I often compare the fashion industry to the music industry to help students understand how designers and brands evolve from season to season and, in many cases, from decade to decade. I had a conversation about the Rolling Stones with someone yesterday and later, when I went to teach, I used their story and the key to their longevity as a way to describe how collections work in fashion.
The Rolling Stones have been strutting around since 1962, for the love of god. That’s about the same time that JFK was assassinated and Jackie wore her “Pink Chanel Suit.” (Which wasn’t really Chanel btw, but was Chanel fabric that the NY dress salon Chez Ninon cut and made into a suit, “line for line,” so that she would appear more patriotic.) That smart, sweet, pink suit was just one in a long line of suits that Chanel had and would develop over the years. Even after Coco died and even later, when Karl took over in 1983, the boxy little suit, with the gold buttons and embroidery, bouclé fabric, and a chain sewn into the hem to make it fall right, has been the cornerstone of every collection.
There ain’t ever going to be a Chanel collection without a one. (I’ll bet you, um, a Chanel suit for it.) They know how to make them real good by now and they’re not letting go of it:
The Rolling Stones adopted the rhythm and blues ethos and made it the heartbeat of not just every song on every album, but more importantly, their lives.
They immersed themselves into the music and, with the timing that only the sixties could offer, Jagger’s marketing prowess, a *smattering* of drug addiction, and an intense commitment that included Richards’ sleeping with his guitar (“If there’s no babe around, you sleep with it. She’s just the right shape.”), they developed into the band that never quits. I mean, NEVER. There are like, 14 documentaries about them. They’re not even a band anymore. They’re a hydra of music, model-wives and children, houses in St. Tropez, high colonic cleanses, ironclad licensing contracts for their team of lawyers to sort out, and really, really, really, skinny hipped men.
And what they have in common is that they both have been able to make something, the same, but different, every time.
To quote someone I NEVER thought I’d quote and I shudder at doing so, Gene Simmons said, “Instead of being in a rock and roll band, I want to be in a rock and roll brand.” Brand is about consistency, which the Stones and Chanel (and fine, KISS) have in spades. It’s also about a rthythm, about knowing what to change, how much to change, what works, what doesn’t, and working with what you have – even if it’s with a mean French woman or a strung out lead guitarist. Your foundation is your currency and that’s what you base your collection on season after season.
It’s hard to tell students that design is about systems and taking baby steps while simultaneously pushing them to experiment and indulge their creativity and imagination. All the experimenting will pay off because all those discoveries are what you use to diffuse a single thing, like a garment or a genre, over time. It’s a real time-saver. We’ve all seen designers pull out all the stops but they burn out so quickly because they don’t have a foundation. Better to find your root, your chord progressions, your silhouette so you don’t become a one hit wonder.