“We have this time to truly get rid of everything that doesn’t work, and replace it with things that do,” says London and LA-based Fashion marketing and communications maven, Phillip Bodenham on a phone interview. He’s speaking of the state of the fashion industry and, in particular, his corner of the business. “When has the world all at one time been given such time to reflect and figure this out? It’s an opportunity not to be wasted.”
The founder of venerable luxury communications agency, SPRING, has a career that started with him as an industry prodigy running UK comms for Tom Ford’s YSL at the age of 21. These days, he’s practicing what he preaches and using COVID as an opportunity to lead the evolution of Fashion PR and Marketing in the age of Corona.
“I see clients and hear industry talk about media spend migrating to 70% and above to online because we have to follow the consumer and everyone is glued to their phones. Are they reading a title in print or the equivalent online platform, or are they getting brand information from social media, VIP’s and influencers?” Bodenham wonders aloud.
“It’s easy to say that a certain magazine’s reader is highly targeted to your customer, but I question how much that really matters because high-spenders are looking at street style and digital shopping and Instagram, just as everyone else. I’ve also heard buyers are no longer reading Vogue reviews to find new brands, they’re looking at what streetstyle girls are wearing. It’s a new world.”
What he speaks of is a very different scenario from where the industry has operated since the days when Pret-a-Porter became widespread in the 1920s and 30s—the last serious disruption in fashion before the more recent shakeup of the digital era.
“In the past the brand showed the collection on a runway, the collection went to the PR team, the clothes were shot by the magazines which customers would read and then went into stores to buy what they saw. It was very linear,” explains Bodenham.
“That went out the window when digital came along, which has been a good thing because it’s made things more egalitarian and democratic. We now have multiple cards to play across channels and it gives our clients more opportunity to cut through in their own unique way. It just needs careful handling which comes only from experience.”
Now, the industry is facing another disruption due to COVID and Bodenham believes it’s much bigger that anything we’ve seen in recent history, with the potential to change the way the industry operates altogether in what he predicts will be a complete reorganization.
SHIFTING THE CENTER
“What do the four fashion cities really offer?” he questions.
By four fashion cities he means New York, London, Milan and Paris, each one fulfilling a different type of creative output. New York is the lifestyle city, known for sportswear, contemporary collections, and its famed garment district. London is the creative hub where the most fashion-forward talents emerge onto the global scene, a credit to the world’s number one fashion school, Central Saint Martins, being there. “So many talented designers come from London and many of the fashion houses have talented London-educated teams,” he explains. Milan is based in textiles and manufacturing while Paris is the home of couture, high-fashion and pret-a-porter.
Bodenham believes beyond shaking up the fashion cycle and creating valuable e-commerce experiences—something which are always hot button debates—the fashion center in the US should shift in a radical way, particularly to the country’s left coast.
“New York fashion week in February makes zero sense. Doing a show at a time when every brand is searching for attention seems illogical. Moving to LA to coincide with awards season when everyone is in town and attendance to shows and events would garner huge social and online traction through influencers with followings of 1 million plus and talents with 6 million plus. This makes more sense,” he says.
“We live in a content and VIP obsessed world and LA is a production town where the global talent industry is based. Marry this with the technological innovation and equity emanating from California and the power of the West Coast becomes clear in helping brands spread their messages globally. This is how I predict smart brands will reorganize themselves in the future and it’s a strategy we are discussing with our clients”
Bodenham is hardly far-off. More and more, the industry has seen major collections show in Los Angeles. Dior has shown its cruise collection there more than once and Hedi Slimane moved YSL’s creative operations to LA when he was at the helm. The head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Tom Ford, has called LA home for some time now while Rodarte is also based in California. Add to that the number of A-list talent with social media followings in the millions who have become the new vehicles for creating brand buzz plus the clothing manufacturing facilities, and California has the makings to become the US’s next fashion center.
“We live in a lifestyle obsessed world, and California is the lifestyle that’s most marketable and in step with the times. The light, the palm trees, the sea, mountains, desert, the fitness, and the glamour,” says Bodenham.
“The brutality of a February fashion week in a tough city like NYC feels from a bygone era, more of a 90s lifestyle people aspired to. These days, people are interested in health and wellness. They want to attend a yoga or spin class, workout in cool gymwear, buy nice things online and live a healthy life. We have to shift to where the influence is and the lifestyle that people are aspiring to. That is California.”
FASHION COMMUNICATIONS COMES OF AGE
All this ties back to the industry’s need for radical use of digital and how (and where) to best optimize it, especially since fashion has yet to fully maximize the use of online platforms. Many luxury brands still are unavailable to buy online while methods of online social shopping that recreate the social dynamics of the in-person experience—like livestream or group shopping practiced in the Far East which have kept fashion there afloat during lockdown—are yet to even begin to be utilized in the West.
“The market is highly fractured and segmented, so there has to be a highly-coordinated, omni channel approach—a mix of tried and tested and new ideas to stand out from the crowd,” explains Bodenham. While he’s reticent to share the unique mix he uses to bring success for his clients, “Often I do things for my clients on instinct, with experience thrown in,” he explains. “But at the core of what I do starts with a thorough analysis of the brand’s position, competitors and market. I then map out a vision of what success looks like, how best we can stand out from the competition, and then create stepped strategies to get us there via my skills and network of contacts to make it all happen.”
Bodenham is, however, willing to share that a strategic combination of digital communications, influencer and VIP-brand activations, content campaigns, special projects, digital marketing and management of the ever-important CRM system are key tools.
“How do brands speak to those who have signed up to the brand? How do they foster their loyalty, turn them into unofficial brand ambassadors, and bring their followings organically to the conversation? This is what really interests me,” he says. “Moving the conversation from always being about customer acquisition to customer loyalty and retention, that’s powerful.”
Bodenham also does private high level consulting for select partners where he addresses certain problems and provides senior counsel to CEOs and designers through PB&Co, the consulting arm of the SPRING business.
He’s had great success with resurrecting Hussein Chalayan’s brand over 6 years. A designer’s designer and influencer’s influencer known for his experimental, intellectual, artistic and innovative work, Bodenham took him on when the brand had lost its place in the zeitgeist.
“I love working with brands where there is much to do and I had a lot of fun moving the chess pieces to put Hussien’s crown rightly where it should be—on his head,” he says. “I had huge satisfaction getting him where he should be, such as being shot next to Balenciaga in Vogue China or bringing every important fashion person back to his Paris shows.”
“At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game and it’s our job as marketers and PR people is to bring eyeballs to a brand. And there’s no magic bullet. I think it’s as much art as it is science, very skilled and experienced PR people know this,” he explains.
“That’s why I think with so many tools to use, you need experienced people who know how to paint that picture. It’s a watercolor, not a sketch.”