Is there an Uprising happening in Fashion and Luxury? Join me Scott Goodson and Pauline Brown, Harvard Business School Professor and most recently the acclaimed U.S. Chairman of LVMH, the world’s leading house of luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Dior, Veuve Clicquot, Moët Chandon, Dom Pérignon and Hennessy. What implications does the uprising have for fashion and luxury brands Historically, trends were set and dictated top-down (by magazine editors, department stores, celebrities, socialites), but, today, in this episode of Uprising we talk about how trends are now being generated bottom-up through social media, and via friends and what this means. In my conversation with Pauline we cover how the need to buy into fashion trends is being supplanted by the opportunity to discover, showcase and even experiment with them virtually. How is this reaping havoc on the viability and sustainability of fashion companies (as well as traditional influentials like editors and celebrities? How is the uprising also changing the way consumers are spending their money from luxury goods to luxury experiences? How is a New Generation of Leadership – the root of future success moving from high IQ to high EQ to high AQ which stands for aesthetic intelligence. And how has her career brought her to this point, and much more. If you work with fashion, luxury or business you’ll undoubtedly find this show incredibly inspiring and most certainly a learning experience.
Uprising Interview transcript
Is there an Uprising happening in Fashion and Luxury? Join me Scott Goodson and Pauline Brown, Harvard Business School Professor and most recently the acclaimed U.S. Chairman of LVMH, the world’s leading house of luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Dior, Veuve Clicquot, Moët Chandon, Dom Pérignon and Hennessy. What implications does the uprising have for fashion and luxury brands Historically, trends were set and dictated top-down (by magazine editors, department stores, celebrities, socialites), but, today, in this episode of Uprising we talk about how trends are now being generated bottom-up through social media, and via friends and what this means. In my conversation with Pauline we cover how the need to buy into fashion trends is being supplanted by the opportunity to discover, showcase and even experiment with them virtually. How is this reaping havoc on the viability and sustainability of fashion companies (as well as traditional influencers like editors and celebrities? How is the uprising also changing the way consumers are spending their money from luxury goods to luxury experiences? How is a New Generation of Leadership – the root of future success moving from high IQ to high EQ to high AQ which stands for aesthetic intelligence. And how has her career brought her to this point, and much more. If you work with fashion, luxury or business you’ll undoubtedly find this show incredibly inspiring and most certainly a learning experience.
Pauline: First of all I would say this trend extends well beyond fashion the idea been that we don’t need to have stuff when you live in a digital age you can represent your style and your taste and your discovery other ways then actually owning or having it in three dimensional form around you. And so if you apply that particular trend to fashion I would say that the pleasure that historically came from putting things on and shown people that it looked good on you or that you got there before anyone else or on top of anyone else that you cared about now you can actually represent and achieve those same positive feelings without actually going to the store and buying something and you can do it in a few different ways.
One is you can actually post right short of owning and the post is a form of showcasing a discovery and the second which is a smaller trend but I think one that has a radical effect on fashion in years ahead is that you can actually rent. You can have an item showcase it in 3D form in a real event and give it back and you have 90% of the gratification of actually wearing it showing people you had it without having to pay 100%for that item.
Scott: Pretty radical taught for someone that is probably at the pinnacle of fashion world and having spent many years in top positions and consulting lots of different brands and to have that point of view is pretty radical.
Pauline: Well I think the changes around us are pretty radical. Many argue that the speed of change over the last call it 10 to 15 years is more striking and more intense then it was for hundreds of years before that collectively. I mean the way people are expressing themselves, the way that their minds are been activated. The way they’re communicating with other humans. When you think about it in a very short period of time everything bout the way we live is radically changing and this is just one very basic way or component of the way we live.
Pauline: The other interesting thing that keeps fashion going is id say for the last thirty years we are in the first phase of history where the fashion that is being consumed and worn is actually not here to last. So 200 hundred years ago if a women bought a dress for a tea party or a ball and then 3,4 or 5 years later the trend was different in terns of the neck line or the hem line or the waist set they would repurpose the dress and flash forward 100 years two hundred years you would have exhibits in the Met we still have some however frayed but some preserved version of that 18th century 19th century dress. Well I would say as of about the 1960’s and 70’s on this is really the first time where even high fashion items 100 years from now will not exist. Because the materials they’re using cannot be preserved. There are more chemicals in the materials and they’re generally not built with the construction such that they can be repurposed. And that industrialization in fashion at all levels has been good for the business of fashion as has been actually very bad for the environment and I’d say it has been bad for the historical archives as well.
