American Apparel: When Simplicity isn’t So Simple

October 09 2013

American Apparel is a brand well known for its’ pared down, comfortable aesthetic, one that appeals to the young. urban, hipster-chic teens and 20s of America and across the World. Long known for simple basic unisex t-shirts, hoodies and jeans, they have moved into the territory of vintage-inspired disco pants, chiffon blouses and palazzo pants. By bringing more “design” into their clothing, American Apparel has attempted to set themselves apart from their competition -- Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Urban Outfitters. They have been so effective in branding themselves in the mind of the consumer that it will be interesting to see what happens as they move forward in this new vein.

On a political level, American Apparel’s heart has been in the right place (at least from my leftie perspective). The brand is a strongly voiced advocate of LGBT rights, it is committed to environmental protection, and is known for having all of their clothing made in the U.S. without the use of underpaid sweatshops in other countries. That is a big one, as more and more ethical issues arise regarding how the fashion we love and wear is made. American Apparel’s company website also has a list of other ethical causes that they support.


via americanapparel.tumblr.com

This is a brand with some major disconnects despite its success and good heartedness. Despite their ethical chops, the brand has been scrutinized in the past for having overtly provocative advertisements, for not being plus-size friendly, and for their inflated price point, given the quality and lack of originality in the merchandise. In addition, if American Apparel is going to claim a more constructed, designed sensibility, they will need to pull other elements of their brand communications in line. Their window design frequently looks like a cheap mall brand that sells five-dollar T-shirts and ten-dollar parkas. The store merchandising is decidedly barebones as well. It’s certainly not an issue to expand upon a brand’s sensibilities, as Juicy Couture moved very successfully from coveted velour tracksuits into much more cultivated pieces that still retained a high level of comfort. American Apparel might benefit from studying Juicy more closely, as that brand has had all of the elements working in sync since the beginning, and was just sold to Authentic Brands Group for $185 million. Get it together, AA!!

However, American Apparel has come a long way in the message it gives through its brand. What makes American Apparel such a strong brand is their exuberant, precise, and edgy advertisements. American Apparel speaks volumes through their fashion photography. Each advertisement exudes a feeling of the American dream through clothing, in other words the emotion of living your life through these clothes.

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H & M and COS, A Low and (some) Version of High Fashion

January 03 2013

The last few times I've been in London, where fast fashion is a way of life, I stumbled into what appeared to be a chainlet named Company of Style, aka COS. Initially, I didn't know that the simple, pared down designs and palette at COS was the work of a new brand design studio at H & M.

It turns out that COS is H & M's foray into a higher price point, although most items are still priced under $100.00 and thus very accessible for what seems to be well-made, streamlined design. Their tagline is Timeless, Modern, Tactile and Functional, and I have to admit that I'm seduced by this brand. I really feel that they got it right — it's very strong, controlled brand management, and is a concept that will do well no matter where it travels. The store design, by William Russell of Pentagram, London (love them! I loved working with Michael Beirut from Pentagram in the past), and his angular, restrained store design and layout brings the architectural quality of the clothing to life. Other retailers should heed how well H & M is managing and rolling out this brand. The store has already opened in 51 stores in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, of course. They have also just opened their first shop in Asia.

Of course, I'm awaiting their entry into the US market, where their brand of chic simplicity at an affordable price point will play very well in urban and exurban centers. C'mon over, COS!

 

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