A little op-ed from Quip Brands Director, Keeva Stratton
A little while back, a hotel used an image of a man and a woman enjoying breakfast in bed—he was reading the Financial Review, and she was reading a Chanel coffee table book. There was outrage. ‘Why is a man always depicted as the intelligent one?’, they asked. Others claimed rampant sexism.
Perhaps, in that it seemed to be a stereotypical reinforcement of gender roles—he with a financial interest, and she concerned more with the superficiality of fashion—it was a fair critique.
But, what struck me as I looked at this image, was that she was holding in her hands more intelligence, art, and explosive ideology than his feeble market reporting. Contrary to the critique, I would argue that any compilation of Chanel’s work, and indeed the modern mastery of Karl Lagerfeld, is a far superior and erudite read than your standard Financial Review could ever hope for.
The greater sexism to me, or example of cultural systems of power, is that fashion would ever be regarded as superfluous.
Why is it that an industry worth billions, that combines craft, art, intellect and creativity, is so often reduced to something vacuous and redundant in the way fashion is?
Could it be, that as an industry—if not female, it has always been marked as being feminine? In our patriarchal world, this alone still acts as a reductive and dismissive force, and is something far more worthy of outrage, if you ask me. (Not that you did, I get it.)
Of course, there is no better example of why fashion deserves greater reverence than the work of Karl Lagerfeld, who passed earlier this month at the age of 85.
Not just the master of fashion, but the ultimate hero of brand—Karl Largerfeld leaves behind a legacy of brilliance that will be hard, if not impossible, to match.
He took over at Chanel ten years after Coco Chanel herself had passed, and delivered on her vision in a way she, no doubt, would have loved.
Karl played by every brand rule, and yet broke all of them.
He used the elements of the Chanel ethos to bring her equally rule-breaking vision to life. Chanel herself gave women the freedom, power and pleasure of wearing fabrics, cuts and designs that had previously been restricted to men. It was revolutionary.
She was talented, intelligent and resilient—refusing to be dismissed for being a woman, and uncompromising in what her designs delivered. Lagerfeld was equally driven, and unafraid. Where others had been hesitant to touch the legacy of Chanel, he went wild.
The markings of a great brand are that it’s recognisable, evokes a clear and powerful story, and expresses desirable qualities for its audience. You cannot mistake a Chanel, and even when Lagerfeld went daring, he kept true to the distinct essence that expressed the core of the Chanel brand. He turned tweed and cross-stitch into the ultimate statements, embodying, as he did, an unshakable confidence.
By comparing his designs at Fendi, which he simultaneously worked on, you understand he wasn’t just a master at design, but a true master of brand expression.
You only need to look at the way his accessories resisted the tropes of many others, to appreciate his meticulous adherence to brand.
As the Chinese market has made branded accessories and jewellery a key commodity for the traditional fashion houses, Lagerfeld ensured these pieces at Chanel did not just stay on brand, but added a new dimension to its story. They embodied the quality, androgynous sexuality and classicality of all Chanel pieces—even when they were deliberately playful.
Much has been said and written about Karl Largerfeld since his death last week, by far more qualified and articulate fashion scribes—but as a brand strategist, who feels we could spend a lifetime learning our craft from the house Coco built, I want to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Karl Lagerfeld, for the extraordinary body of work he has left us all to admire.
And, to anyone who wants to critique a hotel for daring to depict a woman reading a Chanel book to demonstrate the perfect breakfast in bed, one can only ask—do you really think the Financial Review holds greater knowledge, insights or art than Chanel?
For, if you do, I worry that once again, art has been tragically devalued and thoroughly misunderstood.