Flip Side | The murky world of fashion marketing | india | Hindustan Times
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Flip Side | The murky world of fashion marketing

Fashion weeks don’t quite produce instant deals by the millions, but its organisers always tell us nice things about how foreign buyers were impressed, writes Narayanan Madhavan.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2007 13:34 IST
Narayanan Madhavan

It is that time of the year when anorexic models sashay down ramps and designers shrug their shoulders and offer gobbledygook sound-bites to young television reporters who feel kicked without understanding much of what is going on. Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week is on in Delhi, and I wonder what this means in the world of business and marketing.

Fashion weeks don’t quite produce instant deals by the millions, but its organisers always tell us nice things about how foreign buyers were impressed, and how enquiries will lead to business.

I am sure all the designers and models make good money, but I always wonder how I have heard of so many designers without having bought a single piece of designer stuff. I have not even seen them advertising, really. The only advertisements I have seen from designers have been on in-flight magazines or in some focused lifestyle glossies. Even there, only some names, such as Satya Paul or Maheka Mirpuri, make the grade. When and how do many designers become brands and labels under your very nose without them paying any money for advertisements?

Of course, some of their glamour money goes into public relations budgets which are deployed to make them look important to journalists precisely because they are not.

Film-maker Madhur Bhandarkar captured the concept quite well when he said after making “Page Three” that while glamour is part of the party scene featured on the gossipy pages, for some, it is a subtle way of promoting their businesses.

Vaastu consultants, tarot card readers, cigar merchants, models and fashion designers find such partying to be very effective in promoting themselves as brands. It helps that glamour-struck television viewers and newspaper readers consider such stuff to be of interest, though most would never get anywhere near buying the clothes the designers make or the models wear. But such clothes do make sense to some moneybags, especially the new rich and others who are convinced that if something looks strange or new and gets talked about, it must be worth paying a lot for.

This is aspirational marketing at low cost. If one were to measure the column inches of newsprint in a newspaper devoted to unheard of designers and put a monetary value on the amount it would cost for the designers to use advertising space in the same paper, the figures would be mind-boggling.

Such thoughts surfaced again last week when I saw a big newspaper leading its front page with the story about burglaries in the premises of two fashion designers in the National Capital Region. I mean, burglaries are burglaries, but when dentists or schoolteachers get stuff stolen from their houses, the news does not make it to the front pages. But fashion designers make news when their stuff gets stolen.

And I ask myself, who gains in the process?

I am sure harried designers, in a sad moment just ahead of the fashion week, feel dejected when their clothes go missing. However, the other side of the coin is the publicity, howsoever painful, they get in the process. If I were to impute the same amount of media mileage an advertising budget value, the figure would touch tens of lakhs of rupees.

That, my back-of-the-envelope calculations tell me, is probably worth more than the value of the clothes stolen. So where are we at?

I do not quite know what all that implies for designers and their economics, but I am quite sure that somebody in an economic think-tank should measure the brand value that designers get without spending much money. This would be a fit case study for anybody from the “Freaknomics” school of thought that connects seemingly unconnected things to major economic events.