Crimes against flashion

Silhouettes of models walking down a runway. Closest one has loading...written on her

Today I am going to start talking about a subject dear to my heart and my credit card, fashion.

It is such a unique set of industries that intertwine in a symbotic relationship – some purely creative, so overwhelmingly commercial. And the online presence of the many areas of businesses which make up that spectrum – either within it or helping to perpetuate it – give a real insight to why any decisions made about the digital or online presence should be informed ones.

Preface

God help me, but I love design, I love art and I love clothing and fashion is everything good about those things in one industry. And my love is broad and wide ranging – I love everything from the cult of high couture through to the merchants of high street and below. I love everything about it, from the thrill of the hunt to the impulse purchase, from creating new looks through to the rediscovery of old friends to the back of the wardrobe. My loves, tastes and adventures are catholic in the the little “c” sense of the word.

Luckily, in this day and age, it is possible for me to directly experience archetype brands whose seams I may never get close to in real life.

Every edition of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar sends me to my keyboard to find out more about designers, to click “choose your language” as part of my pass into the hallowed halls of Chanel, to see which new designers bluefly and net-a-porter are selling, to find desighers’ sites and trawl through their collections, to scope out bargains on asos and witchery, to hunt down vintage treasures on ebay and be inspired by random acts of beauty on etsy. Dear god, I have done it all, I have seen it all and the only thing that stopped me from buying it all…was my mortgage.

While I may be an avid consumer of fashion, (fashion marketing being one of the archetypes of conspicuous consumption and aspirational marketing and I love me an archetype), I am not an expert in it, nor do I have expertise beyond love, observation, passion, appreciation and an avid will to consume, even if my budget sometimes prevents me.

But…I do have high level expertise in online design and marketing and a wide experience in the range and possibilities of online offerings.

When fashion goes bad, it does not do it by half

I am the ultimate critical audience when it comes to an fashion site. When bad design, development or architecture choices get in the way of the site meeting my needs as a consumer, I become hyper-critical.

And impatient. The fact that my bad experience was paid and championed by a company who does not realise how badly it serves their customers or their brand, grates terribly. Grates worse than the sound of fingernails on a blackboard.

Never meet your heroes…?

Going to the websites of a much loved designer is a little bit like meeting a hero and discovering your face-to-face impression of the person forever taints your enjoyment of their creative output.

It’s a bit of a let down.

Lanvin loading screen

1 minute spent waiting for Lanvin to load on ADSL2 and in a 1st world country, love the clothes but how much to I really want to be let down by Alber Elbaz? (Lanvin website, accessed 19 June 2011)

And if I don’t love that designer beyond all sense and reason, it can be hard to recover from that. Perhaps I was just getting to know them, perhaps I was seeing if I wanted to get serious, perhaps I wanted to know whether it was love or an awkward crush, perhaps I wanted to see if I liked their designs for a reason, for a season or for a lifetime?

You could argue that I am perhaps not the target audience for many reasons:

  • I work in marketing and can’t suspend my disbelief due to my profession
  • Any design (including a website) is subjective and everyone else loves it*
  • It’s art and it’s cutting edge, and I just obviously wouldn’t understand
  • Consuming products from the industry is not the same as being in the industry
  • I am not a size 6, and
  • I don’t have a platinum card

(*really, do they? everyone as in everyone on your team or everyone as in everyone who loves your clothes?)

But that’s missing the point.

Loading the Galliano website

2 minutes waiting for John Galliano, it must be love if I can wait that long... (John Galliano website, accessed 19 June 2011)

Successful sites:

  • enable their customers to easily meet the needs that made them travel there in the first place (must.see.shiny.new.beautiful.clothing.thing.it’s.love)
  • develop and engender new needs in their customers (they have a sale section where I can sort by price?)
  • educates and grooms their customers (lucky I looked at that size guide, US sizes are different to Australian ones) to become better customers
  • attract them to similar or equivalent items which may fulfil their requirements better than the item they envisaged as meeting their original need (it comes in black too?)
  • entice customers to fulfil their new needs in addition to their initial purpose, at no additional inconvenience to them (well of course I need a belt now, none of my other belts will do.)
Galliano - intro screen

Now I have to choose my language - english or french? There is a lovely video running in the background, pity I didn't come to the site to see indiscriminate pixelltated, jumpy, blurry video footage plus it's making me motion sick. (John Galliano website, accessed 19 June 2011)

Try going on Amazon, searching in your favourite subject area and buying only one book. Or visiting the sale section of ASOS and buying only one item of clothing. Or hitting DIVA up and buying only one incredibly cheap item of cheap costume jewellry.

