Sunday, August 30, 2009

Random Musings on the State of the Beauty and Fashion Industries

Oh my...Escada has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In the old days when I had plenty of money to spend on clothing, I lived in Escada. Then, Escada left me. I felt like a jilted lover. They forgot their bread and butter - career women who wanted to be stylish - and aimed for Hollywood starlets and a younger audience. They even raised their prices from "merely very expensive" to absurd. The younger audience couldn't afford the clothes, so it's no surprise to me that a recession has driven this company over the edge. I'm still wearing Escada's classic and timeless pieces (along with the lower-priced Laurel they discontinued), and I hope that this jolt of reality will lead them to reconsider their focus.

When they left me, I had no trouble finding replacement lovers. Armani started to rake in my dollars, and a few other lines, such as Michael Kors and Dolce & Gabanna, earned a chunk of my bank account. Even then, though, I mourned the loss of my old go-to brand. Every now and then, I would troll the Escada display at the stores. Never bought another piece, though, after they left me. That was years ago.

Now, the recession has the fashion and beauty industries in the doldrums. Every week, I read in WWD that another company has reported dismal profits or, worse, losses. L'Oreal's net profits declined almost 14% in the first half of this year (WWD, August 27), but the company is still expecting an annual sales growth. L'Oreal is the world's largest beauty manufacturer, and its brands include L'Oreal (of course), Shu Uemura, Armani Cosmetics, YSL, Vichy, Skinceuticals, Lancome, and Kiehl's - to name only a few.

What does all this mean? For one thing, we are all spending less, some out of caution and others out of necessity. We are looking for good value for our hard-earned dollars and for products that match the marketing hype. There are predictions that things may stay this way long after economists have declared the recession over.

What can companies do? Provide value, quality, and, in the case of beauty products, effectiveness, for a gag-free price. I am already seeing lower or steady prices on top-of-the-line skin care and cosmetics.

This is probably a good wake-up call for manufacturers and buyers. We want to try before we buy (so keep those samples coming). We want to know what's in the products we buy and how they work; fewer women with money to spend will be purchasing products simply because some gorgeous celebrity is purportedly wearing them under the retouched ad. We want to feel good about what we buy, long after the shopping rush is gone. That means our products have to produce results - from pretty faces to fewer wrinkles or softer skin.

That's why I will keep writing about products that meet their promises. I hope you will join me for the journey.

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