Creations beyond the catwalk

2011-05-23 07:47

Many people take it for granted when they talk about a designer item that the creative mind behind the item may not necessarily be involved in the item’s production.

But fashion designers have moved from simply designing clothing, shoes and handbags to spreading their brands across various lifestyle platforms – from hotels, furniture and homeware to the packaging of alcohol.

So far, this has successfully been carried off by many international fashion houses, which have realised that the easiest way to reach the common man is by designing something everyone can use.

For instance, Gucci recently launched an iPhone application to add to its furniture and décor lifestyle products.

Others like Armani, Missoni and Roberto Cavalli all have hotels, homeware, designer beverage packaging and lifestyle products.

Locally, Joburg-based designer Julian launched his clothing studio in 1985, designing couture, bridal and ready-to-wear collections. Since then, he has successfully launched his own homeware collection, which is thriving.

Stoned Cherrie’s Nkhensani Nkosi is putting together an emporium where people will be able to indulge in everything about the brand from clothing, sunglasses and accessories to picnic baskets.

Nkosi is participating in a new venture by Volvo SA, which has also roped in David Tlale and Gert-Johan Coetzee to design car accessories.

These will apparently be based on their lifestyles and personalities, where each designer will make items that will make life easier, fun, sexier or safer, as inspired by the car model they are designing for.

Designers have realised that in order to reach a wider audience, they need to expand their brands by targeting more products that don’t have anything to do with their flagship product: clothing.

“My brand is more than a fashion product. It’s about lifestyle,” says Tlale, who looks forward to revealing his latest design for Volvo.

Tlale is no stranger to diversification. He has collaborated with various brands – Lipton, Canderel and, more recently, Clinique – to create designer packaging. He also collaborated with Anglo Platinum to design a range of jewellery.

“All this has made it possible for me to reach a wider audience,” he says.

Tlale believes his collaborations have strengthened his brand.

“Designers have creative ideas that should not be limited to just clothing. We should never be scared to tackle other products. I plan to even go further into designing homeware in the future, just to experience other spheres,” he says.

His fearless attitude is shared by fellow designer Gavin Rajah.

Rajah not only has a successful clothing label, but has also designed jewellery and furniture, and even owns a marketing and events company.

His latest venture is a homeware collection, which includes a linen range made of 600- and 800-thread count pure cotton, and there are also cashmere throws.

Rajah, who is the founder of Cape Town Fashion Week, says: “I come from a marketing and law background. I never studied fashion design. And before I became a fashion designer, I owned an events-management company.”

Rajah was also instrumental in the inception of the popular Positive Rocks concerts that have seen many international celebrities – such as Kelly Rowland, John Legend and Seal – perform in the country to help raise funds for an Aids hospice.

“I don’t understand why some people feel that designers have to be confined to clothing. Just because I design clothes doesn’t mean that I can’t be an entrepreneur. People buy the perception of the brand, whether it’s clothing or another product.

“You as a designer must just make sure that all the products follow the same ethos of quality as your core product,” adds Rajah.

Many fashion designers are in favour of diversifying their brands, but trend-analyst Dion Chang warns that, while it may be a good idea to reach a wider audience, the brand will first need to be well established.

Chang says: “You need a strong business and brand foundation before you can even possibly think of putting your name on other products. If your brand identity is shaky, the whole thing may just collapse from under you.”

Fashion consultant Adam Levin seems to think the same. He believes it’s only a few local brands that can get away with diversifying their products.

“Take designers like Kluk CGDT, Nkhensani Nkosi and David Tlale, for example. They all have a strong fan base.

Diversifying their products will benefit them in reaching more consumers.

“Not everyone can get away with wearing a Kluk CGDT design, but they can sleep on their linen. Also, if David Tlale were to go into furniture design, he’ll more likely succeed if he went for the baroque look which is his brand’s signature,” says Levin.

Many fashion designers have been vocal about their ambivalence towards diversifying.

The matriarch of the Versace brand, Donatella Versace, condemned diversification in an interview with Reuters by saying: “In the end, you lose the sense of what fashion really is.”

While she makes a valid statement about the dangers of brand dilution, her fashion house was one of the first to venture into homeware in the early 1990s, when it opened home stores in Asia.

Last year, Versace opened a second Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai. The first is on Australia’s Gold Coast.

It seems the distinction between fashion and lifestyle has become more blurred as society becomes increasingly fixated on the idea of owning couture they can show off on their bodies and in their homes.

In an age where people are constantly on the lookout for a brand that will provide a complete package of the kind of lifestyle they want to live, it is abundantly clear that no fashion designer can afford to be left behind.

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