Of course, where ever you spend your money will depend on your personal preferences. But I hope you get my point, good luck with that exercise…and did you know there’s a sale on?

It’s not all about retail…

Of course it’s not all about retail and there is a difference between a merchant site, like bluefly and net-a-porter through to asos amd beyond and a designer’s site or design house’s site.

Even if the designer have an online retail arm, they fulfil completely different functions and offer completely different experiences – one focused on facilitating purchases and the other focused on facilitating aspiration. Now for the obligatory Devil Wears Prada quote:

… You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back.

But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean.

And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? …And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.

However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

In terms of garment style, construction and execution, in terms of creating collections of amazing clothes that speak to people who want to wear them and may inform clothing and trends for years to come; designers do have the expertise, but consider this:

  • Designers may produce the source material that eventually filters down into the high street and below, but that doesn’t mean they make the best decisions about their online activities. In that respect,they are the village idiot savant, which can be quite dangerous in a business sense as they don’t always know what they don’t know and they are almost godlike in terms of expertise in other areas, whereas
  • The core objectives of merchants in their fight for survival sales  mean that they have to be agile, learn quickly and sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of good online decisions and run when them in a pressure cooker environment where not meeting a customers needs and grooming them for future purchases or more items in their shopping cart can be the direct difference between a profit and a loss, success and decline.

It’s not a one way street

There is a lot that designers (and other creatives) can learn from merchants about the successful and sustainable execution of an online presence. There is a lot they can learn about developing their customer base, grooming future customers and meeting needs without the risk of ever having to soil their hands with retail (unless they want to)…

However, leaving aside the “merchant vs designer” side of the equation and looking only at designers (individuals and and design houses), there is a commonality they all share.

Even within the different castes of designers and echelons of design houses, there are varying approaches being informed by choices made to meet different business models, however one thing is almost always the same across the board:

Galliano - Main

Galliano and the case of the hiding menu - same place as the other one, same design as the other menu but the options are hidden until I scroll. How do I know it's not waiting for me to decide I can actually speak french? (John Galliano website, accessed 19 June 2011)

By and large, their websites are baaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

When fashion goes bad, it does not do it by half

It’s the one thing that fascinates me about this part of “the business” (or “the businesses”). More often than not,the online presence of designers and design houses. in the form of their website, sucks.

In fact, it doesn’t just suck, it sucks balls. And it sucks balls in a huge way:

  • bad design
  • graphics that take too long to load
  • intrusive videos or animations
  • indeterminate and/or unusable menus
  • clunky photo presentation and slideshows

And so much more. So much, much more.

I’ll look at identifying factors and reasons that make for teh suck in future posts, as well as how to avoid them in future posts.

I will celebrate the good I find too, but for today I want to focus on the “what the?” feeling that I experience almost every designer site I go to.

Balenciaga loading screen

Oh look, it's my old friend Loady the loading screen. He gets around...

What the? as in:

  • What the @#%$ were you thinking?
  • What the @#%$ kind of budget did you spend on this?
  • What the @#%$ you paid money for this?
  • What the @#%$ kind of brief did you submit to get this result?
  • What the @#%$ kind of outcome was this exercise intended to achieve?

These questions usually correlate to the following questions:

  • When the @#%$ am I going to see something on screen?
  • How the @#%$ am I going to find anything?
  • Where the @#%$ is the collection that this Harper’s Bazaar image came from?
  • Where the @#%$ is the RRP for the item in this Harper’s Bazaar image that so interests me?
  • Alright, so you can’t give me an RRP, but where the @#%$ is the stockist for the item?
Balenciaga - intro screen

Oh wow rotating images that I can't pause if I see something I like AND offer me no extra information about what I am seeing AND don't send me anywhere; you shouldn't have. No, you _really_ shouldn't have :"

There was a leopard belt from a Calvin Klein Ralph Lauren collection (maybe 08 or 09), whose pursuit had me foaming at the mouth at the literal unfindy-ness of it. I loved that belt and all I wanted was that belt (this was a time before the mortgage, a simpler time) and do you think I could find it?