Scott: Fashion is going true this huge change so as a thoughtful disrupter what do you see as… we see what the crisis is but what’s the opportunity?
Pauline: Well first of all if you go back to why people have had the fascination with fashion I would say it came down to a few things a few common human desires.
One is it always represented as you had pointed out a few moments ago the manifestation of a tradition of craft and creativity that we still look for but I don’t think we look for it in fashion to the same extent I think we are quiet happy buying the Zara knockoffs of the Celine runway piece.
Pauline: So the idea of having the authenticity in fashion is not as prioritized as it might be food for example. Right now we are in the food world we are back to this farm to table sense that I’m close to where it was all reaped. I can see the food it some raw form before it was conducted. In the laboratory pharmaceutical style as has it been there case in food I think with fashion there is going to be a regression back to see things like they came from the hand where I can actually feel the materials what went into it where I have a connection maybe to the person that might have made or designed it. You know I find it harder and harder wherever I go weather it’s a city like Beijing or St. Louis within the US to find things that are original within fashion. So when I’m looking for authenticity when I’m looking for things that feel like they have been made by hand I go to very different places. I would never go to a mall I don’t go into fashion corner stores. But I’m still looking for that same thing I’m just looking at other categories. So what I would say is first of all what we are saying is because there has been this mystification of ready to wear a lot of the most creative minds have gone into other industries, they have not been going into fashion for some time. There are still very talented people but they tend to be id say subjugated by the economic pressure and the commercial challenges. It’s a crowded business. It’s tended not to attract the most creative minds in the developed world. And then I say where do those creative minds go because it’s not like we have less creativity today then we did 100 years ago I actually think we have more. I think it goes into entertainment I think it’s gone into technology and specifically Silicon Valley. I think a lot of that creative energy is going into things like Instagram posts where there is no modification but there’s just this outpour of creative activity and then when I project forward I think eventually these things do come full circle much like food went from the hay days of McDonalds to now where we would pay a premium to something that’s organic that back in the day would have be seen as you know just farm food. Right it would have been the cheaper version of white bread because it hasn’t been processed
Pauline: Therefore it’s not as sterile or not as modern. Now modern is feeling real and authentic and going back to nature, I think it some ways fashion will do that to but it’s going to take a while and it will probably take a lot of rationalizing within the industry
Scott: Which kind of brings me to Iceland. I know it’s a bit of a non-sequitur, but you talked about not going into stores that you have on occasion gone off the beaten track to the Heartland Islands the Iceland am for sometime you have had an infinity with the people of Iceland why is that?
Pauline: Couple of reasons. One because it’s such a small market and an isolated one, its an island it has never been a draw for big commercial interests and nor have they dependent on big commercial interests because they are pretty rich in their own resources which is mostly fishing and thermal energy. So you have this very unusual set up which is sort of independent colony. What was once a colony of Denmark and now is its own people it is a branch that is not quiet like any other in their language and their customs. As you go there you start to see well there not Scandinavian and there definitely not European and even within the Nordic there style and way of expressing themselves is different and I think it’s partially because of the isolation of the country and the self sufficiency I described a few moments ago and partially because its actually a very inhospitable place for human kind. There is no greenery its lava stone throughout the island so there are no natural trees it’s a harsh climate a obviously good part of the year because its so far north its very dark and because of all that you start to say what’s the impact of the people they are very homogenous people and they re very tight and some what tribal in their style and in their ways and in their cohesiveness. What does that do to them in there creativity? And that, I think it makes them a lot more adventurous then the people we commonly see in more advanced parts of the world and more integrated parts of the world.
Scott: Oh my god that’s fascinating.
Pauline: So every year throughout history the men were primarily fishermen and they’d go out to see and some years half of them wouldn’t come back because going for 6 months and a stretch in the North Atlantic in all sorts of weather is extremely dangerous so half of them wouldn’t come back. So you kind of learn in that climate to live for the day. These people celebrate like no one I have ever seen so I know per capita they have the world’s biggest consumers of firecrackers for example.
Pauline: New years the sky lights up because while your alive you learn to just celebrate, celebrate the moments, And I feel like in the world that I live in you know most of the year we don’t celebrate the moments enough and we don’t take risks and we don’t treat life like this sort of Viking challenge to be concurred and it’s that spirit, its that boldness and it’s that need to experiment and to find color in such a dark winter life that I find very infectious.
