For most bloggers, linking to last week’s story is sort of like wearing last season’s clothes. But let’s be honest, I do wear last season’s clothes, and Rebecca Mead’s ramble through Brunello Cucinelli‘s Umbrian kingdom of cashmere, in the March 29 New Yorker is already a classic, much like Cucinelli’s casually elegant clothing.
The philosopher-king of cashmere’s unusual approach to his business–applying his Greco-Roman values to his home, his office, his sample factories and even establishing a small surrounding city in his vision, made me wonder why we don’t see this more often with American designers, so keen on ever-lucrative lifestyle brand. So why not build lifestyles?
Sure, Betsey Johnson had Betseyville and Ralph Lauren has Telluride‘s Double RL Ranch (and Round Hill in Montego Bay and the beach house in Montauk and the Bedford estate), but these holiday homes and resorts are available to but a few privileged guests.
As long as Ralph Lauren is branding bed sheets, house-paint and 1500 cattle, why not brand his own supply chain, and maybe even build a little colony around it? I’m serious. Imagine if American designers established enclaves for producing high-end capsule collections where the entire supply chain–and not just the look–aligned with their values. Now that would build a brand.
Here are my proposals for a few I’d like to visit.
Donna Karan’s Pure Peru: Donna Karan could establish a small factory in the mountains outside Máncora, Peru, to produce her existing DKNY Pure line. She could use naturally colored organic Peruvian pima cotton to create heavenly cotton tees in the sandy beiges and whispery pinks she used for the collection in the ’90s. Mead mentioned 90-minute lunch breaks at the Cucinelli factory–enough time for pasta, salad, grilled meat and wine (for less than five bucks in the cafeteria), followed by a nap. Maybe Karan’s macrobiotic chef could whip up meals in an outdoor kitchen, and factory workers could re-energize with afternoon meditation breaks. The designer could host guests for retreats at Samana Chakra, a little beachfront spot I visited after a production trip for Edun a while back. Pure Peru? Sign me up, the shirts and the retreat.
Ralph and Ricky Lauren, Image by Gilles de Chabaneix, Architectural Digest
Ralph Lauren Red, White and Blue Label: For his All-American collection, Lauren could make it…wait for it…all American. He could bring down some of the beef cattle from Double RL and start a little cotton farm in South Carolina. Since organic cotton can only be harvested once per year (as opposed to conventional cotton’s three yearly harvests) Lauren could rotate his crops with grain to feed the cattle in the winter. Naturally, they would be grass-fed the rest of the year. Lauren could find some old equipment from the area’s historic mills and make fabrics to send to factories in nearby Surry County, NC, a community that’s been hit especially hard by job losses in the textile sector. (BLS predicts the job market will lose 71,500 sewing machine operators between 2008 and 2018.) He could follow Steven Alan‘s lead and resurrect the old-school Made in the USA tag that’s sewn into some of Alan’s signature pieces.
Ms. Mead wrote of Cucinelli’s commitment to his country, where 100% of his collection is manufactured. When the financial crisis hit, she said, Saks showed their support for Cucinelli by dedicating its windows to his brand and hosting an event with the cuisine of his Umbrian home. What could be more American than an organic cotton dress farmed from land that helped raise a (branded) burger in the off-season? I’ll have one of each, and come down for the cattle round-up.
Yvon Chouinard, Image from Ben Baker Photo
Patagonia’s Camp Cleanest Line: Okay, I’m cheating, because The Cleanest Line is already the brand’s blog, but the double entendre is too good. As you can read in his book, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard applies his philosophy–which involves a great respect for the outdoors and his employees, and providing the time for the latter to enjoy the former–to his business offices in Ventura, California. Camp Cleanest Line could appeal to Pata-groupies who not only love the clothing and want to observe this management technique in action, but also want to take a break to surf Rincon if conditions are conducive. Visitors could participate in a beach clean-up like the one the Patagonia employees recently did, and the trash they collect could be recycled into fleece. Patagonia produces largely in China, but they take the dramatic step of making their factory list public, so any camper who really wanted to follow their soda bottles overseas could. Come to think of it, I’d say Patagonia’s sort of already established a lifestyle brand, which might be why I’m sitting here in the garment district longing for, well, that Patagonia lifestyle.