I can't get this article out of my mind: it published weeks ago but I keep thinking about it. Being in the business of helping designers -- both newcomers and those that have arrived -- I ruminate on the topic a lot.
The New York Times' Eric Wilson covered the glamorous and self-promoting 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards event on June 7th. The tenor of the article is "who deserves stardom?" And it addresses the age old tug of war between talent and fame; longevity vs. newness.
It is, after all, hard to say who has real talent and staying power or merely the ability to sell themselves effectively, which is why, at the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards ceremony, some provocative comments made by Kim Hastreiter, a founder of Paper magazine, struck a nerve that was in sharp contrast to a night that is normally dominated by a spirit of self-congratulation.
“Just because you’re cute, connected, rich and famous doesn’t necessarily mean you design great stuff,” Ms. Hastreiter said on stage. “We’ve got to stop with this ‘one day you’re in, the next day you’re out’ business. How can you be a genius today and the next year you’re not, because you are off trend?”
I often refer to the luck of the draw, the "one hit wonders" and the yoke of success in all my marketing seminars. And conversely of not stagnating and missing trends that consumers want to buy.
We talk about those in relation to the more prosaic acts of bookkeeping, paying ones dues and knocking on countless doors. There's such a need for basic business knowledge -- and more important, mastery -- that talent alone is the bare minimum job requirement of a entrepreneur.
But it always looks easy for the "other guy." I have yet to find a designer who didn't find greener grass in someone else's yard. No matter how verdant their own plot may be.
We're all seduced by the newest hot designer -- often whom we assume has great heat based on their press coverage or showcase location in Bergdorf's, Neimans or Ylang23/Twist/Moondance Jewelry. We rarely, if ever, know how hot their bank account is and that, of course, is the truest measure of business success.
I've now been around long enough to witness the long and short lifecycles of some very famous, and a few infamous, jewelry designers.
I can tell you for sure -- when it comes to true success it ain't about the jewels. It most often comes down to the marketing and the operations. Marketing to create the desire and operations to sustain the growth.
While I too am often seduced by the design, the designer and the inspiration -- I am now impressed more with the discipline, the command of numbers and the execution of good strategy. I am now more turned on by a spreadsheet firmly in the black than the most colorfully unique design.
There is a rather low barrier to entry in this field -- even when working with precious materials you can find the cash to start a line. But the ability to grow a business is way more impressive. And way, way harder to do.
And while passion is certainly on the top of the list of traits needed to run your own design firm -- it is closely followed by discipline. And diligence.
It takes time to develop these skills even if you come by the trait naturally. To quote Michael Kors in the article:
“I waited three years before I ever had a fashion show, and by the time I did I had a business,” Mr. Kors said. “Today the spotlight is so quick that it’s really hard to start anything under the radar today. I don’t know if you can still let a business percolate and grow naturally.” But it is a fact that there are more aspiring designers than ever before. “It may be easier to become a designer, but it’s a lot harder to make it as a designer,” said Mr. Spurr, who trained at Yves Saint Laurent before starting his men’s wear label. “There are a lot of people out there with no training at all, but you have to understand the business side, the public relations, the production and the shipping.”
Read the whole article here.