Scott: So when you run businesses you have lead organizations do you bring that learning and that sort of awaking to that?
Pauline: Yes, I found my way of approaching it, first things first to try and humanize what can be very deep human structures for most people and remind everyone I touch in the course of a day or a year that they are still individually prized or individually valued and seen for who they are. I have always rejected this idea of putting do I brining people in slots. I rejected for myself and its kind of miraculous for the mindset I was actually able to survive most of these corporate structures. But I think that particular tough process was very important the second piece which connects to the earlier conversation on Iceland do I bring some of that source of discovery of kind of cultural aww to it. You now it’s hard because each company in away has its own culture right? And some of the culture is set by maybe the country where its headquartered some of its set by the personality of the founder, some of it is set by the nature of the industry, am when I said the company is like a nation in an ideal world I would like to work for a company that is like Iceland. But it probably wouldn’t be a high functioning company knowing what I know about an Icelandic’s. So I guess the real answer is something in the middle allowing for a little bit of everything and maybe the Icelandic’s belong to the R&D and not in accounting.
Scott: So you epitomize a contemporary women leader, quiet unique I must say. I mean you have an extraordinary positive and empowering way of working with people. You are not an alienating leader like most leaders and you’re women, which is quiet unique. I mean that must have growing out of your nature there are so few women in leadership roles in America. What do you think is the role of women leaders and disrupters in the fashion space and I guess in business in general.
Pauline: Well starting with business in general I think one of the problems is just something that I intuitively went against for you know much of my career is that most women have been trained that the archetype of success in big companies and big business world is this traditional white male figure head. And the effect that that has that you either decide as a women that you are going to reject that path because it doesn’t speak to you, it doesn’t feel natural. There is no space for someone like me, so that would be option number one, which is the option many people take which is a shame and the second is I’m going to become as much as possible like that white male archetype of 1950’s you know who behaves in a certain way in the office and leads in a certain way and negotiates in a certain way and then kind of comes home and either in my home life I have my real life. It’s a real demarcation between my personal and my professional life so that would be one choice or I just reject the personal because there is no room for both and its easier for me to become this corporate I con myself and we see may women in senior levels falling in that what I would call “a trap”. I have always felt that I can’t complete with others on whom they are and who I’m not. I would loose. Why would I play a game where I’m already stacked, it’s hard enough if I just play the way I am. So I would rather play the way I am use what I think my natural qualities one which I would say is been very tied into my women hood and more to feminism sensibilities and if it doesn’t work I’ll never regret having been who I am.
Scott: Known you for a number of years one of the strengths that I see in you which I think is a great trait for a leader is that you are one of the most curious people I have ever meet and you always ask beautiful questions. You are not the explanation point you are this beautiful question mark and you’re like the curious curiousor, you just continue to ask questions. When did that start?
Pauline: I think that was from a young young age. First of all I come from a home of thinkers right. I’m first generation American, as you know Scott. My grandparents were refugees in the 30’s escaping the Nazis. One side is from Austria, German Jewish. Both sides Jewish and am I would say the one thing, that you know, in both sets of grandparents had to leave everything behind. Eventually making there way to America. But the one thing they never left behind and they never stopped investing in were their minds and their skills and their ability to grow. And I look back at myself for example in my kids age teenagers and I just say kids are in such a rush to grow but the amount of knowledge, wisdom and capability that has come even in the last 10 years is, when I’ve been in middle-age, is astounding and I would hope that it just keeps going. I never ever want to stop growing. It gives me joy, it gives me energy going back to the earlier comments on energy and I would say another answer to your question about where does the curiosity come from. I remember, I’m very close to my mom and she’s a good student of people and of peoples character and one of the criticisms, probably the worst criticism she could make as I was growing up I would observe people who were maybe didn’t pass a high mark was a person who doesn’t ask any questions a person who doesn’t show any interest and the idea of the worst thing you could say about someone is that they were selfish or self involved and you know weather that was good or bad very early on it made me feel like I never want to be one of those people who my mom would call selfish.
Scott: Is it future leadership in the fashion and luxury space the ability to have a high IQ and a high EQ to something called a high AQ, which stands for aesthetic sensibility.
Can you talk to me a little about what is needed?