I spent a year, on and off, looking for that belt as the memory and whim struck me (what this needs is a leopard belt). And if I, a fluent citizen of the internerds, was having a problem finding it and I know the things I can do to find stuff and the places to look, how must it be for all those other people who are reading the same mag?

You know, the other people, the ones who are fluent in other things but not online and who are falling in desperate love with their one thing and want to find it, whatever the effort?

I’ll look out the pic at some point and share for your interest 😉 It’s probably not leopard, it’s probably cheetah or tiger or something…in which case hopefully it is made out of pony and not an exotic animal (not that ponies deserve to be sacrificed at the alter of fashion either), but… But I digress.

Chanel Intro

Dahlink when I said I wanted to live in Chanel, you do realise I meant the clothing and not the flagship store? (Chanel website, accessed 19 June 2011)

Call the CDC, it’s a pandemic out there…

I wish I could say it was unique to certain sites, but it’s the general rule, across the board and not the exception.

With pressure on designers to secure online real-estate reflective of their name and their brand and to connect with the customers who “out there” aspiring to them, fashion sites present a very large, often slow-moving target for some of the worst crimes against customer experience ever committed against humanity.

[Just to remind you (and me), at the moment I am differentiating between merchant and designers (individuals/houses), and the term “fashion sites” is currently only speaking to website examples from the latter.]

And it’s not just the cult of couture that gets it wrong, the bad trickles down through the church of ready-to-wear into the realms of the future contenders, onwards to the emerging talents and down into the sea of just getting starteds.

So how could a whole section of an industry get it so wrong, on so many levels across so many different companies?

Snaps all around

Before I start sounding too much more like Daria, I think it’s time to celebrate some of the good things I did see in these sites:

  • Lanvin once your site loaded, awesome!
    • There were elements that needed consideration and polishing (readability of footer text over some images) but the best yet.
    • e-shop foregrounded and some really interesting content profiled on there – exhibitions, visual exclusives and other shiny beautiful content that made me want to spend alot more time with you.
    • a perpetual menu to take me to other parts of your business and a footer with other key information (disclaimers, language choice where I can connect with your other online presences and more)
  • Balenciaga: the link to shop online was front of house, even if it wasn’t prioritised as being of greater import to the ineffectual rotating banner. Awesome…as long as I am from the UK or USA (shoot – I think that’s $1.00 into the trying-not-to-be-Daria-in-this-bit-of-the-post box

For everyone else, of course the decision processes that are contributors to your site as a final product are complicated. But just because you messed it up this time, doesn’t mean it’s over forever.

Luckily,  like harem pants, trend and fashions in online presences can change. Of course, you can never go backwards as every new version is an interpretation and a creation process intertwined (actually…I don’t think I need to tell you that).

New sites can be launched, sites can be redesigned, as your experience grows in the area so does your expertise (if you want it to). Plus you can become aware of the you need tools to make more informed choices about your online presence…next time.

Homework

Time to realise that your online presence will (and should) iterate and change over time.

It will change with the prevalent cultural trends in online and digital change. It should change as your business changes, reflecting expansions, complexity of offerings and as you change or shape the desired outcomes from your online presence. It will change as your knowledge of the area and the potential ROI of online opportunities.

For whatever reason, it has changed it will change and it should change, so why not explore the internet archive? I suggest you look at:

  • your site(s) and your competitors sites to visualise how things have changed over time
  • any other business that you want to emulate, whose design you respect or which tickles your fancy

Have fun!

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Comments
5 Responses to “Crimes against flashion”
  1. layer hair says:

    Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for starting this up. this website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!

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  1. […] Bazaar (Australia) to locate a picture of that amazing Calvin Klein belt I was talking about in Crimes against Flashion. It might seem hardcore, but the memory of it makes me want it to this day and I have never seen […]

  2. […] here before, not two screen shots ago? Yup – it’s ol’ Loady the loading screen, he hangs out at all the best places, including Lanvin, Chanel and Galliano, so we must be in good company, right? Another 15/so seconds of my time (Accessed 10 July […]

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  4. […] post picks up the thread I started when I posted on what I considered Crimes Against Flashion. In that post, I looked at the websites of Chanel (no change), Balenciaga (change!), Lanvin (minor […]



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