’s mind was `how will Suzaan Heyns incorporate cement into her designs?`
We had all received the news of her collaboration with PPC cement and were extremely excited for the big reveal despite being in the dark about how exactly it was going to work. Would she be making actual garments out of cement?
The show was titled ‘Re-imagine Concrete’, something Michelle Constant from Business and Arts South Africa - the facilitators of the partnership - says is not so far from PPC’s broader marketing strategy. The company has for a number of years been involved in arts sponsorship having run the annual Young Concrete Sculptor Awards. The competition encourages sculptors to rethink the role of art and design in our everday lives. It is, however, the first time this challenge has been thrust into the fashion arena.
When it was finally show time, we were pleasantly surprised at how Suzaan Heyns rose to the challenge, how she used cement as an inspiration and incorporated cement pieces- albeit detachable- on some of the garments, on neckpieces and how she even made scarves out of the substance.
‘I think it shows that business is open to supporting the fashion industry, even through unusual and brave circumstances,’ Michelle Constant says adding that it shows PPC to be a daring and creative brand.
During the show trends analyst Dion Chang tweeted ‘We need more corporates to think with their right brain’. When I call Chang to further ask for his opinion on the whole idea of what is truly an unexpected collaboration he calls it a stroke of genius!
‘The future is about collaborations,’ he adds, ‘The more unusual, the more successful. Traditional models(of corporate sponsorship) are outdated.’
Chang and his Flux Trends team are in the midst of preparing a trends presentation about what he refers to as ‘soft power’, something he says is becoming stronger as the world goes deeper into social media. ‘It is no longer about product but about public brand sentiment. It’s becoming more about what you stand for as a brand,’ he explains.
There is no doubt that the world is changing and marketers do, as Chang says, have to think out of the box. The recession has all but depleted financial reserves and it would be absurd to believe that sponsorship budgets have not been negatively affected. Big sports sponsorships are probably not the smartest place for a brand to invest in return for exposure at the moment. Sponsoring a fashion show is that much more affordable and it casts brands in a new light.
Of course fashion sponsorships are nothing new. Remember Sanlam SA Fashion Week? Earlier this year we had Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg. My guess is that the association with fashion gives brands that aspirational value that is so inextricably linked to fashion.
For me, the difference with the particular collaboration between Heyns and PPC cement is how the designer sought to give her sponsors bang for their buck whilst simultaneously exploiting the collaboration ever so creatively. ‘If the collaboration offers the opportunity for the leftfield thinking that we saw in this partnership, then I hope we do see more collaborations,’ says Michelle Constant.
Above all, this partnership marks a turning point for corporate sponsorship in South Africa and for fashion it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. There is no doubt that our designers need these kinds of investments to help the growth of their businesses and the industry in general. They’ll just have to be as creative as Suzaan Heyns in their approach.
The American designer Marc Jacobs sets the agenda not only for which suitcases we want, but also the clothes we aspire to wear.
He is known for his label Marc Jacobs, his diffusion line, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and for his 15 years as creative director of French luxury label Louis Vuitton. He answers a few questions:
Were you surprised when Louis Vuitton first approached you?
Of course. I was shocked. I was surprised on lots of different levels. First, I am American. Second, I was surprised that Louis Vuitton was even considering fashion. It had always been known for one thing, and here they were deciding that they wanted to move into different categories.
What has been the biggest impact on your creativity of working for the brand?
Freedom. Vuitton is open to trying new things.
Do your past designs inform new ones?
We never simply roll out a piece and redo it. Rather, we think what intrinsic quality it had that made it so appealing to so many people. The answer is often femininity, a certain sex appeal without vulgarity. We keep that in mind as we design.
Do you have an image of a specific woman when you design?
I don't think there is just one Louis Vuitton woman. That is why for the fall/winter 2011 show I loved the idea of lots of different characters - a wife, a mistress, a girlfriend - stepping out of a row of hotel elevators.
The Vuitton woman is more about a quality - a quality that needs to come forward, to be noticed and recognised.
The term luxury, what does it mean to you?
How do you work with your creative teams?
We have separate ready-to-wear shoe and bag teams. Basically, we all work on everything together and feed off each other's ideas. A shoe can inspire a dress, just as a dress can inspire a bag, and vice versa.
Although we all have our separate work spaces, we are on the same floor, so it is easy to share and to communicate.I think that when we do our job best it is because there is some kind of connection between the designs.
Do you have an impression of the creativity - fashion and art - from South Africa?
I know Kim [Jones, style director of the Louis Vuitton men's ready-to-wear division] is a huge fan. He loves the place. I've heard great things about South Africa.
What are the parallels between you and Louis Vuitton, the man who launched the brand?
I guess we are both pioneers who started off relatively unknown and eventually, through time, created something functional and beautiful that women aspire to have.
The exhibition is at the Musée Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, France until September 16. Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs, a coffee table book, is available for R870