x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

When it comes to selling fashion, language is crucial

Although fashion writing at its best might look simple, it isn't. A combination of speaking from the heart and punchy, one-liners can take hours, days even, to get right.

Fashion critics, particularly those famous for identifying trends and coining terms such as "supermodel" or "it bag", are finding themselves hugely in demand.

Now that the very course of fashion can be changed by a three-word tweet, and most brands are citing their online store as their largest, fashion is no longer solely reliant on the visual.

Language is crucial. It sells! It talks! And no one talks it better than the fashion writer, well versed in the globally recognised language of "fashion speak".

On the one hand you have the super keen blogger, e-chatting globally on the subject closest to her (or his) heart. Words have made Rebekah Roy, whose blog, Stylist Stuff, chronicles her fascinating life as a stylist working within the fashion world, famous.

And on the other hand, you have the talents of magazine-trained editorial staff, some more cartoonlike than others. Such as Anna Dello Russo, whose catchy fashion parlance ("I don't want to be cool, I want to be fashion!") and effervescent blog have earned her a well-deserved fanatical following, illustrated by the hordes who came to see her at the Dubai Mall Symphony boutique's first anniversary celebration week.

Never underestimate the fashion scribe. Although the writing at its best might look simple, it isn't. A combination of speaking from the heart and punchy, one-liners can take hours, days even, to get right. Fashion writers, many of whom go on to become copy writers, can meanwhile earn a fortune.

I've always said, if you want to know what's going on in fashion, as in the Next Big Thing, look to that woman sitting front-row at a fashion show, rather than walking down the catwalk.

Most designers regularly consult the former because of their ability to predict accurately (and articulately) silhouettes, colours and how we will be describing them and ourselves in a year or so.

This is exactly what Sir Philip Green has done. British Vogue's fashion editor Kate Phelan recently left Condé Nast to join Green's clothing empire, Arcadia, to hone her editorial skills with Topshop, the brand she has helped style over the years.

Trained in fashion writing, with an enviable address book crammed full of leading models and hairstylists etc, her appointment is so much more than simply about pinning a model in her clothes.

She isn't the first and certainly won't be the last distinguished collaborator to work on a commercial clothing brand. Most iconic ad campaigns have been about teamwork between fashion editor, photographer and somewhere in the mix, an eloquent wordsmith who understands public relations and image, which can be most purely defined by words.

The legendary American fashion editor, Polly Mellon, teamed up with Helmut Newton on his Wolford tights advertising campaigns in the 1980s, which effectively touched the zeitgeist and adapted the word "synergy" to describe Lycra tights.

Of course, it helps we are now very much more visually sophisticated in terms of advertising and all talk the same global fashionspeak. (Even McDonald's now uses a phrase that used to be spoken all the time in fashion: I'm lovin' it.)

There's currently a brain drain of fashion editorial staff quitting day jobs for fashion companies particularly to advise on the latest weapon to be used by the clothing industry: brandzines.

Who has got one of these? Who hasn't? From Boden and Ralph Lauren, to the fine jewellers Cartier. An extension of the website, a brandzine, which comes in the glossy old-style paper magazine format (in some cases it's like a coffee table art book), this indulgence only focuses on clothes from one brand or boutique.

Its purpose is to flag up the brand and showcase collections and conceptual fashion as well as basics. A brandzine gives a customer time to dwell and dream about an imminent spend. By lying around a bit longer, subsequent purchases are also made, perhaps by other members of the family.

In contrast, online shoppers browsing a website will spend a short time (11 seconds on average) before buying or moving to the next site, which doesn't guarantee the same loyalty.

At a time when the overall circulation of fashion magazines is dwindling, it's refreshing that their primary functions - to enlighten, educate, entertain - are being kept alive. Meanwhile fashion experts such as James Sherwood, a writer whose work appears in Reiss's brandzine, the favourite mid-market clothing brand of K-Middy (the Duchess of Cambridge), have found themselves another outlet.

Brandzines can even be more lucrative - and prestigious - to work for than established magazines because they can afford the likes of Karlie Kloss or Gisele Bundchen and photographers such as Mert and Marcus or Terry Richardson.

River Island and Asos, meanwhile, like to experiment with new photographers, stylists, models and, perhaps most importantly, the next generation of fashion writers.

 

Correction: Due to an editing error, this story has been changed to reflect that the Symphony boutique in Dubai Mall was celebrating its first anniversary, and that Anna Dello Russo was a featured guest, not the owner.