Pauline: If you think about this issue what started with IQ which is a measure of intelligence which survived for many generations and was a standard marker of somebody’s mental capability and then from the 80’s, 90’s with the introduction of a new theory of a psychologist Stan Goldman started talking about emotional intelligence.
IQ is good up to a certain point which is an intelligent point but in not generally a genius point. But then when you get to that quiet high intelligence any additional IQ capability from there is not addictive and some cases can even be non productive because you can become in away to analytical and to intellectual to be successful in traditional grounds. He layered on this new thought that people who are highly successful are emotional and have what some people call social intelligence which meant that they have a good sense of self or a deep sense of who they are, they read other people properly, they can control their emotions. It’s all the things we would associate with wisdom right? And I think he is right in many a business if you don’t’ have that EQ it proves to be a real limitation and comes as a big surprise to certain people who always taught that they were the smartest kid in the room until they realized that they weren’t been rewarded for what they taught was the smartest behaviors. So I think we have entered into this new era which is another type of intelligence and it’s not so much intelligence of interaction with others and it’s not an intelligence of problem solving, but it’s an intelligence of understanding that which is beautiful or causes pleasure of delight or things that typically don’t get measured in hard framework but that are extremely valuable in most businesses for example fashion been the epitome of one where it shouldn’t exist certainly not at the volume that it does. If you don’t have great pleasurable outputs and beautiful outputs or clothing that provides surprise and intrigue and ways to express yourself above and beyond words and other ways to express yourself.
Fashion really, the underpinning of it, is around this notion of esthetic pleasure and esthetics isn’t just design although we think of it largely as design. It’s how the fabrics feels. It’s how it all comes together in 3D sensorial and if I applied that notion of esthetics to very unrelated industries. We could talk about cars for example. Why are people so fascinated with Tesla right now? Part of it is what it stands for I think a big part of it is what is symbolizes. I think part of it is the ideology behind it that you are really doing something for the environment and going against the energy dependency that has crippled us environmental But some of it is the representation is very exciting to certain people and its not just the design of the people and it’s not just the design of the cars, even though if you have driven in one it drives beautifully feels quiet wonderful within but its even the markers around Tesla. It’s the way they are showcasing it in the stores it’s the element of surprise not only do they set up direct to consumer boutiques but they are in malls or now they have one in Redhook, Brooklyn and so they are doing everything in these sort of unconventional ways, which is sort of their expression as well.
And the amount of detail that goes into creating that level of delight takes a high degree of esthetic intelligence and I would say an organization built around it.
Scott: Do you think now that this uprising is happening in fashion we are going to see other brands disappear or have to radically change?
Pauline: There is a lot of brands that don’t really have heritage in a way the power of a Chanel or Hermes or a Cartier is all the more powerful in a world where you know you have hundred of brands that you know may have the quality of them or may not but they may but maybe go back 20 years and maybe don’t have the stability because they don’t have strong organizations around the founder designer. So I do think we are going to have a lot coming in and go out. But I look at the talent come out of the design schools today I set on the board of Parsons and I certainly pay attention to the best the brightest from St. Martins in London or an FIT when I look at it I think the profile of new generations of designers are very very different to the profiles of the ones of when I was coming of age. Some of that will be useful to the sense that they are much more digitally literate, they are much more prone to look to technologies like 3D printing for their craft. So some of that is going to be an asset and some of it I think is going to be tough for them because its going back to this issue that there isn’t that much more room for stuff in the market right now. So unless you are superbly talented and differentiated right because you could be incredibly talented at making leather shoes but we don’t need more leather shoes ant any quality level so the differentiation comes from the vision, from the adventurous and eventfulness and that combination by the way of craft and forward looking creativity is not as common as you think.
Most of the new designers I see will follow into either one bucket or the other.
Scott: If you are a fashion person you want to be the American dingo of the future what do you want or have a personality characteristic point of view.
I think that the dingo is not that one that survives for five thousand years only to find that it becomes the dominant dog breed of the generation built survives 5 thousand years only to find that 1% of the population has it and that 1% couldn’t imagine having any other dog. And my point being the way it really needs to be is a collection of very fragmented lines each is which founded by genuinely creative people who are committed to a quality outlet who understand their market. And their market by the way could be 10 thousand people and that’s fine. The idea of scale in fashion is where it gets into trouble because the minute you are trying to be something for everybody you become the gap and you become utterly undesirable. Esthetics don’t follow the same curve, esthetic businesses as industrial businesses… Most of these Silicon valley unicorns are following much more a sort of industrial automation model, which is not appropriate for a business that’s really about inherit pleasure, it’s not about function. If anything the growth of it undermines it both because it dilutes the creativity and it certainly dilutes the feeling of specialist which is important. If I were going into fashion today I would be much more prone to say I want to have 50% market share of 2% of the population then to have 2% market share of 50% of the population. Go deep and go sustainable. And by sustainable I’m talking financially sustainable. Grow slowly but grow soundly and grow for the long term. Generally good brands in these traditional businesses they don’t come about overnight and if they do they tend to go away overnight as well. So part of the strength of a Chanel is when you have been around 100 years even if you get a couple of collections wrong you have built up a lot of good will. And you can afford to get it wrong you can afford to take chances because you still have something great which is non imitable which is real heritage, real story, real codes, and their deep and their rich. Which takes time.
Scott: Like I said before you have this amazing curiosity like you experienced Haiti through some deep passion that Donna Karen and you share with Haiti. How does a place like that change you as a thought leader in the fashion world?
Pauline: There is a big gap between the state of a country like Haiti and the one thing that you can observe everywhere you go in Haiti is that they are prone to work and gifted to work with their hands. The kind of fashion that I would like to see more of is made with a human hand not made with a machine. But the training has not been there and obviously the infrastructure has not been there for the Haitian people. When I look at Haiti I look at it more to see human nature in a very raw form.
Scott: This is interesting.
Pauline: These are not people who largely who have ever left the country in most cases. There is something very honest about what it is they produce and what they have, which is very little. But what they do have is an eye for color, you find if they don’t have a canvas they will pull a piece of paper out of an old book and they will repurpose that for their artwork. The resourcefulness as well as it been interesting to me to see their use of colors in a country that actually for all its hardship has a lot of vibrant colors. Similarly if you go to another part of the world like the Farro Islands or Iceland, these are very foggy countries, their island, their sea fair, their use of colors is very different. It tends to be very inspired by the grey shades of the lava, by the misty blue of the sea. This is there world and that’s how it finds its way onto a canvas. So that sort of transitions from the geography from the cultural backdrop, the esthetic or the other creative output is always an interesting connection for me.
Scott: Then I guess the last question I have for you is here we are at this point you are now a Harvard professor talking about this idea of esthetics and stability in a business school format, how has your career brought you to this point?
Pauline: The operative work in the question is point right. This is really very much a point in a journey that keeps going. And I rarely do things because they end zone to themselves. So I didn’t start ever in mind ever that I would be a teacher and I didn’t make this leap into teaching with in mind that I should be a teacher. I really was more driven by this idea that there are very few professions, and it’s in total defiance to the corporate life that I led before, but there are very few professions where you’re paid to think.
I felt like I had been going for many years and I had been taking in a lot of these observations and meeting a lot of interesting people in between people not interesting and I was sort of just squeezing in insights where I could and with people where would listen, or would share or would bounce back there own insights and I was just getting exhausted of having the pressure been on the doing an not on the reflecting. What I love about teaching is not only does it give me that space but for the first time were as long as I do this and I have re opted for next year. Not only am I been rewarded for been a good thinker and a good communicator but I have a classroom of gifted students, who I can test ideas. I can see what resonates and I can see what doesn’t. Because one of the problems when you’re in this operational mindset and when you’re constantly focused on the doing is you don’t really learn with as much depth. The kind of learning you are doing is more learning how to operate better, or learn better or manage better. No I feel like I’m leaning to think better and with a certain discipline around it. Where it isn’t just a pastime or just fun. Most big companies really don’t want people to be thinking or certainly thinking as independently as I do now, nor do they want people to be communicating as freely because as long you have your professional hat on your working in the service of the company and there is all sorts of company agendas. So I guess coming back to your question about why now and where does that potentially lead to after this point. I feel like I’m in this unique space where I can pull together many of the things that I have learned and I can aspire to be more of a taught leader and less of an operational leader. I can experiment not only with different ideas in the classroom but also with different platforms for communicating. That really is what this chapter is allowing for.
Scott: My guest today Pauline Brown an incredible thinker, business leader, she’s a role model to a number of young men and women, and a generation of female business leaders she is one of the most positive minds I have ever meet in an industry that really needs it. Thank you so much for sharing your stories. It’s really fascinating.
Pauline: Thank you Scott always fun to chat with you.